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The UK Corner DVD review: The story of Lovers Rock

As the name suggests, this documentary produced by BFM Media and Sun Ra pictures, celebrates the sweet sounds of Lovers Rock. Director Menelik Shabazz narrates a tale of love and romance, which embraced South London in the seventies and eighties. The soothing sounds of romantic reggae sold the experience of immigration and migration, the sounds of the Caribbean on British soil via first generation British musicians and music lovers.

Actors such as Robbie Gee and Victor Romero Evans, Comedians Wayne Rollins, Kwaku, Mr Cee, Glenda Jackson and Rudi Lickwood, Sociologist Dr Lez Henry entrepreneur Levi Roots, author Neferatiti Ife, Journalist Snoopy and Presenter Eddie Nestor, reminisce from an insightful and informed perspective about the unique genre and participate in a series of skits covering its image.

Archive footage serves to educate and entertain about the groundbreaking scene and the network of iconic independent British reggae record labels such as DIP and Fashion Records – home to the late Smiley Culture, notable producers such as Dennis Bovell and Augustus Pablo, and the culture of Sound systems such as Coxon Sound. Viewers can learn about the impact of artists such as Peter Hunningale, Sylvia Tella, Carroll Thompson, Janet Kay, Aswad, Tippa Irie and UB40.

Lovers Rock formed the soundtrack to a generation’s rebellious teenage years as they sought to escape parental problems, and worked up a sweat dancing amid paraffin heaters. But the genre, which celebrated black pride, also witnessed a political heat against the backdrop of police brutality, the SUS laws, anti-racism marches, the 1981 Brixton riots and New Cross fire, which killed 13 black teenagers.

Recreated dances bring back fonder memories for contributors such as Comedienne Angie Le Mar. Recent live footage of performances by the likes of the late Louisa Marks, the late Jean Adebambo, Sandra Cross and newcomers such as Ava Leigh and Alton Ellis’ daughter Lovella Ellis, demonstrate that the genre has preserved its vibrancy and its audiences around the world.

It has some interesting lessons for those keen to break into the music industry from marketing and mix tapes via house parties and PAs, to the perils of contracts as singer Kofi (Carol Simms) of trio Brown Sugar recounts saying she made little money from their hit single I’m in Love with a Dreadlocks, which was number one in the reggae charts while the group were still in school.

The film charts the demand for Lovers Rock as it went from niche to mass market with Janet Kay appearing on Top of the Pops when Silly Games went national in 1979 after spending six months on the reggae scene, and the further triumphs for British reggae in the shape of Maxi Priest’s US success. The film also makes the link between the melodious largely female dominated scene and today’s grime movement. The triumphant film is precious; marking a great British legacy, which is often forgotten by the mainstream industry despite the genre going global (Japan and Latin America) and having shaped the UK’s appetite for future fusions of black music.

The Story of Lovers Rock is out now priced £15.99. Running time: 96 minutes including trailer and scene selection.

Aswad play the Islington Assembly on 31 March.

Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson play the Islington Assembly on 11 May.

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The UK Corner DVD review: Jumping The Broom

Jumping The Broom captures a recurring debate that has been splashed across the headlines of numerous media outlets, the African American’s quest for love. But this film goes beyond niche appeal. It translates a single ladies quest into a universal pursuit. Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) has brought her milkshake to her last yard and resigns to reserve her cookies for a cutter worthy enough. The missing instrument in her life is soon replaced when she runs into Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso) a Goldman Sachs Banker from Brooklyn.

Within six months the lovebirds are engaged and destined for a new life in China but their nuptials are as delicate as the name of their potential new home suggests. Threats to their future exist in the form of their polar opposite families. The Watsons are uptown; apparently wealthy and middle class; the Taylors are downtown; working class and sassy. Not even Sabrina’s mother Claudine (Angela Basset) and her hilarious wedding planner Amy (Julie Bowen) can protect the big day from calamity.

Director Salim Akil perfectly frames the tranquil and picturesque surroundings of Martha’s Vineyard, which are escapist but for the fighting in laws who cause ripples in the waters that threaten not to be stilled. Loretta Devine intimidates as Jason’s angry, dependent and over bearing mother Pam. Though she tickles, delivering some of the best lines. Her best friend Shonda (Tasha Smith) is the perfect sidekick while uncle Willie Earle (Mike Epps) and cousin Malcolm (DeRay Davis) join them on the ride to the island for the weekend wedding.

The geographical divisions are not the only ones explored in the film. The Watsons are divided by recurring secrets and lies in the form of Greg Watson’s (Brian Stokes Mitchell) secret phone calls and a secretive aunt Geneva, the multi-talented (Valarie Pettiford). While the numbers may be even, the wedding party is at odds to mesh. Blythe (Megan Good) is reluctant to succumb to her attraction to Chef McKenna (Gary Dourdan), and Malcolm’s game just does not add up to success with any lady. Sabrina’s cousin Sebastian (Romeo Miller), a 20-year-old senior at Yale, fares little better in his attempt to make a cougar out of Shonda.

Paula Patton and Laz Alonso with Bishop T.D. Jakes in the background

It is doubtful that love will conquer all when the Watsons and the Taylors clash over standards of etiquette and decorum, and argue about everything from the menu to the dancing. But the real sticking point centres on the tradition of Jumping The Broom. As the modern couple considers sweeping the symbolic custom under the carpet, the pre-wedding family dinner descends into a multi lingual fracas. But after dinner revelations cause the real upset.

Writers Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs deliver a smart, fresh and funny story with balance and subtle social commentary about culture, class, identity and values. They successfully juxtapose convention and innovation. Producers Bishop T.D. Jakes (who makes a cameo along with El Debarge) and Tracey E Edmonds produce a touching narrative with religious undertones, but the film is inclusive rather than exclusive. The soundtrack, which features Patton’s husband Robin Thicke, provides the perfect accompaniment to this romantic comedy, which is released in the UK just in time for Valentines Day. Viewers will fall for this movie again and again.

Jumping the Broom, rated 12, is out now on Sony Pictures Home Entertainment priced £19.99. Bonus material include commentary with Director Salim Akil, Paula Patton and Laz Alonso, as well as two featurettes: “You’re invited: Behind the scenes” and “Honouring the tradition of Jumping the Broom.”

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The UK Corner DVD review: Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975

Swedish Filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson has produced a fascinating documentary that anyone interested in black history should see. From the outset it juxtaposes the equalities of America with the inequalities and exposes the injustice, which lived just a few, miles from justice; the distance between the two was measured by race.

The archival 16mm black and white and colour footage shot by Swedish filmmakers, was unearthed from a basement of a TV station after 30 years. The film primarily focuses on Howard University Alumni Stokely Carmichael, who later changed his name to Kwame Ture, the Trinidad-American black activist. Carmichael was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and became the ‘Honorary Prime Minister’ of the Black Panther Party. Affiliated with Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist movements, he popularized the term ‘Black Power’.

In the film which was co-produced by the actor Danny Glover, Olsson presents the eloquent orator Camichael making rousing speeches about Dr Martin Luther King and the bus boycott to largely white audiences. Carmichael analyzes the effectiveness of Dr King’s non-violence approach at the time.

The historical evidence is put into context be a series of interviews with musicians such as Erykah Badu, actors such as Melvin Van Peebles, poets such as Abiodun Oyewole and Sonia Sanchez, and professors such as John Forté and Robin Kelley, recorded in 2010. Rapper Talib Kweli is heard assessing Carmichael’s strengths, personality and legacy as we see Carmichael traveling around Europe. Kweli also tells an interesting tale about Carmichael inspiring one of his records and being investigated by the FBI/CIA after studying him; highlighting the threat that Carmichael’s ideas are sill perceived to be.

Olsson does a great job contextualizing the American Civil Rights movement amid the broader political scene with reference to the backdrop of the Vietnam War. The film reminded me of how much I love history. It is amazing to watch Carmichael interviewing his mother and hearing about growing up in poverty due to the discrimination is father faced. There are many revealing moments with footage of Carmichael singing in his hotel room and doing regular things.

Stokely Carmichael

The DVD takes each year between 1967 – 1975 in turn. By 1968 The Roots Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, who produced original music for the soundtrack alongside Om’Mas Keith, notes that Dr King’s assassination was no accident; as he moved towards a more militant anti-war position. Desegregation was one thing but economic power was another.

Actor Harry Belafonte provides insight into how Dr King felt in the last days of his life when he did not fear for his life, but instead for the quality of it. He aimed to fight new battles not on race but education, health and welfare. The DVD includes a clip from Dr King’s speech in Memphis the night before he was killed. It also shows Dr King in his casket. It highlights the deaths of other prominent black people in 1968 such as Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers and Fred Hampton, as well as key moments in black history that year such as athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ 1968 Olympics Black Power salute at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City, and incidents of policy brutality in America.

The DVD is moving in showing such palpable moments in history. A clip from Malcolm X’s 1964 Oxford Union debate is precious. Vox pops from black people on the streets of America of losing heroes such as John F Kennedy, Dr King and Robert Kennedy, and footage of poor mothers with multiple mouths to feed are just as meaningful. It is all the more moving to see such despair in the late sixties and look at where things stand today.

The film also features moments with Black Panthers, Bobby Seale and Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver, and Huey P Newton who declares that new leaders are born and made, and highlights the important work the Black Panther party did introducing free clinics and free breakfast clubs – an initiative the American Government was to adopt. It can be disturbing to hear kids singing about guns but commentators such as Erykah Badu put into context the realities of self-defense and the extreme circumstances. The film charts the progress of the Black Panther Party as more members are arrested or killed; and the party in general moved towards socialism.

Political Activist and author Professor Angela Davis, the first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, is another great commentator who contributes to the film on top of an intimate, candid and exclusive interview from her prison cell as a 26-year-old woman in 1970. With her trademark afro, wearing a red polo neck, brown skirt and red tights, Davis vividly recalls the scenes she witnessed as a youth including being stopped and searched by the police and her ties to one of the four little girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham Alabama church bombing.

The film is empowering and audiences can only thank the team, past and present, for being brave and passionate enough to tell this story, especially considering that in 1970, America’s TV Guide lambasted Swedish and Dutch TV for being anti-American in presenting an alternate interpretation of history.

The film highlights the advancement of the early seventies where black was beautiful and knowledge was power. It features an interview with Lewis H Michaux in 1973 at his iconic Harlem African National Memorial Bookstore, where Malcolm X spoke, and a year before it closed down.

By 1974 when Nixon resigned, Watergate was overshadowed in black communities by heroin, which the Government flooded the neighborhoods with. Even Vietnam Veterans returned with drug problems. Angela Davis aligns the influx of narcotics with the decline of military and revolutionary impulses. A few years after man had conquered the moon they struggled to combat earthly highs. A young female drug addict tells a particularly harrowing tale of abuse and prostitution; one can only hope she has beaten her demons.

As inner cities became gentrified, new leaders emerged such as the nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan who is also featured in the film. The story comes full circle analyzing the legacy of the black power movement; its rationale, radicalism and rhetoric, which has been referenced for other human rights movements. Erykah Badu notes the importance of black people documenting their history, though it is a Swedish team behind the production. It is important for people to document their history but when resources such as this are so valuable it matters less who produced it, and more who can benefit from it.

Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975 is out now from Soda Pictures priced £9.99.

The satirical special documentary feature, This Film Is Meant To Be About Stokely Carmichael about Carmichael’s British cousin and National Film and Television School alumni Isis Thompson’s struggles with identity, featuring Dami Akinnusi and Darcus Howe, will divide opinion.

The film premiered in UK cinemas during Black History month in October. It has already toured cities across America.

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The UK Corner: Getting to know Tracee Ellis Ross

On Tuesday 8 November Soul Marketing and BET presented an intimate evening with actress and producer Tracee Ellis Ross at the Mayfair Hotel in London. The Getting to Know… Event was the third in its kind designed to bring diverse communities together to learn, network and be entertained. The queues were thronging outside the hotel and passersby curiously asked what was going on. Diana Ross’ daughter was in London for three days to promote her family based-sitcom Reed Between the Lines, which premieres on BET UK on Tuesday 15 November via channel Sky 191 and Freesat Channel 140.

During champagne and nibbles entertainment and sports figures such as MOBO Awards founder Kanya King, singer Kim Mazelle, Olympic athlete Dalton Grant, journalists Jacqui Joseph and Sherry Dixon, and actresses Judith Jacobs and Nakeba Buchanan, mingled with competition winners and other guests. Before Ellis Ross took questions, Soul Marketing founder Glen Yearwood introduced the evening including performances from comedian Felix Dexter and singer Renny Bird, and brief speeches from Michael Armstrong, Senior Vice President and General Manager, at BET and Ava Hall, Vice President, International Programming and Production.

Finally, it was time for Ms Ellis Ross to grace the stage in a black and white dress. Her size 7 ½ feet wore YSL red pumps from the promo shoot (the fashion enthusiast gushed about having them in brown and black too!) and matching Ruby Woo MAC red lipstick. Interviewed by Journalist Brenda Emmanus, Ellis Ross talked about her recent presenting/hosting jobs at the MTV European Music Awards and the Black Girl Rocks! Not one to do it with the lights off, Ellis Ross requested illumination as she shed light on her story.

The second of five children, Ross followed her mother singer/actress Diana Ross in to the entertainment business. Though at times she admits to resenting sharing her mother with the world, she followed a legacy, which she described as a blessing and an opportunity, with an international education in America and Switzerland. Ellis Ross became a model before going into theatre and TV. In 2000, a DVD she made as a fun gift for friends got into the hands of MTV executives and led to a regular appearance in the MTV series The Lyricist Lounge, a hip-hop variety series mixing music, dramatic sketches, and comedic skits. This evoked her hit catchphrase “Where all my diggas at?” Fondly recalled by fan Bode (pronounced Bo-day as the entire audience learned following Ellis Ross’ accidental mispronunciations (Body?), which resulted in mass chants…).

More assuredly, of course Ellis Ross spoke about her most acclaimed role as, in her own words, ‘retarded’ unlucky in love Lawyer Joan Clayton in Girlfriends. She didn’t dish any dirt on why Toni (Jill Marie Jones) left but, explained that the episode, which featured Joan vowing to curse less, was art-imitating life; Ellis Ross expressed a need to see more characters on screen representative of her, who speak in a way not often reflected on screen. Principled, she stated that she would not take a role for money if it clashed with her values. She also explained that with the average career of an actress spanning ten years, when the show ended abruptly in 2008 due to a lack of funding and the writers’ strike, she wondered if it was the end of her career. She won two NAACP Image Award for this role, she explained that though the show never won an Emmy, nor was the cast invited to be guests on Jay Leno, knowing that fans in the UK and Africa love all 176 episodes of the show compensates.

After Girlfriends, roles in Private Practice and CSI followed and Barack Obama’s office called on Ellis Ross to campaign. This period also saw her develop her public speaking in self-esteem workshops with teenage girls where she emphasized the need for self-love including of diverse hair – a subject she explores in her new show. Having had initial concerns about the images BET portrayed, the opportunity to talk with Loretha Jones, President of Programming at BET, enabled Ellis Ross to see scope for her vision to produce progressive and balanced programmes with authentic voices, where women of colour take responsibility for their roles, such as Reed Between the Lines in which as lead actress and number one on the call sheet, Ellis Ross plays Therapist Dr Carla Reed opposite Malcolm Jamal Warner as her husband Dr Alex Reed.

In their 13 hour work-days Ellis Ross, who would not be drawn on whether or not she was in a relationship, disclosed that she has built up a chemistry with Warner, best known as Theo Huxtable from The Cosby Show, whose biceps she repeatedly told us, she couldn’t fit her hand around, and whom she texts to go over the script. Her other co-stars include Anna Maria Horsford and Melissa De Sousa, with guest appearances from Robin Givens, Romeo Miller and Lauren London.

Ross took questions from the audience, some more controversial than others. She admitted that though she had spent some time in London before and had visited her step sister the day before, she did not know much about the Afro Caribbean communities in the UK. If however, she were traveling to a desert Island, she knows exactly what she would bring: her beloved dog Ladybug, her family and their loved ones. She encouraged industry insiders and viewers to be proactive in creating the shows they wanted to see after comments about the negative representation on the recent TV British drama Top Boy. Ellis Ross, who admitted she drew on her own experience of therapy when twice playing a Therapist, encouraged debate when the audience was stirred by a producer’s question about mental health issues in the black community. Ironically, the stir caused signaled the stigma in question.

On a lighter note she complimented a few ladies on their London style though the fashionistas were reluctant to publicly declare where they picked up their bargains! One audience member asked about Ellis Ross’ interest in Remembrance week following her appearance on BBC Breakfast that morning in a vintage YSL poppy dress. Ellis Ross explained that it was kismet to debut that dress at this time and revealed that she has no stylist but has assistants because she loves to shop and takes Polaroids to whittle down clothes; her happy place is her wardrobe!

Ellis Ross favours the styles of the fifties and eighties; her style icon may be Katherine Hepburn but Carmen Miranda and Lena Horne are the icons she’d most like to play, though it’s too late for her to nab the latter role. The audience loved Ellis Ross just being her lively and outgoing self. Her positive energy oozes out of her 5’7 and a half frame. Next year’s Getting to Know…event will feature soul legend Chaka Khan; it is fitting that an artist of strong caliber was her predecessor under the microscope.

L TO R: Anna maria Horsford, Melissa De Sousa, Tracee Ellis Ross, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Nadji Jeter, Zoe' Hendirx, Zoe borde

Copyright © 2011 The UK Corner. All Rights Reserved.

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2011 MTV EMAs

At 9pm CET * Sunday  November will see the 18th annual MTV EMAs held in Belfast, Ireland. Hosted by singer and actress Selena Gomez, in addition to the distribution of gongs, MTV will launch MTV Voices, its new international pro-social platform. This year the honour will go to Gomez’s boyfriend Justin Bieber and the Northern Ireland Youth Forum.

MTV Voices is s unique highlights socially positive and inspirational content produced by global correspondents, international and local music artists and MTV’ audience.

As the first artist to ever receive the MTV Voices Award, Bieber will be recognised for his ambitious launch of the Believe Charity Drive that aims to rally his fans to help raise millions of dollars for 20 charities around the world. In addition to his work with the Believe Charity Drive, Bieber has been extremely involved with the Make A Wish Foundation and Pencils of Promises, which helps build schools for children without access to education.

EMA nominee Bruno Mars

Justin Beiber is set to perform at the event alongside the likes of Jason Derulo, Bruno Mars (up for four awards), Jessie J, LMFAO and David Guetta. Viewers can vote for their favorite EMA artists by visiting Adele and Justin Bieber are each up for three awards. Other EMA nominees include Snoop Dogg,  LMFAO, Jessie J, Beyoncé, Eminem, Kanye West, and Wiz Khalifa. Stars present will recieve goodies including an Xbox 360 console with Kinect sensor and games, M.A.C make-up boxes, Remington hair and personal care appliances, Nando’s PERi PERi gift basket, kangol headwear and Spongebob Squarepants t-shirts!

For all MTV EMA news and announcements, check out EMA on Facebook or follow them @ EMA Twitter .

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