Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah – A WRITE JAMAICAN

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.

THAMES tvBarbara, 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.

Senate (1)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.

bbh rff2010Barbara 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.

3 coversAs 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.

growing out coverOther 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.

homeschoolHer 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.

JOSEPH COVERA 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.

mombookHis 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.

ES031661Joseph, 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.

JOSEPH coversThey 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…

JOSEPH 2 coverA 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.

Reviews praise ‘The Moon Has Its Secrets’

by Barbara Blake Hannah

coverThe hardest part of being an author is waiting to hear what readers think of your work. You, of course, think it’s the greatest literature since … well, whoever! But deep down you know that you need to hear other opinions before you can be sure that you were not wasting time and creative anxiety putting all those words together, with a storyline, characters, drama, tension and eventual resolution, and then being confident enough to publish it to the world.

That was my condition when I celebrated Jamaican Independence August 1st, 2014 by publishing ‘THE MOON HAS ITS SECRETS’ on Amazon.com, through its innovative e-publishing portal CreateSpace.  Since then my anxiety has subsided somewhat as — one by one — comments have been coming in that are positive enough to have enabled me to heave a sigh of relief.

Claudette Beckford-Brady, a Jamaican raised in England who is herself an author of 4 novels, wrote a Customer Review at Amazon.com:

“Not much is historically known about Jamaica’s only female hero, Nanny of the Maroons, affectionately referred to as Grandy Nanny by Jamaicans, but this novel by Barbara Makeda Blake Hanna is a credible depiction of her story. An interesting and entertaining fictionalised account, it begins in Africa in the 1600s chronicling the story of a young girl captured by slave traders and brought to Jamaica, and continues with the stories of her female descendants over several centuries, culminating in the 1970s with a white British girl seeking to find her slave ancestor, and illustrating Jamaica’s motto, “Out of many, one People”. … This fascinating novel “The Moon has its Secrets” speaks to her talent as a writer and should be required reading for all Jamaicans, and particularly high school students. It would also be good to see this book turned into a movie.”

brady bookIt’s a singular honour to be praised by another author, especially one whose work I respect as I do Claudette’s. Check out ‘YARD AND ABROAD’,  her new collection of short stories set in Britain and Jamaica,  full of amusing, poignant and entertaining scenes of both countries.

flakoIt’s an equal honour to have my work endorsed by a leading Rastafari Elder, historian Ras Flako whose books on the Coral Gardens incident are an accurate record of the gross acts of injustice that happened when a private act of revenge was turned into a wave of government brutality against any man professing the Rastafari faith.

Ras Flako wrote of my book: “The Moon Has Its Secrets” captures the many horrors of captivity and inhuman treatment by ones supposed to be humans themselves. The book also shows the willpower of human endurance against stockpiled odds and the yearning to be free.There are many lessons to be learned from this book, as many are still trapped in mental slavery and have completely ignored their roots and their allegiance to mother Africa because they are born in the Diaspora.”

connollyINVITING COMPARISONS      Jamaican journalist Michael Conally, now running a successful PR agency in London, also gave his opinion. “The Moon Has Its Secrets tells a compelling story, one which draws in selected parts of Jamaica’s wide cultural mix and weaves a story around characters hung together by history, ancestry and drama, connecting the past to the present and perhaps painting a signpost to the future. It is a book that, genre wise, will invite comparisons with historical slave novels but that would be an unfair box to plop it in.”

geisterCanadian film maker and TV director Michele Geister, who lives in Jamaica with her two children, made a lengthy review:  “Finally a new novel that is the first to celebrate the legacy of the island’s iconic, sole female national hero: Nanny of the Maroons. “The Moon Has Its Secrets” is eloquently drawn from Jamaica’s complicated, yet rich and fascinating history. Knowledge about this warrior queen exists only as legend so many thanks are due to the author for constructing a most feasible scenario for Nanny’s life.

Accomplished filmmaker, journalist and novelist Barbara Blake-Hannah has created an important work, weaving the country’s gritty, turbulent heritage and folklore into an adventurous page turner via the lives of five Jamaican women across the ages. Readers are taken on an intricately detailed journey of a nation’s maturation into self-awareness commencing with the horrors of Africa;s 17th century slave to colonialism then independence and all the way to the 1970’s international emergence of the Rastafari movement.

It is wonderful that this story is told from the female perspective as the country’s matriarchal lineage was/is Jamaica’s silent, unheralded strength.  The many annotated academic references heighten the experience of Blake-Hannah’s honest look back that is nuanced with feminine mysticism.  This book is a must have for all Jamaicans, high school students, visitors and lovers of this Caribbean island and its citizens’ feisty zest for life.

Nanny-of-the-MaroonsEMOTIONAL  REVIEW           Certainly, the most emotional review came from a US-based FaceBook friend, who had kept me informed with delightful comments as she read the first few chapters.  Then I didn’t hear from her for a while, until she sent this message:

“Blessings B.Makeda! Your book “the moon has its secrets” is forever united with me strong and even painfully,because first of all it touch my heart and soul from word one and secondly because it was my company during the last days of my beloved mother who has just left me little over a week. I was day and night at her bedside (she became almost 98, a history book herself) and at times she was sleeping I was reading thru…..finished the book little b4 she , as I want to say, flew away, because she always wanted to fly…..you see the connection how the book moved me? Just tellin u. When I am back on my feet and have my brain functioning proper I ll write the review on amazon….but I need some time now to get over this loss of my mom, a person that has always been there, all my life…….Highest Respect to you one love”

I was so startled. I wrote her back: “Wow!!! This is better than a ‘review’. I am so glad my book kept you company with your mother’s flight to Paradise!!! As the book showed you, she is just waiting to embrace you while you are still in flesh. Commune with her always, her spirit is real. Be comforted that JAH sent the book to keep you company. Your mother has good company with Nanny, who stayed with you both to the end. Never forget the spirit world. It’s real when the spirit is formed by LOVE.”

She wrote me back:  “This is such a beautiful picture!!!! Thank you, it imprint in mi mind and helps me…..I hope she can meet and reason with all these blessed elders that passed away lately …….some real great people leaving this earth rite now, isn´t it……. autumn leaves are letting loose of their trees, wild geese are gathering to fly to Africa….and all Mandela there too…… str8″

Definitely my favourite review!

nanny falls
Nanny Falls, Portland

THE MOON HAS ITS SECRETS is available by Kindle download or by ordering a paperback copy at Amazon.com.

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamaica – Ian Fleming’s Lasting Love Affair

goldeneye-cover-lg

Matthew Parker’s biography “GOLDENEYE – Where Bond Was Born; Ian Fleming’s Jamaica” is as much about the noted author as it is about Jamaica’s history between the end of colonialism and the start of Independence. Parker’s book is a refresher course of all the interesting and important events that took place during this important period of our national history and he reports well on Jamaican people, places and events of the time in a vivid description of the island’s mix of wealthy English residents, snobbish Jamaican Whites holding on to the tatters of Empire, and the Black patriots and political leaders whose actions led to Jamaica today.

Most of all, the book shows the great love Ian Fleming had for Jamaica. It was not just the place where he wrote his books. Jamaica, and his simple home Goldeneye were the true and deepest loves of Fleming’s life. The small beach below his house, the sea in which he was as much at home as on land and where his daily adventures were catching fish for lunch and challenging barracudas, moray eels and sharks, indeed the entire country itself were the only places where Fleming felt truly at home.

MEMORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE             Falling in love with Jamaica after his first visit as a British Intelligence officer in 1942, in 1946 Fleming bought land and a small strip of beach at Oracabessa and on it built a simple house where he lived as often as he could escape his life in England, hosting occasional visitors including playwright Noel Coward who became neighbour and a close friend, British aristocracy including his wife Ann (former Countess Rothemere) and eventually British PM Sir Antony Eden recovering from the disaster of Britain’s failed attack on the Suez Canal. Economic needs made him turn his travels and writing experience into a series of books that served not only to pay his bills, but which came to be the dramatic fantasies that kept alive the last embers of the fading British Empire through a hero who embodied the noble and heroic qualities that had built England into a world force.

DrNoBondJamaica is always depicted as the place where Bond would find a welcome and rest from his adventures and, in the stories with Jamaican locations — “Doctor No” and “The Man With the Golden Gun” — the place that refreshes his life.  “As ever,” Parker writes, “Bond is soothed and reinvigorated by Jamaica … while listening to cicadas singing from the lignum vitae tree.  For Fleming, Jamaica evokes fond memories of his many assignments and adventures on the island … for him Jamaica was the oldest and most romantic of former British possessions.”

Fleming kept the house simple to escape the social circle of the times that included the English colonial governors, relics of an era now fortunately long gone. Also pictured are the wealthy White Jamaicans and British millionaires with palatial homes for winter visits, maintaining a thin crust of upper-class pretentiousness and racial superiority, while ignoring the very real Jamaica that was developing around them.

RECORD OF JAMAICA’S TRANSITION             Parker’s carefully researched book is full of excerpts from Fleming’s personal letters, as well as those of his wife and friends. Through these we get a clear picture of a man who, despite his love of women, clearly preferred his own company, writing each morning as a ritual, then satisfying his love of the sea with snorkel, flipper and spear gun,  with which he regularly used to catch meals of fish and lobster. His wife Ann liked neither the sea nor the house, quite the opposite of Blanche Blackwell – his Jamaican lover in whom he found the perfect person to share Goldeneye with, whether Ann was there or not.

For me, the strength of Parker’s book is its value as a record of Jamaica’s transition from colonialism to Independence. He traces the development of Jamaica’s tourist industry that was highly influenced by the attraction to Fleming’s Goldeneye and Coward’s Blue Harbour home of a long list of famous Hollywood and British film and stage stars, citing this activity as a major factor in the building of North Coast hotels such as Tower Isle near Oracabessa, Sans Souci in Ocho Rios and Round Hill in Montego Bay. Parker quotes Fleming’s disgust at the development of “… the rash of millionaire hotels” that Bond, with mixed feelings notices as he flies in over Jamaica’s North Coast in ‘Doctor No‘ and quotes Jamaican critics who observe that “… tourism had turned Jamaican youths into touts, beggars and parasites”, stating that “…while the economic benefits of tourism were meant to mitigate the problems of Jamaica’s colonial past … the industry actually shored up many core features … and trapped the island in the grip of neocolonialism.  For some it was a trade off between dignity and much-needed dollars.”

PrincessMargaret19620810SHAKING UP SOCIAL LAYERS             Parker observes with some pleasure that Jamaica’s social layers were about to be shaken up, as things that had been accepted up till then were now being seen as wrong and in need of correction.  As Jamaica moved from Britain’s attempt to unite its Caribbean colonies into a manageable, but ultimately failed, political Federation, Parker writes of the lifting of what Norman Manley called ‘the dead hand of colonialism’, noting that the 1955 visit of Princess Margaret to celebrate Jamaica’s 300 years of British rule was observed without any reference to what had taken place in those 300 years.

But Fleming shows that he recognizes that the days of White elitism are over, when Bond in ‘Doctor No’ says of the Queens Club (a perfect copy of Kingston’s then-racially exclusive Liguanea Club) that “Such stubborn retreats will not long survive in modern Jamaica. One day it will have its windows smashed and perhaps be burned to the ground.”  As we learn in Parker’s book, “Fleming’s proudest boast was that he had ‘learned about living amongst, and appreciating, coloured people – two very different lessons I would never have absorbed if my life had continued in its pre-Jamaican metropolitan rut.’”

For Fleming, Jamaica provided a place of recovery as it did for his hero Bond. “Jamaica … made Fleming ‘a different person from how he was in Britain. The island smoothed Fleming’s rough edges and in the six years between building Goldeneye and writing his first book, he explored Jamaica as thoroughly as he explored the sea and coral reefs outside the house.”  Writes Parker, “… each year Jamaica had soaked into him, with its creative spirit and cocktail of luxury, melancholy, imperialism,, fantasy, sensuality, danger and violence.”  Fleming not only uses Jamaica as a location for his stories; he adds Jamaican characters and names of Jamaican friends in his stories.  In ‘Casino Royale‘ Bond signs his name as ‘James Bond, Port Maria, Jamaica’, the town where Fleming’s marriage to Ann Rothemere took place. In ‘Live and Let Die’ Fleming takes Bond to Negril in the days before tourism arrived and which, for Bond, “… is the most beautiful beach he had ever seen, five miles of white sand sloping easily into the breakers and, behind, the palm trees marching in graceful disarray to the horizon.”

ian_fleming14LASTING LOVE FOR JAMAICA.        England was Fleming’s home and the patriotic affection he had for his country can be seen in every Bond novel.  The symbolism of Queen Elizabeth 11 declaring the 2012 Olympics open with a spoof Bond moment, is an indication of how much Bond represents to England and its reputation as a world leader.  But Parker’s book shows that the love Ian Fleming had for Jamaica overshadowed Fleming’s life and loves, and was amply displayed in each Bond book.

Indeed, Jamaica as seen through the eyes of Ian Fleming is a most beautiful, wonderful, magical place, as much a celebrity in its own right as the many titled and famous people who visit him at Goldeneye. Parker’s book made me even more happy to be a Jamaican, and made me know and love Ian Fleming even more than I already do. A thoroughly satisfying read that will both inform and delight Jamaicans, as well as fans of that dashing, perennial hero James Bond.

© Barbara Blake Hannah

‘THE MOON HAS ITS SECRETS’ – a legend of Jamaican Maroon Heroine NANNY


slave girl (2)

coverFive women tell the story in Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah’s new historical novel THE MOON HAS ITS SECRETS. Kofia, a young African girl, is kidnapped and taken to Jamaica to become a slave. Inspired and strengthened by the life lessons her mother gave her each full moon, she passes down the secret information to her children, one of whom becomes a legendary Jamaican heroine. The novel follows Kofia and her generations from 16th Century Africa to 20th Century Jamaica.

Little more than legend is known about ‘NANNY OF THE MAROONS’, named Jamaica’s first and only female National Heroine in 1975. ‘Nanny’ was not her original name, but an honorary African title of ‘Queen’. Few facts exist about her, but her legend shines out from brave revolutionary history of the Maroons. This fiction honours her memory and the strength and independent spirit she has given to countless Jamaican women.  

Nanny-of-the-MaroonsFilm maker and TV director Michele Geister, writes in a review: “Finally a new novel that is the first to celebrate the legacy of the island’s iconic, sole female national hero: Nanny of the Maroons. “The Moon Has Its Secrets” is eloquently drawn from Jamaica’s complicated, yet rich and fascinating history. Knowledge about this warrior queen exists only as legend so many thanks are due to the author for constructing a most feasible scenario for Nanny’s life.

Jamaican author Claudette Beckford-Brady writes: “This fascinating novel  speaks to Barbara Blake-Hannah’s talent as a writer and should be required reading for all Jamaicans, and particularly high school students. It would also be good to see this book turned into a movie.”

A reviewer on Amazon writes: As a descendant of the Portland Maroons, THE MOON HAS ITS SECRETS was very personal for me. As I read the book, the stories that I heard about the Maroons from my father became more real to me.
In a larger sense, it reminds us of the horrors of slavery. The book reminds us that we must respect and value women in our society and respect and honor our elders. It reminds us of the rich culture that Africans took to Jamaica. It reminds us of the struggles for equal rights and justice in Jamaica. It reminds us of the role of Marcus Garvey in instilling African pride in a people who had lost their identity.  It reminds us of the role of the Rastafarian movement in making a spiritual and biblical connection with Emperor Haile Selassie.

bbhBARBARA BLAKE HANNAH has worked in Britain and Jamaica as a journalist, film maker and author specializing in Jamaican culture, media and entertainment.  She is also author of RASTAFARI – The New Creation (1st edition 1982) the first book on Rastafari written by a practicing member of the faith, ‘JOSEPH – A RASTA REGGAE FABLE’ inspired by the life of her friend, reggae legend Bob Marley, HOME – THE FIRST SCHOOL, a parental guide to early childhood education, and GROWING OUT: BLACK HAIR & BLACK PRIDE,  a memoir of her early life and the development of her racial self-confidence while living and working as the first Black TV journalist in Britain.  

THE MOON HAS ITS SECRETS is available on order at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle.

YESTERDAY AND TODAY – 2 PLAYS FOR JAMAICA 50

BLACK ON BLACKE

Jamaica is a country of contrasts, carved out by its history as a former slave plantation and British colony. It is mere divine co-incidence that in this Jamaica50 year celebrating the start of the ‘new Jamaica’, two plays currently running in Kingston demonstrate very accurately the development of the nation from the start of the struggle for freedom, to the Jamaica of today, showing the difference between Uptown and Downtown, rich and poor, two studies in Black and Blacke.

MR & MRS BLACKE is set in the Uptown Kingston world of gated communities and three-bedroom townhouses with designer décor, where a stay-at-home wife and her investment broker husband battle verbally to define their marriage and secure their financial goals.

Mr. & Mrs Blacke are obsessed with wealth. Mr. Blacke is anxious to seal a deal with a former boss that will earn him Millions, but Mrs. Blacke is jealous of the former boss – a woman, and suspects the deal and the relationship. As the viability of the deal is questioned, the foundation of the mutually-childless relationship frays and the quarrel that has been simmering under their 10-year-old marriage erupts into a fight that opens old wounds. Mr. Blacke throws Mrs. Blacke out of the house, she returns defiantly and then …. no, I won’t spoil the ending.

STANLEY, FAY, PULARCHIE & P takes place nearly a century ago in a Downtown Kingston tenement yard, at a time when poor Jamaican workers were beginning to protest slave wages in a series of island-wide strikes and riots that gave birth to the modern trade union movement.

Ferril, Titus, Davis, Newland
Photo: Rudolph Brown/ GLEANER

BLACK WORKING CLASS          S,F,P & P was written by the late Gloria Lannaman with a central theme of the labour unrest of the 1930s. The playwright uses this period of Jamaica’s history to weave a tale of the life and human conditions of the Black working class people of that time and the significant political and social developments that led to the Jamaica of today. Stanley, a wharf worker who lives with and loves Fay, is agitating the other workers to demand a raise in their hourly wage from NinePence to One Shilling an hour – a surprisingly princely sum to Joey, the country-bumpkin-come-to-town who earns NinePence a day as a farm manager!

Stanley’s efforts to persuade the workers to join his demands for more pay are resisted by Silas, who says workers cannot win against management when there is so much willing, free labour. Stanley’s efforts to mobilize the workers causes him to lose his job, then as rioting begins in the street, Silas is killed and Stanley is framed for his murder. To escape, he must … no I won’t spoil the ending either.

SOCIAL CONTRASTS  Seeing these two plays one night after the other was an unusual experience of social contrasts for me. In two nights of good theatre, Jamaica takes an astonishing leap from yesterday to today. You get the feeling that if the characters in either play met each other in real life, neither would recognize or acknowledge the reality of the other. No one in 1938 could have believed that their grandchildren could have left the ghetto so spectacularly as the two uptowners in their pristine white townhouse. Nor could the two uptowners — accustomed to their smartphones, gymn appointments and expensive lunch dates – ever believe they came from the humble beginnings of Stanley and Fay’s yard, though in fact, we ALL came from there in one way or other.

Compared with the pathos and emotion of STANLEY & FAY, MR & MRS BLACKE’s marital strife seems trivial and even amusing. But it is as real a picture of the economic lives that fashion Jamaica today, as was STANLEY & FAY of yesterday’s Jamaica. In fact, it is so uncanny how similar both couples are, that both plays should be a compulsory double-bill presentation for all Jamaica to see.

King, Patterson, Issa

STELLAR PERFORMANCES  What both plays have in common are some stellar performances, rarely seen on a Jamaican stage. MR & MRS BLACKE has only two actors, Keiran King who is not just a good actor believable in the role, but he also wrote the play and produced it. He and Keisha Patterson – a perfect portrayal of female yuppie hysteria — occupy the stage throughout the entire play in a perfectly co-ordinated duologue that ranges through all emotions that expose the highs and lows of their relationship with keen acting talent. The story of the yuppie couple gives a telling (and perhaps accurate) glimpse of the life, interests and aspirations of those behind the gated walls of ‘uptown’ and the play is a tour-de-force of acting, as well as a well-written story not often seen in Jamaican theatre. The surprising ending adds up, but it’s a story we hope isn’t fully over, perhaps a sequel – as it was such a pleasure.

Director Paul Issa moves his actors effortslessly across the stage, giving them dramatic action and pacing that makes the play a delight to enjoy. He says he worked hard to present the characters tuthfully, without passing judgment on their flawed but human natures. The producers Eight, Seven, Six Productions, whose brochure states that they ‘set their standards high’, presented an exceptionally beautiful set that gave an accurate setting for the drama, including an outdoor garden with plants on which ‘rain’ falls very realistically in one part of the play.

SET DESIGN    Set design is again a beautiful feature of the STANLEY & FAY set, this time the brick and board, zinc roofs of a Downtown yard are spread across the stage. At one side the walls of one house disappear in a scene change to reveal a bedroom in another part of town, while in another scene a very realistic ‘country truck’ bumps and jolts the comic relief couple, Joey and Doris towards the country. The audience was in awe of the set changes which were quick and quiet.

Former PM Hon. P.J. Patterson with STANLEY & FAY cast
PHOTO: Rudolph Brown

The players are each excellent. Dennis Titus as Stanley shines in his role as the labour leader, with Sherando Ferril as his girlfriend Fay. Maurice Bryan plays Stanley’s friend Nathan who joins him, while veteran actor Carl Davis plays Silas who does not suport the cause. Marguerite Newland plays Miss Pularchie, matron of the yard and mother of Doris, and actually played the role of Doris in the original staging of the play in 1974. Special mention must be made of Donald ‘Iceman’ Anderson who played ‘Joey’ with a unique comedic talent that made his scenes memorable. Director Pablo Hoilet can be proud of his work. This was a class production, no wonder as the production’s Patron was former PM. P.J. Patterson who attended the night I was there.

STANLEY & FAY was a great reminder of days gone by. The language so carefully researched by writer Lannaman, caused us to laugh to hear it. Remember ‘chuppence’ (Threepence) or ‘grip’ (small suitcase)’? “Whe’ yu ben dey?” (Where were you?) caused the loudest laugh of the night. But more than the laughs was the opportunity to be reminded of what our forefathers endured to win the full freedoms from slavery, through the struggle of the 1938 workers. It’s a battle worth remembering, as we celebrate 50 years of an Independent Jamaica.  Congrats to producers Marjorie Whylie and Pauline Stone-Myrie, who played Fay and Ms. Pularchie in the original production.

JAMAICAN THEATRE EXCELLENCE    Overall, these two plays show that Jamaican theatre still has moments of excellence, amidst the popular camaraderie that graces our stages. I encourage productions to have a film record made of these theatrical gems, so that generations to come may have the opportunity shared by a few adventurous theatre-goers who value live, high quality entertainment.  GO SEE THESE PLAYS!!!

Independent VoYces Literary Fair

  Showcase for Jamaican Authors

Authors came out in numbers to support the first Independent VoYces Literary Fair, organised by Judith Faloon-Reid in association with Bookophilia – the innovative Kingston bookstore that has become the favourite meeting place for Jamaican lovers of good books. The fair was organised specifically to support Jamaican authors and self-publishers, a growing field in a country where it is difficult to find publishers willing or able to print and distribute the growing number of locally-written books, especially at a time when books by Jamaicans or with Jamaican themes are topping the home best-seller lists.

Drummers entertain

Strawberry Fields, the venue, is a beautiful eco-adventure resort at Robins Bay, St. Mary on the north coast of Jamaica, within an hour’s drive of Kingston. The setting was spectacular – a broad, green hillside sloped down to a white sand beach on which huge, white-foam waves crashed into turquoise sea, luring a bather or two. Patrons sat under tents strategically placed on the lawn, surrounded by a building housing the Bookophilia bookstore and crafts booths, while a food court perched on the hillside offered fish, jerked chicken, roast yam, bammy, corn and festival, washed down by coconut water chopped open from a huge pile resting under a coconut tree.

READERS AND BOOKS

Horace Peterkin (r) takes photos

Among the visiting authors were Yvonne McCalla Sobers, Erna Brodber, soon-to-be-published Horace Peterkin and Marcia Forbes who was promoting her new book Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality – the first-ever examination of the ways in which contemporary music and music videos influence and affect the sexual behaviour of Jamaican youths. The launch of Marcia’s book at the Pegasus Hotel last week was the biggest and most spectacular launch of any Jamaica book, with an excellent speech by Minister of Education Hon. Andrew Holness.

BBH & Marcia Forbes

I was impressed by the poems read by dreadlocksed Resident Magistrate Her Honour Lyle Armstrong, who in her other life is a quite an adventuress. Veronica Carnegie had the audience laughing and singing along as she read from her book “The Tie Came Back”, while broadcaster Tomlin Ellis gave a blast-from-the-past with his poetry. Jill Roberts not only gave us a recipe from her cookbook “A Hamper of Recipes from Jamaica”, but offered all a slice of delicious carrot cake, while Tracy Tucker delivered delightfully from her poetry anthology “The Day I Met Me”. It was not all prose, as there were performances by the Jamaica Youth Theatre, as well as a virtuoso musical moment by Joe Tapper & the Speaking Sax. Among the special moments, I cannot forget a spectacular presentation by dub poet Kavel the Psalmist.

Childrens' music lesson

All praise is due to the two writers honoured at Independent VoYces. First was Hon.Melita Samuels, who was awarded the Order of Distinction in the recent Jamaican Honours. The second honouree was Dr. Jennifer Keane-Dawes, a former journalist now Dean of Graduate School at the University of Maryland, who made her literary name writing a weekly column of Letters to Jamaica in our native patois dialect, while studying in the USA. Her book ‘Dear Jamaica” is a compendium of the funniest and most popular of these columns written between 1991-2008, andis  a welcome addition to the growing number of books that celebrate and acknowledge our native language. She tells how, homeless and with a baby to support, she slept on the floor with her son on a pillow, while mopping floors to support her studies for a degree at the University.

Jennifer Kean-Dawes & MC Judith Faloon-Reid

‘One day I was so lonely, I began to cry. And then I started writing the letters. The more I wrote, the better I felt. I continued to write the letters, commenting sometimes on the difficulties facing me. Whispered a proverb: “Learn fi stay pon crooked an cut straight’. In other words, Do not complain, make the best of the opportunity that presents itself.

Judith Faloon-Reid is to be congratulated for presenting Independent VoYces. The day was full of laughter, good vibes and friendly encounters in a venue that was a beautiful place to be on a bright, sunny Sunday. We authors all agreed that we look forward to next year’s event, which we are certain will be bigger and better. I can’t wait.

Meantime, I will return to Strawberry Fields to relax in its cosy cottages, ride the adventure trails on horseback, shower in the waterfall and swim in the beautiful seaside beach.

 (Photos: Independent VoYces & Marcia Forbes)

GROWING OUT REVIEWS

Beverley Anderson Manley

My book GROWING OUT: Black Hair & Black Pride, was launched last week by Mrs. Beverley Anderson Manley, former First Ladyof Jamaica and my former London flatmate. I have been fortunate to receive some complimentary comments about the book. Here are some:

Growing Out is Blake-Hannah’s wry compendium of her life-altering experiences, wit and vivid storytelling. TALLAWAH Entertainment blog

In the Liv-ication she says this book is not for white people because it will surprise and anger us. I think this book is written precisely for us, so that we understand and overcome any prejudices we still have and forgive our parents and ancestors for their mistreatment of Jamaicans and other non-whites. I am very much aware of my British ancestry here in Jamaica and fully aware of the inequalities of the past finding myself wanting to apologize for past injustices. We should be shocked and angered at our crimes.  BUNTY HAMILTON,  in her online blog.

 

With author Yvonne McCalla Sobers

Growing Out is very good indeed. Its only in the last ten years or so that memoirs have come into vogue in Jamaica, and in that still-growing field, this tome stands out. Fluid, witty and heart-felt, Growing Out is important for the present generation of Jamaicans (adolescents included) who have little or no clue of the travails endured by Jamaicans who went to the UK in the 50s and 60s, nor of the breadth of their impact on that society. Memoirs are also distinguished by inside info, and whether its on the BBC, London High Society or the international marketing and promotion of The Harder They Come, Growing Out succeeds in this regard. Poignant too, are the scars of racism that overlie the book, as well as the “backstory” of Mr Jones that runs concurrently.   MICHAEL EDWARDS, journalist & reviewer.

Thank you all so very much.

WRITE ON!!!!