Food Awards, Film Festival News, Sumfest


Traffic was blocked in several directions and the lawns of historic Devon House were crowded Thursday night with people out to enjoy Jamaica’s most interesting culinary experience, the Jamaica OBSERVER Table Talk FOOD AWARDS. Throngs of well-dressed people filled the venue where, after paying a substantial entrance fee, they were entitled to eat any and everything displayed before them in the scores of tents and tasting stations that surrounded them. Comfortable seats grouped attractively enabled those who wished to sit and nibble. Others stood to sample the many interesting and attractive dishes offered, before moving on to the next booth. The delicious smells of food cooking filled the air and despite the crowd, there was order and polite behaviour from all.

Seafood buffet
Award winners

The Sandals booth featured dishes by English Master chef Marco Pierre White and I tasted Grilled Salmon with Asparagus as a choice over sirloin or grilled crayfish. I found fish at the beautiful Royal Plantation booth, hosted by hotelier extraordinaire Peter Fraser, who introduced me to the delights of his iced seafood buffet. Elsewhere the Knutsford Court Hotel had replicated its High Tea in its beautiful booth, which sadly did not win the award for Best Place for High Tea. I passed booths crowded with patrons eating jerk chicken and pork, barbecue ribs, and fried fish and paused at length at the Beaches booth full of a variety of desserts, especially grapes dipped in chocolate and nuts, as well as cheesecake and cookies.

Breadfruit/saltfish fritters
Tiramisu table

The crowd was so thick that it was impossible to see and sample everything, including the many wines and other drinks available. But while resting in a quiet corner I noticed a juice dispenser and asked for some, and was surprised to be presented with fresh strawberry juice with pieces of fresh strawberries crushed in it. Delicious! Another special find was fat fritters made of crushed breadfruit and saltfish – I returned for seconds. There was wine from Argentina’s Algodon Wines, whose VP Karen Durgona gave me a glass of their fruity Chardonay.

Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, was all smiles as he greeted guests and presented the Chairman’s Award to William Mahfood of Wisynco, the manufacturer of a wide range of alcholic beverges, waters, and international consumer brands. The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Helen Wilinsky, the lady credited with introducing Jamaica’s jerk sauce to the international culinary stage.

Strawberry Hill's Jonathan & Paula Surtees, Winston Stona - Busha Browne Sauces

Among the other awards winners were Spanish Court Hotel as Best Place to be Seen, Strawberry Hill Hotel as Best Sunday Spot (where else?) and Busha Browne for Best New Sauce, while Chef of the Year Award was presented by Visiting Celebrity Chef Marco Pierre White to Kevin Broderick of Rockhouse Hotel & Pushcart Restaurant for his outstanding work with locally grown products

It was a memorable occasion, with much praise for organisation and presentation going deservedly to OBSERVER Lifestyle Editor and Table Talk Food Awards conceptualizer Novia McDonald Whyte, who masterfully conducted the Award ceremony with speed and clarity, giving due praise to all who helped her make the event the roaring success it has become.



A DANCE FOR GRACE, which premiered at February’s Reggae Film Festival 2010 where it won Honour Awards for Jamaican Feature Film and Actor Orville Matherson, is making news in the US where its pemiere screening in New Milford, Connecticut to a sold out crowd received much local praise. New Milford is not only Matherson’s US home, but also the setting for the film’s US-based story of a Jamaican-born schoolteacher who takes his dance class students to Jamaica to learn authentic dancehall steps to win a competition’s cash prize and help their community matriarch Grace.

The visit to Jamaica enables the film to incorporate several scenes of Jamaica, its tourism attractions and especially the dance hall culture. Scenes were filmed at the popular Passa Passa all-night session where the newest dance steps are presented by groups and individuals competing for the video lights and a chance at stardom.

The New Milford Film Commission invited Mr. Matherson, screenwriter and co-director Junior D. Powell, associate producer & production manager Dale Foti and lead actors/actresses and dancers Nancy Pellegrini, Douglas Sines, Yarc Lewinson, and Bretton Canfield for its Connecticut premiere at the Bank Street Theater on Sunday, July 25, before its opening in theaters across the USA.

Producers Matherson, Jenifer Edwards, Jr. Powell with Reggae Film Festival Awards

In an article in local newspaper Housatonic Times the producers report that since its premiere screening at the Reggae Film Festival in February, A DANCE FOR GRACE has been shown to great acclaim at the New York International Film and Video Festival, and the Belize International Film Festival, where, Mr. Matherson reported, “People received the film very well, making our film the most attended at the festival”.

The producers went into their own pockets to finance the film because they believed in their project and they are ecstatic at the reception the film has received so far, especially the rapturous welcome in their home town. The Reggae Film Festival is proud that once again a film it has honoured has proved worthy of its Awards.




The Global Reggae Studies Center, founded and directed by Dr. Carolyn Cooper, the UWI Professor who first brought discussion and scholarship about reggae and dancehall music to the Jamaican campus, presented an interesting lecture ‘Locating the Japanese and the Jamaican in Japanese Reggae/Dancehall’, by Princeton University Professor Noriko Manabe at the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, UWI, Mona last Tuesday.


What made even more poignant a lecture focusing on the strong links between Japanese people and Jamaican music, was the recent death of Sugar Minott who recognition came first and most strongly from Japan where he was even better known than in Jamaica. The Professor used Japanese artist Nahki as an example of an artist who had successfully made the crossover to reggae, and reported that it was a meeting with Sugar Minott that had caused Nahki to come to Jamaica. The rest is history.

The Professor said that, like many other cultures, Japanese interest in Jamaican music was first inspired by “The Harder They Come”, the 1971 Jamaican feature film starring Jimmy Cliff that introduced Reggae and Rasta culture to the world. The next milestone in the spread of reggae was the issue of the first album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, with its iconic Zippo l ighter cover.

For a more extensive report on Professor Manabe’s lecture, Read BASIL WALTERS story in the Jamaica OBSERVER:–Sugar-Minott-and-Nahki-the-Japanese-experience_7821240



The rain destroyed my plans to attend Reggae Sumfest this year and my intention to report on it. I stopped attending Dance Hall Night years ago when slackness reigned supreme, so it was no problem to miss the opening Thursday night, when the rain started falling in earnest. Planning to set out on Friday morning with the intention of arriving in time for the press conference at 4 p.m., the rain became a permanent feature of the day and reports from those at the venue the previous night spoke of disastrous mud in the wake of the heavy rains that have been lashing the island for days.

Was it worth the heavy expenditure for transportation, hotel room, food and drink, to stand in the rain and mud just to say I had seen American superstars Chris Brown and Usher live and in person? For, when I examined my motivation for the expedition, I had to admit it certainly was NOT to see Etana, Jah Cure, Queen Ifrica or Tony Rebel AGAIN, not after having seen them headline every major stage show and entertainment event over the past 3 years, including launches of their and other artists’ albums.

I looked seriously into the fact that a show billed as the greatest presentation of my island’s music, was headlined by American artists, while reggae shows around the world – some lasting for many more days than Sumfest – did not feature a single US act unless that act was performing reggae.

Instead, they were featuring acts like The Congos, whom I have never seen live in Jamaica but who are such a major touring group that a new film about them has just been released. They were featuring The Twinkle Brothers, a Los Angeles group that have been around so long their locks are now gray, yet I have never seen them perform in Jamaica. They are featuring Big Youth and Kiddus I and Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace – artists they know from the movie “Rockers” just as well as they know Jimmy Cliff from ‘The Harder They Come”.

Was Sugar Minott considered for the artists lineup, or was there regret when the outpouring of his songs after he died showed what an important artist he had been? What ever happened to The Rastafarians, a group that had a hit album in the 1980s? And can dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson only be invited to perform at a literary festival because his words are packaged in a book rather than a CD?

In fact, where are the poets, all of whom are now performng to musical backing and who were as much part of the development of hip-hop as the dub toasters? I once persuaded the Sumfest organisers to put on 3 poets on in a band change and the audience loved it. Why not make this a feature, to bring something new to the repetitive lineup? Where are the reggae violinists? Do my friends, the Sumfest crew, think they are only good enough for the high-brow Jazz Festival they organise? No, the Jazz Festival is where I believe Chris Brown and Usher should be showcased according to genre.

So, as I pondered these thoughts, I found the reason why JAH had sent the rain to prevent me from travelling to Montego Bay to see two superstar American R&B/hip hop/pop artists headline ‘the biggest’ show of my reggae culture on July 23rd – the Birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie 1 – when the Nyabinghi drums from which reggae was born were beating at celebrations all across the island.

From all reports, despite the rain and mud, the show lived up to expectations and fans attending were pleased, whether I was or not. So I write these words only in hope that my friends, producers Robert Russell and Johnny Gourzong, will take them into consideration when planning next year’s REGGAE Sumfest. A+ for effort, as always, guys.



‎’Mother nature is the true food artist’,

OBSERVER Food Awards celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, answering questions at the Foodie Seminar


Selassie, Sumfest & Slavery

 HAIL H.I.M.       July 23rd marks the anniversary of the birth of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie 1, the former Ras Tafari Makonnen whose life inspired descendants of slaves in Jamaica to seek the Kingdom of Righteousness and to name their religion and themselves Rastafari.  The controversial belief that Haile Selassie was the living embodiment of God on earth was deemed heretical and blasphemous by those whose belief in God was inherited from generations of European Christianity. But the foundations of the Rastafari faith were undeniably rooted in the same Christian Bible, albeit viewed by intellects inspired by another Jamaican – Marcus Garvey – to see God in their own African image.

That Emperor Selassie denied the divinity claimed by his followers did not deter many, who based their proof on how the positive influence of this man has led so many – not just in Jamaica but the world – to make a conscious effort to follow the pathway of Right Living based on the teachings of the Bible and its avatar Jesus, the Christ.

The enormous impact the Rastafari faith has made globally in music, culture and the positive image of Jamaica, shows the influence of this unique man who became famous – not for wealth, scandal or criminal acts – but for inspiring a new and uniquely Afrocentric religious pathway towards godliness.  HAIL H.I.M!


Reggae Sumfest week began Saturday July 17  with the traditional Beach Party, but it will not be until Thursday night July22 that the reggae crowd will gather at Catherine Hall, Montego Bay, to herald the kings and queens of dancehall on what is usually the biggest night of the festival, that for the past 20 years has been the national celebration of Jamaica’s famous music culture and the showcasing of its very best artists and musicians. 

The dancehall ‘massive’ have been waiting with bated breath for the release of Vybz Kartel from detention by the security forces, which only happened late Friday — causing him to miss lucrative show bookings elsewhere, but just in time for Sumfest. No one knows why Kartel was detained under the State of Emergency, which has taken into custody several ghetto dons, warlords and managers of criminal networks involved in drug smuggling, armed robberies and murders.  

However, promoters and fans alike are glad the ‘Gaza god’ is free to join other dancehall ‘gods’ as Movado, Elephant Man, Idonia, Ce’Cile, Konshens andespecially Bounty Killer, who will be specially honoured by Summerfest Productions.  Sumfest’s Friday night is headlined by American R&B star Chris Brown who will be joined by perennial favourites Etana, Queen Ifrica, Jah Cure, Romain Virgo and Mackie Conscious, among others. On Saturday Usher is the big star, on a bill featuring Shaggy, Beenie Man, Tarrus Riley and Gramps Morgan.

Red Stripe Beer has joined the major sponsors once again after staying away for  several years to protest the downward moral slide of some dancehall acts. But all is now good to go and reggae fans are arriving in Montego Bay on packed flights, cars and hotel rooms, full of anticipation of the three-night musical feast.  Sumfest is always a holiday time for Jamaica as, whether you get to MoBay or not, the spirit of reggae takes over the island and everything seems to come to a standstill as people gather around TV sets broadcasting live snippets, or radios conducting interviews with stars.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT will bring you a full report on Reggae Sumfest 2010  in our next Blog.


BOOK REVIEWBELISARIO: Sketches of Character: Jackie Ranston; Mill Press

Most Jamaicans have at some time seen copies of the illustrations of the John Canoe celebrations dating from slavery, when slaves staged elaborate masked parades of costumed figures that have now become handed down as part of our culture.  The famous paintings were done by Isaac Mendes Belisario, a Jamaican born in 1794 to a wealthyJewish family of Kingston merchants.  Some may well think little of a man who painted life in the heydayof slavery, and may therefore have given little attention to his life story.

The Mill Press, through its founder Valerie Facey, set about correcting that mis-impression and invited noted writer Jackie Ranston to research the Belisario life and family history, and to gather as much materials and illustrations as could be found to document this important piece of Jamaican history. The two ladies unearthed a fascinating story of  importance to the Jamaican descendants of slavery, and one that is directly connected with the founding of Pinnacle — the property purchased in the 1940s by Leonard ‘Gong’ Howell, the ‘father’ of Rastafari – and on which he established the first Rasta village.  The colonial government of the time raided the village several times and eventualy destroyed and burnt it to the ground, leaving the basis for a protest movement by Rastafari to reclaim and restore the site as a historic headquarters.

The Belisario book recounts that at age of 9 years young Isaac had to flee Jamaica with his father and grandfather, who had been accused by France of aiding and abetting the Haitian revolutionaries. Isaacs father was horrified to witness the treatment of slaves in other West Indian islands and published several articles as grist for the mills of London-based abolitionists.  Belisario became an art student and when he returned eventually to Jamaica, painted lovely watercolours of idyllic scenes of plantation life that gives us an idea of what Jamaica looked like in the 17th Century.

Belisario’s greatest fascination, however, was with  the elaborately-costumed masquerades known as Jonkoonnu, (Jon Konny and John Canoe) that were the slaves’ chief entertainment at Christmas.  These paintings have made Belisario famous and inspired the research of the beautifully produced book which documents clearly the history of the Jews in Jamaica as well as the colonial rulers who governed at that time. 

abolitionists medal

Most interesting is the account of the Marquis of Sligo, who purchased the hilltop estate he named Pinnacle and built the first house there.  The fervent abolitionist Sligo was the Governor of Jamaica charged with the responsibility of implementing the Emancipation Act and Apprenticeship system. He did such a good job that in gratitude to Sligo, the apprentices subscribed One Thousand Pounds which was used to make a pair of silver candelabra featuring figures of freed Africans, as a suitable tribute to Sligo “… in testimony of the grateful rememberance for his unremitting efforts to alleviate their sufferings and redress their wrongs during his just and enlightened administration of the Government…”

Author Jackie Ranston presents a copy of BELISARIO to His Majesty, Nana Ndama Kundudmuah IV of Prince's Town, Ghana

Interestingly, while trying to source the origin of John Canoe, Jackie Ranston discovered a link with one Jon Konny of Prince’s Town, Ghana who waged a successful war against the Dutch for 20 years, only to be eventually conquered, captured and sold as a slave to Jamaica.  Confident that this is a direct link to Jamaica’s John canoe, she made contact with the present Prince’s Town chief, conducted a geonological and DNA search which discovered a positive match between the Chief and an African-American businessman. She later arranged for them to participate in a ceremonyof atonement and reconciliation performed by the Chief and has taken the DNA samples to Jamaica to research closer links.

Valerie Facey says it was the discovery of a link with the Belisario prints and her husband Maurice Facey (co-founder of the Mill Press and one of Jamaica’s leading businessmen) who is descended from ‘a free Negro woman of Spanish town’ and an English indentured servant, that sparked her quest for Belisario.  The book’s price (JA$7,000) is amply justified by the several excellent colour plates, especially of the original John Canoe revelers, all of which could be framed by collectors of this unique art.  It is a book that should be on the shelf of every Jamaican interested in revisiting the days of slavery in search of new and relevant information on those who made Jamaica what it is today.

Jackie Ranston & Valerie Facey



The Jonkonnu masquerades became very elaborate as they incorporated the traditions of other African peoples and even some European carnival traditions.  The great houses were opened and the slaves drank with their masters and spoke with greater familiarity, the distance between them appeared to be annihilated for a moment.”

Jackie Ranston – Author: BELISARIO – Sketches of Character

Reggae film boosts Jamaica’s image

On July 1, Jamaica was making international news headlines following the mayhem caused by the security forces attempt to capture and extradite an alleged drugs-and-guns mastermind,  and the tourist board had put in place an $11 million PR campaign to try and counteract the negative news coverage of the island.  At the height of the hysteria, ‘WAH DO DEM’ – an independent, low-budget reggae film shot in Jamaica and premiered at February’s Reggae Film Festival in Kingston – was reviewed in the influential New York Times newspaper, singlehandedly boosting Jamaica’s image and reminding the world of the lovely island and people we are.

Max and friends at the beach

Writes the NYT:  Horizons are expanded and exoticism explored in “Wah Do Dem,” a shaggy road movie about relinquishing your comforts to find your bliss. Our halfhearted traveler is Max (Sean Bones, drifting rather than acting), a Brooklyn musician reconciling two tickets for a Caribbean cruise and a last-minute kiss-off from his unrepentant girlfriend (a minuscule cameo by Norah Jones).  A tedious sea voyage populated mainly by sexagenarians leaves Max even more depressed, so when the ship docks in Jamaica he sees an opportunity to shake off his ennui. Local people, for their part, see a sheep ripe for fleecing and a mind longing to be freed. 

Lively support from local actors and musicians (including a surreal performance by the Congos) is invaluable, as is the authenticity of the setting. The cultural richness of Jamaica — presented here with a faintly menacing underbelly — is a world away from the bland safety of the cruise ship.

That the review was published on a day being celebrated globally and virally as International Reggae Day, made it even more significant and meaningful, but Jamaica’s greatest delight came from the fact that the film won the Honour Award for International Feature Film at February’s staging of the Reggae Film Festival in Kingston. Written and directed by Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner, “Wah Do Dem” (Jamaican patois for “What’s the matter with them?”), the film includes a cameo performance by noted actor Carl Bradshaw, as well as discovering a new talent in young Ocho Rios native Mark Gibbs as ‘Juvie’, the young ‘bad man’ who eventually helps Max.

(R-L) Directors Sam Fleischner, Ben Chace, actor Mark Gibbs, Reggae Film Festival directors Carl Bradshaw, Barbara Blake Hannah
The film delighted audiences at the Reggae Film Festival, and directors Chace and Fleischner travelled to Jamaica to present their film to a satisfied audience and receive their Honour Award.  The NYT review was ‘very much appreciated’ by them, and while managing screenings in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, they have returned to the island to make preparations for their second Jamaica film.
Reggae Film Festival directors were rejoicing at the New York Times attention, hoping it would make Jamaican tourism entities grateful that an event they do not recognize or support gave Jamaica some very valuable and positive publicity at a time when it was sorely needed.

‘WAH DO DEM” will be included in the Best of the Reggae Film Festival programme being presented at Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival being held in Bencassim, Spain, August 21-30.





He was eliminated in the semi-finals of the popular TV dancehall contest “Magnum Kings & Queens, but the howls of protest from the hundreds at the venue brought a smile to the face of the only contestant confident enough to face the cameras without dark glasses. Acknowledging his cheering fans, CHOZEN stepped from the stage and into the kind of instant stardom that has eluded the man who eventually won the contest and Million Dollar prize. 

His clean-cut good looks and confident manner entranced the mostly female crowd throughout the contest’s weekly rounds and while the decision (made by telephone call-ins and marathon telethons by some contestants) seemed unexpected, it has not stopped his legion of fans from growing.  He was mobbed by fans when he performed at the recent Cheerleaders competition, and screamed onto and off the stage at the Portland staging of the Kings & Queens tour and the adulation is so intense that these days he travels with an official security detail.

The biggest test of all came at Friday night’s The Settlement show when dancehall artists with real or made-up grouses challenge each other to lyrical clashes.  Chozenn was deemed the winner of a clash between himelf and his chief Kings & Queens rival, Juggla, who was ‘declared dead’ in the morning hours of the popular show.  The decision seemed already made when he first stepped on stage, as screaming fans gave him a thunderous welcome.  

As a dancehall artist, Chozenn says he keeps his lyrics ‘on the clean side’ and the only weapons he praises are ‘my lyrical bullets’. It’s always good to see a new dancehall artist rise, especially at a time when that genre of music is being forced to take a hard look at itself and the social issues it fertilizes.  Chozenn is one of the new ones who have found the way to keep the music hot and topical, without sacrificing an ounce of respectability. We shall watch his career with interest.



July 22 is the date for the annual Jamaica OBSERVER Food Awards, a gastronomic feast when Jamaica’s best chefs, restaurants and food producers display their culinary creations in minature restaurants, cocktail lounges and tasting stations spread out on the East Lawn of historic Devon House, Kingston.  Each year new and exciting dishes, foods and drinks compete for Awards that represent the Michelin stars of the Jamaican hospitality industry.  With several chefs from leading hotels and the island’s epicurean restaurants, the night is a gourmet’s delight, while being a catalyst to inspire and promote the varieties of Jamaican cuisine.

OBSERVER Style Editor Novia McDonald Whyte, who organises the annual event and chairs the panel of judges, promises that this year will have some surprises.  A preview Seminar will be held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, Wednesday July 21 on the theme: Get Up! Get Drive! Turning the Consumer on in Challenging Times.  Topical theme for the island that gave Jerk to di Worl’



Work is prayer – do it well.

To cool the heat in someone’s hell.

Jean Lowrie Chin – Author: ‘Souldance’