Paul H. Williams, Contributor
Using her petite frame, big voice, expressive face and a wide range of emotions, A-dZiko Simba Gegele engaged and enthralled a packed room in the Centre for the Arts at the University of Technology, Jamaica, on Sunday, September 29.
When Gegele was finished reading excerpts from All Over Again, published by Blouse and Skirt Books, an imprint of Blue Moon Publishing, the spellbound audience broke out in rapturous applause. It was a reading that only this poet and performance artiste could do justice to her maiden novel.
The event was the launch of All Over Again, which was inspired by, and not about her son Jelani, and dedicated to her grandson Zion (now a few weeks old), who were present, along with Zion's mother.
It was a family affair, indeed, as among the audience were members of the local literati, performance and fine artists, friends and well-wishers. And the presence of those who have already made the transition were recognised and appreciated with libation by Okomfo Afua Fofie, and a moment's silence.
Amina Blackwood-Meeks, the mistress of ceremonies for the evening, enhanced the richness of the process with her witty and thought-provoking remarks. Yes, it was also an evening of remarks, as expected at a launch such as this.
Tanya Batson-Savage, of Blue Moon Publishing, was the first to put things into perspective. In speaking on the importance of bringing books into being, Batson-Savage said, among other things, "Though we talk about the poor state of literacy in the country, we don't promote a reading culture, and because of the Jamaicans-do-not-read label, publishers are more interested in publishing textbooks because those are the ones that sell."
Also, she said, "reading has a tendency to encourage critical thinking, which is not encouraged by the pork-barrel political culture that we have here in Jamaica, where Government continues to ignore industries such as the creative ones". These areas, with the exception of athletics perhaps, she said, are chronically underdeveloped, underfunded and unsupported.
While agreeing with Batson-Savage by saying, "They will not do things that produce people who can think, because thinking people undermine Government," Blackwood-Meeks also asked about whose responsibility it is to ensure than we write and publish. She said we depend on Government to do things that Government will not do, but we have to start doing things for ourselves, and in the process, not be selfish.
Punctuating and accompanying the remarks and presentations were the eclectic sounds coming from the instruments played by master drummer Mbala André. They were instrumental, pun intended, in keeping the process lively, but poignant at the same time, with Mbala asking Gegele to do a little dance. She acquiesced and the audience got to see another side of this dynamic and extraordinary woman.
In the question-and-answer session that followed Gegele's reading, she fielded questions on aspects of the book itself, and because of the visual nature of her story-telling style, one person commented on illustrating the book, Gegele being a fine artist herself, while another looked at the possibility of adapting the stories in the novel to the screen.
There are possibilities, of course, but it seemed like the stage was set for a dramatic ending of the launch. As soon the formalities were over, the rains came. 'Bawly-bawly' Mary Janga, a central character in the novel, was crying in torrents, perhaps.
Photos by Paul Williams