My Cup Runneth Over: Lyrical Eloquence Reloaded

The artistic scene in Montego Bay is very well-nourished, or so one would think from the sizable crowd that squeezed into Blue Beat Jazz and Martini Bar last Saturday night for the poetry-and-music affair. I am acutely aware that the coverage is also sorely lacking, as I sit here penning this write-up almost one full week later.

Lyrical Eloquence Reloaded is the sequel to Lyrical Eloquence, a night of poetry and fashion where poets, musicians and designers gathered to share their craft and mingle with like-minded creatives. This iteration, with less fashion and more music and poetry, was thematically centered on Black History – apropos of the month of February.

Like so many events in this country, Lyrical Eloquence could not escape the trap of island time, and the programme didn’t start until an hour after the scheduled 8:30pm. Nevertheless the ensuing performances were at turns delightful and thought-provoking.

MC’d by the gracious Brian Brown, whose quick pace did much to move the evening along, Lyrical Eloquence Reloaded featured performances from Montegonian talent and some further afield. For me, the surprises of the night were two as-yet-undiscovered gems: Kali Grn and D Reblz, and Jeeby Lyricist.

Kali Grn and D Reblz

Kali Grn brought me the humbling realization that I am more than a little out of touch with the Mobay Art Scene. He and his band are much beloved on the hotel circuit and based on the responses of the audience have garnered quite the local following. Though there are clear reggae influences, their sound is authentically millennial with clear melodious harmonies, dynamic instrumentals and clever thoughtful lyrics.

But if I talk about lyrics, I have to talk about Jeeby Lyricist, who by day is a student of law in Kingston (perhaps this is why he manages such quick-witted vernacular). The back-up singer was a little vocally disappointing (especially coming after those Reblz) but Jeeby weaves superb double entendres — his last song a tongue-in-cheek nod to masculine attempts at flirtation in this modern dancehall environment.

Jeeby Lyricist in action

There are so many honorable mentions: Jah Meikle – whom I had the pleasure of first meeting some years ago in Kingston – is an excellent drummer and poet who makes combining rhythms look much easier than I imagine it would be. The dub poets Mentor and Fyah Marley, among others. Brian Brown himself. And the ineffable, inimitable Carla Moore who closed the show.

My greatest vexation about this event is that I missed Carla Moore’ performance. For those who don’t know, Carla comes to us from UWI’s Western Campus where she lectures in the Institute of Gender and Development Studies. Before that she was in Canada, keeping touch with Jamaica through her vlog countryfromlongtime. Now she mostly Instagrams @mooretivation. I find her to be unerringly in tune with the ethos and angst of this millennial generation, and her unexpected words of inspiration have never failed to comfort me.

My quarrel, of course, is entirely with myself. My bedtime is around 10 o’clock these days and by midnight (when there were still five more performers) I was fighting sleep hard. I was overwhelmed, in a good way, by the crowd that populated Blue Beat’s modest open air terrace and that swelled with appreciation for the spoken (and sung) word. Next time I will know to wear comfy shoes, bring snacks/coffee, and stake-out a good seat at least an hour in advance.


All image credits to Di Foto Shoppe


Romain Virgo on ACTIVISM

In the five years since he made history as the youngest winner of Television Jamaica’s (TVJ) popular “Rising Stars” talent competition at just 17-years-old, Romain Virgo has emerged as one of the island’s finest singer/songwriters whose innate skills ensure that quality, consciously themed roots reggae will continue to flourish.

At only 22 years of age, Romain Virgo has already produced 11 hit songs, 2 albums, and has received multiple awards from the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association and Linkage (Reggae) Awards. The inaugural winner of the Digicel Rising Stars competition is currently pursuing his Bachelor’s degree at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, majoring in Voice and minoring in Keyboard.

Always keen to please his fans, Romaine has no qualms about sitting down with me to discuss a few of the social issues plaguing Jamaica’s young adults. He is dripping with sweat, having just delivered an enthusiastic performance at a UWI Hall of Residence dinner where he was greeted with considerable appreciation. Nor does he seem bashful about his vibrant fan club, posing for picture after picture with the same easy, open smile.

Despite the less than ideal condition of a bustling backstage arena, Romain focuses unerringly on my questions and answers them with a thoughtful sincerity.

“In your songs, you identify a lot with the struggling ghetto youth,” I begin. “Do you think enough is being done to facilitate young adult empowerment in Jamaica?”

He inhales slowly with a whispered “Wow,” and pauses to think. In the meantime, I observe a young man who appears to be completely comfortable with himself, wearing self-assurance like a second skin.

“I think they’ve done so much, but there’s so much more to be done. Education is the only savior for someone like a ghetto youth,” he affirms. “I think the emphasis needs to be on building more schools and more training institutions. Instead of prisons,” he quips, smiling.

He pauses to sign an autograph or two, a welcoming smile always at the ready.

“Do you think you’re doing enough in your capacity as an artiste – and certainly as someone with a lot of sway with the public – to advocate for young adult issues?” I ask next.

His reply is an enthused “Yes!” followed quickly by an answer with a little more humility.

“Well, I think I do,” he laughs, somewhat self-consciously. “I try my best. I use music to empower people. I do motivational talks in communities. I try to reach out to, you know, the youths that might not have it as easy as some of us do. I think music is important as a tool to reach out to people.”

It’s obvious that music and entertainment are his passions, and his zeal for outreach via these channels is almost infectious.

“What role do you think entertainment has in changing the lives of people in this country?” I inquire.

He responds without hesitation. “Entertainment definitely has a role,” he begins, “but at the same time every song can’t be about the serious issues. If everyone did the same thing, it would get boring, right? So I think entertainment has to be about saving as well as entertaining people.”

He finishes the last statement and leans forward, assuming the pose common to Jamaican men when they are doing some ‘serious reasoning’.

“Do you think what you’re doing will impact the future?” I press.

“I hope so,” he admits readily. “I have the dream that every song will be a social commentary,” he adds, “that they’ll reach out to people and maybe change their lives.”

It is an admirable dream for someone who has seen so many of his own dreams reach fruition.

I am impressed with his tolerance and indulgence in accommodating me. Not once does he glance at his watch or his manager with tacit impatience. Finally, before the sweat has quite cooled on his skin, I bring up my very last line of enquiry.

“What do you want your legacy to be?” I question. “How would you like people to remember Romain Virgo?”

Again, he gives a small chuckle before answering.

“I guess I want them to remember me as the guy who always had something positive to say. As an uplifting kind of person,” he adds, laughing. “I don’t know, that’s it, I guess.”


Sources: Wikipedia and VP Records. For more of Romain’s thoughts on Romain Virgo: Billboard.

Gangnam Style: a critical appraisal

I am not a music critic. 

At first, I was less than enthused about the new Psy song that everyone seems to be talking about. Probably because I didn’t know Psy. Also probably because the first time I saw a performance of the song I was waiting for a Super Junior performance and wished he would just get on with it.

But the recent international fervour that Gangnam Style has generated (if people here are talking about it, then I’m fairly certain that even the rock-dwellers have heard) prompted me to take a second look. And the fact that my best friend gives me a dirty look every time I say I don’t like the song had absolutely nothing to do with it. Nothing.

Without further ado, I present my amateur critique.

PSY - GANGNAM STYLE (강남스타일) MV.mp4_000047589
I. Am. FABURROUS. (Photo credit: yonghokim)

Too much techno
The Gangnam Style beat  is the latest in the recent trend of techno. It is undeniably foot-tapping, but I didn’t like how closely it paralleled Western groups. At first glance, I though Psy was the Korean LMFAO. I have since altered my opinion. Despite the Western-ish beat, the song is distinctly Korean in its awkwardness and humour; it’s delivery is of the cult-quality I’ve come to expect from Korean superstars.

Catchy, very catchy
From the first, I though the song was catchy. It has the kind of lyrics that get stuck in your head, that you can put on a T-shirt (Unni Gangnam Style, anyone?). It’s hard to resist singing along and the dancing – oh, the dancing. Kpop has yet to fail me with its eclectic, adaptable, simply awesome dance moves. Gangnam Style is easy and identifiable – the perfect recipe for a dance craze. It actually reminds me of Super Junior’s Sorry Sorry a few years back with everyone and their mother rubbing their hands in a slow arc from left to right. But so much more socially inappropriate.

PSY - GANGNAM STYLE (강남스타일) MV.mp4_000034117
(Photo credit: yonghokim)

The MV is just ridiculous. . . but also hilarious
I eschew most things that don’t make sense, because people don’t generally know how to make inanity entertaining. I don’t know whether it is the choreography or just how cool Psy is but Gangnam Style ends up being really addictive. None of the scenes have any kind of logic to them; frankly the common theme is more along the lines of ‘how awkward can we make this situation’. But instead of detracting from its quality the  regular dance breaks and random outbursts of “Hey, sexy lady” are actually the song’s strengths.

And, let’s face it, that scene with him rising out of the water at 2:40 was so much more clever than anything Rihanna could come up with.

Psy is hotter than this.

The greatest show on earth

The internationally acclaimed Sumfest happened last weekend, right here in lil ol’ Mobay. We had Trey ladies-keep-your-panties-on Songz and Damian sexiest-rasta-alive Marley headlining the two international nights, though I hear Shabba Ranks stole the show on Friday night. Not that I’m entirely certain who Shabba Ranks is. . .

Reggae Sumfest has origins way back before I was a twinkle in my mother’s eye when it started out as Reggae Sunsplash, an annual festival of Jamaican music that everyone in my parents’ generation likes to bring up as their version of “back when music was actually good”. But my point is that Sumfest has been around for a while, and judging by the consistently insane crowds it draws, it will probably be around for a while longer. Which is a good thing, because I have never been to Sumfest.

It’s kind of sad, really. It happens almost literally in my backyard every year, and every year it comes, I wave, and it passes on its merry, memorable way. It’s a quintessential Jamaican, nay, Montegonian experience that I have yet to acquire. That is a travesty. At first I was too young to go to Sumfest and then as I grew older, I grew less interested in the artistes that were actually showing up. I mean, you wouldn’t catch me dead at Dancehall Night (no offense, but there’s no way I’m paying almost $8000 just to bend over and back it up). And there was this whole phase where I swore off concerts unless a rock band was involved. I’m serious; I joined the Facebook group to prove it.

So Sumfest continues to be marketed as the greatest show on earth, with that iconic symbol of a dancing Rasta (that may or may not be Robert Nesta) pushing its brand beyond local borders. It’s one in a long list of things that keep Jamaica being the leading Caribbean destination (sorry, other touristy islands) and keep Montego Bay being one seriously awesome second city. So what if I haven’t been to Sumfest once in the twenty years I’ve been alive? Maybe I’ll go the year they finally get Fall Out Boy as headliners.


This song is really awesome

And so is the dance.

This has been on infinite repeat for days.

Poison and Wine by The Civil Wars.