Island Beat (Autumn 1995)

Events and people in the news around the islands

–Allyson Brown, Queen of the Bands, playing Joy to the World. Photograph by Brian WeltmanFlying gurnards in Saba’s Marine Park. Photograph by Tom Van’t HofHarischandra Kemraj (right) with Guyana’s President Cheddi Jagon (centre) and Guyana Prize winners HArold Bascom, Mark McWatt and Fred D’Aguiar. Photograph courtesy Stabroek NewsIllustration by Russel HalfhideJazz in the sun: a St Lucia Jazz Festival session Pigeon Island. Photograph by Abigail HadeedPatrons at the last Caribbean Arts Festival in 1992. Photograph by Harold PrietoPerformers at the last Caribbean Arts Festival. Photograph by Harold PrietoPeter Minshall’s 1995 Carnival band Hallelujah: masquerader. Photograph by Brian WeltmanThe new Gran Courland resort on the west coast of Tobago. Photograph by Gran CourlandThe new Royal Westmoreland golf course in Barbados. Photograph by Royal WestmorelandThe oldest rum: St Lucy estate in Barbados, where Mount Gay’s raw spirit is produced. Photograph by Edward Barrow

BARBADOS’S NEW GOLF RESORT AIMS FOR THE TOP

Barbados’s new Royal Westmoreland Golf & Country Club is up and running. And the managers of this 500-acre luxury golf-centred resort are determined to see it become a regional leader.

According to managing director Julian Rooney, “The Club will ultimately provide a 27-hole golf course, with club house, lockers, change room, showers and pro shop, as well as an elegant restaurant, swimming pool and tennis facilities – all you would need for a vacation home in one master plan.”

Around the outer perimeters of the golf course the first up-market homes are already being built; 25 are scheduled to be ready by the end of the year, and most have already been sold. When the project is complete, the resort will have some 300 semi-detached and single-unit luxury villas.

This ambitious project was conceived in the late 1980s by hotelier Mike Pemberton of Pemberton Resorts in Barbados. Work began in 1992, and the first nine holes of the golf course were opened last December, followed by the second nine this August. The third nine will be ready in the not-too-distant future.

The first tournament was held in March over nine holes, with several celebrities taking part including racing driver Nigel Mansell and cricketers Brian Lara, Richie Benaud, Geoff Boycott and Sir Garry Sobers. Christophenes Restaurant is already open for lunches, and will be serving dinners by the start of the winter season. The pool and tennis courts are expected to be ready by Christmas.

Although the property is a self-contained resort, the emphasis is on the golf course, which is expected to “put Barbados on the world golf map in a very significant way”, according to Real Estate Sales Manager David Barnard. “It promises to be a first-rate golf facility that is destined to eclipse any other in the region.”

The course was designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Jr., who already has some 400 courses around the world to his credit, but says this is “one of my best”. He designed the 27-hole course around the natural profile of the landscape: it ambles through 480 acres of gentle sloping hills and ravines, providing dramatic views of the island’s west coast.

The only problem, says Julian Rooney, is that “too many people want to play the course. There’s too much demand for the local golf supply, and as it’s a new course we have to be careful of its treatment and the traffic on the young grass.” At present, apart from resident users, Royal Westmoreland has an agreement with 10 of the top west coast hotels, each of which can access the course for a specific number of guests; there’s also private Club membership, though it doesn’t come cheap.

But, Rooney smiles, “It‘s a nice problem to have.”

Roxan Kinas


THE ISLAND OF MUSIC

It’s been said that St Lucia produces more poetry per square mile than any other Caribbean territory. With the sound of its fourth annual international Jazz Festival still fresh in the ear, one is reminded that this is also a very musical island.

There’s a rich tradition of folk music and dance in St Lucia. The renowned Chantwelle Sesenne Descartes (“Je chante, donc je suis” might almost be her credo), the graceful music of the La Commette, Belaire and debot in the La Rose and La Marguerite flower festivals, with its bamboo flutes, chak-chak and violons – the influence of this tradition is still strong, and it helped shape the work of artists, poets and dramatists like Charles Cadet and Derek and Roderick Walcott.

The French Caribbean is present, too, in the cadence and zouk music beamed from nearby Martinique. There is even a St Lucia School of Music, which trains students of all ages in the disciplines of classical, jazz and steelband music (background music is supplied by planes landing and taking off from Vigie airport which the school, at the edge of the Tapion promontory, overlooks).

Where else in the Caribbean is there a special day dedicated to Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, when musicians set out at daybreak to serenade their neighbours, or simply to make music for the sheer pleasure of it?

St Lucia has been working hard to promote its music and other cultural traditions. The poet Derek Walcott, speaking at the gala performance of his musical folk-play Ti Jean and his Brothers (a magical open-air production by the Trinidad Theatre Workshop to coincide with the Jazz Festival) called it “informed tourism”.

This year the Jazz Festival highlighted a variety of famous musical names including Al Jarreau, Peabo Bryson, Angela Blofill, Tito Puente (“the mambo king”), Jonathan Butler and (of course) the St Lucia Jazz Ensemble led by Luther François. There was a strong showing by Caribbean musicians too, for the first time. Trinidad and Tobago’s Mike Boothman and his Kysofusion were a popular part of the final programme, Cliva Zanda and his Pan Jazz Conversation played on the opening night, while Raf Robertson and André Tanker attracted a lot of interest at smaller venues around the Festival.

The finale, at the open-air Pigeon Point cultural park, was a hugely enjoyable, relaxed musical feast. Families with babes-in-arms, food hampers and generous supplies of Piton (“la bière Sent Lisi”) created a picnic atmosphere. About 2,000 people of all nationalities and ages sat or lay in the afternoon sun or in the shade of the sea-almonds. Martinique’s distant hills, the blue sea and the green St Lucian peaks seemed like part of the stage setting.
A lone fisherman anchored his boat alongside to listen. A colony of white seabirds on a rock in the sea turned in our direction, as if attending to the music. A huge TV camera on a 20-foot boom circled like a gull above the crowd and the dancing Cable & Wireless blimp. Later, as the sun set and the coloured lights came on to the sound of Al Jarreau’s amazingly flexible voice, the effect was magical: the end of a perfect day.

Michael Gilkes  


JAZZ IN ANTIGUA

Antigua too has an annual Jazz Festival: it’s being held this year from October 5 to 8, and puts special emphasis on Caribbean jazz and crossover music – the theme is “thru Caribbean eyes”.

This year, guest artists include Ramon Valle from Cuba, Volte Face from Guadeloupe, and performers from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and the Eastern Caribbean islands. The US group Caribbean Jazz Project brings a pan/jazz flavour to the proceedings, with Andy Narrell on pans, Dave Samuels on marimba and Paquito D’Rivera. Also from the States come some exciting young artists such as James Carter (sax), Nicholas Payton (trumpet) and Cyrus Chesnut (piano), plus Trevor Watts & the Moire Orchestra, a blend of African drums, saxophone and brass.

The Festival is staged at various venues around the island, and starts with a free street jam at the downtown Heritage Quay Complex in the capital, St John’s. The programme features indoor and outdoor performances over the four days, plus nightclub sessions and a casino night. Sounds good.



GUYANA PRIZE UNCOVERS A WINNER

Every two years, the most attractive and encouraging prizes for literature in the English-speaking Caribbean are awarded in Guyana, the country with the most challenged economy in the region. There are five categories, and the winning work in each category wins US$5,000 (about G$700,000 – more than most Guyanese earn in a year).

Winners in the recent past include giants like Wilson Harris, Martin Carter, Roy Heath, Beryl Gilroy and David Dabydeen. In 1994, the prize for the best first novel was won by Fred D’Aguiar for The Longest Memory, published by Chatto & Windus. It is a work of real historical imagination, a novel of slavery set on a North American plantation, a tragedy of broken families and ruptured relationships. At its finest, however, it is a novel about the tortured, exasperating relationship between a father and son. The clarity, concentration and economy of this novel are a reminder that D’Aguiar won the Guyana Prize before, in the Poetry category.

But the pick of the entries in 1994, the winner of the prize for the best book of fiction, was an unknown figure, Harischandra Kemraj, whose Cosmic Dance was published Peepal Tree Press.

The book is gripping: right down to the end you cannot predict, and you are dying to know, what happens next. It is also a rare occurrence in Caribbean fiction: a work that combines the immediate pleasures of popular fiction with an exploration of the themes of gender, race and class. These themes are grounded in the recent realities of Forbes Burnham’s Guyana, and are realised in and through vividly drawn individual characters.

A young girl is assaulted by a senior State official with high political connections, and her father is swiftly promoted. A medical doctor finds himself being drawn into the case, into an involvement in the lives of ordinary people, and, inevitably, into the complex politics of his country.

This leads him to rediscover the humanity buried by the cynicism of his times, the meaning and legacy of his Indian origin and the challenges of Guyanese identity. As the story develops, the narrator begins to work out the terms and conditions of respect and self-respect in ethnically mixed and complex societies like those of the Caribbean.

This impressive novel is worth reading as a courageous and positive statement about the future of the Caribbean. But it is much more: there cannot be anywhere a metaphysical work as easy to read and as full of thrills as Cosmic Dance.

Ken Ramchand      


SUMMER CARNIVAL

In the Caribbean, the summer has become a second Carnival season. Revellers can (and do) move from Barbados’s Crop Over (which ends on August 7) or Antigua’s Carnival (ending on August 8) to Grenada’s Carnival (August 11-15) and on to North America and Britain.

But these days it’s not an easy choice. In Canada, the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) stages its annual Caribana at around the same time as Grenada and Antigua, climaxing with the Caribana Parade in Toronto on August 5 and the two-day Olympic Island Caribbean Music Festival on August 6 and 7 – an orgy of calypso, reggae, steel pan, dance, and African and Caribbean craft, followed by plenty of partying.

The CCC, incidentally, is launching out into all sorts of new activities: its New Year’s Eve By The Lake last year was a huge success, and it has now launched a new tour company, Caravac Vacations, to handle both incoming tours to Toronto and holiday packages to the Caribbean.

At the end of August it’s London’s turn, with the oldest of the metropolitan Carnivals in Notting Hill. What many visitors don’t realise is that there’s more to it than the Carnival parades on the last Sunday and Monday of the month: there’s also the London Calypso Tent (Chippenham Mews, London W9, 0171 286-1656). This opens on July 30 and continues on Friday nights until August 25 when the audience chooses the London Calypso Monarch. The Tent is run by the Yaa Asantewaa Arts Centre and the Association of British Calypsonians, which is chaired by the veteran Mighty Tiger and has presented major guest artists from Trinidad like David Rudder, Black Stalin, Gypsy, Preacher and Ricky Jai.

The action moves to New York for the Labour Day Carnival in Brooklyn, and then south to Miami in October. Miami looks like setting an all-time record for the most Carnivals in a single city: three.

Caribbean American Carnival, which has run the downtown Carnival in recent years, is planning its event at Miami Dade Community College, north campus. Meanwhile the new Caribbean Canboulay of Miami is organising a new series of downtown events, including Children’s Canboulay and Steelband Panorama Competition on October 1 (Bayfront Park), a King and Queen Show on October 6 and a Canboulay 95 parade on October 8 (ending at Bicentennial Park). The West Indian American Day Carnival Association is again staging Carnival events in Miami Beach, including a Carnival Kick-Off on September 30, a daytime parade and nighttime show on October 7, and a Miami Beach Party on October 9.

Wherever you are this summer, you can’t be too far from a Caribbean-style Carnival.


ECHOES OF INDIA

For about 80 years from the end of the 1830s, Britain imported labourers from India to work the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. Well over 400,000 workers were shipped halfway around the world, and most stayed: the largest number went to Guyana, the second largest to Trinidad and Tobago, with smaller numbers to Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. In the first two countries, descendants of those Indian migrants are now the largest single ethnic group.

Indian labour was used in many other parts of the then British Empire too, with the result that a large Indian “diaspora” exists, not only in the Caribbean but in countries like Kenya, Mauritius and Fiji. This community now features in study programmes at universities in Europe, North America and Japan as well as India, not to mention a steady stream of books and conferences on the subject.

Trinidad and Tobago is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Indian workers this year, and named May 30 a public holiday – Arrival Day. As part of the anniversary, the Trinidad campus of the University of the West Indies is holding a major international conference – Challenge and Change: The Indian Diaspora in its Historical and Contemporary Contexts (August 11-18). The event is attracting scholars and researchers from around the world.

The assumption is that “the Indian diaspora will emerge as a very important transnational community in the 21st century”; the conference is focusing on its history, its cultural heritage, its way of life, its engagement with host societies, and its likely future in the next century. An international book fair is being staged at the same time, displaying a wide range of books by and about the Indians of the diaspora. In Trinidad, a permanent Heritage Museum is being established as well.

The University of the West Indies has taken the lead in this area of study – this is the fourth conference on the subject, following earlier events in 1975, 1979 and 1984, though this year’s conference has the broadest theme so far. Organised by the National Council for Indian Culture and the University’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, it is open to the public – the $30 fee includes a set of conference papers.


BARBADOS PLANS A NATIONAL GALLERY

Barbados does not yet have a single national art collection; but it has three major independent collections, at least two of which are considering an alliance which could lead to a National Gallery and a National Collection.

The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, established in 1933, is housed in part of the old Garrison complex on the edge of Bridgetown; its major holdings are prints, dating from the 16th century onwards, and reflecting the landscape, buildings and social life of Barbados. (Interestingly, in the age before spy planes and satellites, military officers produced both prints and watercolours of the Barbados landscape for military use.) There are important 19th century works by Brunias, depicting in detail the social life of a cross-section of Barbados. The Museum also holds mid-20th century paintings by such pioneers of Barbadian art as Robert McLeod, Briggs Clarke, Ivan Payne and Aileen Hamilton.

The National Cultural Foundation, created in 1984 largely to collect national art, quickly completed an inventory of the work owned by the Barbados government in parliament, government offices, schools and libraries. The Foundation’s own collection includes a wide range of painting and sculpture. So valuable parts of the potential National Collection are held at the Foundation’s headquarters, and at the official residences of the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.

A third organisation, the Art Collection Foundation, was established in 1985 as a private entity and is now known as the Barbados Gallery of Art. Its major concern has been to acquire contemporary art; its collection has developed rapidly, with annual exhibitions juried by an international panel and acquisitions funded by the business community. This collection is not yet available for exhibition.

For many years, Barbados has been thinking about gathering these assets into a single National Collection. Last year a building owned by the Barbados Turf Club was offered to the Barbados Gallery of Art, which is in the process of recruiting a Curator/Director and establishing a documentation section.
A new committee has been set up to study the possibility of merging the collections of the National Cultural Foundation and the Barbados Gallery of Art, to lay the foundations of a single National Collection, perhaps housed in a completely new building.

Stanley Greaves 


ENVIRONMENTAL AWARDS

Every year the Barbados-based Caribbean Conservation Association (CCA) presents Conservation Awards to mark an outstanding achievement by an individual and an organisation in environmental management in the region. The 1994 awards went to Paul Butler of the RARE Centre for Tropical Conservation, and the Saba Marine Park.

Paul Butler has done as much as anyone in the Caribbean to alert people to what is happening to threatened and endangered species, especially the rare parrots of St Lucia, St Vincent and Dominica. “His conservation efforts involve the communities and have had marked impact on attitudes to the environment and its wildlife in all the countries in which he has worked,” the CCA said.Saba, the tiny volcanic island in the northern Netherlands Antilles, opened its Marine Park in 1990 under the direction of the Saba Conservation Foundation.

The CCA said its development has been “exemplary . . . The park demonstrated the concept of sustainable development: it has shown that conservation can work for economic gain, and that people are willing to pay for conservation efforts.” Nominations for the 1995 awards closed on June 30.


NOTEBOOK

  • NEWS FROM THE RESORTS Le Gran Courlan is Tobago’s newest resort, next to its companion, the popular Grafton Beach Resort, on the island’s tranquil west coast. The new property has 60 rooms, 8 garden rooms and 10 suites with extra-special service. All rooms have king-size beds, in-room safes and bath robes. Two restaurants serve Caribbean/international and Mediterranean food, and there is a reading room, a cocktail lounge and a spa. Other facilities include airport concierge service, nightly entertainment, a business centre, a health food bar, squash and tennis courts, watersports and diving, an oversized pool, a duty-free shop, and in-house car rental.
  • CARIFESTA UPDATE The Caribbean Arts Festival (CARIFESTA), the region’s biggest gathering of artists, takes place in Trinidad and Tobago from August 19 to September 2. By May, 31 countries had confirmed that they would take part, sending over 600 performers, and the number is expected to grow to around 45. Participants will be coming from North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa and India as well as the Caribbean (including Cuba, Venezuela, Panama, Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles, Guadeloupe and French Guiana). The Festival is in three sections – visual arts, literary arts and performing arts – and will be centred around the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain. The Grand Market will provide stages for dance, drama and music, and fashion, with a separate main stage for major performances. Other features include a Children’s Theatre, a Fashion Centre for designers, a film and video festival, book and food fairs, exhibitions and symposia.
  • VINTAGE RUM Whose rum is the oldest? Caribbean rum dates back to the earliest days of the Caribbean sugar plantations, though refined rum drinkers these days would be flattened by the coarse liquor of the earliest days, which was known as kill-devil. But serious rum producers have long been fascinated by history: Martinique’s St James rum traces its history back to 1765, while Jamaica’s Appleton claims a lineage back to 1749. Now, Mount Gay Distilleries in Barbados, after new research, say their rum was being produced in 1703, which would make it the world’s oldest spirit. Mount Gay’s managing director David Meyers told the Caribbean News Agency that a 1703 document showed that all the equipment for rum production was in place in that year on the plantation where Mount Gay’s offices now stand.