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.

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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.

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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.

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All image credits to Di Foto Shoppe

 

Good Music, Great Coffee: Bookophilia’s Open Mic

If you’re looking for the hipster demographic in Kingston Jamaica, look no further than the bookstore/cafe Bookophilia on Open Mic night. Replete with converse-wearing, indie-music-appreciating, dreadlocked guys and gals, it’s certainly the place to be for the creatively analytical mind. And non-smokers too.

I’ve blogged ad nauseam about Bookophilia – it’s one of my absolute favourite places to be when I’m in town. How can I not love a store whose staff has loud discussions about a certain Time Lord from Gallifrey? Conveniently sitting on Old Hope Road, only a taxi ride away from where I live, it’s got an impressive selection of fiction, non-fiction, Caribbean and international bestsellers. Plus coffee, cookies and comfortable couches.

They introduced Open Mic Night last year, much to the delight of the alt-teen crowd, first displaying poetry and occasional musical performances. Then somewhere along the line it turned into a kind of basement jam session (if you can call a brightly lit parking lot ‘basement’) for up and coming reggae-indie blend artistes.While I miss the poetry, I can’t complain about the quality of the performers. Most of time. I’m particularly delighted to have discovered Runkus (aka Paula son), a talented and entertaining Campion grad who performs his own self-styled genre of music called, of course, Runkus.

The last two sessions of Open Mic Night were vastly different. It’s like they read my review. Aside from the concert segment they allocated time to invite performers up to the stage giving them five minutes to share their art. No one really volunteered, but it’s the thought that counts.

They also stuck like glue to the time limit despite starting late, but I think it was poor judgement on the part of the MC. The last artiste was angry, rightfully so, (but also a little over the top) because they limited his set to one song.

Bookophilia: time is valuable, both the patrons’ and the performers’, so it’s only right that you treat us both fairly. Start on time (regardless of crowd numbers!) and that way you can end on time without ruffling feathers.

As it pertains to bring poetry back, every time I ask a member of staff they suggest I take to the mic myself. Perhaps one night I will. But until then, keep feeding us good music, coffee and literature.

Thanks.

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.”

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