“The scourge of poverty” by Jeremy Dear or What ails Jamaican journalism?

A UK magazine features the Jamaican Press as a pitiful thing, hobbled by poverty and corruption.

scourge

 

A few days ago the June/July 2013 issue of The Journalist, a magazine of the national union of journalists in the UK, carried a sensational article titled “The scourge of poverty” by noted British journalist, Jeremy Dear. In the article Dear, who was the main speaker at the annual National Journalism Week Forum put on by the PAJ and the National Integrity Action last year, outlines the parlous state of the Jamaican media with journalists so poorly paid that they die in poverty and while alive, are susceptible to bribes, threats, and gags of all sorts. In effect the impression is given that the Press corps in Jamaica has been castrated, and is ineffectually limping along, while going through the motions of aping a free and dynamic press.

 

If what is claimed in the UK article is true then this is an extremely serious situation. Yet top journos like Ian Boyne have scarcely mentioned it or warned the public about this  in their columns; Dancehall, it would seem by the inordinately high number of column inches he and other esteemed columnists regularly devote to the subject, is a far more pernicious threat to Jamaican society not the virtual bankruptcy of the media!

 

In fact instead of trying to rescue this crucial democratic institution Jamaican leaders are busy trying to find better ways to censor dancehall lyrics. You really have to scratch your head wondering about such blatantly misplaced priorities.  But maybe there’s some method to the madness after all. For if the media has effectively been gelded (look at the number of posts I’ve written pointing out its inadequacies) into submission by corrupt interests then the next step is to suppress the voice of the people, nah true? And that would be dancehall.

 

But read the article below for yourselves and see what you think. I had to  reproduce it in full as it’s not easily available to post and circulate otherwise. Thanks to Debbie Ransome for originally bringing it to my attention.

 

It is a universal truth that there can be no press freedom

if journalists live under conditions of corruption,

poverty or fear.

 

Little wonder then that Jamaica’s journalists are

increasingly concerned that their cherished media

freedoms are under serious threat as low pay and precarious

employment stalk the media.

 

Five of the last seven editors of Jamaica’s biggest newspaper

have died in poverty, unable to afford the care they need after

a lifetime serving an ungrateful media. Journalists called

out to cover a job are sometimes unable to respond because

they do not have even enough money for petrol for their

car. Others out covering hurricanes have had to leave their

children alone at home in the raging storm because they

cannot afford proper childcare.

 

And these journalists, fearful about losing their jobs, have

suffered in silence. In Jamaica such issues have only been

whispered about.

 
Corruption is rife in Jamaican society. In December,

Jamaica was ranked 83 out of 174 countries by Transparency

International. Journalists are the targets of vested interests

– from corporations to politicians to criminal gangs and

even media owners promoting their own business interests.

Widespread poverty among the country’s media workers

opens up the possibility that such vested interests can exert

an undue influence on journalists.

 
But today, the Press Association of Jamaica, which is

bombarded every week with requests for loans and financial

support from journalists who have fallen on hard times, is

finding its voice. Alongside campaigns to create a joint press

council with media companies and for an end to punitive

criminal libel laws which restrict journalists’ ability to do

their job, it is to launch a nationwide campaign to fight

against the poverty of journalists as a way of working to

improve quality and tackle the possibility of individual

journalists being susceptible to corruption.

 
The PAJ Executive has declared 2013 the year it “takes the

message to all stakeholders that the under-compensation of

journalists is a threat to the freedom of the media which we

all so treasure”.

 
Its says: “Any journalist worried about their next meal is

cannon fodder to the corrupt who want to ensure that their

deeds do not make it into the pages of the newspaper or on

the radio and television newscasts. This is an issue which

everyone who wants to ensure a free, fair and independent

media in Jamaica should rally around and one which the PAJ

will champion”.

 
I heard first-hand stories of journalists who had accepted

money for petrol or loans or financial and other gifts or

discounts from politicians, corporations or other vested

interests while researching this article. Payola is seen by

many businesses as a legitimate way to get things done – and

by some journalists as a way to supplement meagre salaries.

 
Sometimes the request to handle a story a particular way is

explicit, sometimes implied. But in every case the journalists

know the intention is to attempt to corrupt media coverage.

The International Federation of Journalists recognises that

the poverty and precarious employment of journalists

means journalism is too open to corruption, too reliant on

corrupt practices so its independence can be challenged.

 
The link between journalists’ working conditions and

their ethical stance is not absolute — but conditions play a

significant part. If journalists feel insecure they are much

less likely to challenge dubious editorial decisions. If they are

very low paid, and journalism is for the most part very low

paid, then they find it harder to develop the independence of

mind on which ethical journalism depends.

 
That’s why the PAJ’s President Jenni Campbell is so

committed to tackling the financial well-being of her

members. Ms Campbell said: “At the heart of what journalists

do is asking questions on behalf of those who would not

otherwise have access and provide information that allows

people to make critical personal choices.

 
“But in our quest to be objective at all times, we often

fail to stand up for our own causes. Our failure is in not

recognising that press freedom is as much a matter of

providing access to the public to express themselves freely

and maintaining firewalls to guard against boardroom and

special interests’ abuse, as it is also the ability of journalists

to do their jobs without the deliberate and sometimes

systematic pressures of eking out an existence way beneath

the poverty line.

 
“We must stand firmly against working in a climate where

payola and other forms of corruption become almost a

necessary consideration as we are called upon to do more,

simply because new and emerging technology demand it,

without any thought of how these new realities impact on

our own already meagre personal resources.

 
“As role models, we put on a positive face of prosperity

even as we struggle to feed young families and grapple with

too-long working hours.

 
“We fight for changes to libel laws, we speak out firmly for

the right of freedom of expression, the right to know, then we

go home and suffer in silence….we must be prepared to speak

up for ourselves. It is only then that we can speak up for

others with confidence and without fear or favour”.

The PAJ is already winning widespread backing for its

campaign. Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director

of National Integrity Action, has backed the association’s

demands for more ethical training and support for

journalists so they can increasingly challenge government

officials and others.

 
And Sandrea Falconer, Jamaican Government Information

Minister and a former journalist, says her government has

listened to the PAJ’s case and will reform the country’s libel

regime – which currently opens the door to media being

sued for criminal libel and facing unlimited fines – before the

endof the current Parliamentary year. But she also challenged

media to provide journalists with practical support to help

them tackle corruption wherever it may appear – including

in the media itself.

 
“Private power has increased enormously over the years in

our society and private actors have the means to influence

media content and output. Media practitioners themselves

have to exercise considerable moral courage to resist unjust

enrichment. They need support to do that”.

Reggae Sumfest 2010: The Finale

Reggae Sumfest 2010 is a resounding success despite being dubbed the mudfest. Usher, Chris Brown, Beenie Man, Mavado, Elephant Man, Tarrus Riley the highlights of the final night.

Usher listening as the crowd sang along to every lyric!!! Photo: @Carae_Doll

By all accounts what is now being termed Reggae Mudfest was a huge success. Let me second @corvedacosta: WOW thanks to @marciaforbes’ tweets its like I am at Sumfest. All I need is mud on my floor. And according to @SeanABennett: Usher doing ‘There goes my baby’ expecting that the grounds will be even more soaked from the liquid flowin down some ladies legs.

Usher and Wata Photo: @goddessrockstar

The relentless rain continued for a third night but didn’t succeed in dampening the spirits of those who attended Reggae Sumfest 2010. Approximately 12,000 people are reported to have been there. The highlight of International Night 2 seems to have been Usher saying Gully and Chris Brown claiming Gaza while Mavado joined them on stage for one of the adrenalin-pumping performances of the night. “2 top foreign lock into 2 top local acts” as @marciaforbes observed.

Usher and Mavado Photo: @goddessrockstar
Usher, Chris Brown n Ele--3 the Hard Way!! Photo: @marciaforbes
Usher and @chrisbrown Photo: @goddessrockstar

A moment before that it was a different combination as Usher, Brown and Elephant Man took the stage and @SugaTwitts tweeted Usher, @chrisbrown and Elephant Man gully creepinnnn on stage!!

Around 4 am @ayeshaalexis who had previously tweeted You know you really tired when you drink a redbull and you’re falling asleep standing up announced …and all the women in the audience officially belong to usher. Di man tekkkkk sumfest! Excellent performance!!!!

Usher and co. were a hard act to follow but Tarrus Riley did the needful even though according to @goddessrockstar: tarrus should be at airport 5am straight to european tour, running late, hope they hold plane…

Dappa Dacta Dancehall King Beenieman...@marciaforbes

At minutes to 6 am @marciaforbes heralded Beenie Man’s arrival: Beenie Man, King of the Dancehall, arrives on stage in black sparkling suit with blue shirt accessosized with huge cross n black Fedora. A moment later another soundbyte: ‘Dem Lock me up fe tump LA Lewis but ah stayin alive, stayin alive’ Beenie aah trow wud!!

Crowd of 12000 Photo: @francoisonfame

Not all had the stamina to endure to the end. @endzoftheearth proclaimed her exhaustion to the world before retiring prematurely: Beenie man u know is u alone mi love but it late and mi muddy and tiyad and…

Well that’s a wrap: Mud or no mud I’m booking a hotel for Reggae Sumfest next year.

PS: The plagiarism problem i had reported earlier has been happily resolved. The website in question has attributed this blog as the source as they should have done in the first place. All’s well that ends well.

True or False? Verifying internet reportage

Report on my appearance on BBC World Have Your Say, the Shirley Sherrod case

Yesterday was a busy day and there was more than one reason i was glad  i had the good sense to turn back from Reggae Sumfest and return to Kingston the day before. The following tweet should give you some idea of the first good reason:
endzoftheearth Organisers need to do something abt the mud! Stones, grAvel, cardbord boxes, plywood – something #sumfestismudfest.
Being rained on all night long in a mud lake i can do without.

The other good reason was that i got a good night’s sleep and was able to compile the first report on Reggae Sumfest Dancehall Night by anyone anywhere by 9 am on Friday morning. And the reward for that came in the number of hits i got on this new blog platform I’ve been trying so hard to get people to visit.

Shirley Sherrod

The third good reason was that i was able to accept the BBC World Have Your Say programme’s invitation to participate in their globally aired discussion on internet rights and wrongs emanating from the firing and subsequent re-hiring of American civil servant Shirley Sherrod. Sherrod had allegedly made ‘racist’ remarks in a two minute video clip that later turned out to have been edited in a way that removed the context of her 43 minute speech. Whose responsibility is it to verify the reliability of material such as this? On whom should the burden of proof fall and thereby the penalty for purveying such misinformation? Is information transmitted via social media such as YouTube or Twitter making us ‘jump the gun’ as Obama said when the White House was forced to apologize to Sherrod and offer her another job?

As Obama put it “we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles.” The word for this is ‘blogswarm’.

So does the internet make us too quick to judge? Or is there wisdom in the blogswarm? asked BBC WHYS and the discussion that followed was a rich one that i was glad to be a part of. Also participating were former journalist Nigel Morgan of Morgan PR from Redding,UK, UK Guardian columnist, American Mike Tomasky, who is also  editor of Democracy journal. Other participants included Andrew Keene, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values, blogger Lola Adesioye from the US and Owais Ehsan, student of mass media and a blogger at Pro-Pakistan, in Islamabad.

The discussion was a lively one and was further enlivened by a caller from Jamaica, Omar, who made the point that it’s not only national media or internet bloggers that are guilty of posting misinformation but also international corporations; in Jamaica’s  2007 general elections, he claimed the BBC attributed something on their website to then Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller without verifying the accuracy of their source.

It’s true that the rapidly proliferating use of social media frequently lends itself to distortions and misrepresentations. For instance in my blogpost on Reggae Sumfest yesterday in which i was relying on tweets from the location for information i think i misinterpreted a tweet about Bounty’s ‘state of urgency utterance, and presented it in a particular way because of that. I thought he was castigating the government for the prolonged State of Emergency and recommending that they have a state of urgency instead about other crucial unmet needs when it turns out that he supported the SOE and was urging the government to go further by declaring a ‘state of urgency’ “towards correcting the ills that had been meted out to the people of Jamaica by successive governments” to quote Gleaner writer Janet Silvera in her article Bounty preaches change.

Rodney ‘Bounty Killer’ Pryce displays his award at the Sumfest show at Catherine Hall in Montego Bay on Thursday, which was designated Dancehall Night. The organisers of the event gave Pryce the award for his contribution to Reggae Sumfest. – Photo by adrian frater

The point i want to make is that while social media may sometimes tend to be less than reliable, it also allows faulty information to be corrected before serious damage is done provided the source is above board,  has no ulterior motive and is willing to make the necessary changes. This surely would be the case with most bloggers, tweeters and others whose popularity depends on the quality of what they put out.

For the others, that is those who deliberately put out misinformation for propaganda purposes, and have no intention of retrieving the situation–in this case, Andrew Breitbart— a blacklist or some other form of aggressive disincentive should be developed.

Click on the following link if you want to hear the whole discussion. Does the internet mean we’re too quick to judge?

Scoop! State of Urgency–Reggae Sumfest 2010 rocked!

First account of Dancehall Night Reggae Sumfest 2010. Vybz Kartel appears in prison suit and handcuffs. Bounty Killer calls for State of Urgency from government, as opposed to State of Emergency and vuvuzelas abounded…

DESERT CLARKS, EVRY CREP A GET FLING WEH!! Photo: @SugaTwitts

Right about now people are waking up and wondering how Sumfest 2010 went last night. Were there any brawls? Did Vybz destroy it? Was Bounty Killer cross, angry and miserable enough? Well folks i wasn’t there but i can give you the scoop on all this and more…

Actually i was supposed to be there. I even got as far as Falmouth with my par Hubert but the relentless rain got on our nerves and we decided to beat it back to Kingston. Luckily various attempts to buy tickets in advance had failed so it wasn’t an expensive decision (what’s with York Pharmacy insisting on cash only and then not having VIP tickets?? And why use Acropolis as a ticket outlet when it doesn’t open before lunchtime?)

Badd Girl Cecile at Sumfest. Photo: Marcia Forbes

Anyway i hit my comfortable bed in Kingston around 11 pm last night after seeing a tweet or two about Cecile’s performance. @marciaforbes reported that there was also a “Sumfest Lighter Tribute to O’Neil of Voicemail. About a dozen young men in white sing for O’Neil–Very touching!!” Woke up this morning and tuned in to find out that Miss Fluffy Kitty and Spice had had a “fluffy versus slim gal wining contest” with some help from Pamputtae. According to @marciaforbes “Spice [was] led on stage by Tivoli Demonstration ‘caz ppl are deading’ ‘Bruce me just want to ask u if Tivoli duppy dem don’t haunt u’.

Remaining two members of Voicemail, Craig Jackson, Kevin Blaire Photo: @itscraigyo
Craig Jackson @itscraigyo!!: @SugaTwitts

One of the highlights of the show was Kartel’s appearance dressed as a prisoner complete with handcuffs which had to be unlocked before he could perform, a literal reference to his arrest and two-week detention by security forces who claimed he was a ‘person of interest’ during the State of Emergency that ended at midnight last night. All i want to say on the SOE is that it’s remarkable that it’s always a DJ or some hapless individual from downtown that’s arrested as a person of interest, apparently the Jamaican middle classes and elites are composed exclusively of saints and angels.

Kartel Vybz Kartel in bright orange 'prison clothes' complete with handcuff. Photo: Marcia Forbes

According to @marciaforbes “Pure Police n Soldiers surround[ed] the entire backstage during Kartel’s performance ” and pandemonium and vuvuzelas greeted Kartel as he entered the Sumfest stage. She went on to tweet that the backstage security during Kartel’s performance was unprecedented. You have to wonder what exactly they were worried might happen!

Morning light, @iamthekartel closing the show. Oh! Ahoe! #sumfest Photo: @SugaTwitts

Bounty Killer (whose night it undoubtedly was) put it well when he said that the government needed ‘a state of urgency’ rather than a State of Emergency. Reggae Sumfest 2010 is mourning the untimely passing of pioneer Sugar Minott and Oniel Edwards of Voice Mail; Dancehall Night also celebrated the career of the redoubtable Bounty Killer, the paradigmatic Warlord of dancehall, the voice of the soil of Jamaica as he is sometimes called, a veteran who has not only towered over the landscape of dancehall for two decades but also launched the careers of a platoon of younger DJs including Vybz Kartel and Mavado.

Warlord a talk di tings tonight!!! #sumfest tunnnn upppp!!! Photo: @SugaTwitts
GULLY GAADDDD!! #mavado #sumfest Photo: @SugaTwitts
Mavado and Wayne Marshall doing You're Messing with my Heart Photo: @SugaTwitts
Movado shellin down di place! Photo: KueSound
Reggae Sumfest (Vybz Kartel and Russian) Photo: NotniceRecords

All in all it looks like it was a stellar Dancehall Night. I missed it but i lived it vicariously via Twitter. Special thanks to @SugaTwitts for the best photos, @marciaforbes and @DougiePlatinum for providing me with fodder for this post. @marciaforbes was womanning the Phase3 production centre below.

Phase 3 console

My Favourite tweet:

anthonyhaley Just put @ladymycherie to bed. She & our son-to-be did Dancehall night all the way through Adi Teacha. Teach them young they say! #sumfest

Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) 09: UnCONVENTional Edges out Rest


Neila Ebanks

It was June 22, Day 4 of Kingston on the Edge and UWI’s Philip Sherlock Centre was full as the audience, mostly young folk, waited for Dance on the Edge to begin. I was with Deborah Thomas and Junior Wedderburn, the former a seasoned dancer (and author of Modern Blackness), the latter an accomplished drummer who performs with the Lion King on Broadway. As the lithe, young dancers pranced around on stage we joked and laughed to ourselves, commenting among other things on the full house and the meaning or meaninglessness of the various dances.

Then right after a performance that Junior dubbed Johncrow nyam Dove, the tempo changed and the quality of the offerings went sharply uphill. A video with the puzzling title The Edging of Sister Mitzie Margaret started playing, featuring the exciting young dance maven, Neila Ebanks. With a quirky, offbeat, almost Chaplinesque sense of timing and parody Ebanks completely reinscribed the idea of dance as it has been known in these parts as she fluttered, skanked and slid her way on film along UWI’s Ring Road toward the Sherlock Centre. Dressed in a nun’s habit the film opens with Neila in the character of Sister Mitzie Margaret, intently inserting earphones and plugging into an ipod. As the music begins Sister Mitzie responds by quaking, shaking and feeling her way along the ground as if afraid the road might suddenly be pulled from
beneath her.


As the camera follows Sister Mitzie’s comical progress towards the Sherlock Centre, it suddenly dawns on you that she is mugging her way up the path to the auditorium and as you see her hand reaching for the door you realize with a shiver of anticipation that the dancer is actually outside and about to enter. Loud applause broke out as the the film then morphed into a live performance by Ebanks and she entered the auditorium, slipsliding across the stage and out a door on the other side, the film taking over once again, showing her emerging from the exit as the credits started to roll. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Other memorable performances were by a group of tough looking chicks who took on the Broadcasting Commission and the recent ban on ‘daggering’ and what it deemed ‘lewd’ dancing. They lay the ground for the high-energy, wickedly creative male dance troupe, Shady Squad, who captured the audience with their imaginatively choreographed dancehall moves and style. At one moment they even performed a version of Michael Jackson’s anti-gravity lean. Superb. The audience screamed with delight at their performance and a mere one and a half hours after it began the show ended on such a high note that as someone said on Facebook the next day it was a pity there was no after-party to capitalize on the incredible vibes.

For me KOTE’s evening of dance was the most memorable of the week-long self-styled urban art festival. This is KOTE’s third year and it keeps getting better and better. The thirty-something organizers managed to bring out filled-to-capacity audiences for all the events. I’m only sorry that I missed the opening night at Red Bones and the premiere of the film “Why Do Jamaicans Run so Fast?” a production that has been attracting a lot of attention. A clip of video i shot of my office co-workers watching the 100m men’s relay in Beijing is actually included in the film but more on that when I’ve seen it.

An effervescent fizz fills the air at successful cultural events and there was plenty of snap, crackle and pop at KOTE this year. Theatre on the Edge was pretty good but only one production stood out for me (I missed the first of the eight offerings). Everyone had ten minutes to present their work and Amba Chevannes as playwright made the most of hers. Using just one eccentric character talking directly to the audience, Miss Burton Gets A Promotion was quirky, natural and best of all contemporary. No ‘folk’ dressed in turbans and bandana trotting around shouting at the audience, thank God.

Its not that the rest of the eight ten-minute productions that evening weren’t good, the audience was certainly appreciative, judging by the loud applause that attended most of them. It’s just that i like to focus on the really outstanding performances, artworks, music—the ones its worth telling the rest of the world about. There was at least one of these in every field except visual art, which continues to trail behind the other arts in Jamaica (and the rest of the region for that matter), the works either too conventional or pedestrian or just plain bad. The best of a bad lot was The Core Insight at Olympia Art Centre, an atmospheric art space if ever there was one.


In Film on the Edge again one film dominated the rest, The Last Don, by the Rickards Brothers. A trailer for a proposed TV/video series the film depicts a typical day in the working life of music producer and promoter Josef Bogdanovich. Again the film is offbeat, quirky and brilliant along the lines of the innovative Brazilian documentary, Manda Bala (Send a Bullet). I plan to follow up soon with an interview with the conceptual force behind The Last Don, Peter Dean Rickards.

HABITUAL OFFENDER?

Meanwhile back to dancing on the edge: “Psychological, cathartic, layered. I rarely go for the easy or obvious” is what Neila Ebanks said about her work in an interview with Karin Wilson of Yardedge.

I asked Ebanks to tell me more about the birth of Sister Mitzie Margaret and how her KOTE project unfolded in real time. Who were her models or sources of inspiration? Was she trying to convey anything in particular? Why a nun? Interestingly The Edging… was conceived, planned and performed in a very short space of time with the dancer liasing with the film director, John DaCosta, at the Lit Fest Calabash in Treasure Beach a scant four weeks before Kingston on the Edge started.

Here’s what Neila told me:

My Sister Mitzie personality comes out of a love of classic goofiness —– think Carol Burnett, Dick Van Dyke, The Muppet Show, Mr. Bean —– and intelligent physical comedy. Her character has been inspired by my Catholic prep and high schooling and my wondering how much of themselves the sisters had to give up to serve (and sometimes not) as they did.

The piece is the second in what is to become a series of Sister Mitzie capers in which she tries to balance her whimsy with her duty as “bride of Christ” (said like the announcer for “Pigs in Space” from the Muppet Show ). The first in the series, UnCONVENTional, was actually premiered 10 years ago in my Improvisation examination @ the Edna Manley College School of Dance. The night before the exam I had a eureka moment when I thought of a striptease in reverse, and the most unlikely character to perform it. She wasn’t named at that time but she has been able to surprise and make an audience laugh everywhere she goes.

I often take my work back to the lab to tweak and twiddle and so in 2003, I revisted that first piece, called it A Life CONVENTtional and I created a 10 minute version of it which debuted @ the HIP Festival of Dance in London in. From that experiment I discovered that the effect was not as arresting when the piece was that long and so I returned to it’s original 3 minute format. The best thing about that trial, though, was that I got to really examine the character of Mitzie (@ that time still unnamed) and uncover her reasons for being and the layers behind her nuances.

Fast forward to KOTE and Mitzie’s edging… She wasn’t even supposed to appear! Lighting designer John DaCosta and I had a Calabash discussion about making a film for KOTE in which I (Neila) would be dancing off the edges of surfaces @ UWI until I reached into the theatre. I have always been interested in dance film, and John is making a foray into film-making and so we were both excited about the collaboration. We had further discussion about the concept with my right-hand man Michael Holgate but Mitzie only came into the picture the day before the shoot, after our rehearsal when we realised that the film needed another layer, the character needed history, a little complexity…. and rather than have us create a new character Mitzie raised her hand and said “Me please!” . We shot on the Saturday before Monday’s performance and as I improv’d John filmed while we tried to beat the inevitable sunset. The music was found (before we filmed) by my musicmate, Renee, who has the knack for finding just the right soundtrack for my life, but I didn’t listen to it more than once before filming, and not immediately either. In fact, as I danced I just made up my own music, because I couldn’t remember the melody. Editing was done in record time by Serchen Morris of Phase 3, and magically, even when he was asked to make things faster, the movement still fit the music perfectly. Sister Mitzie was obviously an idea whose time had come.

I don’t know if I was trying to do anything particular with Mitzie, except probably crack smiles and get to play with my audience and allow them to put the puzzle pieces together in a way which used technology and live dance differently. I mean, I know full well that in other contemporary dance circles the work might be described as too literal and simplistic, but as far as JA goes, not many persons are stepping into dance on film, and this is my starting point. It’s as I write this that I realise how interested I have always been in the illusions that film can help to create. The applause on entry to the theatre really surprised me, especially because I wasn’t sure how many people had seen the first installment (done most recently @ Jamaica Dance Umbrella in March 2009) and I was concerned that without that information the audience would not find it funny. Though the applause was great to hear and feel, I was most pleased with the engagement that I saw in the audience’s eyes when the house lights came on and Mitzie realised where she was. It’s a beautiful thing to realise you have been able to build that kind of connection with an audience in just a few minutes, without words.

Masters of the Universe?

Remember how former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was chided and ridiculed for wanting to hold elections on July 7 last year? 7-7-7 I did try and point out at the time that in countries like India and China it’s quite normal to schedule things on auspicious dates at auspicious times. Numbers are nothing after all if not symbolic!

Like many others I ritualistically seated myself in front of my TV screen at 8.08 pm Chinese time on August 8, 2008 to catch the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. What a stupendous show! To have pulled off such a stunning feat live, with the entire world watching, without a glitch or stutter—hats, tams and solar topees off to the mighty Chinese!

I gushed about it to all and sundry for two whole days till my cousin Susan sent me a tart email from Delhi saying: Dear Annie, I’ve been supporting the Tibet group in India, so the Beijing opening seemed stylistic and opaque, also 95,000 people were evacuated from Eastern China because of flash floods same day as the opening…and I’m not even a political person really, so Tiananmen square is always dedicated in my mind to those students.

Stick a pin.

For me it was the East showing the West what the marriage of technology, art and people can do. A show of power but one far more sophisticated than the nationalistic military parades normally on offer. With this synthesis of China’s penchant for the military, their mastery of technology and ancient flair for the artistic the mightiest nation of the east was signaling that it has reached; it has arrived. China has dramatically proven its prowess, displaying complete mastery over the universe on the very terms that capitalism uses to assess success.

At the same time the spectacular display was premised on teamwork, on large numbers of people working together, not on individual idiosyncracy so highly prized in the West. There were of course cameo concessions to the valued place of the modern individual for instance when two singers stood on top of a globe, looking like for all the world like one of those plastic couples used to decorate wedding cakes; dressed in Western clothes they theatrically lip-synched the haunting theme song You and Me, ingeniously combining Western pop and Chinese song (someone I read somewhere dismissed this as kitschy tripe).

Is this the same China that impassively stood by and allowed Tiananman Square to happen? I’m not sure but this Olympics also signals China’s opening up to the values of the West, including the notion of individual human rights I would imagine. Yet in this opening ceremony it was showing the splendour and vastness of imagination its people are capable of; the achievements of its civilization from the invention of paper and gunpowder to outer space exploration; its ability to command the heights of tradition as well as the most contemporary technology. There was something extraordinary in that display ( It’s cyberfeudalism growled Melinda Brown as we watched thousands of elegantly begowned, bewigged Mandarins juggling neon laserbeams).

Having so memorably flexed its creative muscles will China now be more willing to negotiate with the rest of the world? Will it feel more gracious toward the demands made on it by Tibet- and Darfur-watchers? We’ll find out in the sweet by and by, won’t we?

Meanwhile back home the excitement is building as Jamaica’s cassava-fed athletes get ready to hit their stride when the Olympic Track and Field events kick off tomorrow. Will Asafa finally deliver? Or will there be a repeat of the World Championships some years back when both Asafa and Usain Bolt were pipped by Tyson Gay; the best excuse I heard after that debacle was a radio announcer claiming that this was because “Jamaican men nah like Gay running after dem so dem just a let him pass”.

Some of the funniest commentary on the impending Olympic events is to be heard on my all-time favourite radio programme, Left, Right and Centre (LRC), part of the Nationwide Radio network here (Digital AM 770). For weeks now they’ve been carrying spoof ads on The Farcical News Network for products such as ‘ANDRALONE’. Here’s an example–

Intro: Bob Marley’s song “You’re running and you’re running and you’re running away…” Music fades.

Brooks: “Are you coming last in every race you run? Do you have dreams of placing 6th or 7th but can’t afford the high end drugs your friends are using? Well boost your performance with ANDRALONE, the fast-acting, low-end, generic drug designed especially for athletes who can’t seem to dig themselves out of obscurity. Build those muscles! Grow that chest hair! Get out of the blocks faster than you ever have before with ANDRALONE!

Last night the show lampooned Jamaican athletes in Beijing, imagining them upsetting Olympic Village officials by nonchalantly (Ja-style) calling all of them Mr. Chin. Missa Chin beg yu two slice a bread! Missa Chin which part di pattyshop deh? I tell you the hosts of LRC, Messrs Dennis Brooks and Damion Blake, rank right up there with Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert. Unfortunately Damion is leaving to do his PhD at Virginia Tech; he’ll be badly missed . Virginia’s gain, Ja’s loss.

Well, it’s been an intense few weeks for me lurching from deadline to deadline and trying to find a moment in between to blog when not being terrorized by my good friend Peter Dean Rickards. PD has been assaulting me at regular intervals with outtakes from his maiden music video, The System, featuring an amazing new female singer called Terry Lyn. I’m still traumatized by the first cut (trust me this is the most appropriate metaphor to use here) he sent me which involved a gory sequence of a pig being slaughtered to an unbearably cheery rendition of Fire of Eternal Glory (in her song, The System, Terry Lyn rhymes Waterhouse with Slaughterhouse).

“But I identify with the pig!” I squealed via sms.

“Pig nah die in vain! Him get videolight!” PD texted back callously.

Obviously all of this is a little premature considering that what PD refers to as the Pig Opera has yet to be released. But when it is trust me it’s going to create a sensation. Remember you heard o’ it here first!

Jamaica’s most successful products: Athletes and music. Both occupied the mainstream media in New York this past week first with Baz Dreisinger’s thought-provoking article in the Village Voice How Jamaica’s Volatile Dancehall Scene Can Avoid a Biggie vs. Tupac Tragedy; featured in this sharp critique which should be required reading for all the pontificating pundits in Jamaica who love to chant down dancehall is an in-depth profile of and interview with top DJ Mavado. With epigrammatic precision Mavado sums up the situation: “They are trying to blame a problem that they put we in on us. They are turning dancehall into a scapegoat.”

And weighing in on Jamaica’s runners, in the Wall Street Journal no less, was Colin Channer with the memorable line “Jamaica’s love of speed seems at odds with its hard-nosed commitment to nonchalance”: See ‘Cool Runnings’ Are Heating Up.

Meanwhile fingers crossed that both Asafa and Bolt prove on the global stage once and for all that they ARE, like the Chinese, masters of the universe.