Jamericazz in Paris

Alecia McKenzie is an award-winning author from Jamaica who has called Paris home for the past six years.

Denise King is a renowned jazz singer from Philadelphia who has a fabulous gift for improvisation.

Together, these two women have created Jamericazz© – a combination of readings from McKenzie’s books and King’s spontaneous interpretations of the passages into song.

Alecia McKenzie and Denise King (c) Discover Paris!

Alecia McKenzie and Denise King
(c) Discover Paris!

On July 26th, McKenzie and King joined other writers and artists for an evening of literature, jazz, and art at the gallery Espace Kaméléon in Paris’ 14th arrondissement. McKenzie read three passages from Sweetheart, the novel for which she won the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize for the Caribbean Region. She prefaced her recitations by stating that “something has happened” to the main character – a young Jamaican artist named Dulcinea Evers – and informed the audience that she would read passages written in the voice of the protagonist’s father.

After each passage, King wove the story into powerful a cappella riffs, using her own words.

Canadian-Vietnamese writer Caroline Vu followed by introducing her recently published novel Palawan Story, which deals with the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the experience of the Boat People. Then Parisian writer Sadiad Youssouf, who is of Somalian, Vietnamese, and French descent, read from her unpublished French-language manuscript about life in Djibouti and France.

 Vu Can, artist and professor - Sadiad Youssouf, writer - Denise King, singer Caroline Vu, writer and doctor - Alecia McKenzie, writer and artist

Vu Can, artist and professor – Sadiad Youssouf, writer – Denise King, singer
Caroline Vu, writer and doctor – Alecia McKenzie, writer and artist

King rounded out the evening with two a cappella solos, after the audience called for encores.

Along with the readings and music, a selection of oil, acrylic, and ink paintings was on display.

Among them were works by McKenzie and her teenage daughter, who has also been painting for several years.

Yes, McKenzie is an artist as well as an author! She paints in addition to writing journalistic pieces and fiction. She finds this activity to be the most relaxing of all her creative endeavors, and often paints with her children. One of her paintings graces the cover of Sweetheart.

 Cover of Sweetheart

Cover of Sweetheart

McKenzie has been a published writer since high school, when her poems appeared in the Jamaican newspapers The Gleaner and The Star. Her first collection of short stories – Satellite City – won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 1993 and has been translated into several languages. Additional works include a novella for young people entitled Doctor’s Orders (2005) – and a second collection of short stories called Stories from Yard (2005).

King is a mostly self-taught vocalist whose musical persona is heavily influenced by the likes of Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughn. She discovered jazz at the tender age of twelve, thanks to an uncle’s impressive collection of LPs. She was discovered many years later, when a recording professional walked by her front stoop and heard her dulcet tones as she sang to herself. She began recording during the 1990s and has gone on to perform on stages around the world.

The July evening in Paris was the third time that McKenzie and King have performed together. Previously, they have read and sung at a private tribute to Nelson Mandela at the home of a mutual friend in Paris, and at the official launch of Jamericazz© at Waterstones bookstore in Brussels last June. At the launch, McKenzie read complete short stories from her collections, and King improvised poetic jazz vocals based on the readings.

Monique Y. Wells is the co-founder of Discover Paris! and the creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours.

Tom Reeves
Discover Paris

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