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.

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Kelissa Live on Reggae Mountain

IMG-20141213-02941

IMG-20141213-02947The heavy rains all afternoon cooled the temperature at Reggae Mountain, that section of Jacks Hill overlooking the lights of Kingston that is home to the popular Sunday night Kingston Dub Club sessions, and was once home to Bob Marley and his family. It’s also home to the McDonald family, whose elders Errol and Kerida formed their signature group Chakula in 1955 while raising three children who have grown up to make their mark in the entertainment industry. Daughter Kamila is a TV celebrity married to reggae artist Jah Cure, and son Keznamdi is a solo artist.

Kamila with Nomaddz
Kamila with Nomaddz

But it was daughter Kelissa who packed the beautiful venue on Saturday December 13 to deliver a professional one-and-a-half-hour show that had the happy crowd, wrapped in warm sweaters and hoodies, hooting and hollering for her hit songs that were clearly well known by those who came to listen. Introduced by her sister Kamila, Kelissa welcomed the audience by telling them she had come to ‘teach’ and they were her ‘students’. Indeed she did just that, interspersing her music with comments about life, women, music and the art of survival for today’s revolutionary reggae warriors.

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Natural High Music

With the showcase already warmed up from early evening by the musicial selections of Natural High Music, and backed by her 5-piece band Ambessadors who showed a professionalism made even greater by their obvious youthfulness, Kelisssa took complete charge of the stage and the evening to give a taste of how she adds strength to reggae superstar Chronixx‘s show when she is on tour with him, as she often is.

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Kelissa, Kabaka Pyramid & Dre Island
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Samantha

Chronixx was away performing in Australia, but Kelissa was not without strong company as Jesse Royal, Dre Island, Kabaka Pyramid, Young J.R. and her brother Keznamdi were some of the artists present who came on stage to embellish her show and delight the audience with a short performance of their own. A unique feature of the show was the agile tap dancer Samantha who amazed the audience with steps and style to accompany the reggae rhythms – something new that added to the special-ness of the show.

IMG-20141213-02949Kelissa is an unusual artist, a talented guitarist and song-writer who rides the rhythms with confidence and style, blending easily with her well-drilled band and her backing singers to deliver a performance that deserves the admiration and attention she receives at home and abroad. Kelissa’s infectious smile, frequent laugh and commanding personality endeared her to all present, who greeted her hit songs “Babylon is Burning” and “Winna” with hoots and hollers, singing along all the way. She also performed new songs “Best Kept Secret” on a Natural High riddim, and closed the show with “Live for Today” produced by  Walshy Fire from Major Lazer.

Father Errol McDonald, watching from the sidelines, must surely have been proud to see the great talent his musical parenting has nurtured. The show venue he has built as part of their hillside home is a professional space under the stars and with such facilities at their disposal, the professional result is not surprising. As the night ended and patrons started hugging farewell, the McDonald patriarch can rest assured that the musical baton has been securely passed to the second generation and, from all indications, will be to the next. Reggae lives on!

Donisha      IMG-20141214-02974       Jesse Royal with Makonnen       IMG-20141214-02979IMG-20141214-02975

PHOTOS: Donisha Prendergast, Dexta Malawi, Makonnen & Jesse Royal, Keznamdi, Monique.

(c) Barbara Makeda 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.

Bob’s 66th Birthday Bash

MARLEY MUSEUM CELEBRATES

IN THE SPOTLIGHT joined the world to celebrate the 66th Earthday of National Hero Ras Robert Nestor Marley, February 6, 2011. The official celebrations took place on Sunday, February 6 at 56 Hope Road, the home where Bob lived and worked, now become the Bob Marley Museum. The spirit of Bob filled the entire yard, as the Nyabinghi drums and chants began the day’s celebrations of musical praise and tribute to the Most High JAH RASTAFARI.

The throng of Rastafari brethren and sisters in colourful traditional dress, exchanged greetings of Peace and Love, while IRIE-FM – the great reggae radio station – broadcast a live link of interviews with the many musical and Rastafari personalities present. A breakfast feast was served by the Legend Cafe, with aromatic Marley Coffee and fresh juices. A cake was cut.

The Nyabinghi drums rested, then Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith led his Inner Heights band and lead singer Sangie Davis, into live Marley music and the Marley legend showered blessings on all present. Artists such as Dean Fraser, Cherine Anderson and Tarrus Riley performed live in the space outside the famous house, and the grounds rocked with the joyousness of the music and the spirit.

MARLEY RINGTONES

Donisha Prendergast with Digicel's Mark Linehan (left) and Donovan White at the launch of a partnership between Digicel Caribbean and the Bob Marley Foundation.

The Marley Birthday tribute had begun days earlier, at a special event also held at the Museum. There popular cellphone company DIGICEL launched a contract to enable downloads of Marley ringtones on their phones. This is another coup by the company which also has promotional links with Olympic superstar Usain Bolt and stunning Miss Universe runner-up Yendi Phillips. Signing on behalf of the Bob Marley Foundation was Marley Museum Director Jacqueline Stewart and Donisha Prendergast of the Marley family.

A massive concert at Trench Town Culture Yard on the Saturday night, at which a host of artists paid tribute to Marley in the inner-city ghetto where he lived and made music. Other events included a massive free concert on Marley’s birth night at Emancipation Park.

MARLEY – NATIONAL HERO!

The mood of this year’s celebration was heavily elevated by a new campaign for Marley to be declared a National Hero, this time led by IRIE-FM’s ‘Running African‘ radio show, whose host Andrea Williams has renewed this issue, particularly in light of controversy surrounding the recent naming of a new Jamaican aerodrome after the English author of the James Bond books, while Marley has received no similar national recognition.

Therefore the media and public comments about Marley circulating over the days leading to his Birthday focused on the many ways in which the Rastaman has earned the national tribute of Hero. By mid-morning of Bob’s Birthday the Minister of Culture Olivia Grange joined in the chorus and announced she would spearhead the public effort to have her government give Marley the honour he deserves. About time!!!

REGGAE FILM FESTIVAL NEWS

By popular request of fans of the Reggae Film Festival, the month of February will not pass without a taste of Reggae films. As such, the Jamaica Film Academy will host a REGGAE FILM FESTIVAL PREVIEW at the Bob Marley Legend Cafe, 56 Hope Road, on February 25. The event will show trailers of films already entered in the film festival, scheduled for May 23-27 at the Whitter Village, Ironshore, Montego Bay.

From the JFA archive labelled ‘The Best of the Reggae Film Festival’, COUNTRYMAN is a classic film by Jamaican director Dickie Jobson. A small plane flown by a young American couple crashes off the Hellshire coast and the police begin a hunt for what is assumed to be a ganja escapade gone awry. The couple are rescued by Countryman, a native fisherman and mystic, whose fire-cooked meal of Jamaican food he prepares for the couple has become a classic of reggae film scenes.

Jamaica Film Academy chairman, actor Carl Bradshaw does his usual good job of playing a major film role, this time as the police chief and will answer questions from the audience in the CineChat session after the screening.  Young Jamaican digital animator Reinardo Chung will showcase his film BAD INFLUENCE and talk about his film art.

BBC-TV ENTERS REGGAE FILM FESTIVAL

The Jamaica Film Academy is proud to announce that BBC-TV has entered its first film in the Reggae Film Festival with REGGAE BRITANNIA, an exciting new documentary spotlighting some of the genre’s most influential and greatest artists. Part of the highly successful and critically acclaimed Britannia series for BBC Four, Reggae Britannia explores and celebrates the impact of reggae on British music and culture from the Sixties through to the mid-Eighties.

The documentary delves into the world of reggae, examining everything from the music, the bass lines and the spliff, to black kids speaking brummie or cockney, the romance of Jamaica and the smell of British streets in the Seventies. Travelling through the years, the programme talks to the performers who brought their music to the UK from Jamaica, discusses how reggae helped forge Rock Against Racism, showcases the New Wave bands of the Eighties who were influenced by the genre and explores how the genre became a part of the British mainstream my the mid-Eighties.

Directed by Jeremy Marre, the programme hears from The Specials, Dennis Bovell, Chris Blackwell, UB40, Paul Weller, Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson, Dennis Alcapone, Boy George and many more.

OTHER DOCUMENTARY ENTRIES

The BBC entry will face stiff competition for the Best Documentary Honour Award, as it will compete with such films as HOLDING ON TO JAH, the long-awaited documentary tribute to Emperor Haile Selassie 1, and INTENSIFIED, the story of the British band that made Ska a popular musical phenomenon in the UK long after it was no longer the music of Jamaican reggae.

The surprising renewal of interest in the brass-bound, big band music of the Jamaican 50s that was revived by INTENSIFIED, is shown in historic interviews, stero-recorded soundtrack and an inside look at some of the people who love reggae music, even though they were not Jamaican, or even Black. Directed by Spanish film maker Jep Jorba, whose film on Rico Rodriques was an entry in the 2008 RFF, INTENSIFIED tells their interesting story.

FISHBONE

Another interesting documentary entry is SUPERSTONIC DUB about film maker Don Letts (DANCE HALL QUEEN, Bob Marley videos) and his history as a DJ who introduced dub music to British clubs and radio. Historical footage and good interview.

EVERYDAY SUNSHINE is a surprising feature documentary about US rock band FISHBONE, who included reggae in their avant-garde, dynamic and revolutionary music that influenced such bands as No Doubt, Black Eyed Peas and more. Fascinating footage and story narrated by ‘Matrix’ star Laurence Fishbourne are certain to capture interest and viewer votes.

The Reggae Film Festival is a project of the JAMAICA FILM ACADEMY, a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that is funded by private sector sponsorship.