by CLAUDETTE BECKFORD-BRADY
24 May 2013
Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah is a multi-faceted, multi-talented Jamaican woman who I am proud and happy to number among my friends.
Barbara, who I affectionately call Mama Makeda, made history and newspaper headlines back in 1968 when she was appointed as an on-camera reporter/interviewer on the Thames Television daily evening show, Today with Eamonn Andrews, making her the first Black person to appear on British television screens in a capacity other than that of an entertainer. Unfortunately history has not properly disseminated word of this achievement, which can be verified if anyone cares to make the effort, and others, such as Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart have been credited with being the first black TV presenters even though Trevor did not appear till 1973 and Moira till 1981.
Whilst still in the UK Barbara also worked on the Today show at ATV- Birmingham and on the BBC’s Man Alive series. However, although she thoroughly enjoyed this stint at the BBC she could not resist when Chris Blackwell and Perry Henzell offered her a job as Public Relations Officer for the first Jamaican feature film The Harder they Come which starred Jimmy Cliff, and so she returned to Jamaica in 1972.
She continued her career as a journalist, writing newspaper columns and doing television and radio broadcasts. During her long and prestigious career she has lectured at the University of the West Indies (UWI), University of Vienna in Austria, New York University and the World Archaeological Congress Pre-Conference in Curacao as well as in several other halls of learning around the world. She was a delegate to the United Nations World Conference against Racism in 2001 and was appointed a Senator in the Jamaican parliament where she served from 1984 t0 1987.
Barbara is also a film maker and is currently Executive Director at the Jamaica Film Academy (JFA) where she is responsible for managing the JFA, promoting the development of the Jamaican film industry, and organising the annual Reggae Film Festival. This Reggae Film Festival, launched in 2008, is a brainchild of Barbara’s own company Jamaica Media Productions (JaMediaPRO) which she started in 1987. She has produced and directed a number of documentaries and two TV feature films.
As well as being a journalist and film maker, Barbara is also the author of several publications; Rastafari – The First Creation was published in 1981 and is now in its seventh edition. It was the first book written about the Faith by a practising Rastafarian and is available at amazon.com both in paperback and on Kindle. RASTAFARI-NEW-CREATION-Gold-Medal/
In 1992 Barbara published a novel called Joseph – A Rasta Reggae Fable which was loosely based on the life of the late great reggae icon and superstar Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley) with whom she was friends. The book has recently been republished and is available in paperback and Kindle formats at amazon.com and amazon.com.uk. JOSEPH -A Rasta Reggae Fable. Barbara is currently working on a script with a view to producing a film of the book.
Other publications by Barbara Blake Hannah include Growing OUT – Black Hair and Black Pride (Hansib Publishers, UK 2010) about her early life and years in England, and HOME – THE FIRST SCHOOL: a HomeSchooling Guide To Early Childhood Education .
This last book was born out of Barbara’s experience at home schooling her son Makonnen primarily due to her concern that the traditional education system would be lacking in his overall development.
Her experiment proved a colossal success: Makonnen has an impressive record of achievement. At the tender age of thirteen, he was appointed Youth Technology Consultant to the Jamaican government, and in 2001 he won the Institute of Jamaica’s Junior Musgrave Award. In addition he has installed computer systems in schools and commercial companies, and given speeches at prestigious institutions such as the UN, Harvard, MIT, and NASA amongst others. His list of achievements is endless and needs an entire article for himself and not a couple of paragraphs in his mother’s article. For more on Makonnen go to his page. The book Home – The First School is essential reading for any parent considering home-schooling their children and is available at amazon in Kindle format. HOME-THE-FIRST-SCHOOL
Both Barbara and her son are devout practising Rastafarians and demonstrate to the world the positive achievements of Rastafari, and throw scorn on the small-minded persons who have a negative perception of the Rasta faith and Rasta people.
There is so much more that could be said about Barbara Makeda Blake Hanna, recipient of the United Nations Peace Medal in 1974 and the Ethiopian Crown Council’s Adowa Centenary Gold Medal in 1997, but I will just satisfy myself by placing her at the head of my list of what I call THE WRITE JAMAICANS.
A REVIEW OF “JOSEPH – A RASTA REGGAE FABLE”
By Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah
REVIEWED for the Sunday Observer Bookends Magazine BY Claudette Beckford-Brady
This is the story of a Jamaican reggae superstar. It tells of the rise to fame of an ordinary man from the ghetto, who manages to rise above adversity and achieve worldwide acclaim and financial success.
Joseph Planter emerges from obscure beginnings in a small country town in St Ann to become internationally famous on the world stage as a reggae singer/songwriter. His rise to success and fame is not easy; indeed it is fraught with difficulties, but his Rastafarian faith gives him the strength and determination to overcome.
Having left St. Ann, he resides in downtown Kingston where he is achieving some success with his music, but without the due compensation, because of unscrupulous record producers. So when he gets an offer from an international recording company he is sceptical believing that they, too, just want to exploit him. However he agrees to a meeting, and his international career is launched.
His story is chronicled by Ashanti (Sister Shanty), a Rastafarian who grew up in the slums of West Kingston, eventually ending up in Wareika Hills; a place where the poor and other outcasts of society reside – the Rasta and the hideaway criminals and gunmen who skulk in the barren wilds of the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
Sister Shanty and Joseph have a unique and enduring relationship; a rare male/female friendship, uncomplicated by sexual game-playing or tensions, and she relates his story, taking us through his life and his career. She gives us an insightful glimpse into the inner feelings of Joseph; his love for beautiful women; his kindness and generosity; his love for fellow humans, and his bewilderment at the thought of someone hating him enough to try to kill him…
The political tensions of 1970s Jamaica come to a head when Joseph agrees to play at a concert – organised to unite the opposing factions and attempt to bring peace to the warring politically-divided communities of Kingston – and is shot. Speculation and suspicion run rife; no-one knows who to trust… Even Shanty’s Kingman (spouse) comes in for suspicion, which Joseph is unable to relate to, since Peter is also his friend. Unsubtle hints of a conspiracy by the British Establishment provide for additional intrigue.
Joseph, during his recuperation, finds time for reflection and decides to go to Ethiopia. He obtains the requisite visas for himself and his entourage with the help of a well-known white American journalist, who has followed and chronicled Joseph’s career almost from his advent on the world stage. Joseph and his close friends, including the American journalist, Sam, leave for Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, running under a cloud of suspicion, Peter and Sister Shanty has managed to reach Cuba, where they find the real Socialist experience, and would have been content to remain, but Peter wants to clear his name, and with the help of Cuban friends, manage to reach Shashemane in Ethiopia, where they come face to face with Joseph…
During his sojourn in Ethiopia Joseph experiences a rebirth – a mystical revelation and new awakening – and his body, spirit and soul are rejuvenated. Sister Shanty, too, with her Kingman and the others, find peace and spiritual fulfillment despite the minor conflicts brought about by the fact that they are all from different Houses of Rasta.
Joseph leans toward the House of Nyabinghi, but sometimes attend the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; Mikey, a Twelve Tribes of Israel member (referred to in the book as ‘The Sons of Jacob’) has no time for the Church; and Red Dread is a member of the Research and Repatriation Committee, which is a militant off-shoot of the Ethiopian World Federation – all different ‘mansions’ within the House of Rastafari.
They all eventually return to London to a media circus of screaming newspaper headlines and scores of journalists dogging Joseph’s every move, amid accusations of his living an immoral lifestyle filled with drugs and sexual orgies.
Joseph is saddened by these unjust accusations and decides that there is only one way to get his side of the story across, and to ensure that he is not misquoted or misrepresented by the media. He organises a mega-concert-cum-press conference at London’s most prestigious venue, the Royal Albert Hall, where he gives an inspired performance for his fans, confronts his critics, and confounds the antagonistic journalists with his wisdom and plain common sense. He is particularly saddened by the vitriolic attack of Sam; the American journalist he had thought was his friend. On his return to his hotel room, he collapses and is subsequently diagnosed with a life threatening ailment.
The story ends with a very surprising twist…
A novel work of fiction, very loosely based on the life of Bob Marley, with pseudonyms cleverly used but not disguising the real characters, the book gives a realistic portrayal of life in the 1970s – the political climate; tribalism and gun violence; the hardships of survival and the trials faced by the communities of the poor Kingston ghettos.
The author, Barbara Blake Hannah, herself a practising Rastafarian and member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, gives, through the voices of her characters, an honest insight into the Rastafarian religion, explaining the philosophies and the divisions within the House of Rastafari. She takes the reader on a spiritual journey to Shashemane, and a revolutionary journey to Cuba.
The book is written in Standard English, but makes effective use of the vernacular in a way which is easily understood by all, including non-Jamaicans. The honest and realistic use of everyday language makes even the ‘badwords’ sound normal and not at all like expletives. The author’s power of description, in simple terms, yet photographic, transports the reader visually to the scenes she describes and infuses them with the feelings and emotions being experienced by the characters.
Shashemane, for instance, often described by Rastafarians as the ‘Promised Land’ rich and fertile, where the living is free and easy, is exposed realistically to the reader as a few rudimentary dwellings on a hilltop, where eking out a living is far from easy. The reader can see the settlement in his mind’s eye and feel the hardships described.
The story flows easily and has everything a reader wants in a good book; conspiracies, suspense, excitement, intrigue.
It was originally published in 1991 by Jamaica Media Productions Limited, and subsequently re-published in 2006 as a part of the Macmillan Caribbean Writers series. It has very recently been republished by the author herself and is available at Amazon websites.