Jamaica’s Street Side Salon

The first time I laid eyes on Street Side Salon, the short documentary that’s been making waves and garnering comments on YouTube and in social media circles, was via a Caribbean friend’s Facebook page. Although some comments expressed shock at the bustling beauty industry in downtown Kingston, many expressed humor and familiarity. Yes indeed, although there is nothing quite like Mathews Lane in Trinidad, scenes from Anna Alissa Hitzemann’s documentary reminded me very much of the old People’s Mall, or the atmosphere of Charlotte Street in Port of Spain.

Some have expressed concern about the hygenic conditions of the market when they laid eyes on this video, but I encourage you to look past that. Look at the ingenuity. Look at the skills of these manicurists and hairdressers.

I caught up with Anna Alissa Hitzemann via e mail, and she enlightened me about her film, and the ways of the Street Side Salon.

Afrobella: Tell me a little about yourself – are you still a college student? Or are you currently doing documentaries full time?

AAH: I am 23 years old, from Niger and Germany. I grew up between Europe and West Africa but I also lived in India for 2 years. I just graduated from Wellesley College near Boston in MA, USA where I completed a BA double major in Cinema and Media Studies and Africana Studies. I plan on going on to grad school for development studies and I havent decided yet whether I should apply to film school. I love cinema and I plan on not starting grad school right away. I want to take the time next year to think about what I want to do in life.

Afrobella: Talk to me about your experience with Jamaica – from what I’ve read online, you’re not Jamaican, right? So how did this come about?

AAH: During my junior year, in 2008, I decided to study abroad for a semester at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston, Jamaica. I wanted to get out of the USA and go somewhere completely new. I have always had many friends from the Caribbean and I was getting increasingly interested in dancehall music and culture so I wanted to go live in Jamaica and experience it for myself! After the semester I did not want to leave. I made so many friends there! I love Jamaica and I can´t wait to go back. I have been back several times and I actually got into UWI for a masters program but I haven’t decided made a final decision yet as to whether I will be moving back there.

Afrobella: What drew you to the market? Walk me through what led up to the experience.

AAH: I actually used to go downtown a lot while I was living in Jamaica. People always told me it was too dangerous and warned me never to go there. It is dangerous, that’s true, but it is also full of life and a lot of fun! I have friends who live downtown and work in the market place so I often go visit them. From the very first time I went there I was just captivated by the energy of the place! There is so much going on and I’m a real people watcher so it was the perfect place for me!

Afrobella: Did you get any beauty treatments at the market? Would you? Why or why not?

AAH: Yes, most definitely! I always get my nails done there!! I ask them to paint my own natural nails. I really think it is a great place to go especially if you want a unique look because those women will do any style you want them to do. they are incredibly creative! I love it!

Afrobella: For outsiders to Jamaican or Caribbean culture, the image of this market may seem unhygienic and I’ve been reading some judgment online. As someone who’s filmed and spent time there, what do you think?

AAH: I think it is all relative and a matter of opinion. Of course, if you are looking for a calm beauty experience this might not be your place to go. But honestly, I think it is so much more fun than the uptown airconditioned beauty parlors. Here, you get great treatment and entertainment all at the same time. Its a totally different vybz and I would encourage anyone to go, even if you do not want to get anything done. its just a really fun place to hang out!

Afrobella: What do you want people to learn from or gain from watching your documentary?

AAH: I wanted to show a different side to what films usually portray of downtown kingston. documentaries often show the ghetto communities and focus on the gang violence, crime and poverty. There is not only crime and poverty downtown! there is so much life, love, energy and laughter! I wanted to show that yes, people are struggeling, but they are also going about their day to day business with incredible dignity and pride. and those street side beauticians are so talented and creative- how could I not film them?

Afrobella: What’s next for you – what else are you working on?

AAH: As I said, I will be taking 1 year off before going to grad school. I want to spend some time with the family and also think about what’s important to me. I want to travel in Asia for some months and hopefully i will be able to take a camera with me…! I also love music very much, and writing. Not sure what’s next but life is so exciting and I know that whatever I do it will be a great experience. There is so much to see in this world and so much more to learn!!!

And a final, follow up question…

Afrobella: In light of what’s happening now in Jamaica, what do you think would be happening with the street side salon and the people who work and visit there?

AAH: Of course with the political situation right now the women will not be out on the streets. But at the same time, people need to go on with their lives and they can’t stop earning money. It’s difficult to get info on whats going on right now. I still have friends I havent been able to get in touch with. Let’s just hope and pray for the best!!!!

Anna is absolutely gorgeous, SO talented, and I can’t wait to see what she does next! She shares her own life in this beautiful Self Portrait. Check out her YouTube channel, streetsideprod.

Thank you Anna! I really appreciated your insight, and LOVED your film. I wish you all the best!!

Bellas – what are your thoughts? Would you go get your nails done down Mathews Lane?

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Comments

  1. professor says:

    Loved this; thanks!

  2. CuteMemphian says:

    It is amazing. I love my people!

  3. I love anything about anthropology of beauty. Sounds like this is what Anna is about. Thanks for blogging about this. I enjoyed the short film. This is why I couldn’t enjoy myself secluded in an all inclusive resort. I can have sterile … and boring spa treatments in my home in exurbia. When I travel I like to experience local flava and vibe.

  4. BlackBetty says:

    Anna definitely has so much talent, to be so young.
    I probably wouldn’t get my nails done on Matthews Lane because I’m so squeamish about germs.

  5. All I can say is WOW! I have never seen such. I am awed and impressed, but at the same time don’t think I would partake in many of the services. They could hook me up with a weave or polish my nails but I’d pass on the eyelashes or the tattoo services. Some things are meant to be done in a more hygenic fashion. I do admire them for the craft though. They are certainly talented.

  6. I saw the video a few weeks ago on fb. I love the video. It captures a certain essence of beauty and make do. These ladies definitely come across more skilled than many I have been too. Whenever I go JA, I always get my nails and toes done and the design is always above what I get in the UK.

    Oh yeah Afrobella, so glad you got in touch with this talented lady as I have been looking for info on her for ages.

  7. oh yes even better she got Madusa in the video. perfect

  8. ShaeShay says:

    Lovedddddddddd the video. Have been to JA many times but never downtown Kingston. Those are some skilled women on Mathews Lane, but I will NEVER let them touch my hair or nails. I need to know that the person altering a part of me knows what they are doing, because if something goes wrong (and it can), I need to know that the situation can be properly rectified!

    Much love to the island massive,
    ShaeShay

  9. I went through a period in the 1990s where I wore acrylic nails but I swore off them because they weakened my regular nails. However, I would go to that street to get acrylic nails if I could have that manicurist paint them so delicately. Gorgeous! Everything else, esp. the hideous weaves…um, no.

    I watched Anna Alissa’s self-portrait video. I love that she’s such a nomad…maybe that’s not the right word but she has the roaming spirit of her Tuareg ancestors. I hope she keeps that curiosity throughout life…I’m curious to know how her parents met. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. Mishara says:

    Was just in Jamaica 3 months ago. Wish I would have known. I would have gone to check this out. It seems no less sanitary than some of the “hood” establishments in my city. I never frequent these businesses but I would have tried one in Jamaica, just because I respect hustle & creativity a great deal. And MAN DO I LOVE MY (Across the water) PEOPLE! In regards to the film maker, I GREATLY admire her vibe. There is no greater joy than to travel the world. Nothing compares! Keep going!

  11. swissmiss261 says:

    WOW!!! I’m Jamaican-American, just got back from Jamaican last night! Thank you Afrobella for this story!!! LOVE IT AND LOVE MI COUNTRY!!!

    She is absolutely right about Kingston – always much going on. I love how she captured this and am not offended at all! Jamaica has so much talent in the weirdest nooks and cranies.

  12. Love the film, she definitely knows how to tell a story.I admire the creativity of all the stylists, I’m from Kenya and I have seen roadside barbers. However, I have never seen anything like what they have in Jamaica. Hygiene is definitely an issue especially with tattooing and at the barbers. I would probably get my nails painted if I were there. I did not like the weaves at all! I can only imagine how warm one feels with that net in the heat! I thought braided/cornrowed hair might look better? I think all these people need is some training on good salon practices and better sanitation facilities–didn’t see any taps or running water–because their skills are on point!

  13. people keep talking about sanitation and the condition they are working in. They need to remember what you see in this video is downtown kingston – and the people making their money are doing what street vendors do. make their money along the street side.

    Now if you go to Kingston and street side services is not for you or you do not like the look of the salons there go uptown and pay uptown prices or worst stay in the hotel complex and pay hotel prices!!

    cha people haffe hustle de money. Jamaican and Caribbean people big up unno self unno large and ya ting sell off!! wha

    but yeah each to their own likes dislikes

  14. Definitely see the Charlotte Street and Peoples’ Mall vibe and I am sure that right in USA there are unhygenic and poorly trained beauticians too….

  15. It is cool to learn about salon practices in other countries. I would definitely want to observe but that is about it…I agree with the other comments about hygiene.

  16. Anna’s a beauty ethnographer. We should all take up the mantle and consider highlighting little known aspects of our culture.

  17. Makeda Kaluwa says:

    Thanks for this vid, very informative. I was shocked at first when I read the title, but those sistahs are bonafied hustlas–that’s whats up!

  18. i love it darling iam so proud of u..continue to do the best at wat u do and u succed

  19. Thanks so much for posting an interview about the maker of this film. Enjoyed her YouTube channel as well. A talented and good-hearted beauty. She has a bright future ahead of her.

    As a Jamaican (living in Brooklyn) who has been to almost every single CARICOM country, I have to say there is no energy to be found like the Downtown folks in Kingston. That picture at the top of this story with Alissa filming that old lady in the purple blouse, is a taste of what it’s like to mingle with the folks who create the vibe of our culture.

    That old lady’s name is “Madusa” LOL! She is a fixture at ‘Passa Passa” dances in West Kingston. Jamaicans have come as far as from the UK to pay her to dance.

    She has a whole scheme to make money. She’ll tease you all night with little snatches of dancing to entice you to pay her to move; as soon as you pay her–’she fly gone’ with your money–not a dance will you see LOL! No one knows her true age, where she lives (she’s a bit off of her rockers) but she never misses a ‘scene.’ Day or night, wherever the action is downtown, Madame Madusa is there. I was so NOT surprised to see her in Alissa film. Too funny!

    One has not truly been to Jamaica unless one has experienced our dancehall scene and all its offshoots. Lawd I miss home!

    The hair/nail/tatoos are not something I would get done there. The ladies are unquestionably talented, but possess little knowledge of even how to protect themselves when administering cosmetic/beauty procedures. Many of them are bald under those weaves due to improper techniques being used over the years.

    It would be nice if the dyamn stupid govt. would reward their enterprising spirits with proper training and decent facilities so proper health standards can be maintained.

    Bless their hearts. “Dem mek sumpn outta nutten.”

  20. Beautiful pics! I love the post so much! xoxo

  21. where is the video now? It’s been removed. Is there anywhere else to find it aside from YOU TUBE

  22. paradisebird says:

    Missed th vid, too! I am glad that it is back.
    Thanks Afrobella for introducing as to Alissa and her fantastic work.
    BIG UP to all my street beauticians, market women and ppl who make aliving out of nothing!
    This so reminds me of the market in Cape Coast, Ghana and Kinshasa, RDC :-) Luv my ppl!!

  23. Wouldn’t it be great if you could “interview” a few L.
    If the gross does not act properly, it may average there is something misguided with the tracks.
    For instance, if you need a business license, be sure to obtain one.

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  1. [...] To read an interview with the woman behind the documentary, jump over to Afrobella. [...]

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