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What’s Up with Jakila, Janelle?


Dale Forde

What’s Up with Jakila, Janelle?

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It was a choice between being a psychiatrist or a journalist, and because she was weak in science Janelle Gilkes became a journalist. More than a decade on she realises there really isn’t that much difference between the two – oh yeah, except for the science.

Today she sits in a padded room for five hours talking to people she can’t see, dancing and singing most of the time. No she isn’t crazy nor a psychiatrist, it is the real world of 33-year-old Gilkes who has finally found her niche in the big, wide world of media.

Following more than five years as a print journalist, she is now an announcer working for the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), stationed on 94.7 FM’s The Rhythm Of Life, where she plays all the hits of the 1970s to today.

“Thank God, I always talked to myself so it was not that difficult a transition,” she quipped.

In December 2007 she sat behind the mic for the first time. “It was scary,” she remembered, as she took off her headphones, turned down the mic and pushed up the music during the last few minutes of her 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift, where she is known as Lady Soul.

An old Sheena Easton hit is playing in the background. The 1988 hit the Lover In Me had climbed the United States pop charts when Janelle was in primary school.

“It was scary and exciting all at the same time,” she continued. “But I got through it and wanted to do it again and again,” she said with a smile.

The scare has passed and she now sits comfortably punching buttons and shifting others up and down a board. To the side are stacked commercials she has to read live on air and books she has to write in.

“I love all kinds of music,” she confessed and later revealed that it was her boss and head of radio Pearson Bowen who gave her the moniker Lady Soul from the Temptations’ single of the same name.

“I think it really sums up who I am – passionate, earthy and being able to really make that connection with people – plus it added some mystery, especially while I was on air at night.”

Next month Janelle will have company in 27-year-old Jakila Lewis, who also got her start at the CBC but on Q 100.7 FM. Jakila will be sharing the shift with her on the show What’s Up, which starts Monday, October 6, on 94.7 FM.

“I trained with Larry Mayers and was actually on the morning show with him before I came to 94.7 FM,” Jakila gushed. She had come into the studio to join the interview. “That was a wonderful experience because I was able to work with someone who had so much knowledge about the business and was willing to share that knowledge with me.”

Like Janelle, Jakila always knew she would be involved in media. It stemmed from her love for writing and poetry. “I have always been involved in the arts, from as far back as school. I even competed at NIFCA,” she said.

The 2006 Emancipation Roots Experience winner wants to engage, educate and entertain her audience and she wants to learn from them as well.

“When I was growing up I listened to the radio a lot and I was fascinated by the way announcers could say words and create pictures in your mind. I wanted to do that.”

She said every day something new and fresh happens when she is on air, like calls from listeners sharing their life experiences, wishing her a good day, sharing a word of inspiration or introducing her to a new song.

“People are amazed that I know so many old tunes, but I grew up when my parents played oldies on a Sunday afternoon after lunch, so I know a lot of them by heart.” She cites Teddy Pendergrass, Anita Baker and Whitney Houston as the artistes she loves. “Whitney Houston is the greatest. Nobody can match her voice or her talent,” she said.

Janelle and Jakila will be hosting a brand new radio show called What’s Up, conceptualised by Bowen. It puts the two Js in the midday to talk about what’s trending locally, regionally and internationally.

“We are really excited about this new opportunity,” Janelle said. We are chatting two days after meeting in the 94.7 FM studio. This time we are in one of the television studios of the CBC, where the two ladies have wrapped a promotional shoot. The photographer has gone and the girls are sharing a couch, exhausted. It has been a long day.

 “We intend to talk about things that people may only have been whispering about, give a voice to issues that need to be discussed and with the help of our listeners offer solutions to them,” Janelle continued.

“It’s not going to be all serious,” Jakila cuts in. “We’re girls so you know we are going to be talking about clothes, hair, make-up and shoes.”

“And relationships and books and movies,” Janelle chimed in.

“We have tailor-made this show for our audience – women between the ages of 25 and 40,” Janelle explained. “It sounds like a cliché but 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40, et cetera. We have women who are living longer, living healthier and so they are looking younger and acting younger. They have grown up in an era of great music and great fashion, when life was a little less complicated.”

“This doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate what is current,” Jakila further explained. “We are putting that together in a perfect blend, the best of the old, what is interesting in the present and looking forward to what is possible in the future.”

They insist that men will not be left out. “They form a big part of the discussion so we intend to engage them a lot,” Janelle said.

It is clear that the two are on the same page with the programme, but that is where the similarities seem to end. While Janelle is petite coming in at 5’ 1”, Jakila is a towering 5’ 9” and taller in her multicoloured wedges. The former model is surprisingly self-conscious. “I was taller than everyone at school. I felt odd. It took me a while to accept and embrace my height.”

Janelle is outgoing and the more vocal of the two. She is a shade of dark chocolate while Jakila hovers somewhere between mocha and warm brown. Complexion has never been a concern for Jakila, but Janelle said she is often reminded of the shade of her skin and has been told on several occasions, “You sound like a red-skinned woman on radio; you sound white; I didn’t expect you to be dark.”

“It freaks me out sometimes, but I just smile and thank them for listening. This is definitely a topic we will be having a conversation about when the show starts.”

In the meantime they are continuing preparation for the new programme. In her downtime Jakila, the self-confessed foodie, is looking for new recipes and cooking up a storm for family and close friends as the newly wedded Janelle spends time with her spouse.

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