Interviews

Interview with Zenesha Zenny Riley, assistant Director & Producer of the Jamaican documentary “ Hit me with Music"

Written by Xavier Murphy

This week we interview Nicetime Productions Limited Productions Manager and Assistant Director/Producer, Zenesha Zenny Riley about their documentary on “ Hit me with Music”. Nice Time is a film company committed to capturing and documenting in film and music significant cultural and sports achievements of Jamaicans. Here is our conversation with Zenesha.

Zenesha is a very lovely and unique name. What is the history behind the name?
The history behind my name is a funny one, when my mother : Andria Hylton-Riley gave birth to me my dad had just Bought her a brand new color Television called Zenith at that time it was like A HD plasma tv, so she got excited, and thought what would she name her daughter? she couldnt call me ZENITH, since that was already taken by a TV, so I was called Zenesha, and since Back in the early 80’s every ones child had a isha Or a sha, so Zenesha was created thats my name. 

Where in Jamaica are you from?
I was born In St Ann, St Ann’s Bay the Capital to be exact, the birth place of Bob Marley, Burning spears, Shabba Ranks, Marcus Gravey to name a few, I grew up in a small Rural community called Farm Town, In Discovery Bay St Ann.

How did you get started in film making?
I started doing films when I was introduced to it By Fernando Garcia Guereta a Spanish Business man, who Just simply loved Jamaica, Bob Marley and its Culture, I was in Entertainment management, Music and fashion at the time, and still is in a few of those, but ventured into making documentaries with Nando as he made me the head of Productions of his Company Nice Time Productions. 

Tell us about the documentary Hit me with Music? What is about?
30 years after Bob Marley’s death Jamaica continues to be on top of the world-wide music scene. Reggae has evolved to produce a new genre, 
Dancehall. Anywhere, at any time, tunes created by artistes from the ghetto fill the island’s soundscape. They tell the story of a society whose reality
is marked by violence and poverty. Through the protagonists of this documentary you’ll get to know Dancehall and what it is about. 

A diverse group of individuals, including Yellowman, the original King of Dancehall, talks of the context in which these songs are born and what the phenomena represent in their life and the lives of many supporters. Hit me with music presents and represents the urban street culture and lifestyle that fuels and is born out of the new music of young Jamaicans, and captures the elements of dance which form an integral part of nightlife in Kingston. 

The Dancehall phenomena is unstoppable in Jamaica and the rest of the world, and continues to highlight the realities 
of life for poor Jamaicans, in spite of the efforts of the Jamaican government to attract tourists by hiding this reality behind its “Jamaica No Problem” image. 
Artistes, dancers, music producers, schoolchildren and the youths on the street explain the content of the polemic Dancehall lyrics and the 
lifestyle created by the music. The Gully – Gaza clash between supporters of Vybz Kartel and Mavado, the controversial subject of “Daggering” and
the reasons why people bleach their skin, are all explored in this documentary.
We’ll also get to know about the dreams and hopes of the majority of the poor and underprivileged people in Jamaica.
 
Where did the idea come from to make this documentary?

Spanish selector kamikaze from Kiki sound was doing a few recordings in Jamaica, we were shooting “why do Jamaicans run so fast” at that time. 

Since we love dancehall also, it became our aim to show our view about what dancehall means for Jamaicans, especially for those living in poor comunities. 
We felt that there was a lot of good documentaries about reggae, but dancehall deserved to have its own space.
 
The title is from the Bob Marley song. Is there a connection you are trying to make with foundation reggae and dancehall with this title?
Fernando always had in his mind an interview made with Bob Marley for a reggae documentary. While playing football, Bob was asked what 
was the meaning of reggae, he told the interviewer that “reggae is the music and beat of the ghetto”. That was a wonderful inspiration for us as Bob marley fans. Today dancehall is still the music of the ghetto, theres no question about that.
 
If there is one thing you want audiences to take away from this documentary, what would it be?
For me the nicest thing about dancehall is that it brings joy to the people of the ghetto and rural surroundings, even though we know there is a lot of controversy about Certain aspects on dancehall music, when we see the people dance to it we feel good.
 
They say documenting culture in film is a learning experience. What is the one thing you learned about dancehall/Jamaican culture from doing this documentary?
We learn that when you dont have many chances in this hard society music is like a healing process for the spirits of those who suffer, and dancing is an 
art of expression its extremely powerful.
 
Do you think Jamaicans are doing enough to document their culture?
Before I thought not, but being in the film Industry you see that there are a lot of potential Jamaican producers and directors,who tries to tell there stories of the culture. Maybe because there are not much funding opportunities in Jamaica to facilitate their production budgets, you don’t see enough, but In time I believe there will be more doors open to document our culture. The NLJ-National Library of Jamaica, has played their part in trying to document and collect as much as they can to preserve the culture and its existence. And Nice time productions ensures that All documentaries done by us, is donated to the NLJ.
 
Has the documentary been entered in any film fests? Has it won any awards?

Yes we have entered it in to TIFF Trinidad and Tobago film festival, and we have won, Best Documentary and The peoples choice Award.
Hit me with music has been screened and premiered in several countries.
Jamaica.
 
East End Film Festival- London UK
Norient Music Film festival- Bern,Switzerland
Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Italy 
African Film festival – legos Nigeria
Malcom x blvd New york, USA
Pan African film festival,Los Angeles, USA : in February
 
Just to name a few. 
 
Documentaries always struggle with financing as is not for commercial distribution. How was that film financed?
The film has been financed by the CEO of the company, Fernando Garcia Guereta
Tell us more about Nicetime Productions Limited Productions goal of capturing Jamaican culture on film?
Nice Time gets a lot of inspiration from Jamaican Culture, and we are determined to make the whole world know more about it, we have
realized that there is something about our Jamaican culture that caption the attention of fans all over the world.
 
How well did the project on “Why Jamaican run so fast” did? Any new awards?
WDJRSF was successful, We have won 4 International awards
 
1,The “GUIRLANDE D’HONNOUR” at the Milano International Ficts Festival 2009 (Italy) 
2.“BEST FILM & BEST DIRECTOR” at the Sport Film Festival Palermo 2009 (Italy), 
3.1st place in the category SPORTS AND SOCIETY at the Atlant International Ficts Film festival 2010 (Russia) 
4.BEST OLYMPIC MOVIE at the BCN Ficts Film festival Barcelona 2010 (Spain)
 
Any plans for the Olympics?
The Olympics: Plans are already in high gear as 2 major airline companies will commence to show WDJRSF: British Air ways and lufthansa, starting
in February, we are in preparations to merge with an athletic magazine called Runners world to do a spread and add a bonus DVD & CD of WDJRSF and Authentic reggae and dance hall music for each edition. 
Our Executives and legal Administration are also making talks to merge with the Ministry of Sports Youth and culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna and JAMPRO to prepare and coordinate different activities in the London Olympics.
 
Do you have any other projects in the works? 
Yes, our most present project is called ” Songs of Redemption.
Songs of redemption is a documentary about The rehabilitation process through music. 
Please see link Jamaica Gleaner for more details.
 
With the emergence of technology movies are copied and distributed illegally on flash drives. Many will say that this practice is quite popular in Jamaica and worldwide. Do you see this as a threat to your film making or do you see opportunity?
We are aware of it, but we understand we live in a technological society, we understand a lot of people cant afford to pay for dvds so we try our best to find different ways 
to finance our projects, trying to stop technology is a waste of time. We think some big companies have been stealing peoples money for a long time. We are little but we tallawah. 
Are you doing any work for the celebration of Jamaica 50?
We are negotiating our presence in Jamaican 50th anniversary during London Olympic games.
What are you most “proudest” about with Jamaica turning 50 years old? 
We are still alive and working to be better in how we do business, trade and understands the international language, how we handle national security
and how we protect whats ours – Brand Jamaica. As our generation gap expands and changes and technology improves, That little rock that Jamaica sits on has improved, I have only lived 27 years on it, some of it there some of it in Europe, but from the History I know and where we are comming from,
Im very proud of its achievements, In music, world Number one In sports ( Athletics), in Education, technology and culture. 
 
50 years as an independent nation might seem Long in the eyes of some, but we still have a far way to go.
Learning from our mistakes as a nation and working towards improving a better quality of  life for the poor and recovering from years of piracy and corruption, so Im most proud about our strength and determination.
Thanks for the interview. Any final thoughts?
U a go tyaad fe watch our movies, cant tek we outta di race, Jamaica to di world.

About the author

Xavier Murphy