Annie Paul | Forbidden fruit
Don't judge me,
until you walk a mile in my shoes,
coz if you was me,
maybe you'd do the same thing too.
These lines from one of the best songs in the new reggae musical, Forbidden Fruit, extended the sentiments of Bob Marley's masterpiece, Judge Not, and underpinned the plot of what should prove to be a new and exciting phase in Jamaican musical production. On December 18, those who turned out at the Courtleigh Auditorium were treated to a free performance of a rousing musical showcase featuring students in The FiWi Jamaica Masters-in-Residence programme at the University of Technology (UTech).
The packed auditorium, so full people were sitting in the aisles, raucously interacted with the actors and singers in the best Cross Roads Carib tradition, a sign of how engaged they were by the storyline and talented cast of Forbidden Fruit. Love vs Money was a sub-theme of this song and dance-filled drama which pitted have-nots against haves in a lively, comedic yet lesson-filled storyline by Trudy Best.
Set in contemporary Jamaica, the musical revolves around a young ghetto girl intent on learning her way out of poverty. A classic Ian Boyne-style heroine, the handsome young woman cannot find the money required to take up the place she's been offered at University (normally, the word 'University' would connote the University of the West Indies, but amusingly, as the production was staged by rival UTech, the set was simply labelled 'University'.
In the song and dance that follows, Lisa is wooed by an uptown boy while also being menaced/propositioned by the neighborhood don, who refers to himself as 'Govament' and demands that she present herself at his house in exchange for her tuition money.
The star-crossed romance with the uptown boy proceeds against the background of his appalled family, whose helper comes from the same community as Lisa.
In the meantime, Lisa's irrepressible, down-to-earth friend Pinky insists she should do what it takes to get the requisite fee monies from the local don. In the drama that follows, at least 10 excellent songs are rolled out, impressively sung by various cast members with singing talent (some of the actors were products of Ashe, the children's theatre group). The lyrics written by songwriters enrolled in the Masters-in-Residence programme also impressed.
Developed by ace music producer Michael 'Mikie' Bennett, UTech's Masters-in-Residence programme is designed to counter chronic problems affecting earnings in the music industry, such as waning promoter confidence, inability to win new fans, shortage of new headliners and stars, substandard material, inability to travel and work in the USA market, and lack of coaching being experienced by young artistes whose performances lack creativity and entertainment value.
Bennett believes that as with Jamaica's fabled runners, the key to developing good musicians is coaching and training in the relevant skills needed to enhance natural musical talent. He accomplishes this by combining lectures and workshops, introducing artistes to professionals and mentors such as Bob Andy, Ernie Smith, Kabaka Pyramid and Wayne Marshall. Bennett is proud of the fact that there have already been requests from popular artistes for songs to be written by the trainees, noting that offers have come from record labels.
The Masters-in-Residence programme is part of UTech's 3-year Fi Wi Jamaica Project, is directed by Rosalea Hamilton, vice-president, community service and development.
According to Hamilton, the project started in May 2015 and key project activities include evidence-based dialogue; programming and policy outcome; access to social services for personal well-being and growth; engaging popular culture to create a space for change and transformation; proactive response to trafficking in persons (TIP), combating domestic violence and intimate partner violence; effective partnerships to promote women/girls empowerment, and building public demand for change.
What was remarkable about Forbidden Fruit was that it touched on all or most of these themes, with playwright Fabian Thomas engaging the audience in a discussion at the end about the inequities and violence that besiege Jamaican society today.
Even better was the fact that the musical was tightly produced, ending on a high note in two hours, leaving the audience thirsting for more, rather than resentfully waiting for long-drawn-out productions to come to an end, as happens far too often on this rock. Kudos to Michael Holgate who directed Forbidden Fruit and to USAID for funding its production. We hope that in 2018 more Jamaicans get to see this fun-filled, provocative drama.
- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org tweet @anniepaul.