The Jamaican theatre scene is vibrant and well populated with choices. Most are ‘roots plays’ depicting very broad humour set in ghetto-like situations, while some are dramas of life and love which employ a number of theatrical stars of all ages and genres.
None are as strikingly unusual as JAMAICA FAREWELL, an 85-minute one woman show written and performed by a brilliant Jamaican actress that totally portrays, and then laughs at, the mind-set of that group of high-born, high-colour Jamaicans who – in the Michael Manley political era of the 1970s — felt life in America was a holy grail to be pursued by any means necessary.
In JAMAICA FAREWELL, Debra Ehrardt dramatically and with sarcastic and ironic humour, tells the story of how she achieved her childhood dream of going to America. It was a dream from age 8 singing patriotic American songs, and continued through the years with several efforts to get a Visa that including dressing up as a nun, until her eventual opportunity to seduce a chance-met American CIA operative and have him help her escape.
The opportunity that gets her a Visa includes her having to do something highly illegal, yet she not only accomplishes this, but gets the American to help her without him knowing. I won’t spoil the dramatic details as the humour depends on all the surprises in her story, but it is one of the funniest stories I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. In the monologue Debra voices all the characters and shows off her acting talent, re-creating her pious, church-going mother, her loving but drunken gambler father, the CIA American rescuer and various other characters that peopled her journey.
What makes JAMAICA FAREWELL unusual is that it’s the first time someone who left Jamaica at that time in our political history, has come back to tell the story of why and how they left. Debra’s story is not as political as others would be, managing to allow us who remained behind to laugh with and at her highly amusing tale. As she tells her full story, one can sense the real social attitudes that inspired her desire, behind the frills she added that made the story a tale. There is the story of Veronica the housemaid who shocks Debra by not only getting a US visa, but later writes to say she is now a University professor. The class prejudice displayed in her reaction is typical and realistic.
In another telling moment displaying white-upper-class prejudices, she tells of her drama-filled ride across the island to the airport by car and minibus — a journey of impossible dead-end stops including a whorehouse where she is pursued and threatened by a ‘red-eyed dreadlocks man’. In hearing how remembering her mother’s words helped her escape his attack, one can see that the incident is inspired by the prejudices inculcated by her Christian mother against ‘the black heart man’.
Political purists of either colour may find fault with the history depicted in JAMAICA FAREWELL, but lovers of pure drama will be entranced by the theatrical tour de force of both script and performance. Debra has remained true to her island and her play is tender in its depiction of her home. Full houses attended the 5-night run, and audiences and reviews have been deservedly full of praise. Presentation kudos are due to Paul and Michelle Goldson of Ultra Wave Vision. The best endorsement of JAMAICA FAREWELL is that the show has been optioned by Tom Hanks wife Rita Wilson, who plans a big screen feature film of it, as well as a US tour of a larger stage production. Well done, Debra Ehrardt!
RSEENAL IN LONDON – Young upcoming Jamaican DJ Rseenal Di Artillery is feeling good about his career, as he is currently in London recording with UK grime label FireCamp. UK Grime is a genre of music which has been developing in London’s underground since 2002 for a new breed of rappers whose style of flow varies whose rappers or MCs to “spit” double time or aggressively over the beat. The success of UK grime has a lot to do with the pirate radio scene in London, with many performers practicing their skills and getting an underground reputation before going ‘mainstream’. The term grime was born in 2002 and since then the scene has grown and strengthened. One grime MC to really take his career to the next level is Dizzee Rascal who began his MC-ing when he was 15 on pirate radio in East London.
Rseenal, who last year won a Heiniken DJ competion that took him to Holland, has been in London since mid-July with Andy Freshney as road manager linking him with the top London underground producers and musicians. Having worked with him on couple tracks in Jamaica, Rseenal is specially in the UK to promoting his two mixtapes – the Hoztyle Crossova and Chedda Cheeze & Blind Mice$ debut hip-hop mixtape which he finished early summer. (Hoztyle Crossova mixtape LINK: http://www.facebook.com/l/bcfb0YZDqvgDR0N0HCrvz5kG7Jw;rseenalsplanet.blogspot.com for a free download.
In a letter to IN THE SPOTLIGHT Rseenal says “Producers are in a frenzy to record me before I return to jamaica.. they have a particular interest in my hip-hop side.. they love my dancehall side.. but are more drawn to the versatility of my hip-hop style. For all of this week producers from Yorkshire will be in London to do all the tracks and collabo with all the artistes who have shown interest in working with me.. have done shows last weekend.. at the Vibes Kick Bar.. close to Aldgate East … will do a major performace at the GRAFITI show this weekend… and i will also be doing 2 stages at the big NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL… real big thing here!!..
It’s long overdue for this talented and prolific artist to get the big break. As if that is not enough, he returns to Jamaica then heads back to Europe for a month long tour of France. Good to see talented young artists getting known outside Jamaica, as there is so much talent here that not all can shine on Jamaica’s stages. Big up to Rseenal. You will be hearing more from him.
Another artist currently in London recording is Ras Iwhan completing tracks for VP Reords. This Rasta chanter heads for Gambia next to finish his second house is Africa, the first being in Ghana. Nice to see Rasta artists living up to the principles they sing about. Check out his recent music video: Fire In the UK: .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI3lRIT5780
DON’T CALL ME ‘UPTOWN’
Trying to promote some new artists I thought worthy of media attention, got me in some hot water last blog. My presentation of the music of three artists from uptown neighbourhoods as ‘uptown’ reggae caused them to object to the label. Juss Ice found himself under attack by a reader who said the film “Rise Up” showed him in a bad light. He was quick to point out that how the film was edited showed him in that bad light, despite the film maker having ample opportunity to show how far removed he was from his family’s ‘uptown’ address. Nevertheless, he agreed that all publicity is ‘good publicity’, as the negative comment gave him a chance to clear his name. (See Juss Ice’s Comments below previous story.)
Marcus I, who gave thanks for a great live show at Red Bones last Friday, was thankful for the publicity, saying: “Loved the article online, but didn’t want to play up the uptown ting. Is just good artistes regardless where we from, yet in the context of the story its all good. Some still judge us and belittle us for coming from where we come from, yet its all just one rich, poor etc, don’t matter!” (The point my article was making!) “All exposure and media mention is good — no one likes all reviews or articles, or songs. I’ve learnt we can’t please everyone, so we work for JAH!”
The third artist, who I have known from before he grew dreadlocks and started trying to become a singing star, put up a FB message saying I had damaged his career and that I was working for the CIA to destroy young artists! I recommend he follows the example of the older and wiser heads such as Marcus I, who knows it takes much more than hype to make a music career. ONE LOVE!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement.
National Hero MARCUS MOSIAH GARVEY