Published May 04, 2009Music is made by those who need it the most. Every day the voices of young, hungry Jamaicans rise out of the shantytowns. If the musician is driven and talented, their music will touch their countrymen and perhaps, the world.
After a meandering introduction, Rise Up settles on two such cases but adds a third: a teenage boy from a well-to-do background that contrasts (perhaps contradicts) the film's central message. At the least, their stories follow different paths as they reach for the same goal of success. That often means finding an audience on the live stage — the dancehall — before merciless onlookers.
Kemoy, a shy, naïve country girl with a voice that would humble Amy Winehouse, is mugged on the way to her midnight show. Being a woman, it'll be even tougher for her songs and voice to get heard, but she persists. Reggae rapper Turbulence sings of injustice and poverty. He claims that a musician has to pay DJs to get heard and trusts no one. "Managers are damagers, agents are devils," he proclaims. Live gigging isn't enough, he feels, so he sets his sights on shooting a video.
Ice Anastasia is a kid from uptown Kingston, the one who lives in a house with a maid. Connections and a well-produced record land him and two singers a spot on the big show: the Sunfest on Montego Bay. However, his slick, polished melodies inspire indifference from the crowd.
Meanwhile, Kemoy catches a break when an a cappella performance reaches the ears of a big-time singer-songwriter. No less than Toots of the Maytalls, Sly (without Robbie) and Lee "Scratch" Perry confirm her talent. However, will a baby get in Kemoy's way?
This film is a good idea brought alive by fantastic music. The problem comes when it meanders and lacks urgency. The contrasts could have been drawn sharper and the interviews could've cut deeper and revealed more of their subjects, whose dreams of success we understand but not so much their motives.
For instance, Kemoy's conclusion occurs suddenly and without warning. Overall, Rise Up is entertaining but not revolutionary.