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Rita Marley Foundation top songwriter seeks dancehall mentors - Shenseea, Jahvillani motivate young talent

Published:Monday | January 6, 2020 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Afaya Pollack records for the first time with Grub Cooper in studio.
Afaya Pollack exudes condifence on the Royal Decameron stage with the support of a live band.
(From left) Shawvick Barrett, third place winner, Ruwenzori Ra second place winner and Afaya Pollack first place winner of the Rita Marley Foundation's inaugural Songwriting Competition.

“I want to become an overqualified recording artiste and songwriter,” says Afaya Pollack, an eighth-grade student who has combined her two passions - literature and music. It was in April last year that she won over the judges of the Rita Marley Foundation’s inaugural songwriting competition for high-schoolers. Her piece was written to the theme outline ‘Strong Black Women and Their Role in History’. The results were announced on International Reggae Day, July 1, and Pollack received a $50,000 cash prize for first place.

It was a culturally expressive track, which she explains was written and submitted one hour before the competition’s deadline.

Pollack shares: “The topic is not a hard one to find lyrics for, so it did not take me very long to put together … maybe within one hour. My challenge is more on the psychological side of things. I am not very confident so I would never have entered the competition on my own. I was motivated by my mother.”

When Pollack won the competition, she was attending Ardenne High in Kingston but has had to transfer to St Catherine High in Spanish Town owing to transportation issues, but she is making the best of the transition.

The victory lap for the 13-year-old involved studio sessions in November with Astley ‘Grub’ Cooper, where she was able to record the lyrics of her song titled Strong Black Women Our Destiny. Riding a one-drop rhythm isn’t easy, Pollack says. “So far, I learnt music doesn’t just happen at the snap of the fingers, it is a step-by-step process; though the writing process is easy for me, I had to grasp recording.”

Wonderful experience

She adds: “The overall studio experience was wonderful and Mr Cooper was a nice person, very patient. However, I would love a mentor who can go in-depth with the dancehall genre to command the attention of listeners.”

Pollack disclosed that she has explored cultural-type of music, then reggae and, now she is gravitating towards dancehall. As a result, she has reached out to deejays like Jahvillani and Shenseea for mentorship.

“I know they are what people view as hard-core and people may open their eyes at that idea, but my favourite artist is Shenseea. I met her [walking through PriceSmart on Red Hills Road] before the songwriting competition and I cried the entire time, my mom had to speak for me. She took my mom’s number after learning of my interest in music.”

Clarks Pon Foot deejay Jahvillani is not a big talker, Pollack explains. “Jahvillani appears to be a good mentor but we communicate mostly through social media, Instagram. I do my freestyle and send them to him and he’ll give advice to try to ride the riddim more, or take out this or try that.”

She recently performed Strong Black Women Our Destiny at the Decameron hotel with a live band complement.

Ultimately, the teenage songstress wants to gain the self-confidence to record more of the lyrics she has written, about five 100-sheet exercise books worth of songs, spanning reggae and dancehall music.

In five years, Pollack foresees performing without any reservations on a stage for school events and also going to sixth form, still pursuing the sciences. She wants to study medicine which her mother, Tracy-Ann Hall, an automotive technology teacher at the Jonathan Grant High School, also in Spanish Town, was relieved to hear her tell The Gleaner. She made it a point to note her daughter’s name, Afaya, already has that signature element, being derived from the African name Afiya, which means ‘good health and spiritual healing’.