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Local entertainment: looking back, looking forward

Ragamuffins, movies and making dancehall great again

Published:Sunday | January 5, 2020 | 12:09 AMKimberley Small - Staff Reporter

Last year, there was an array of things to marvel at within the local entertainment industry. From Popcaan’s recent traffic-blocking Unruly Fest – a beacon to the east as St Thomas’ new calendar event, to Buju Banton’s history-making Long Walk To Freedom, which kicked off to a sold-out crowd at the National Stadium. But there were other things too, where, from my position, I was privileged to have been able to take a peek at backstage, or settle into the editor’s room.

Still, when asked to pinpoint the most outstanding or impactful development the industry had to offer, I am compelled to refocus that, to instead magnify a most interesting, inconclusive conversation sparked by the effort of veterans to ‘make dancehall great again’, to take another sip of reggae music’s favourite new flavour, and to pedestal the sustained development of the local film industry.

Make Dancehall Great Again

Last summer, music professionals gathered at the inaugural The Gleaner’s Entertainment Forum, some to elaborate that authentic dancehall has been lost to international producers. There, I was privileged to witness the inevitable confusion that accompanies a paradigm shift. The forum discussion wove around reasons for and against the emergence of ‘trap-dancehall’, and was filled with guffaws about international pop stars topping charts with sounds local musicians seem to have grown out of.

As the argument continues in the background, there are some notable instances where dancehall, or its culture, was presented as authentically as possible, but bigger than ever done before. ‘Doing it for the culture’, Kingston was finally chosen as host city to the globetrotting Red Bull Culture Clash – the most ‘boasy’, refreshingly contemporary approach to a sound clash.

Ragamuffin Reggae Beat, Yeah!

As some scrambled to define new sounds emerging from the ‘dancehall’, reggae music took a pedestal too. There was the return of Buju Banton, to stage and studio. There was the introduction of acts like Mortimer and Ras-I, both whose quiet intensity had them sneaking and comfortably settling on playlists across the world.

But last year also offered up Koffee’s debut EP, Rapture, that secured a Best Reggae Album Grammy nomination for the 19-year-old singjay. Since making her mark on the scene at Rebel Salute 2018, Koffee has maintained a busy schedule, booked for dates as late as October 2020. Exciting as it is for Jamaicans to see a young, female reggae performer rise as quickly as Koffee, her ascent has also been assiduously documented and revered by the international listening community.

Cementing her celebrity even more, Koffee made it on the only end-of-year list that really counts – Barack Obama’s Favourite Music of 2019 – with her global hit song Toast. She was one of the few artistes the former president included on his summer music list, as well as end-of-year round-up.

Coming Soon

While Jamaica’s music industry has long enjoyed international acclaim, there is also the film industry. Though the road to international acclaim is long, this little island that could is steadily on the trod. To interact with the local film industry is to participate in a community that is continuously striving, and succeeding in small, meaningful ways – by virtue of the unending toil of diligent, local film industry professionals. Storm Saulter blessed local and international cinemas with a heartfelt addition to his filmography with Sprinter, starring social media comedian Dale Elliot.

But the island went Hollywood too. Jamaica was the backdrop for the upcoming instalment of the James Bond film series, No Time to Die, scheduled for release later this year. Another schedule to look out for is the pending film adaptation of Escape to Last Man Peak, by Have A Bawl Productions. I look forward to updating you on that project’s process from script to screen.

Speaking of ‘script to screen’, the local film industry must not be heralded without mention of the tireless efforts of the Jamaica Film and Television Association, an active, effective agency connecting film-makers with producers and investors – and facilitating local film-makers through their successful PROPELLA short film, ‘script-to-screen’ programme.

In the array, there were many other entertainment-related news, incidents, or releases that will stick with me – or that I will follow into 2020, because if 2019 was an introduction, we must keep our eyes peeled and ears open for the next 12 months.

But for now, I anticipate the premiere of more JAFTA PROPELLA films, and my eyes are focused on reggae singer Mortimer, who tickled lovers’ ears with Lightning; and on the sultry-toned Lila Ike, who didn’t have a project to nominate, but who has undoubtedly grabbed ears and charmed audiences with her high jumps across the stage, or signature wine glass in one hand and mic in the other.

Also, fingers crossed that Koffee continues her impressive career – hopefully with a Grammy night performance or appearance. I’ll even take a W.