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An Interview with Filmmaker Claudja Barry on "Losing Paradise and Music”

Writer : Caribbean E-Magazine on Thursday, February 7, 2013 | 5:13 PM

Recording Artist & Filmmaker Claudja Barry  has a film "Losing Paradise" which will debut in Canada on February 17 in honour of Black History Month.

Claudja is a Jamaica born singer and actress who has performed in the European versions of the stage musicals Hair and Catch My Soul. She is an award winning singer with nine gold records and 2 platinum albums. In 1985, she appeared in the movie Rappin', starring Mario Van Peebles.

Claudja recently add filmmaker to her colourful  resume with her debut film "Losing Paradise and Music” , a documentary which  takes a look at Dancehall music and the belief that it contributes to the negativity of the culture.

CEM sat down with this multi-talented singer, stage and screen actress, Claudja Barry for a Q &A


Tell us about yourself?

I am a singer actress who was born in Jamaica, migrated to Canada at 7. My schooling was done in Toronto and I studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre institute in New York. I studied voice in Berlin and Vienna. My goal was to be a classically trained opera singer. While having a trained classical voice I choose to move into the popular genre of music, only after doing Othello in the musical "catch my soul"

I joined a number of pop groups before becoming a solo artist. I am a Juno Award winner, as well as being one of the winners of the prestigious Tokyo Music festival.
I have performed for the royal houses of Europe and for many heads of State including Pierre Trudeau and Helmut Kohl. I am the first black woman in Canada to sell millions of records, and I was inducted into the Canadian Black music hall of fame along with jazz icon Oscar Peterson. I have performed at some of the world’s best venues including Budokan Hall, Verona Arena, The Palace, Fredrich StadtPalast, and Frankfurter Opera. I am well read, traveled extensively. 

How is the transition from being an actress and singer to now a filmmaker?
It was a natural transition from in front of the camera to directing and writing. I felt I had a great of knowledge from my years of work and I wanted to write and direct in an area that I was passionate about. 
Can you tell us about the story for “Losing Paradise"?
"Losing Paradise and Music" deals with the impact this genre of music is having on society.
The images that presented in this form of music are generally negative and I wanted have heard from a wide group their views. 

Why did you decide you do this documentary?
I needed to know if there were any redeeming qualities to take away from this music. The responses were alarming in their content.
I spoke with psychologists, activists, family life specialists, doctors and musicians.

Bob Marley’s “One Love" , his message, his love of his fellow man and his concern for the welfare of his community resonates in his lyrics and music. I wanted to find out if his message of love respect and caring were prominent in the music of today which is dancehall, and if the current artists are holding up the standards set by Marley and those of his era.

Is this your first film?
This is my first film and definitely not my last.

Did you face a lot of opposition writing and directing this film from people who know you only as an actress?
No, I did not discuss this with anyone, as I know there would be many who would find ways to discourage me. I went out on faith. I needed to explore this subject for myself.  My music was happy fun and generally made you feel good.  

Why do you Dancehall, in general, seem to have such a negative influence on Jamaica’s culture?
I wanted to hear the good comments as well as the negative comments about dancehall. 
It is in fact very popular, I wanted to know what is the fascination of it is to the public. It has a broad range of fans so I set out to get their thoughts and reactions.

Many people will say you didn’t grow up Jamaica, so you are not fully aware of its culture or music for you take a stand. What is your response to that?
I did not grow up in Jamaica, but I had parents who instilled specific attitudes and
behaviours in me. In that last few years I have spent significant periods of time on the island. I have seen the erosion in attitude and behaviour over this time. I understand the cultural expressions of Jamaica and there are many. Over the years new attitudes that one can only described  as being detrimental to spirit and soul, are now being called culture. The power music should never be under estimated whether it's positive or negative.

How can the Jamaica music industry be reform back to the days of Bob Marley?
The music industry is being reformed, but we are not talking about the business of music, my film is more about the cultural spiritual and emotional effects of what is now being produced and
broadcast. The content of the music. The emotional impact of the music. I am not for censorship at all, but we must realize that if you hear a specific kind of music constantly, without having an opportunity of exposure to anything else, then, you will believe what you are hearing and behave accordingly. We need balance.

We have a new generation of music listeners who are not use to the real roots reggae and are very much into “Dancehall reggae”, who wouldn’t agree that reggae music as lost its culture. What is your take on this?

I understand that there are a generation of listeners who have heard only dancehall reggae and obviously enjoy that form of music. I am not trying to change anyone's preference, but, there should be music appreciation in schools, so that from an early age, all children, would have knowledge of all types of music. I think that reggae music was laid out clearly by Bob Marley ... that music should be a healing and uniting force. The current form of dancehall reggae does not adhere in any way to those standards.

You make mentioned in the documentary that it is time for artists to take responsibility. How can they do that?
Music artists are for many young people the only role model they have. They are respected and emulated. So if the image that you project is that of a thug, or someone who has no respect for authority figures, or one that is homophobic, shows only disdain and disrespect for women, then your fans will take on the same behaviour and attitudes. If you show intolerance, indifference, disrespect, impatience, then, fans believe that's how life should be. 

Life is very difficult now, unemployment, financial problems, environmental disasters etc. all of that is making for a very volatile existence, then we add to all that, the chaos of having the "stars" of the  day record songs that tell you to be as bad as you wanna be just to get over? How can that be a society that will grow thrive and give credence to its citizens?

That is not how we should be living.  You can pass as many laws and make life rigid, you can censor everything we hear and see, but to what result.

Is there any Jamaican/reggae artiste that you see that is being a good example of what “reggae music’ standard should be
Taurus Riley, is one that comes to mind, he is wonderful, Romaine Virgo, super talented, Jimbolee, and Bones Stennett.

Where can readers see this documentary?
The documentary will be aired in 'Canada. Black History Month 2013.

What is your next film project?
I plan to expand this project to a full length movie using some actors .

Are you doing any upcoming project in terms of your singer career?
I am doing a project  now and I plan to have among the songs on the cd the Joe Cocker song "up where we belong" as the theme song, done as a reggae .

You are an R&B singer; will you ever do a reggae song?
This new project is a combination of reggae and fusion music. 

Any advice for upcoming artistes?
My only advice to anyone going into the music industry, is they should learn the business of being in it by taking business management courses, learn to take control of your career. Have a good education and learn the craft seriously. 

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Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 9:14:00 PM EST

Great interview! She is such one lovely woman you could learn a lot of things from.

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