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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STAND-OUT ARTISTS OF 2014

My pick of the Jamaican artists whose music brought a smile to my face in 2014 – Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah.

no-maddz-shotta-750x750Top of my list is NOMADDZ, a unique group of which there is no comparison or precedence. A mix of dub poets, performance artists and reggae singers whose music is a fusion of sounds and whose lyrics are always thought-provoking, each is talented in their own right. We haven’t heard from them in a while since they dropped “Breadfruit is The New Bread”, though we’ve been watching some excellent acting performances from Everaldo Creary and Sheldon Shepherd in the Jamaican movie “Betta Must Come”. Now NOMADDZ has teamed up with Sly & Robbie to produce a new album that displays their many versatile talents excellently and will probably earn lots of accolades in 2015.  “(Watch NOMADDZ – ‘Shotta’)  

IMG-20141222-03059stephen newlandROOTS UNDERGROUND and RAGING FIYA are reggae bands in the lineage of Third World and Steel Pulse that command a stage in their own right, not merely as backing artists to a major act. A recent double-bill in Kingston over Christmas confirmed the musical excellence of both bands that has seen them each booked for the major music festivals in 2014 and to come in 2015.  STEPHEN NEWLAND, lead singer of Roots Underground, is an electric performer who brings further dynamism to the group’s rootical music, while Raging Fiya – though only a few years old – show a cohesion and professionalism that makes their performances good to watch, listen and dance to.

kelissaKELISSA McDonald stands out from the upcoming female musical flowers that include JAH9, , HEMPRESS SATIVA, CEN’C LOVE and newcomer NEO-SULAN SMITH with a series of dynamic performances at home and abroad. A powerful solo show before Christmas gave insight that she holds her own as a performer on the recent international tour with Chronixx, and it is clear that her few single hits will surely increase in 2015. Often keeping her company is her brother KEZNAMDI, whose 2014 songs “Darkness” featuring Kabaka Pyramid and “Weekend” showed that he is a talent in his own right. (Watch ‘WINNA’ ft. Chronixx )

jesse royal
kabakaJESSE ROYAL, DRE ISLAND
and KABAKA PYRAMID all came to attention at the start of the ‘Reggae Revival’ movement, almost indistinguishable from each other. But each has carved out a space as a solo artist in 2014, distinguished by a hit that has given them greater visibility and enabled them to stand out from each other.  Each can be proud of their increased popularity and tour dates in 2014, following hard on the heels of CHRONIXX and PROTOJE, who still hold the top spots among the ‘Reggae Revival’ crowd.  WATCH 
DRE ISLAND – ‘Rastafari Way’: 

exile di brave

dexta malawiEXILE DI BRAVE and DEXTA MALAWI are a new breed of roots artists who have developed an identity while hosting music events that feature them and their group of artist friends. Exile Di Brave‘s ‘Vinyl Thursdays‘ revived interest in vinyl disc sessions and gave a few up-coming artists a weekly chance to dub live. Dexta Malawi launched his catchy hit song and video “Woke Up This Morning” with a Boxing Day 2013 party at popular Afrocentric restaurant Veggie Meals On Wheels that took the song on its global journey. Both artists have toured Europe in 2014 and are set to continue in 2015.  WATCH “Woke Up This Morning’ Dexta Malawi 

NRG

NEW REGGAE GENERATION – In late 2013 three friends ARSEENAL D’ARTILLARY, IYAH GIFT and MAKONNEN BLAKE-HANNA who have been working as solo artists on their own careers, united in a musical fraternity to perform as the N.R.G. – the NEW REGGAE GENERATION. The unusual trio who sing together, back each other up and mix it up in a combination of roots reggae, hip-hop and dub, received special attention for their performances at a growing number of 2014 events, including the popular ‘Kingston Dub Club’ Sunday night session, Bob Marley Museum’s ‘One Love Fridays’ and the ‘Pay Attention’ hip-hop sessions.

iyah gift albumRSEENAL ALBUMWhile accepting the growing recognition of N.R.G., each artist continues to work on his individual career with positive results that will increase in 2015. Solo albums were released by IYAH GIFT and RSEENAL in 2014, soon to be joined by MAKONNEN in 2015. IYAH GIFT brings a touch of his African parental roots to his music, (LISTEN HERE) while RSEENAL‘s album ‘A Luta Continua – Vitoria e Cierta” (LISTEN HERE:) reflects his position as a committed revolutionary, whose bullets are his rapid-fire lyrics.

rockers revolution coverMAKONNEN,  a ‘tech genius’ whose early musical years were spent as composer/producer of a number of artists and hits, took on the added musical role of artist in 2013 and came to attention with the popular airplay of his first single “Red Eye”.  Makonnen’s Soundcloud page (LISTEN HERE) features several tracks from his upcoming album ‘Rockers Revoution‘. Dermot Hussey, musicologist and host of “RIFFIN” online radio show, says of Makonnen: “What I like about Mak’s music, is the creative elements he produces. His work is very focused, and he makes use of a wider sonic choice, his beats underscore that as a young brother he marches to a larger sound. There is a lot of talent in Jamaica, but an equally repetitive factor, a kind of mono culture, the same thing over and over, or one thing at a time, but as a young man, he understands the generational shift, because he’s a part of it, and understands that it relates to a bigger picture.”

STARS OF 2015  – These are the Jamaican artists whose performances and music I will be looking out for in 2015. Wishing them all the BEST for the New Year.

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.

IMG-20141213-02929
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.

IMG-20141213-02968
Kelissa, Kabaka Pyramid & Dre Island
IMG-20141213-02956
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

Stepping out, Stepping UP – Maki-B

Mak FoundationStepping out from behind the producer’s console, where he made hits for Capelton, Jr. Reid and Teflon — to name a few, Makonnen Blake-Hanna a.k.a. ‘Maki-B’ shows his musical and lyrical style in a sampler of singles from the New Generation of Reggae. From growing up around producers like Computer Paul Henton, Scatta Burrell, Don Corleone and more, and with more than a decade as a composer and producer of beats for a number of young reggae artists, Makonnen Blake-Hanna is fulfilling his lifelong ambition to bring his own music and lyrics to the world.

Alone, and in combination with his musical friends IyahGift, Rseenal D’Artillery, Whisky Baggio, Mc Chita, and in alliance with Orange Hill Records, he is now releasing his music in singles and videos that give him a chance to express himself musically and lyrically. The songs have a uptempo throwback to the old school style of roots dub/reggae and dancehall vibez from the great sounds we are used to hearing from the heart of Jamaica, with clean messages and uplifting riddims that inspire and educate through JAH Love. These tracks speak to and for the youths of ghetto all over the world right now.

LISTEN TO ‘RED EYE’ from his new EPK https://soundcloud.com/search?q=makonnen%20-%20red%20eye

Maki-B says “Red Eye” is a lyrical look into the life of a young Rasta man living in Babylon in this day and age, and how he uses the teachings of Rastafari to conquer the bad=minded people. “We are the new generation of real Jamaican Rastafari Reggae Artists & musicans” he says,  “so we face many things in our musical life’s journey. My style is blended from the great elders like Bob Marley, Supercat, Briadeer Jerry, U-Roy with some new vibez like Damian Jr Gong, Ky-Mani Marley, Sean Paul and Colibudz.”

Iyah Gift, Whisky Baggio, 77 Klash,Maki-B & Orange Hill Mgr. Scur Lowe
Iyah Gift, Whisky Baggio, 77 Klash,Maki-B & Orange Hill Mgr. Scur Lowe

Maki-B is bringing Orange Hill Music back into the limelight after so many years, by introducing to the label a new breed of artists he has beenn working with who are unique and already making names in the reggae music industry: Jamaican/Nigerian Iyah Gift, Rseenal D’artillery – a Heiniken DJ contest winner;MC Chita – Zimbabwean music award winner, and ‘star of the West’ Whisky Baggio.

For certain, they will surely be next year’s reggae music talking points. Their first release “Set It Off” has attracted national attention on social media and already has more than half a million views in less than one month of release.

Following hard on the heels of that hit, the team produced “Pressure Is On” featuring Whisky Bagio, produced at Flex RichStudio in Sav-la-Mar, Westmoreland. The video was so hot, the group was featured and interviewed on HYPE-TV’s popular UP & LIVE Friday show. Much more is expected and much more is promised from Maki-B and his team.