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Jeanille Bonterre - the first face of Tempo
published: Sunday | July 15, 2007

Jeanille Bonterre is in the swing of life.

Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer

Jeanille Bonterre holds pride of place on MTV Reggae Tempo, the channel of the American cable television giant which is dedicated to the Caribbean.

"I am the first on-air television personality they had on board," she told The Sunday Gleaner. "It is an overwhelming experience. It has given me that extra motivation to go further."

She has gone further, in another direction, as she was in Jamaica for last Monday's premiere of Hit For Six, a cricket drama in which she plays the role of Astrid, a soca star and the love interest of the outstanding cricketer around whom the drama revolves.

At least, she is one of his love interests. The posting with Tempo , where she hosts the Downtown Island programme, came out of her many interests. And networking, of course.

"I have a good agent. I have representation in New York," she said. Since I was in college we were mapping out how to make it happen."

That college experience included a degree in communications studies at Santa Monica College in California, as well as graduate school at Ryerson University in Canada. But when Tempo president Frederick Morton came to Trinidad to see her in action, Bonterre was not in a classroom, neither teaching nor being taught.

Busy during carnival

She was hosting a DVD series called Inside Carnival, was working as reporter for Channel 6 television and was hosting a talk show on radio in the mornings. And as he came during Carnival 2005, she was very busy.

Morton was impressed. In fact, with her agent putting in the plug, he was prepared to be impressed. "It always helps to have someone rooting for you," Bonterre said.

She was invited to the MTV office on the same weekend she was in New York for the International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA) and she confesses, "I was a little nervous. You are at MTV offices in New York. You go 31 floors up. There are 40-odd people at this huge conference table, staring at you".

"Frederick hired me on the spot," she said, and "a dream that I had from Trinidad" was fulfilled.

Bonterre noted that her work is not an individual effort. "It is about having good people around you who can push you, motivate you, even if you doubt yourself," she said.

Her locks, which she frees from a headwrap before taking a series of pictures for The Sunday Gleaner, are not a fad. "I would say that I was born Rastafari, for it took a while for it to manifest to the fullness. But I was raised Roman Catholic, she said. When you make that choice on your own, that is what you were," Bonterre said.

The decision was related to her studies, as she studied African history, joined the African Students' Union and met a number of people from Africa.

Questions answered

"From the moment I started reading the words of Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey and Empress Menen I finally had a lot of questions answered," she said. And the diet also made sense as "I realised why I was always squeamish about eating meat."

Her job naturally takes her all over the Caribbean, but if Bonterre has her way she will be reaching more and more people from the big screen, communicating in her natural voice instead of modulating it to sound more American.

"If it is a movie about Marcus Garvey, count me in. If it is a movie about our athletes, our politicians, count me in," Bonterre said.

"If Bob could do it on his own we have nothing to fear and no time to waste," she said.

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