Reviews (November/December 2009)

The new music, the movies and the books that are reflecting the region right now

CD coverMichael Holgate. Photograph courtesy Macmillan Caribbean

BOOK REVEIWS

Ripping yarns for young readers

Debbie Jacob

There has been a dearth of Caribbean literature for the 11 – 14 age group, and the challenge, for the most part met by Macmillan’s new Island Fiction series, has been how to create appealing stories that provide Caribbean children with a vision of their own culture in a literary setting that is both familiar and wide-reaching. The authors of the Island Fiction series have a world of experience, and a deep-rooted connection to the Caribbean.

In Night of the Indigo, Marassa, a 15-year-old Jamaican boy, is on a journey to save his twin brother Wico, who is dying from a strange disease that no doctor can diagnose, let alone cure. All Marassa knows is that his brother was stricken after they experimented with entering their father’s mind. Marassa will do anything to save his brother – even go on a scary journey with Kundo, a mystic warrior, to Orunda, a planet in another dimension.  Night of the Indigo straddles magical realism – especially in its use of time – and science fiction with its exploration of exotic, unknown settings.

Escape from Silk Cotton Forest, by Francis C Escayg, is about the race to save Trinidad’s El Tucuche Forest from its downward spiral. King Zar’s intentions are good, but he’s really no leader. Trinidadian folklore characters, lagahoos and soucouyants, challenge 11-year-old Domino and his mongoose Peenut. The book explores the folklore of the forest in a story about commitment and perseverance. It’s a traditional conflict of good against evil, with a West Indian twist.

Time Swimmer, by Gerald Hausman, is an epic journey through the Caribbean. In the midst of unspeakable despair, after failing his common entrance exam, Luke, a boy from Jamaica, tries to hang himself. Hovering between life and death, Luke meets and befriends a sea turtle who is the reincarnation of Odysseus, the ancient Greek traveller.

Together they set out on an adventure whose characters include the pirate Henry Morgan, Cyparis, the only survivor of the Mt Pelée volcanic eruption in Martinique in 1902, and other intriguing characters. History and mythology define Luke’s adventure as he rediscovers his place after the biggest disappointment of his life.

In Lisa Allen-Agostini’s The Chalice Project, there’s something a little bit different and quirky about Ada and Evan Brijlal. On the surface they seem like Trinidadian children, but something is just not right. One problem is that they know nothing about their mother, and their father, a genius and a scientist, provides no answers. Eventually, the children embark on a journey to find their mother and the true story of their lives. They have to decide what is more important: obedience to their father, who has hidden the truth from them, or piecing together the puzzle. When the children decide to defy their father, they have to face the consequences.

The Chalice Project has a riveting storyline in a fast-paced plot filled with conflicts about respect for rules and people that every young reader can relate to in a novel. There are bullies to deal with, trouble in school, and questions about identity. Issues raised by genetic engineering are brought home to Caribbean children, who might not realise how these moral questions affect everyone.

Legend of the Swan Children is an enchanting story set on the coast and rainforests of South America. Alex, of the Cougar Clan, has special powers that he has to call upon after his mother goes missing. His magical journey to find his place in life, as well as his mother, is a colourful, descriptive tale of love that shows Guyana’s Caribbean connections. There is no novel in the series that is more thought-provoking or richer in imagery.
Escape from Silk Cotton Forest Francis Escayg (ISBN 9781405099004, 192pp)
Time Swimmer Gerald Hausman (ISBN 9781405098984, 192pp)
The Chalice Project Lisa Allen-Agostini (ISBN 9781405098991, 192pp)
Legend of the Swan Children Maureen Marks-Mendonca (ISBN 9781405099011, 192pp)
Night of the Indigo Michael Holgate (ISBN 9780230030732, 224pp)

 

CD REVEIWS

 

Caribbean Gospel Christmas Vol 1

Various Artists

Exploring Christmas from the born-again-Christian perspective, this collection presents a mix of soca, calypso, parang, and reggae from several of the top gospel acts out of Trinidad. The songs were compiled by a popular local gospel-music DJ known as DJ Mickey, who selected the most sought-after Christmas songs recorded by gospel artistes over the past five years and re-mastered them.

Although focusing on the spiritual rather than the festive aspects of the season, the music on the collection is for the most part lively and invites one to dance. The opening track, “Praise Your Name”, for example blends parang rhythms with a reggae melodic line, making for infectious music topped with thought-provoking lyrics. Parang is a form of music influenced by Trinidadians of Spanish origin and migrants from Venezuela.

Other tracks on the CD blending parang and reggae are “Bow Down” by Sherwin Gardner, with Jadee and Vanessa Briggs, as well as “Joy To The World”, by a duo known as Tiko and Gitta.

There are also straight reggae tracks such as “Trumpet Blows” by Mr Mention, which heralds the birth of Christ and calls on the people to come worship Him. Another reggae tune, “Jesus Is Meh Santa Claus” by Sean Bacchus, states that for him, it is Jesus and not Santa who brings blessings.

As for calypso and soca, there’s the enjoyable “Remember His Birth”, a calypso by Delino Primus from Tobago. Celestial Harmony offers a driving soca tune, “He is the Reason”, which has a humorous tilt. Another interesting calypso is “Don’t X Christ out of Christmas”, in which Christine Paul expresses her dislike of seeing Christmas being shortened to “Xmas”.

 


 

Soca Parang Bacchanal

Various Artists

Christmas in Trinidad is lime and laughter, with of course lots of liquor, which can lead to real bacchanal. This CD offers several comical songs in soca, soca-parang and reggae styles performed by several top comedians and local parody artistes. Myron B, a calypso satirist, kicks off the party with “My Wish” in which he lets a girlfriend know that his wish for Christmas is for her to return to him, but this time knowing that she will have to learn to wash, cook and clean house.

Calypsonian Jo-L, usually a humorist, chooses to contribute a spiritual song to the collection in the simply titled “Jesus Is My Saviour”. Stand-up comic Wendell Etienne laments that a friend serves him food with “No Salt” when he visits him for Christmas. Another beloved comic, Errol Fabien, does a little double entendre in “Chronicles of the Keesh”, in which he sings that Santa Claus came a-calling while in the mood “for keesh”. Ask a Trini to translate!

Sounding interestingly like comedian Sprangalang, Clifford Learmond will have you in stitches with “Drunken Master”, in which he identifies the effect that the extensive consumption of rum has had on himself and fellow entertainers in Trinidad. And comedian George Gonzales claims in “Rose” that he is a florist who makes the women all say “ouch” at Christmas when he pricks them with the thorns on his special long-stemmed rose.

 


 

A Sweet Touch of Christmas

Johann Chuckaree

A multifaceted musician, Johann Chuckaree has been hailed as a panman of exceptional talent since his childhood. He has been on the frontline of Phase II Pan Groove for the past several years and has earned the respect of the orchestra’s legendary leader, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. Chuckaree is also a member of the revered Marionettes Chorale, where he is looked up to by fellow members of the choir’s orchestra, several of them his elders.

This collection sees Chuckaree performing a number of Christmas standards, which he has recorded in arrangements he created to refresh, enhance and also give the songs a Caribbean flavour.

Chuckaree opens the CD with the evergreen “The Christmas Song”, which has warmed hearts for over five decades. Chuckaree has not altered this in the least and renders the piece soothingly. Other Yuletide standards he interprets include: “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, and a soca medley of “Greensleeves”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, and a soca-parang tune, “Ma Jeffrey”, by the respected calypsonian known as Scrunter.

Chuckaree is joined by his mentor, Sharpe, on another calypso medley featuring“Let’s Be Friends” and  “Christmas Is Yours” by veteran calypsonian Lord Relator. “Candlelight Carol” shows off the voice of  Feryal Qudourah, who has excelled at Trinidad’s bi-annual Music Festival. Also sitting in with the ace pannist are singers David Huggins and Deborah Nahous for a spirit-filled rendition of “O Holy Night”.

Wayne Bowman