WHAT THE CARIBBEAN IS TALKING ABOUT THIS MONTH

"The Lovelace project: The film Joebell and America shows off the talents of Trinidadian writer Earl Lovelace and his talented offspring • Buzzworthy:

The Lovelace project





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buzzworthy

book buzz
No place like home
Love etc
Vasti’s choice

music buzz
Creole roots
Kaiso rarities
“You’re hearing everything”
Down at Dirty Jim’s
Rhythm roundup

sports buzz
Teeing off for a good cause
Springbook invasion

art buzz
Landscapes of home

youth buzz
CXC champs



The Lovelace project

What do you get when you cross two filmmakers and a visual artist with
an award-winning writer? And what happens when these individuals happen
to be members of the same family? One possible result is Joebell and America,
the 90-minute made-for-television film which premiered on Trinidad’s TV6
in November 2004. The film is based on a short story by Commonwealth Writers
Prize winner Earl Lovelace, adapted and directed by his daughter Asha, filmed
and edited by his son Walt, with son Che acting as art director. (Lovelace’s
two youngest daughters, Maya and Tiy, were also involved.)

For Asha, who shares screenplay credit on the film with her father,
Joebell was her second experience adapting her father’s work — his
short story “George and the Bicycle Pump” formed the basis of her thesis
film at Cuba’s International School of Cinema and Television. She first
heard “Joebell” read by her father in front of a foreign audience, and
was impressed with both the story and the audience’s response.

“It’s a story for our time,” Asha says of Joebell’s theme — the
search for cultural identity and self-actualisation in the context of a small
island. “And Daddy gave me lots of space, initially, to explore it in my
own way. I did the first set of drafts, then he looked at them and gave
pointers. Where we might have had differences I deferred to the person with
the greater experience!”






Joebell and America director Asha Lovelace (front left) with crew members, on location in Lopinot<br />
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Joebell and America director Asha Lovelace (front left) with crew members, on location in Lopinot
Georgia Popplewell

Walt, a cinematographer who has directed some of the country’s
most innovative music videos, opened discussions about Joebell with
Trinidadian media conglomerate Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) in
late 2003; the project was given the green light in early 2004. An all-local
crew and cast, led by Brian Green, the Trinidad-born, Paris-based opera
singer who plays the title role, and veteran Trinidadian actors like Eunice
Alleyne and Grace Maharaj, was assembled. Shooting took place over 23 days
starting in July, primarily in Lopinot, a scenic village in the foothills
of Trinidad’s Northern Range. Given the film’s budget — generous by local
standards, but hardly gargantuan — Walt was forced to fall back on many
of the tricks learned in his 20-plus years in the industry. “For instance,
sunlight bounced off of huge sheets of plywood covered in silver fabric
instead of big, expensive lights,” he says. “But that’s what you have to
do to make films down here.”

Asha describes working with Walt and Che, who is an internationally
recognised painter, as “fantastic.” “Walt is very focused, and knows his
craft. He’s far more of a visual thinker than I, and fortunately we had
a similar vision for the film. And Che basically did the work of an entire
art department, with very little help.

“We’re all quite headstrong, and we had our differences, but if you
have to butt heads with somebody, it might as well be with family.”
Georgia Popplewell

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buzzworthy






Jah Melody<br />
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Jah Melody
Jeffery Chock

Melodies for Zion
Michael “Jah Melody” Williams started singing in the church choir, and
now sings his praises backed by reggae rhythms. Born in Carenage, north-west
Trinidad, 23-year-old Jah Melody has merged gospel and R&B influences
with the reggae music he loves, achieving a unique sound. His track Be
Prepared
is getting regular spins in Trinidad, Jamaica, and across Europe,
and he’s currently at work on his debut album, under the creative direction
of legendary Jamaican producer Bobby Digital. “My aim is to influence youths
to do the right thing,” he says. “My goal is to reach Mount Zion.”
TA

Pulse-pounding
beauty

Rochelle Watson from St Thomas, Jamaica, is Pulse Model Agency’s latest
hot property, and the most recent Caribbean model to appear in Vogue.
The rising star has already wooed the press corps at London Fashion Week,
where she appeared for, among others, Jasper Conran, Ronit Kilkha, and
Hachette Filipacchi, before playing a lead role in modelling fellow Jamaican
Jessica Ogden’s collection, strutting out in the first look for the show.
Of her compatriot, Ogden said, “Rochelle has great promise and was wonderful
to work with.” Need we add — she’s gorgeous?
DK





Rochelle Watson<br />
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Rochelle Watson
Courtesy Pulse Investments





Robert “Zi” Taylor<br />
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Robert “Zi” Taylor
Courtesy Robert Zionsax.com

Fusion rising
From rural England to verdant St Lucia, from his first lessons at the
St Lucia School of Music to the recording studios of Miami, Robert “Zi”
Taylor, saxophonist and music producer — who has toured with Maxi Priest
and Ky-mani Marley, among others — absorbs musical styles wherever he goes.
Rise Up, his eclectic 12-track debut album, skirting reggae,
hip hop, jazz, funk, and creole fusion, is a tribute to openness, ignoring
barriers between musical genres and echoing his musical philosophy: “It’s
not just what you play, but how you play it.”
DK

Eruption
of talent

With a wonderfully honest account of her life in Montserrat, titled
“Volcano”, Yvonne Weekes — drama teacher, performing artist, and writer
— won the first prize at the seventh Frank Collymore Literary Endowment
Awards in Barbados in January. With the encouragement of Kamau Brathwaite,
Weekes, a teacher of theatre arts at the Barbados Community College, entered
the novel she started in 1997 on arrival to Barbados. With victory came
both surprise and modesty — Weekes told reporters she was taken aback —
“I still have so much to learn as a writer.”
DK





Yvonne Weekes<br />
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Yvonne Weekes
Sandy Pitt/Nation News





Dwayne Bravo<br />
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Dwayne Bravo
Courtesy Digicel/Getty Images

Batting bravura
In January, the International Cricket Council arranged a fund-raising
match between an Asian XI and a world XI to help victims of the recent
tsunami disaster. Dwayne Bravo, the 21-year-old all-rounder from Trinidad,
was one of three West Indians chosen for this important occasion. He was
the youngest and, with only four Tests and 19 ODIs to his name, least experienced
player selected. However, considering his impressive batting technique,
and troublesome medium-paced swingers, most Caribbean observers weren’t
surprised to see Bravo invited to join the world’s best.
DK

Visionary music
“Music is like colour to the blind,” says popular Trinidadian chutney
singer Asha Kamachee. Born without sight, Kamachee worked at Trinidad and
Tobago’s Blind Welfare Association for several years, before finding a
desire to express herself through music. The band Vishonary Sounz was born,
with Kamachee handling lead vocals and musical arrangements by Kenneth
Suratt. In 2005 she’s wowing chutney fans with her song Dhantal Man,
a clever double entendre about a woman fancying a musician.
TA





Asha Kamachee<br />
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Asha Kamachee
Courtesy Asha Kamachee

Tracy Assing and Dylan Kerrigan

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book buzz


No place like home

The Prodigal Derek Walcott (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, ISBN
0-374-23743-3, 105 pp)

“What language do you speak in your own country?” This is the kind of
question often asked of West Indians abroad, and it haunts Derek Walcott
halfway through his new book-length poem, The Prodigal. It is, of
course, a question every poet must answer, regardless of history or geography;
but, in Walcott’s case, the facts of history and geography make the imperative
to answer particularly urgent. He came of age “in a green world, one without
metaphors”, as he once put it — in a West Indies yet to be named by its
native poets, still to enter the permanence of literature. In one of his
earliest poems he swore “to praise lovelong, the living and the brown dead”
of his home island, St Lucia, and for decades he has faithfully pursued his
vocation to name and praise the islands of the Antilles and their people.

But Walcott has long struggled with a sense of dividedness that comes
of being the hybrid son of a hybrid culture, neither African nor European
yet also both. It comes of mastering the forms of English literature so
as to write about a place and a people far outside that literature’s traditions.
And it comes also of the tension between being in the islands he loves and
being in the wider world, “exiled” by the practical necessities of being
a professional poet.

These two themes — making the world “real” through the power of poetry,
and the anxiety of dividedness — drive the narrative of The Prodigal.
Walcott tells the story of his fortunate travels through Europe above all,
but also the United States, Mexico, South America, a journey foreshadowed
by his reading: “We read, we travel, we become.” And he tells the story
of his homecoming, once again, to St Lucia. He wonders whether his exile
from the Caribbean is a betrayal, and wonders whether his poetry compounds
that treachery or redeems it.

The Prodigal’s first two sections are a catalogue of days and
nights among the landmarks of Geneva, Florence, Rome, and Milan. Descriptions
of streets and hotels give way to memories, snatches of conversation with
strangers, musings about the relations between the history of a place and
its art. There are times when the traveller’s enthusiasm seems to flag, his
attention to wander, and so may the reader’s. “How many more cathedral spires?”
Walcott asks.  A line from “Islands”, forty years ago, drifts into
the mind: “Merely to name them is the prose / Of diarists”. But, too alert
and scrupulous a poet ever to write mere prose, Walcott animates his long
travelogue with the memory of and longing for his “unimportantly beautiful”
island over the sea, to which he returns in the final section.

Here The Prodigal truly soars, revealing again an intensity of
faith in words and images equalled by few living poets. With as little
obvious effort as breathing, he launches extraordinary flights of metaphor,
sustaining them aloft longer than syntax should allow. Apparently at his
command, the world translates itself into words then back again.

The dialect of the scrub in the dry season





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withers the flow of English. Things burn for days . . .
Every noun is a stump with its roots showing,
and the creole language rushes like weeds
until the entire island is overrun,
then the rain begins to come in paragraphs
and hazes this page, hazes the grey of islets . . .

Attentive readers of Walcott will notice that The Prodigal — which
he describes as his last book, “an old man’s book” — is often in dialogue
with his earlier work, especially with his great mid-career long poem,
Another Life. Here, attempting to describe and understand the birth
of his vocation in 1940s St Lucia, he semi-mythologises himself as “a prodigy
of the wrong age and colour”, torn between his love for his native landscape
and the knowledge that only by leaving can he truly fulfil his promise.
“Prodigy” and “prodigal” are etymologically unrelated, but so masterful
a punster as Walcott must have been drawn to the phonetic link, and the suggestion
that the prodigal’s self-imposed exile is rooted in the prodigy’s inescapable
talent.

Ultimately, Another Life traces an arc of departure; The Prodigal
completes the shape with its arc of return. In the earlier work, Walcott
notes with the nearly desperate ambition of the young “how the vise / of
horizon tightens / the throat”. The Prodigal in turn ends with another
horizon, but this time a “line of light that shines from the other shore.”
That other shore is the freedom of the imagination that every artist struggles
to achieve. That line is the light of poetry itself. It is also the light
of love. For Walcott, they are the same.
Nicholas Laughlin

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Love etc





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Fool-Fool Rose Is Leaving Labour-in-Vain Savannah
Lorna Goodison (Ian Randle Publishers, ISBN 976-637-195-4, 181 pp)

Some headlines from Ms Goodison’s second collection of short stories:

Rural couple to wed — Groom-to-be claims exhaustion and fear
of stroke.

TB fells wife of Angel of Larceny’s — Nicotine, Nicodemus habits
to blame.

Gone to the dogs — Slow girl benefits from canine classes. Less
hope for abused wife.

Vegan or vagrant? — Homeless boy eats roses, hopes for a better
life.

Why lost loves should not be found — All you don’t want to know
about the one that got away.

Take away the cell phones, the Bimmers, the problem of deportees, and
the dancehall dons, and we have storytelling not unlike the West Indian
yard literature of the 1940s and 50s. Baby-mothers and smart men; God and
poverty. How unvarying life turns out to be.

True to the ear (at a dancehall shootout: “The don growled, ‘Strain
him’”) and eye (“the moon was big and white as a basin of milk”), Goodison’s
stories, coming 15 years after her first collection, travel from Kingston
slums and suburbs to the Jamaican countryside  — observant, empathetic,
and non-judgemental.

There’s a lot of love in these stories. Or the absence of love. Or the
idea of love. One way or the other, something to do with love hovers, like
light or angels or memories, over these stories. Love and hope — a couple
more things that turn out to be unvarying in life.
Anu Lakhan


“It is good to be reading our own”

Why do we read, why do we write, West Indian Literature? Hopefully,
because it gives us pleasure. But also, no doubt, because it helps us examine
and reaffirm — perhaps reconstitute — ourselves. In an early Walcott poem,
called “Roots”, there is the line: “When they conquer you, you have to read
their books”. It is good to be reading some of our own . . . They have
helped to move us forward from a time, recalled by Philip Sherlock, when
“there was no West Indian poet with whom [he] might walk as [he] did with
the poets of England.” They have helped us move beyond that time when —
as V.S. Naipaul put it — “To us . . . all literatures were foreign” and
“we knew we could not hope to read in books of the life we saw about us”.
Indeed, when there were real connections to be made between our non-literary
experience and the foreign books we read, we sometimes failed to make them.

Making West Indian Literature (Ian Randle Publishers,
ISBN 976-637-174-1, 131 pp) collects 16 essays and interviews by Mervyn
Morris, poet and professor emeritus of West Indian literature at the University
of the West Indies, Mona, exploring the range of creativity of writers like
Dennis Scott, Trevor Rhone, Louise Bennett, and Mikey Smith.


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Vasti’s choice

Raise the Lanterns High Lakshmi Persaud (BlackAmber Books,
ISBN 1-901969-20-7, 354 pp)

After a distinguished career in teaching and journalism, Trinidadian
Lakshmi Persaud started writing fiction in the late 1980s. This is her fourth
novel, following Butterfly in the Wind, Sastra, and For
the Love of My Name
, all published in the 1990s.






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Marlon Griffith

Persaud’s family came to Trinidad from Uttar Pradesh in
the 1890s, and Raise the Lanterns High is set partly in the 1960s,
in the village where Persaud was born — Pasea village in Tunapuna, outside
Port of Spain. Its other setting is northern India, a Hindu kingdom of about
200 years ago. The main theme is the tension between custom, duty, and responsibility
on one side, and independence, freedom of choice, and self-realisation
on the other. In Trinidad, this is the dilemma confronting 27-year-old
Vasti, who is faced with an arranged marriage to a man whom she knows to
be a rapist. In India, it challenges the three widowed queens of a dead
king, who by custom are expected to burn themselves on the royal funeral
pyre and thus join their husband in heaven. These parallel stories are skilfully
woven together in this gentle, thoughtful, and sensitive novel. And the
resolution of the two dilemmas — past and present, Indian and Caribbean
— may not be quite what you expect.
Jeremy Taylor

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music buzz


Creole roots

Kè’m Pozé Beethova Obas (CH-OBAS Production,
BT8267)

Rasin Kreyol Emeline Michel (Times Square Records, TSQCD 9041)

Yet another coup d’état, followed by a hurricane that
ravaged an already distressed landscape and left thousands dead, made 2004,
Haiti’s bicentennial year, one the country might prefer to forget. Those
looking for positives, however, should take note of a pair of 2004 releases
by two of Haiti’s relatively young talents, Beethova Obas and Emeline Michel,
both of whom have made their mark internationally with a sophisticated,
cosmopolitan sound.





Beethova Obas (left)<br />
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Beethova Obas (left)
Georgia Popplewell

Obas’s caressing voice and breezily sensual acoustic guitar
stylings evoke a vision of tropical loveliness, but his lyrics (usually
sung in Haitian Creole) often contain implicit critiques of Haitian social
problems and issues such as the destruction of the environment. It’s a strategy
he shares with socially conscious genres and movements such as Cuba’s Nueva
Trova
and Brazilian Tropicalismo, with both of whom Obas would
claim a certain kinship. On Kè’m Pozé, his fifth album,
Obas in fact gives his trademark sound a name: “Cubhabra . . . a
delicious mixture of musical spices from Cuba, Haiti . . . and Brazil” —
not to mention a word probably easier said with a French accent.

Obas’s social commentary is unfortunately lost on those who don’t speak
Creole, but the gentle beauty of the music isn’t. The majority of tracks
on Kè’m Pozé are rendered, by some of the French Caribbean’s
top session musicians, in a cool, jazzy style, which, topped with Obas’s
understated bossa nova–style vocals, are certain to appeal to fans of the
musics which make up the “Cubhabra” mix. Among the album’s languid delights
are Naïke, Ret Tande, Kè’m Pozé, Sa Nou Fe (featuring
the sax of Jacques Schwarz-Bart), Kòn Lanbi, the stirring and lullabyish
Yè Swa, and the traditional Kalòt (“Slap”), an easy-rocking
traditional compas denouncing violence.

Several of the session musicians from Kè’m Pozé
also appear on Rasin Kreyol, Emeline Michel’s edgier, rootsier, more
experimental follow-up to 2000’s outstanding Cordes et Ame. On this
outing, Michel’s social commentary is embedded more explicitly in the music,
which is more overtly in the rasin (roots) style (Daniel Beaubrun
of pioneering roots band Boukman Eksperyans is one of her collaborators).
The African influences in Haiti’s music dominate here, with Haitian drums
and chants, spoken-word interludes, intricate choral arrangements, and strong
inputs of Afropop and funk rhythms. Michel is a charismatic presence, with
a powerful, expressive contralto voice which she puts to marvellous use on
tracks such as Bel Kongo, the upbeat Ban’m La Jwa (“Give Me
Joy”) and the driving Beniyo (“Bless Them”), in praise of black heroes
ranging from Toussaint L’Ouverture to Muhammad Ali and Pele; also the hauntingly
beautiful choral interlude Soufle Van, and the practically lyric-less
Mon Rêve. Again, Michel’s fightin’ words are lost on all but
the creolophones among us, but the liner notes include good English translations
of the lyrics. Here’s an example: “Scholars from my homeland / Are chopping
meat in McDonalds / I am beating my drum, watching you dancing my dance /
But don’t forget to ask me what I’m celebrating.” In other words, don’t mess
with Emeline Michel.
Georgia Popplewell

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Kaiso rarities

Calypso: Best of Trinidad 1912–1952 Various Artists (CMG Ltd)
 





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Finally, a well-researched vintage calypso compilation
produced by a local company. CMG’s Calypso: Best of Trinidad 1912–1952
gathers 40 years’ worth of material, including some rare tracks, and presents
them in an adequately re-mastered three-CD box set. On the 1912–1929 CD,
in particular, some of the names will probably be recognised only by hardcore
calypso fans. Notable (for their uniqueness factor, if not quality) inclusions
are the Andrews Sisters’s version of Lord Invader’s Rum and Coca-Cola
(of course Invader’s is there as well), and a version of Stone Cold Dead
in the Market
by a little known female calypsonian called Ella Fitzgerald,
singing in an accent which leaves something to be desired! (And before you
start calling in, please note that we at Caribbean Beat do know who
Ella Fitzgerald really is.) Each of the three CDs is introduced by entertaining
liner notes by Shawn Randoo, and includes song lyrics. An essential addition
to the collections of calypso fans, history buffs, or anyone wishing to remember
a time when Trinidadian music depended for its appeal on wit and satire, and
smut veiled itself in double entendre.
GP

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“You’re hearing everything”

Trinidadian musician, composer, and producer Richard “Nappy” Mayers
passed away unexpectedly in December 1993, leaving behind a substantial
body of material. Mayers’s son Levi talks about nurturing his father’s legacy
and the experience of re-making Nappy Mayers’s last hit,
Old Time Days
as told to Georgia Popplewell





Levi Mayers<br />
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Levi Mayers
Georgia Popplewell

My father was very well organised. In the early 70s he and
his cousin Wayne Cezair established Yolk Productions, a recording label and
publishing company. My dad was always interested in learning and doing things
for himself. He wanted to educate himself about the music industry. He didn’t
go to any school or anything — he just read books and studied the equipment
and punched buttons until he figured it out. That’s how he learned to operate
the entire studio, which was right here in this house. He built it from
one 8-track machine with stereo speakers, and started doing little jingles.
And it then went to a 16-track and then a 24-track and ended with 36 tracks.
He was one of the first people, I think, who had a computer system running
in the studio.

As a musician, I think, he was self-taught. At that time everything
was going digital and you could play things on a keyboard. He could play
the keyboards to an extent, bass, drums.

I used to be in the band room with them practicing, going on gigs all
over. My mother was working during the day, so I had to move mostly with
my father. So I was exposed to the music. But at that age you don’t know
exactly what was going on; you like the music because it’s sounding good,
and when they took a break you got to go and beat up on the drums and push
on the keyboards and make some noise.

As I was growing up I started to get more interested in sports and to
pull away and do my own thing. During my teen years my father used to invite
me into the studio to see what going on. I used to kind of breeze through,
but I didn’t have much interest. He gave me a guitar when I was younger,
but I didn’t really take it on.

It was when I was about 18, about three months before my father passed
away, that I started to get the feeling that I could write songs. I started
getting drawn back into music. I didn’t know if I should tell my father,
if he would just think it was a phase. So I just wrote my song, kept it
secret, and then that happened. December came and he passed away.





The late Richard “Nappy” Mayers<br />
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The late Richard “Nappy” Mayers
Courtesy Levi Mayers

Remaking Old Time Days, I didn’t want to take away
or go too far from the original. I just wanted to just kind of bring it
in a fresh breeze, a little cleaner and clearer, more international. And
then my voice on it is in a relaxed mode, a little more soulful. I think
what made the original a hit is that, in reality, my father wasn’t the best
singer. But he was a great writer, and great at arranging and putting
together music and making it melodious and harmonious. What made Old
Time Days
a big song was that he put it out in a simple way, a real natural
vibe. That’s what touched people, I think.

During the session I had Mungal Patasar and [pannist] Len “Boogsie”
Sharpe in the studio at the same time. Mungal came in with his sitar and
sat down on the ground to do his thing. And Boogsie came while we were
finishing up. Boogsie just heard the song once and said, “Alright, let’s
go”. And that man just played through the song and was done in four minutes.
One take.

As far as re-issuing the music, right now I have all kinds of possibilities
in my head. But I’m just taking it step by step. I have to become very wise
about the business side of things so that my father’s intellectual property
can become as valuable as I think it could be. Because when I look back,
nothing really much has been done for Nappy Mayers in the sense of national
recognition or tributes or anything, and I think he deserves much more than
that.

People are listening to many different types of music now, and music
is becoming more of a universal thing. Now, that is something this man was
doing since he was 17, finding ways of drawing from all around the world
and working it into our local music. That’s the special thing about Nappy
Mayers’s music: the fusion that he managed to pull together. Yes,
it has a Caribbean foundation: but you’re hearing the Latin, you’re hearing
the rock and you’re hearing the R&B and the soul and the funk — you’re
hearing everything.

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Down at Dirty Jim’s

Dirty Jim’s, the Movie
In the January/February 2004 edition of this magazine, we reviewed a
CD called Calypso at Dirty Jim’s, adding that “A Buena Vista Social
Club
–style film version is reportedly in the works.” Well, said film
version premiered at the Cinema MacMahon in Paris on January 12, 2005, and
was subsequently broadcast in France, the French Caribbean territories,
parts of Africa, and Canada, on the television channel Planète.





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The 52-minute documentary, directed by French-Senegalese
filmmaker Pascale Obolo, takes as its point of departure Dirty Jim’s Swizzle
Club, an iconic performance venue which was the place to hear calypso in Port
of Spain in the 1950s, juxtaposing a deliberately contemporary re-creation
of the space and performances of calypsos of the era with interviews exploring
the history of calypso from the post-war period onward. Among those interviewed
in the film are the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Mighty Terror, Bomber,
Lord Superior, Lord Relator, Sheldon John, Lord Organiser, Holly Betaudier,
Destra, Shurwayne Winchester, 3Canal, and Professor Gordon Rohlehr. A European
version of the CD was released by EMI Virgin at the end of January, and,
at the time of writing, a promotional trip to Paris was being planned for
the end of February, the highlight of which was to be a concert featuring
all the calypsonians at the prestigious Cirque d’Hiver theatre. A Trinidad
premiere was also scheduled for February.
Georgia Popplewell

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Rhythm roundup





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Grammy-winning reggae pioneer Burning Spear is noted for
his commitment to roots reggae values and an unvarnished, heartfelt style.
Creation Rebel: The Original Classic Recordings from Studio One
(Heartbeat 11661-7664-2), a re-issue of some seminal 1969 Studio One recordings
by Rounder Records’s reggae imprint, offers evidence that Spear found his
voice fairly early in his career, with the help, it would seem, of Studio
One’s late, great frontman and producer, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. Dodd is
credited as co-writer on all 20 tracks, and his voice can be heard toasting
on Rocking Time.





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• The annual release of the live recordings of the Mustique
Blues Festival should be cause for celebration among blues fans. Mustique
Blues Festival 2004
(BCEF 2004) possesses the high production values
we’ve come to expect from these releases, and features an array of exceptional
blues practitioners, including festival co-director Dana Gillespie. Proceeds
from the sale of the album go to charity. Another notable bluesy release
comes from US-based Barbadian singer-guitarist David Pilgrim, whose Island
Soul
(Swingpin SWCD020004) offers rich blues stylings with a Caribbean
feel.





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• Whether the selections on the 100% Ragga Soca
CD/DVD combo truly represent “the best of ragga soca”— as its subtitle claims
— is debatable. But, in principle, offering buyers the opportunity to both
hear the music and see the artists perform is a nice idea. The videos themselves
are of varying quality, however, and one wishes the video concepts
showed nearly as much variety. Featured artists include Sugar Daddy, Mungal
Patasar, Nikki Crosby, Charlene Boodram, and 3Canal.


• Part-Nigerian, part-Jamaican A-dziko Simba offers up 12 well-produced
spoken word selections on Crazy Ladi Dayz (Jump & Fly
Productions). Simba’s British-accented voice is clear and expressive, and
her pieces explore the points at which art and mysticism intersect against
an atmospheric music bed featuring flute, drum, thumb piano, and other percussion
instruments, including her own voice. Poet Mervyn Taylor gives a more conventional
reading of his work (some of which is reminiscent of Walcott) on Road
Clear
(Goat Productions). The occasional musical interventions by
bassist David “Happy” Williams aren’t integral to the exercise, which is not
necessarily a critique — the experience is close to that of listening to
a poet read his work before an audience. But the quality of the recording
could have been better.

• In rock, Barbados rockers Kite — Brian Marshall and J.J. Poulter —
offer up a palatable soft rock sound on their album Up in the Air,
including a cover of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America.

• From far-flung Brazil (not a Caribbean territory, but, as David Rudder
once sang, “we have the same vibration”), off-the-radar singer Mônica
Salmaso’s voice is stratospherically yet casually beautiful on Iaiá,
her third solo release. Her Seattle-based compatriot Jovino Santos Neto
and his quintet impress as well on the Grammy-nominated Canto do Rio,
whose 11 tracks weave jazz harmonies with Brazilian grooves such as the
maracatu, batuque, and marcha.
GP

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sports buzz


Teeing off for a good cause

Last year, the Cotton Tree Foundation’s charity golf tournament became
the first one-day tournament in Trinidad to raise funds of a quarter-million
TT dollars. Scheduled to coincide with the touring English cricket team’s
visit to Trinidad, the event brought out members of both Test sides and a
collection of ex-cricketers and TV personalities to contest a two-a-side,
front-and-back tournament at Moka Golf Course.

After a day of fun on the greens, the winning twosome were English cricketer
Marcus Trescothick and businessman Annan Rajpaulsingh, and the day ended
with a successful auction of cricket bats signed by both teams.

This year, the Cotton Tree Foundation, a non-governmental organisation
founded in 1993 to assist and aid the impoverished and underprivileged residents
of the St Ann’s area north of Port of Spain, is doing it again. This time
it’s the visiting South African cricket team — alongside many Windies players,
past and present, including Brian Lara, Desmond Haynes, and Viv Richards
— who will be revealing their handicaps and raising funds to support the
foundation’s many community programmes. But Cotton Tree knows that its success
must be measured in terms other than just dollars raised. “We do not have
to look far to be reminded that throwing money at a problem does not provide
a solution,” says chairman Desmond Allum. “So when I talk about the investment
of resources, I am talking about more than money.”
Dylan Kerrigan

The Cotton Tree Celebrity Golf Tournament takes place on 13 April.
For further information, or to make a donation, call (868) 623-5120, or
email cotree@wow.net

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Springbok invasion





Image 20<br />
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Image 20
Marlon Griffith

2004 was a mixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly (not
necessarily in that order) for West Indies cricket. Back-to-back home and
away Test series defeats to England were painful, despite the awesome record-breaking
performance delivered by captain Brian Lara in Antigua in April — his 400
not out averted what would have been the first whitewash ever suffered on
home soil by the West Indies.

But it wasn’t all disaster – youngsters like Dwayne Bravo, Ravi Rampaul,
and Dwayne Smith were blooded and all did well, Bravo in particular emerging
as a bright prospect for the future.


The one-day side impressed too, with some good performances in the Caribbean,
especially at Beausejour Stadium in St Lucia against England. But consistency
was a problem. In the summer, after a mixture of results against England
and New Zealand, the necessary form finally arrived, and with it some fantastic
performances, culminating in a deserved victory in the ICC Champions Trophy
final that had West Indies fans stopping traffic in the streets all over
the Caribbean and in south London.

With no Tests and only one-day matches scheduled in Australia for the
first few months of 2005, the year has got off to a slow start for the
team. But with a new coach — Australian Bennett King — a rejuvenated winning
spirit, following the ICC triumph, and the usual home advantage, the Windies
are eager to deal with a resurgent South African team, who arrive in March
for their two-month tour of the Caribbean. South African batsmen Jacques
Kallis and Graeme Smith are in fine form and bowlers Makhaya Ntini, Charl
Langeveldt, Nicky Boje, and the indefatigable Shaun Pollock in the mood
to make life difficult for Lara and “we boys”.
DK

SOUTH AFRICA TOUR OF THE WEST INDIES, 2005

1st Test            31 March to 4
April      Guyana
2nd Test           8 to 12 April 
              Trinidad
3rd Test           21 to 25 April   
          Barbados
4th Test           29 April to 3
May         Antigua
1st one-day
international    7 May       
                   Jamaica
2nd ODI          8 May   
                     
 Jamaica
3rd ODI          11 May   
                     Barbados
4th ODI          14 May   
                     
Trinidad
5th ODI          15 May   
                     
Trinidad


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art buzz


Landscapes of home






Shastri Maharaj<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Shastri Maharaj
Courtesy Shastri Maharaj

When Shastri Maharaj returned to Trinidad with a Canadian
art education in the early 1980s, he set in train a vigorous career as
a painter and image-maker that has achieved a strident, exemplary pace.
His latest work, showing from February to April in Florida (alongside work
by fellow Trinidadian Kenwyn Crichlow), demonstrates the artist’s well-known
re-makings of himself and his art, a rewarding departure along a consistently

creative path that still promises to catch us out at every turn.

Trinidad is hardly an easy place for a painter to work in, given the burden
of expectations among audiences and critics for adherence to ethnic archetypes.
That this has often threatened to limit the ways art is received is perhaps
more true now than ever before. But Maharaj subverts and frustrates the
easy assumption that his paintings should ooze traces of Indo-Caribbeanness,
instead setting out to trick and tease viewers, but never without reward.

Where you’d expect his landscapes to resonate with references to Asiatic
motifs, their iconography is actually far more elusive, and indeed placeless.
The stilt-houses (or, as he suggests, “bird-houses”) that people his series
of largely defoliated rural settings, jutting above smooth, baked-earth
horizons, take us into some urgent territory. This is Maharaj generating
pictorial space and sparingly adding symbols from a deliberately ambiguous
frame of reference. If his houses suggest the fast-disappearing edifices of
Trinidad’s Caroni plain, they also issue reminders of what landscape becomes
when buildings come to life and animate their surroundings, returning the
viewer’s gaze in a bizarre sort of concrete awakening. Maharaj plays with
geometry, geography, signs, and, ultimately, regimes of representation that
sometimes ensnare rather than nurture art in the Caribbean. The result is
a deeply self-reflexive series of paintings that indexes him as a compelling
presence.

Maharaj has always made seriously lavish, painterly meditations on the
tradition of Trinidadian landscapists to which he partly belongs, in closest
dialogue with the late M.P. Alladin. (No coincidence that Maharaj, as an
educator, shares his predecessor’s commitment to a modern marriage of visuality
and freedom.) Those who know that tradition will recognise Maharaj as a
keen interlocutor. Those with an outer-national sense of art and its history
will find a painted clarity beyond. His work directly repays interest about
what to expect when consistent artistic maturity meets a newly sustained vision.
Leon Wainwright

Two Views: Trinidad runs from 25 February to 8 April at the Arts
Complex Gallery, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, Florida

Sonja Sinaswee talks to Shastri Maharaj





Early (2005), oil on canvas<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Early (2005), oil on canvas
Courtesy Shastri Maharaj

Your latest show is called Two Views: Trinidad,
a joint exhibition with Ken Crichlow.

The concept of the show is to showcase two different approaches to art
by two Trinidadian artists — me being figurative and Ken being non-figurative.
Ken’s work deals with the culture in a more abstract presentation, whereas
I include solid and clear images within my works about the culture. I will
also spend a week at the university producing an art installation that
will deal with the concept of the stilt-house. It will be a three-dimensional
piece of work, about seven feet high, and will consist of clay, canvas,
paint, and metal.


How did you get involved with Florida Gulf Coast University?
I met Professor Patricia Fay from the university about two and a half
years ago. She came to visit me at my studio. There she discovered a series
of paintings dealing with stilt-houses — house on tall posts — as seen
in Caroni, and women in the rural landscape. These images have become part
of an iconography I am creating to deal with aspects of Trinidad culture.
She invited me to show at the university, choosing paintings from my last
exhibition.

You have referred to your art as another family. You call it a
demanding woman. Has it become more demanding over the years?

As the years have gone by, the art has become less demanding. This has
to do with a greater awareness of myself and an understanding of material
and technique . . . I try my best not to be too predictable, and keep redefining,
modifying, and being innovative. There is ongoing change, research, and
drama in the art.

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youth buzz


CXC champs






Image 23<br />
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Image 23
Marlon Griffith

For high-flying sport stars and successful celebrities of
the Caribbean, congratulations and praise are common rewards. The hardworking
students of the region, on the other hand, who apply themselves with the
same dedication and discipline, rarely feature in magazines or on TV. Caribbean
Beat
is pleased to join the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) in
congratulating the following seven young women and men, all top achievers
in the 2004 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate Examinations, on their
exceptional endeavours and remarkable results.


From St Vincent and the Grenadines, Kamal Wood of the St Vincent
Grammer School took the award for most outstanding student overall in the
region. Kamal had previously won academic awards for excellence on two occasions,
and will be soon enrolling at the University of the West Indies with a
well-earned scholarship.

Over in Jamaica, Daniel Thomas of Ardenne High School received
the award for most outstanding performance in sciences, and was also his
school’s valedictorian for 2004. An avid music fan — he plays the piano,
saxophone, and guitar — Daniel also loves swimming. He wants to apply his
impressive scientific talent to a career in medicine and become a cardio-thoracic
surgeon.

Kimala Swanston from St Kitts and Nevis, where she attends Charlestown
Secondary School, was another high flyer last year, picking up the award
for most outstanding performance in business education. She put her success
down to the “large amounts of time and effort she put into her work.” Away
from school, she enjoys the piano, swimming, and her church’s youth choir.

In Barbados, Emma Chapman of Queen’s College picked up the award
for most outstanding performance in visual arts two-dimensional work. A
skilled artist who already makes her own jewellery, soaps, and candles,
Emma is no stranger to awards — she won the bronze medal in the visual arts
amateur category at the Barbados National Independence Festival of Creative
Arts in 2003. She wants to focus on a career in illustration or jewellery
design.

Demekos Williams from Raymond Gardiner High School in the Turks
and Caicos Islands took the award for most outstanding performance in visual
arts three-dimensional work. Modest in receipt of the award, Demekos was
quick to thank those around him, attributing his success to “God’s grace,
determination, consistency, a great art teacher, and encouraging classmates
and parents.” Demekos is yet to commit himself to one career, holding up
medicine or law as strong possibilities.

The award for most outstanding performance in technical vocational subjects
went to aspiring engineer Donrick Slocombe of Grenada. A student
at Grenada Boys Secondary School, he described the CXC exam experience as
“many trying times and nights of hard work.” An avid drummer and music fan,
Donrick wants to pursue a career incorporating elements from his two favourite
subjects — technical drawing and building technology.

And from Trinidad and Tobago, Liana Baboolal of Naparima Girls
High School received the award for the best short story written in the
English “A” examination. Her vivid and well-crafted piece, based on a photograph
of an elderly man, is reproduced below.

Well done, top performers of 2004!
Dylan Kerrigan

“Perhaps today he would remember” by Liana Baboolal

He hungrily gulped in the fresh air, the clean tang of the sweet smell
of rain still lingered in the atmosphere and his nostrils welcomed it —
it was something he knew. All the lush vegetation around him blended into
a monotonous shade of green. Everything seemed so clean and new — almost
rejuvenated. Although great, big tufts of grey lurked around ominously in
the sky overhead, he felt calm . . . serene. Perhaps today he would remember
which way home was.

He had been walking for days, it seemed. His wet suit hung tiredly from
his gaunt body and once again he smothered the pangs of hunger assaulting
his stomach. Noticing a speck at the end of the long, winding road, his
heartbeat accelerated — was this home? He pushed his old bones to walk a
little faster, maybe he would be home soon. As he got closer and closer
to the end of the road, the speck began to take on a definite form, and
with a laden heart, he realised that a shack was the only thing that stood
out among the blur of green.

On reaching the tiny shack — obviously abandoned, since it was overwhelmed
by clinging green vines — he suddenly felt tired. All his strength seemed
to be sapped away by an unseen force and he lowered his tired form to the
grassy ground. Cradling his legs to his chest, he rocked back and forth,
trying to draw some comfort from the soothing movement.

That was the way Susan found him. His hair stood up in all different
directions, wrinkled creases marred his brow, and his whole posture was
that of a frightened, confused man. A twig snapped under her feet and he
suddenly jumped up, his bones creaking in protest.

The young woman before him smiled. A smile that seemed to be a brilliant
beam of sunlight in his otherwise melancholy world. Her rich, chocolate-brown
eyes were filled with warmth and understanding. These eyes mesmerised him
— they seemed to reach out to him in an unspoken, yet thankfully loud, message.

He found himself offering up one wrinkled, trembling hand and, without
a thought, the young woman grasped it — hung onto it as though it were something
to be treasured, and he felt the warmth of her hand spread all through
his entire body. That warmth, combined with the warmth of her smile and
the warmth in her beautiful dark eyes, seemed to banish all the cold loneliness
and bewilderment in his heart.

Susan found her eyes welling up with tears, and tried her best to remain
standing. This time he had been gone for so many days that it seemed like
a miracle that he was alive.

“Home?” he asked, his voice sounding as trusting and as innocent as
that of a child. “Yes, home, grandpa,” she reassured him, as she led him
slowly out into the road where her car was parked.

His bearded face split into a grin as he spotted her car. He was so
very thankful that he did not have to walk again — he was completely fed
up of walking. As Susan saw his grateful smile, she once again cursed the
disease that had robbed her grandfather of all his intelligence, vitality,
and all his control of life itself, leaving in its wake this scared, confused
shell of an old man — Alzheimer’s, the disease that her grandfather, a renowned
doctor, had tried to fight, but had lost.

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WHAT THE CARIBBEAN IS TALKING ABOUT THIS MONTH

Foyled again: Canouan-born basketball player Adonal Foyle pushes political reform through his NGO Democracy Matters • Buzzworthy: Michelle Sylvester w





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Image 1

buzzworthy

book buzz
The Carnival is over
Remembering Babylon
Books at the beach

music buzz
Caribbean voices
The soul of Curaçao
Rhythm roundup
Soca breakthrough?
Loud enough?

sports buzz
Anchors aweigh

theatre buzz
Dragged on stage


Foyled again

When Caribbean Beat profiled Adonal Foyle back in 2001, the Grenadines-born
centre for the Golden State Warriors pro basketball team was already showing
signs of a budding activism, devoting his off-court time to working with
literacy programmes in Oakland, California. Later that year, however, he’d
move his commitment to social reform into higher gear, with the formation
of Democracy Matters, an organisation focused on getting US college students
involved in pro-democracy issues such as election campaign finance reform.

According to its website, Democracy Matters, which now has chapters on
campuses throughout the US and has been profiled in the New York Times,
“encourages the emergence of a new generation of reform-minded leaders,”
a group which Foyle, now 29, insists is not a dying breed.

 






Adonal Foyle<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Adonal Foyle
Courtesy Democracymatters.com

“During my college years at Colgate [University], I was upset
when I heard people talk about how apathetic our generation is,” he writes
in a statement on the website. “I believe that our generation is extremely
political, but they simply feel that they cannot make a difference.”

In the same piece — headlined “So What Does NBA Basketball Have to Do With
Campaign Finance Reform Anyway?” — Foyle suggests the National Basketball
Association’s meritocratic system as a model to which politics might aspire.
“There is no buying your way into the NBA with money. You are good enough
or not; and that is the bottom line . . . The opportunity to bring performance
to the table and be judged solely on that basis represents the ideal of justice,
an ideal that is approximated in the world of professional basketball,” he
writes. “In very much the same way, politics should give all of our gifted
and talented citizens an equal chance to compete to serve in political life.”


In the case of another athlete, one might suspect such statements to be
the handiwork of a PR machine, but Foyle is as well known in the league for
his scholarly ways as for blocking shots (he holds the NCAA record and was
ranked seventh in the NBA during the 2001–02 season). He’s also a living example
of what an individual can do when given an equal shot at success, for nothing
predisposes a boy born on a minuscule island (Canouan, in his case), and
who first touched a basketball at the ripe old age of 16, for the life Foyle
enjoys today.

Now in his eighth season in the NBA, Foyle first came to the US in 1990,
thanks to Jay and Joan Mandle, a pair of American university professors
who spotted him at an inter-island tournament in Dominica. Taken more with
his personality than with his playing skills, the Mandles — who are also
co-founders of Democracy Matters — offered Foyle the opportunity of a life
and education in the US, though they never dreamed it would lead to a career
in the NBA.

In addition to his work with Democracy Matters, Adonal Foyle is involved
in fundraising for AIDS research, serves as commissioner of an after-school
basketball programme for Bay Area youth, and is the Warriors’ representative
to the NBA Players’ Association. Nor has he neglected his homeland, organising
basketball camps and a learning and reading centre in Canouan.

“It’s an unbelievable lifestyle,” Foyle said when Beat interviewed him
in 2000, and certainly not one he’s taken for granted.

Georgia Popplewell

back to top


buzzworthy


 





Michelle Sylvester<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Michelle Sylvester
David Wears

Twice-crowned
Trinidadian Michelle Sylvester fast-tracked to soca royalty in her solo
debut year, capturing both the International Soca Queen and International
Groovy Soca Monarch titles in one night. She beat 11 competitors in the Groovy
Soca Monarch competition on the Friday night before Carnival, then found out
her points also secured her the Soca Queen title. The 27-year-old is a seven-year
veteran of the soca arena, singing with brass bands Horizon, Ruckshun, Sound
Revolution, Triple X, and Pure Energy before deciding to go solo. “I love
being on stage,” she says, “hearing the people sing my music.”
Tracy Assing

Taking
the crease

Following excellent performances for Guyana in the Carib Beer cricket series,
right-hand opener Ryan Ramdass has won the attention of regional cricket
fans. A natural stroke player, whose run of form included consecutive centuries,
he’ll need to continue his high-scoring exploits in order to oust those
ahead in the pecking order for Windies team opener. But if the 21-year-old
Berbice native bats as he did for his unbeaten maiden century in Barbados
— where he slaughtered the local bowling and showed great mental toughness
in a successful fourth-innings run chase — his prospects look good.
Dylan Kerrigan





Ryan Ramdass<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Ryan Ramdass
Courtesy Starbroek News





Rihanna Fenty<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Rihanna Fenty
Courtesy Def Jam

A star is born?
With Rupee enjoying the embrace of Atlantic Records and Edwin Yearwood
hooked up with VP Records’ Waistline Music Division, Barbados is in the
music spotlight. Now Def Jam Universal has picked up R&B singer Rihanna
Fenty, who is still only 16. Jay Brown, executive vice-president of the label,
has said, “Only God knows what will eventually happen, but we can only go
by our feelings, and we think we have star power on our side with Rihanna.”
The youngster’s debut album Pon de Replay should be in shops soon,
and Brown thinks it has success written all over it.
TA

Reggaeton
prince

One of the hottest dance songs in late 2004 was N.O.R.E. and Nina Sky’s
Oye Mi Canto. For many, it was their first taste of reggaeton
— an infectious blend of Latin energy with Jamaican dancehall and US hip-hop.
The crossover track featured Puerto Rican Tego Calderon, reggaeton’s biggest
star. Already well known in Latin barrios for his topical lyrics on
racism and global inequality, Calderon has also appeared as guest vocalist
on albums for 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean, and Cypress Hill, as well as releasing
two albums of his own. Word is, his urban poetics are about to storm the mainstream.

DK





Tego Calderon<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Tego Calderon
Courtesy usuuarios.lycos.es





Vashti Anderson<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Vashti Anderson
Courtesy Vashti Anderson

Vashti’s calypso
Half-Trini, half-American film-maker Vashti Anderson grew up in the US,
but Trinidad has always been a big part of her identity. Her latest film project,
Jeffrey’s Calypso, filmed on location in Trinidad, shows just
how big a part. Though her budget was minimal, Anderson has produced a short
film set in the oil fields of modern Trinidad, which she hopes will make
waves on the international film festival circuit. “To me, the importance
of showing Trinidadians on film exceeded the extra effort,” says Anderson.
“Trinidad has always been under-represented in the film world.” Something
she’s pleased to change.
DK

Upstage, downstage
Patrick Brown may be Jamaica’s most consistent and successful playwright
of the last decade. A master of the hilarious, he’s written scripts ranging
from romantic comedies to popular TV sitcoms and plays like Christopher
Cum-Buck-Us
, a reworking of Columbus’s supposed discovery of the Antilles.
A civil engineer by training, Brown tackles historical stories with wit
and imagination in a quest to dismantle people’s assumptions. His most recent
production, Ras Noah and the Hawk, a modern version of the Biblical story
of Noah, set in downtown Kingston, starts its overseas tour this month.

DK





Patrick Brown<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Patrick Brown
Courtesy jambizonline.com


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book buzz


The Carnival is over

Carnival Robert Antoni (Black Cat, ISBN 0-8021-7005-6, 297 pp)

 






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Image 9

“Laurence de Boissière was once the tennis champion
of Oxford. Don’t think I’m too highly impressed by that as a tennis title,
but it meant something to Laurence.” Two sentences into Robert Antoni’s new
novel, observant readers who know their 20th-century American literature will
already be exclaiming, “Aha! Hemingway.” Carnival — Antoni’s fourth book
— is part parody of, part homage to The Sun Also Rises, translating that
classic story of the “lost generation” of the 1920s to Trinidad in the close-to-present
day. Hemingway’s characters Jake Barnes, Robert Cohn, and Brett Ashley become
Antoni’s narrator William Fletcher, an aspiring Trinidadian writer living
in New York; his old schoolmate and now celebrated poet Laurence de Boissière;
and William’s cousin Rachel, connected to him by the force of mutual attraction
and the shared memory of a traumatic event years in the past. The three friends
meet by chance in Greenwich Village, and after a night of carousing — as
the outline of a love triangle starts to appear — they agree to assemble
again in Port of Spain a few months hence, for Carnival.


The novel’s second section details the events of that Carnival weekend
— the fetes leading up to the festival, J’Ouvert, Carnival Monday, and the
grand climax of Carnival Tuesday — in an atmosphere of spiralling excitement
and matter-of-fact debauchery that will be familiar to anyone who’s been
through the real thing. For Trinidadian readers, the true bacchanal will
be the stream of references to actual persons and events (and scandals?),
some only thinly disguised. A character called Peter Minshall is a barely
fictionalised version of the celebrated Carnival designer. The “real” identities
of other characters will be obvious to anyone familiar with the milieu around
Minshall’s Callaloo Company. Even an unnamed but clearly recognisable V.S.
Naipaul makes a cameo appearance in an audacious comic interlude.

Antoni runs the risk that his readers will be too busy either counting
Hemingway parallels or sifting for nuggets of real-life gossip (“did so-and-so
really sleep with so-and-so?”) to take in the intricacies of his plot, or
notice that behind the old mas lurk powerful forces of racial resentment
and misunderstood desire. But in the final section, when Carnival is over
and William, Laurence, and Rachel escape to a secluded beach on the north
coast, the novel’s dark themes emerge unmistakably, as Antoni creates a
sense of foreboding that builds to a violent conclusion. The heady hedonism
of Carnival gives way to an assertion of the brutality of history, personal
and social. Taboos have been broken; while the merry monarch reins, it seems
old prejudices no longer matter. “Isn’t it happy to think so?” But a price
must be paid for this “freeness”. And after the music- and rum-fuelled intimacies
of Carnival Tuesday, when barriers between strangers seem to dissolve at
a glance or the flick of a waist, with Ash Wednesday return desolate truths
about human loneliness and the fetters we place on our loves. As Minshall
says in the book’s epigraph, “We are all a lost tribe.”

Nicholas Laughlin

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Remembering Babylon

Book of Memory: A Rastafari Testimony
Composed by Prince Elijah Williams, edited by Michael Kuelker (CaribSound,
ISBN 0-9746021-0-8)





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Image 10

“Book of Memory is many things, including an abeng sounding
from the margins of the Two-Thirds World.” So says editor Michael Kuelker
of this fascinating and timely text, which should be required reading for
anyone seeking a peaceful solution for the problems of mankind. The book
ventures several steps further than a standard academic text on Rastafari
by being grounded in the voice of Prince Elijah Williams, the Rasta elder
who has composed it. As Williams recounts a life of hardship, describing
with poetic clarity the beatings, jailings, and harassment meted out to his
community because of their chosen faith, a broader picture emerges of the
poverty, prejudice, and power imbalances that have blighted post-independence
Jamaica. Williams and his fellow Rastas are landless peasants whose existence
is little better than their ancestors’ a century ago. As Williams tells his
story, Jamaica is depicted as bankrupt, rife with guns, its soul sold to
the IMF, foreign businesses, and tourism; Rastafari’s contradictory relationship
to Christianity is also touched on. Thoroughly engaging and eminently thought-provoking,
Book of Memory is a great— but, more importantly, a necessary — read.

David Katz

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Books at the beach

All literary paths lead to Treasure Beach, Jamaica, once again this May,
for the annual Calabash International Literary Festival — a three-day celebration
of the written, spoken, and sung word. Now in its fifth year, Calabash promises
to live up to its pledge of being the festival of choice for both writers
and readers. This year, the grown-up festival will be featured on the cover
of Poets & Writers, one of the most influential publications on the
American literary scene.

Artfully programmed by poet and critic Kwame Dawes, this year’s line-up
promises a diverse range of outstanding artists from the Caribbean and around
the world, including Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua), Russell Banks (USA), Dionne
Brand (Canada), Linton Kwesi Johnson (UK), Andrea Levy (UK), Alwin Bully (Dominica),
Mark Doty (USA), Meena Alexander (India), Amiri Baraka (USA), Roger Bonair-Agard
(Trinidad), Manthia Diawara (Mali),  Li-Young Lee (Indonesia/USA) and
Stacey Ann Chin (Jamaica).





Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler reading at the 2004 Calabash Festival<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler reading at the 2004 Calabash Festival

More than a forum for established writers, Calabash 2005 continues
its dual purpose of introducing a new generation of budding Caribbean writers
and reintroducing Caribbean classics to a new generation of readers. Once
again it opens with a reading by members of its writers’ workshops, which
take place earlier in the year. This year, chapbooks for six of the 
poets in the workshops have been published, and were launched at the official 
festival launch in Kingston on March 11. And as with Roger Mais’s novel
Brother Man in 2004, this year Calabash will issue another 50th-anniversary
edition of a Jamaican classic that had fallen out of print: John Hearne’s
Voices Under the Window. Oliver Clarke, chairman of the Gleaner Company,
and Perry Henzell, writer and director of The Harder They Come, will participate
in a special reading from the book.

Another highlight of this year’s festival will be a literary programme
exploring the lyrics of Jimmy Cliff. (Previous years have featured the lyrics
of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.) The musical theme will continue with the
reintroduction of Calabashment — a Saturday night concert featuring four
hours of live reggae with major artists, including Jamaica’s Lloyd &
We the People Musicians on a separate stage at Jake’s, the resort that serves
as Calabash headquarters. Other musicians scheduled to appear throughout
the festival include jazz greats Ernie Ranglin and Monty Alexander and reggae
superstar Freddie McGregor.

Kellie Magnus

The Calabash International Literary Festival runs from May 27 to 29
at Jake’s, Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, Jamaica. For more information,
visit
www.calabashfestival.org

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music buzz


Caribbean voices

Caribbean Beat talks to music editor Georgia Popplewell — founder
of Caribbean Free Radio — about the Caribbean’s first podcast

Caribbean Beat: The Caribbean’s first what?

Georgia Popplewell:
That’s the question I get most often. The term
was actually coined only in the latter half of 2004, so you shouldn’t agonise
if you’ve never heard it.

CB: Because we think of ourselves as pretty tech savvy —

GP: The easiest way to understand podcasting is to think of podcasts
as personal radio shows. Maybe it might help if I explained how I produce
a show.

CB:
That’s a good idea.

 





Laptop, mike, iPod — ready to go live<br />
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Laptop, mike, iPod — ready to go live
Graeme Ottley/FotoGrae

GP: To date, Caribbean Free Radio has been following
a magazine-type format, with talk segments interspersed with music. I prepare
a rough outline of the show beforehand, decide what music I’m going to play.
Then I record my talk segments. People like Adam Curry, the former MTV veejay-turned-media
entrepreneur who’s credited as one of the originators of podcasting, have
more sophisticated set-ups and do it on the fly, like a true radio show.
But I mix together the talk and the music segments afterwards using a sound
editing software program.

CB:
What recording equipment do you use?


GP: I’m also a video producer, so initially I used a semi-professional
video camera which had inputs for pro microphones — it’s important to have
decent sound quality. But now I do most of my recording on a tiny portable
recorder. Once I’ve put the show together, I encode it as an MP3 file and
upload it to a web server, and put a link to it on the Caribbean Free Radio
website.

CB: How do people know when you’ve put out a new show?

GP: Now that’s the interesting part. I do have a mailing list that
people can sign up for on the website. But the thing that really makes podcasts
podcasts is something called RSS syndication. In addition to uploading and
linking to the file on your website, you also create an RSS feed. People
can then use a bit of software called an RSS aggregator to download the file
automatically to their computers as it arrives, without having to visit the
website or wait for an email from me.

CB: Kind of like TiVo, then.

GP: Exactly. Basically podcasting describes a time-shifted method
of distribution. That’s what makes it different from other forms of online
audio, like streaming audio and online radio, which you have to be online
and in front of the computer to listen to. In the case of a podcast, you
can download it and listen to it whenever you want, and even transfer it
to a portable MP3 player, like an iPod, which is where the name comes from.
It’s a bit of a misnomer, though, because there’s no essential connection
between podcasting and the iPod.

CB: It sounds a bit complicated.






3Canal, stars of Caribbean Free Radio’s first podcast<br />
Click to View Larger Image
3Canal, stars of Caribbean Free Radio’s first podcast
Georgia Popplewell

GP:The syndication part is perhaps still more of
a geek thing, but it isn’t necessary: you can also listen to a podcast by
streaming or downloading the MP3 file directly from the website. In fact,
I suspect that’s the way most of my listeners do it.

CB: Tell us about your first podcast.

GP: My first podcast was an interview show with the music group 3Canal,
which I recorded at their office during the chaos of Carnival Friday. I went
this route for a few reasons. One: I wasn’t sure I could carry an entire show

myself. Two: I thought 3Canal was the kind of group that would play well
on a podcast — they’re progressive, they’re forward-thinking, and they were
very open to the idea. In fact, they’ve been as much beneficiaries of the
success of CFR — such as it may be — as I have. What happened is that one
very popular podcaster, Dave Slusher [of the Evil Genius Chronicles], ran
a clip from the interview on his show, and that got 3Canal a fair amount
of attention. They’re practically the CFR house band now.


CB: How do you decide what to talk about?

GP: I talk about whatever I feel like, really, bearing in mind that
my audience is global, not simply regional.

CB: How do you decide what music to play?

GP: I have three criteria: I play Caribbean music; I play music
that tends to be underexposed — and I know this means all Caribbean music,
with the possible exception of reggae. And, last but not least, I play music
I like.

CB: Aren’t there copyright issues with music?

GP: That’s being sorted out. Right now I’m playing mainly stuff
I ask direct permission from the artists to play. I hope to be able to choose
from a wider playlist very soon. That said, I also think podcasts are a
great way for artists — especially independent artists — to expose their
music.

CB:
Apart from the fun you obviously seem to be having, why are you
doing this?

GP: The main reason I started CFR is that podcasting seemed to represent
a point of convergence for so many of my interests: computers, gadgets,
audio, new media, music, literature, writing. I’d been reading about podcasting
since the phenomenon started being talked about, but really only began listening
to podcasts in earnest in December 2004. I’m a great believer in spoken-word
audio as entertainment and as a method of disseminating information, and
I also lament the Caribbean’s limited presence on the web. So making sure
the Caribbean had a voice in the podcasting community, however small and
however idiosyncratic, was also one of the reasons I started the show.

CB: Where do you see CFR going?

GP: I actually see CFR partly as an incubator for ideas I may have
that could be started in audio form and perhaps be ported over to other
media, like video and text. But I do want to develop the show more, add
some spoken word dramatisation-type segments, maybe a radio serial, that
type of thing. I also did my first “soundseeing tour” this weekend. And
I could also create separate feeds for different types of shows.

CB: Are you surprised at the success of CFR?

GP: I’m astounded. What happened is that some very key people discovered
CFR quite by accident, and talked about the show on their own podcasts.
I’m really grateful to them. I’ve already mentioned Dave Slusher, and it
was thanks to him that The Dawn and Drew Show, which has been the number
one podcast for weeks now, heard about it and plugged it on their show. A
podcast called The Fake Science Lab Report also mentioned us and even requested
an audio promo, which Adam Curry got hold of and played on his show. I guess
that’s why they call it the World Wide Web. I have to say I’m enjoying being
part of the podcasting community.

CB: You’re still the Caribbean’s only podcaster [at the time of
writing]: do you feel an awesome sense of responsibility?

GP: Yes, I do feel a certain amount of pressure at being perceived
as representing the entire Caribbean. I was shocked to see CFR described
on one website as something like “the global voice of the Caribbean”. That’s
pretty scary. US podcasters, for instance, have the freedom to do all sorts
of crazy stunts, because they’re so many of them — people are podcasting
from their kitchens while they make dinner, all sorts of things. I hope that’s
going to change soon. Caribbean podcasters, bring it on!

Tune in to Caribbean Free Radio at www.caribbeanfreeradio.com

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The soul of Curaçao

As if testing the faith of those in attendance, Mother Nature did her best
to wash away the 17th annual Curaçao Jazz Festival in 2004. Uncharacteristic
May rains swept across the grounds of historic Landhuis Mei Mei, but nothing
could dampen the spirits of the assembled jazz fans.

“This festival has a warm, personal feel to it — it’s very organic,” says
Monty Alexander, a three-time performer at the festival. “Once you’ve played
here, you really feel like you know the people.”

In a career spanning four decades, Jamaica-born Alexander has played piano
for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins,
Quincy Jones, and Sly and Robbie. He tours the world, performing at renowned
festivals such as Montreux, North Sea, and Monterey, yet he always has time
for the intimacy of Curaçao. “I’m the kind of musician who likes
crowds of all sizes,” says Alexander. “But this place captures the soul
of the island, and that’s what makes it so special.”





Monty Alexander with Curaçao Jazz Foundation president Jamila Romero<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Monty Alexander with Curaçao Jazz Foundation president Jamila Romero
David Pye

What also makes it special is the core of local supporters
and volunteers who have helped keep the Curaçao Jazz Festival up and
running for the past 17 years. After roaming the island in search of a home,
experimenting with venues such as the World Trade Centre, the National Theatre,
and the Curaçao Festival Centre, the event found a permanent home six
years ago at Landhuis Brakkeput Mei Mei, an 18th-century Dutch plantation
house and national landmark. The event has since taken on greater significance,
attracting big names like Al Jarreau and George Benson.

“People are becoming acquainted with the surroundings here, and that can
only help the festival to grow,” says Percy Pinedo, host of a weekly jazz
program on Willemstad’s Radio Z86. “Attendance has traditionally come from
the local market, but we hope our reputation will grow.”

The 2004 edition did its part to bolster that reputation, as rain-soaked
fans stood on their feet to listen to Monty Alexander’s unforgettable set.
The following night, Grammy award winner Michel Camilo picked up the baton
along with bass player Charles Flores and drummer Cliff Almond to ignite
the jazz-savvy crowd. “It’s really incredible to see what’s going on with
Caribbean jazz, and each little island’s festival is significant,” explains
Camilo. “It’s like a big tree with branches that represent everything from
New Orleans jazz and West Coast jazz to the Afro-Cuban rhythms of the 1940s
and 60s.”

“A lot of the musicians who played with Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson
had West Indian backgrounds,” adds Alexander. “Now there’s a whole new crop
on the way, and it can only get better.”

Like Alexander, Camilo feels at home in front of the intimate gathering
at Brakkeput Mei Mei, cherishing the obvious connection with the audience.
They feed on the energy he generates, and they send it right back to the stage.
“By definition, a festival should be a party, and not a serious concert hall
event,” he says. “It should be a celebration of the music, and of the energy
that the audience shares with the artist.” And the Curaçao Jazz Festival
is a party — for both the audience and the musicians who love to perform
there.

“It’s a wonderful festival, and I hope they’ll keep inviting me,” says
Alexander. “If they do, I assure you I’ll keep coming back.”

David Pye

The 2005 Curaçao Jazz Festival takes place from May 28 to 30
at Landhuis Brakkeput Mei Mei. This year’s event will showcase Afro-Caribbean
heritage. For more information, visit
www.curacaojazzfest.com

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Rhythm roundup





Image 15<br />
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Image 15

New York-based, Haiti-born saxophonist Alix “Buyu” Ambroise’s
impressive debut release Blues in Red (Justin Time JTR-8506-2)
recasts traditional Haitian rhythms within a jazz framework, and the bond
between the two is solid (they’re cousins, after all). Haitian drums and
chants entwine with organic jazz riffs on the CD’s ten tracks, which range
in style from post-bop to ballad to Antillean jazz. Blues in Red comprises
five dazzling pieces based on Haitian traditionals and four numbers by Haitian
composers such as Manno Charlemagne, plus a nod to the pantheon in the form
of a driving rendition of Ellington’s Caravan. Also adding Haitian
touches to an American form is Wyclef Jean, who approaches his continuing
exploration of his roots in a more full-blown fashion on Welcome to
Haiti: Creole 101
(Koch Records, B0002WZTB6). The results are mixed,
but compelling all the same.





Image 16<br />
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Image 16

• Putumayo’s Afro Latin Party (Putumayo, P235-A)
celebrates the infectiousness of Latin rhythms on a compilation which includes
Croatian salsa, Cuban ska, and Oregonian mambo.





Image 17<br />
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Image 17

• In soca, Shurwayne Winchester’s carefully crafted Give
Thanks
(JW Productions, JWCL 284) has “international record deal,
anyone?” written all over it. The two-time Trinidad and Tobago Road March
King showcases his versatility with a pleasing selection of soca numbers,
including the ultra-catchy 2005 hit Dead or Alive, ragga tracks both conscious
(Don’t Waste the Water) and vaguely slack (Roll that Bumper, Bouncing
Around
), plus a heavy dose of croonerly “popso” — to use the term coined
by VP records — tracks like Wine on Me, Time with You, and
Friend to Wife.





Image 18<br />
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Image 18

• Winchester’s labelmate Destra’s 2005 release is an ambitious
concept album inspired by — and named for — Laventille, the iconic east
Port of Spain district where she grew up and still lives today. Laventille’s
emotional centre is the title track, a reworking of David Rudder’s 1986
classic The Hammer, recast as a community-building song lamenting urban
blight, with Rudder as singing partner. But overall the album lacks the
tight, neat production of Destra’s work of the past couple of seasons. The
pop/soca (and note I don’t call it “popso” — I think it’s something different)
formula Destra has been developing over the past few seasons is eminently
workable, and in a solo career that’s barely begun she already has three
party classics to her name (Is Carnival, Bonnie and Clyde and
Up In The Air — all featured on a track called The Pre-Release Medley).
But not a track on Laventille can hold a candle to any of its predecessors.
The CD also features spoken-word interludes (full disclosure: this reviewer
had some input), in which Destra muses on life in the ’hood.


• 96.1 WEFM’s compilation The Soca Switch has had its good
years and bad years: this, number 11 in the series, is one of the good.
Carnival compilations depend on the compiler’s ability to predict the season’s
hits, and this year they’ve hit the jackpot with some of the season’s biggest
names and songs. Among the picks are the 2005 Road March, Shurwayne Winchester’s
Dead or Alive, Machel Montano’s You, KMC’s First Experience,
Maximus Dan’s Royal, Body Water by Mini Priest (who should
win a prize for cutest sobriquet), Scrunter’s Trombone, the late Onika
Bostic’s All Is Yours, Bunji Garlin and Patrice Roberts’s The
Island
, ZAN’s Watching Woman, and Beenie Man’s Cyar Take Yuh
Man
— that, in fact, is the entire track listing. No compilation covers
all the bases, but you could probably re-create a pretty decent 2005
Carnival fete in your living room simply by looping this CD and getting down.





Image 19<br />
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Image 19

• VP Records’ compilation D Soca Zone: 5th Spin
looks a little more viable now that Vincentian Jamesy P looks set to join
his countryman Kevin Lyttle in international recording-contract country.
But Jamesy P’s Nookie Tonight was already one of the album’s standouts,
on the basis of its popularity if nothing else. Otherwise, D Soca Zone
is a mixed bag, comprising what sound like second-tier tracks by a series
of artists, several of whom have had their moments on the front lines of
the Caribbean soca scene.


• Bearing the clever subtitle “the soundtrack album from the 3Canal Show
2005”, 3Canal’s 2005 CD Jab Jab Say is one element in the
group’s holistic, digital-age approach to music production and marketing.
The Show, now in its second year, and already one of the Carnival season’s
essential events, has become the cornerstone of a machine which also includes
a J’Ouvert band and a clothing collection, and this year’s “soundtrack”
features the usual conscious messages and raucous fun we’ve come to expect
from rapso’s crown princes.

Georgia Popplewell

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Soca breakthrough?





Kevin Lyttle<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Kevin Lyttle
Courtesy Atlantic Records

The music industry depends on being able to anticipate the
next big thing. But music piracy and declining sales have forced even the
most established record labels to hold off on taking risks, to continually
seek out new ways to out-manoeuvre bootleggers. Artists need to be capable
of commanding and keeping media attention — it’s not just about the sound
or the lyrics, it’s about looks and skills on the dance-floor, it’s about
marketing power.

Boosted by major-label budgets and marketing spin, soca has finally made
its way to the Billboard music charts, with St Vincent’s Kevin Lyttle
and Barbados’s Rupee as its poster boys. Soca music originated as a fusion
of calypso with Indian rhythms, a combination of the musical traditions
of the two major ethnic groups of Trinidad and Tobago. It has since grown
past the geography of the islands and boundaries of that definition.


Lyttle signed a worldwide multi-album deal with Atlantic Records late in
2003. Once inside the giant marketing machine, Lyttle and his hit Turn
Me On
(which had been released in the Caribbean in 2001) seemed to grow
wings. In 2004, it peaked at number four on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart,
and hit number two in the UK.

Lyttle turned the whole of Europe on with the song, registering top-ten
placings on charts in several countries. The single was certified gold in
Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. But Last Drop,
the second single from the Turn Me On album, did not trouble chart
statisticians, and Lyttle is currently doing gigs for Walt Disney World in
Orlando, Florida.

There has been no word from Atlantic about a follow-up record yet, but
that did not stop the label from signing Rupee (Rupert Clarke), a vocalist
who serves up a style similar to Lyttle’s, a mixture of soca and R&B
that’s been labelled “soca lite”. His 1 to 1 album has been certified gold
in Japan.





Rupee<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Rupee
Courtesy Atlantic Records

This move to tinker with and add to the original elements
of soca to make it more marketable has worked before, and has worked with
other forms of Caribbean music. Antigua’s Arrow released the driving party
anthem Hot, Hot, Hot in 1983, and a subsequent version by American
Buster Poindexter made the song a hit in the US. Twenty-two versions of
the song went on to be recorded — in 12 languages — and more than four million
copies sold. Then the Baha Men of the Bahamas released the Anslem Douglas–penned
Who Let The Dogs Out? in July 2000, and the song went on to win a Grammy
Award for best dance recording of that year. This slowed-down version of
the Trinidadian’s Carnival hit top ten in 12 countries. The song was even
named the number-one sports anthem of all time by MTV. The group released
four albums in the wake of Who Let The Dogs Out? but none contained
a comparable hit.


So are we on the cusp of a “soca breakthrough?”

There’s much to be learned from the “calypso craze” of the 1940s and 50s.
The Andrews Sisters’ 1944 recording of Lord Invader’s Rum and Coca Cola
is still remembered as one of the top songs of the time. As the Second World
War wound to an end, who could think about bombs and death, with a chirpy
ditty about island life on the radio? The US record labels went to work
packaging a “more intelligible and appealing” calypso sound. By the time
Harry Belafonte’s Calypso album was released (it was the first single-artist
album to sell over one million copies in entertainment history), several
artists with little or no experience in the calypso tents of Trinidad were
making money from it. Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Maya Angelou all
had calypso records.

By 1957, calypso accounted for one quarter of the popular record sales
in the US. In London, Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner were the toast of
the town. Hollywood released three “song and dance” calypso-themed features
Calypso Joe (starring Angie Dickinson), Calypso Heatwave
(starring Maya Angelou), and Bop Girl Goes Calypso. Dorothy Dandridge
and Harry Belafonte shared screen time on the movie Island in the Sun.
But by the early 60s, the labels had moved on to the next best thing. Will
today’s soca trend follow a similar pattern, or will it prove to have the
staying power of reggae, a major international musical force since the early
1970s?

Tracy Assing

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Loud enough?





Kees and Hans Diefenthaller of Kes<br />
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Kees and Hans Diefenthaller of Kes
Courtesy QME

For four years now the Decibel Film and Music Festival has
been a place where the Trinidadian entertainment business can get itself heard
by international investors and producers, and where young people interested
in an entertainment career get a close-up look at the ways things really
work. Organised by Question Mark Entertainment, the two-day event — part
conference, part music showcase — attracts entertainment executives from
the United States and Europe. The participants this year include Mark Burg
(executive producer of movies such as John Q, Love Don’t Cost a Thing, and
Saw), Wayne Jobson (producer of No Doubt’s Rock Steady album), Arthur Gorson
(president, The Mine Productions), the multi-platinum rock band Sugar Ray,
and CSI actor Gary Dourdan.

In his welcome address at last year’s Decibel, Question Mark CEO Simon
Baptiste said: “This project has been a labour of love for all involved,
and the goal has always been to present participants with a clear understanding
of how the entertainment business operates, to provide students in attendance
with the necessary guidance for choosing careers within the fields of music
or film, and to offer new and upcoming acts the opportunity to showcase
their talent to their fans and powerful executives who can make a difference
in their future careers.”

Several hundred students from schools around the country attend the conference
every year, and Baptiste says the numbers keep growing. “Students and teachers
come up to me afterwards to let me know that they appreciate it, and how
much fun they had,” he reports, adding that it’s that kind of feedback that’s
kept the festival alive.

“It has never been about financial reward,” he adds. “We’d just like to
think we are making a difference. I remember when I was growing up how much
I liked going on field trips where I could talk to people about different
careers, and I felt we have lots of people talking about becoming a doctor
or a teacher or a lawyer, but we don’t have a lot of people talking about
careers in entertainment.”

Baptiste runs Question Mark Entertainment with the assistance of Carolyn
Pasea, and the outfit also handles artist management and event co-ordination.
He says they were recently contacted by Bunim/Murray productions (creators
of MTV’s Real World series) about the possibility of helping to co-ordinate
the filming of an installment of the MTV Real World/Road Rules Challenge
in the Caribbean. Things are still very much in the discussion stage, but
Baptiste is excited at the prospect.

In previous years, the Decibel music showcase has hosted performances by
Trinidadian bands and performers like Pras, SugarCult, Lit, Willa Ford,
the Orange Sky, Incert Coin, Maximus Dan, Abdel Wright, and Imij and Co.
This year, the buzz is all about the band Kes, which will make its debut
at the festival.

Kees, Jon, and Hans Dieffenthaller and Riad Boochoon make up the versatile
band. The quartet has been performing together in different bands for a
number of years, but only came together in this new configuration after
Carnival 2005.

Kees Diefenthaller, who has performed with both rock and soca bands in
his home island of Trinidad, leads the outfit. Although he’s spent the last
three years performing with soca band Imij and Co, Kees has thrown himself
into cultivating a new sound with Kes. Their music sounds like a blend of
all the things he’s learned throughout his career, a unique Caribbean rock
blend, incorporating soca and dancehall influences.

Kes has produced a six-song EP in time for the festival, and are hoping
to shop their new sound with the industry heavyweights expected to attend.
This year the music showcase takes place at Trinidad’s newest nightspot, the
Zen nightclub.

Tracy Assing

The 5th annual Decibel Film and Music Festival takes place in Port of
Spain, Trinidad, from May 5 to 7

“I want our music to go somewhere”

Kees Dieffenthaller left Presentation College in San Fernando with dreams
of becoming a veterinarian. Instead, after years performing with alternative
rock and cover bands like Gregory’s Dream, and a stint with the soca band
Imij and Co, he’s become one of Trinidad’s most popular young performers.

Twenty-three-year-old Kees is always polite, smiles easily, and has a great
sense of humour. “You have to stay grounded, or you lose everything. I’m
humble because I know I don’t know everything,” he says. “There is pressure
on you to be creative all the time. But I stay focused because I want our
music to go somewhere.”

He has served up several Carnival hits over the course of his career. Tracks
like Push
, One Day, and Hypnotise have an R&B flavour,
but still manage to move people at the parties. And Kees has been working
on his writing skills. “I’m concentrating on the structure of songs,” he
explains.

“I’m listening to a lot of jazz, checking different musical arrangements,
a lot of Dave Matthews. You don’t ever stop learning.” In fact, the new
band Kes just may tackle a version of Crash Into Me, a chart-topper
for the Dave Matthews Band in 1996. The band has been working on the track
in the studio, and manager Simon Baptiste is very excited about the sound.

“I just think they have something,” says Baptiste, “I expect great things
from them.”


back to top


sports buzz


 

buzzworthy

book buzz
The Carnival is over
Remembering Babylon
Books at the beach

music buzz
Caribbean voices
The soul of Curaçao
Rhythm roundup
Soca breakthrough?
Loud enough?

sports buzz
Anchors aweigh

theatre buzz
Dragged on stage


Foyled again

When Caribbean Beat profiled Adonal Foyle back in 2001, the Grenadines-born
centre for the Golden State Warriors pro basketball team was already showing
signs of a budding activism, devoting his off-court time to working with
literacy programmes in Oakland, California. Later that year, however, he’d
move his commitment to social reform into higher gear, with the formation
of Democracy Matters, an organisation focused on getting US college students
involved in pro-democracy issues such as election campaign finance reform.

According to its website, Democracy Matters, which now has chapters on
campuses throughout the US and has been profiled in the New York Times,
“encourages the emergence of a new generation of reform-minded leaders,”
a group which Foyle, now 29, insists is not a dying breed.

 






Adonal Foyle<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Adonal Foyle
Courtesy Democracymatters.com

“During my college years at Colgate [University], I was upset
when I heard people talk about how apathetic our generation is,” he writes
in a statement on the website. “I believe that our generation is extremely
political, but they simply feel that they cannot make a difference.”

In the same piece — headlined “So What Does NBA Basketball Have to Do With
Campaign Finance Reform Anyway?” — Foyle suggests the National Basketball
Association’s meritocratic system as a model to which politics might aspire.
“There is no buying your way into the NBA with money. You are good enough
or not; and that is the bottom line . . . The opportunity to bring performance
to the table and be judged solely on that basis represents the ideal of justice,
an ideal that is approximated in the world of professional basketball,” he
writes. “In very much the same way, politics should give all of our gifted
and talented citizens an equal chance to compete to serve in political life.”


In the case of another athlete, one might suspect such statements to be
the handiwork of a PR machine, but Foyle is as well known in the league for
his scholarly ways as for blocking shots (he holds the NCAA record and was
ranked seventh in the NBA during the 2001–02 season). He’s also a living example
of what an individual can do when given an equal shot at success, for nothing
predisposes a boy born on a minuscule island (Canouan, in his case), and
who first touched a basketball at the ripe old age of 16, for the life Foyle
enjoys today.

Now in his eighth season in the NBA, Foyle first came to the US in 1990,
thanks to Jay and Joan Mandle, a pair of American university professors
who spotted him at an inter-island tournament in Dominica. Taken more with
his personality than with his playing skills, the Mandles — who are also
co-founders of Democracy Matters — offered Foyle the opportunity of a life
and education in the US, though they never dreamed it would lead to a career
in the NBA.

In addition to his work with Democracy Matters, Adonal Foyle is involved
in fundraising for AIDS research, serves as commissioner of an after-school
basketball programme for Bay Area youth, and is the Warriors’ representative
to the NBA Players’ Association. Nor has he neglected his homeland, organising
basketball camps and a learning and reading centre in Canouan.

“It’s an unbelievable lifestyle,” Foyle said when Beat interviewed him
in 2000, and certainly not one he’s taken for granted.

Georgia Popplewell

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buzzworthy


 





Michelle Sylvester<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Michelle Sylvester
David Wears

Twice-crowned
Trinidadian Michelle Sylvester fast-tracked to soca royalty in her solo
debut year, capturing both the International Soca Queen and International
Groovy Soca Monarch titles in one night. She beat 11 competitors in the Groovy
Soca Monarch competition on the Friday night before Carnival, then found out
her points also secured her the Soca Queen title. The 27-year-old is a seven-year
veteran of the soca arena, singing with brass bands Horizon, Ruckshun, Sound
Revolution, Triple X, and Pure Energy before deciding to go solo. “I love
being on stage,” she says, “hearing the people sing my music.”
Tracy Assing

Taking
the crease

Following excellent performances for Guyana in the Carib Beer cricket series,
right-hand opener Ryan Ramdass has won the attention of regional cricket
fans. A natural stroke player, whose run of form included consecutive centuries,
he’ll need to continue his high-scoring exploits in order to oust those
ahead in the pecking order for Windies team opener. But if the 21-year-old
Berbice native bats as he did for his unbeaten maiden century in Barbados
— where he slaughtered the local bowling and showed great mental toughness
in a successful fourth-innings run chase — his prospects look good.
Dylan Kerrigan





Ryan Ramdass<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Ryan Ramdass
Courtesy Starbroek News





Rihanna Fenty<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Rihanna Fenty
Courtesy Def Jam

A star is born?
With Rupee enjoying the embrace of Atlantic Records and Edwin Yearwood
hooked up with VP Records’ Waistline Music Division, Barbados is in the
music spotlight. Now Def Jam Universal has picked up R&B singer Rihanna
Fenty, who is still only 16. Jay Brown, executive vice-president of the label,
has said, “Only God knows what will eventually happen, but we can only go
by our feelings, and we think we have star power on our side with Rihanna.”
The youngster’s debut album Pon de Replay should be in shops soon,
and Brown thinks it has success written all over it.
TA

Reggaeton
prince

One of the hottest dance songs in late 2004 was N.O.R.E. and Nina Sky’s
Oye Mi Canto. For many, it was their first taste of reggaeton
— an infectious blend of Latin energy with Jamaican dancehall and US hip-hop.
The crossover track featured Puerto Rican Tego Calderon, reggaeton’s biggest
star. Already well known in Latin barrios for his topical lyrics on
racism and global inequality, Calderon has also appeared as guest vocalist
on albums for 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean, and Cypress Hill, as well as releasing
two albums of his own. Word is, his urban poetics are about to storm the mainstream.

DK





Tego Calderon<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Tego Calderon
Courtesy usuuarios.lycos.es





Vashti Anderson<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Vashti Anderson
Courtesy Vashti Anderson

Vashti’s calypso
Half-Trini, half-American film-maker Vashti Anderson grew up in the US,
but Trinidad has always been a big part of her identity. Her latest film project,
Jeffrey’s Calypso, filmed on location in Trinidad, shows just
how big a part. Though her budget was minimal, Anderson has produced a short
film set in the oil fields of modern Trinidad, which she hopes will make
waves on the international film festival circuit. “To me, the importance
of showing Trinidadians on film exceeded the extra effort,” says Anderson.
“Trinidad has always been under-represented in the film world.” Something
she’s pleased to change.
DK

Upstage, downstage
Patrick Brown may be Jamaica’s most consistent and successful playwright
of the last decade. A master of the hilarious, he’s written scripts ranging
from romantic comedies to popular TV sitcoms and plays like Christopher
Cum-Buck-Us
, a reworking of Columbus’s supposed discovery of the Antilles.
A civil engineer by training, Brown tackles historical stories with wit
and imagination in a quest to dismantle people’s assumptions. His most recent
production, Ras Noah and the Hawk, a modern version of the Biblical story
of Noah, set in downtown Kingston, starts its overseas tour this month.

DK





Patrick Brown<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Patrick Brown
Courtesy jambizonline.com


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book buzz


The Carnival is over

Carnival Robert Antoni (Black Cat, ISBN 0-8021-7005-6, 297 pp)

 






Image 9<br />
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Image 9

“Laurence de Boissière was once the tennis champion
of Oxford. Don’t think I’m too highly impressed by that as a tennis title,
but it meant something to Laurence.” Two sentences into Robert Antoni’s new
novel, observant readers who know their 20th-century American literature will
already be exclaiming, “Aha! Hemingway.” Carnival — Antoni’s fourth book
— is part parody of, part homage to The Sun Also Rises, translating that
classic story of the “lost generation” of the 1920s to Trinidad in the close-to-present
day. Hemingway’s characters Jake Barnes, Robert Cohn, and Brett Ashley become
Antoni’s narrator William Fletcher, an aspiring Trinidadian writer living
in New York; his old schoolmate and now celebrated poet Laurence de Boissière;
and William’s cousin Rachel, connected to him by the force of mutual attraction
and the shared memory of a traumatic event years in the past. The three friends
meet by chance in Greenwich Village, and after a night of carousing — as
the outline of a love triangle starts to appear — they agree to assemble
again in Port of Spain a few months hence, for Carnival.


The novel’s second section details the events of that Carnival weekend
— the fetes leading up to the festival, J’Ouvert, Carnival Monday, and the
grand climax of Carnival Tuesday — in an atmosphere of spiralling excitement
and matter-of-fact debauchery that will be familiar to anyone who’s been
through the real thing. For Trinidadian readers, the true bacchanal will
be the stream of references to actual persons and events (and scandals?),
some only thinly disguised. A character called Peter Minshall is a barely
fictionalised version of the celebrated Carnival designer. The “real” identities
of other characters will be obvious to anyone familiar with the milieu around
Minshall’s Callaloo Company. Even an unnamed but clearly recognisable V.S.
Naipaul makes a cameo appearance in an audacious comic interlude.

Antoni runs the risk that his readers will be too busy either counting
Hemingway parallels or sifting for nuggets of real-life gossip (“did so-and-so
really sleep with so-and-so?”) to take in the intricacies of his plot, or
notice that behind the old mas lurk powerful forces of racial resentment
and misunderstood desire. But in the final section, when Carnival is over
and William, Laurence, and Rachel escape to a secluded beach on the north
coast, the novel’s dark themes emerge unmistakably, as Antoni creates a
sense of foreboding that builds to a violent conclusion. The heady hedonism
of Carnival gives way to an assertion of the brutality of history, personal
and social. Taboos have been broken; while the merry monarch reins, it seems
old prejudices no longer matter. “Isn’t it happy to think so?” But a price
must be paid for this “freeness”. And after the music- and rum-fuelled intimacies
of Carnival Tuesday, when barriers between strangers seem to dissolve at
a glance or the flick of a waist, with Ash Wednesday return desolate truths
about human loneliness and the fetters we place on our loves. As Minshall
says in the book’s epigraph, “We are all a lost tribe.”

Nicholas Laughlin

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Remembering Babylon

Book of Memory: A Rastafari Testimony
Composed by Prince Elijah Williams, edited by Michael Kuelker (CaribSound,
ISBN 0-9746021-0-8)





Image 10<br />
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Image 10

“Book of Memory is many things, including an abeng sounding
from the margins of the Two-Thirds World.” So says editor Michael Kuelker
of this fascinating and timely text, which should be required reading for
anyone seeking a peaceful solution for the problems of mankind. The book
ventures several steps further than a standard academic text on Rastafari
by being grounded in the voice of Prince Elijah Williams, the Rasta elder
who has composed it. As Williams recounts a life of hardship, describing
with poetic clarity the beatings, jailings, and harassment meted out to his
community because of their chosen faith, a broader picture emerges of the
poverty, prejudice, and power imbalances that have blighted post-independence
Jamaica. Williams and his fellow Rastas are landless peasants whose existence
is little better than their ancestors’ a century ago. As Williams tells his
story, Jamaica is depicted as bankrupt, rife with guns, its soul sold to
the IMF, foreign businesses, and tourism; Rastafari’s contradictory relationship
to Christianity is also touched on. Thoroughly engaging and eminently thought-provoking,
Book of Memory is a great— but, more importantly, a necessary — read.

David Katz

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Books at the beach

All literary paths lead to Treasure Beach, Jamaica, once again this May,
for the annual Calabash International Literary Festival — a three-day celebration
of the written, spoken, and sung word. Now in its fifth year, Calabash promises
to live up to its pledge of being the festival of choice for both writers
and readers. This year, the grown-up festival will be featured on the cover
of Poets & Writers, one of the most influential publications on the
American literary scene.

Artfully programmed by poet and critic Kwame Dawes, this year’s line-up
promises a diverse range of outstanding artists from the Caribbean and around
the world, including Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua), Russell Banks (USA), Dionne
Brand (Canada), Linton Kwesi Johnson (UK), Andrea Levy (UK), Alwin Bully (Dominica),
Mark Doty (USA), Meena Alexander (India), Amiri Baraka (USA), Roger Bonair-Agard
(Trinidad), Manthia Diawara (Mali),  Li-Young Lee (Indonesia/USA) and
Stacey Ann Chin (Jamaica).





Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler reading at the 2004 Calabash Festival<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler reading at the 2004 Calabash Festival

More than a forum for established writers, Calabash 2005 continues
its dual purpose of introducing a new generation of budding Caribbean writers
and reintroducing Caribbean classics to a new generation of readers. Once
again it opens with a reading by members of its writers’ workshops, which
take place earlier in the year. This year, chapbooks for six of the 
poets in the workshops have been published, and were launched at the official 
festival launch in Kingston on March 11. And as with Roger Mais’s novel
Brother Man in 2004, this year Calabash will issue another 50th-anniversary
edition of a Jamaican classic that had fallen out of print: John Hearne’s
Voices Under the Window. Oliver Clarke, chairman of the Gleaner Company,
and Perry Henzell, writer and director of The Harder They Come, will participate
in a special reading from the book.

Another highlight of this year’s festival will be a literary programme
exploring the lyrics of Jimmy Cliff. (Previous years have featured the lyrics
of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.) The musical theme will continue with the
reintroduction of Calabashment — a Saturday night concert featuring four
hours of live reggae with major artists, including Jamaica’s Lloyd &
We the People Musicians on a separate stage at Jake’s, the resort that serves
as Calabash headquarters. Other musicians scheduled to appear throughout
the festival include jazz greats Ernie Ranglin and Monty Alexander and reggae
superstar Freddie McGregor.

Kellie Magnus

The Calabash International Literary Festival runs from May 27 to 29
at Jake’s, Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, Jamaica. For more information,
visit
www.calabashfestival.org

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music buzz


Caribbean voices

Caribbean Beat talks to music editor Georgia Popplewell — founder
of Caribbean Free Radio — about the Caribbean’s first podcast

Caribbean Beat: The Caribbean’s first what?

Georgia Popplewell:
That’s the question I get most often. The term
was actually coined only in the latter half of 2004, so you shouldn’t agonise
if you’ve never heard it.

CB: Because we think of ourselves as pretty tech savvy —

GP: The easiest way to understand podcasting is to think of podcasts
as personal radio shows. Maybe it might help if I explained how I produce
a show.

CB:
That’s a good idea.

 





Laptop, mike, iPod — ready to go live<br />
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Laptop, mike, iPod — ready to go live
Graeme Ottley/FotoGrae

GP: To date, Caribbean Free Radio has been following
a magazine-type format, with talk segments interspersed with music. I prepare
a rough outline of the show beforehand, decide what music I’m going to play.
Then I record my talk segments. People like Adam Curry, the former MTV veejay-turned-media
entrepreneur who’s credited as one of the originators of podcasting, have
more sophisticated set-ups and do it on the fly, like a true radio show.
But I mix together the talk and the music segments afterwards using a sound
editing software program.

CB:
What recording equipment do you use?


GP: I’m also a video producer, so initially I used a semi-professional
video camera which had inputs for pro microphones — it’s important to have
decent sound quality. But now I do most of my recording on a tiny portable
recorder. Once I’ve put the show together, I encode it as an MP3 file and
upload it to a web server, and put a link to it on the Caribbean Free Radio
website.

CB: How do people know when you’ve put out a new show?

GP: Now that’s the interesting part. I do have a mailing list that
people can sign up for on the website. But the thing that really makes podcasts
podcasts is something called RSS syndication. In addition to uploading and
linking to the file on your website, you also create an RSS feed. People
can then use a bit of software called an RSS aggregator to download the file
automatically to their computers as it arrives, without having to visit the
website or wait for an email from me.

CB: Kind of like TiVo, then.

GP: Exactly. Basically podcasting describes a time-shifted method
of distribution. That’s what makes it different from other forms of online
audio, like streaming audio and online radio, which you have to be online
and in front of the computer to listen to. In the case of a podcast, you
can download it and listen to it whenever you want, and even transfer it
to a portable MP3 player, like an iPod, which is where the name comes from.
It’s a bit of a misnomer, though, because there’s no essential connection
between podcasting and the iPod.

CB: It sounds a bit complicated.






3Canal, stars of Caribbean Free Radio’s first podcast<br />
Click to View Larger Image
3Canal, stars of Caribbean Free Radio’s first podcast
Georgia Popplewell

GP:The syndication part is perhaps still more of
a geek thing, but it isn’t necessary: you can also listen to a podcast by
streaming or downloading the MP3 file directly from the website. In fact,
I suspect that’s the way most of my listeners do it.

CB: Tell us about your first podcast.

GP: My first podcast was an interview show with the music group 3Canal,
which I recorded at their office during the chaos of Carnival Friday. I went
this route for a few reasons. One: I wasn’t sure I could carry an entire show
myself. Two: I thought 3Canal was the kind of group that would play well
on a podcast — they’re progressive, they’re forward-thinking, and they were
very open to the idea. In fact, they’ve been as much beneficiaries of the
success of CFR — such as it may be — as I have. What happened is that one
very popular podcaster, Dave Slusher [of the Evil Genius Chronicles], ran
a clip from the interview on his show, and that got 3Canal a fair amount
of attention. They’re practically the CFR house band now.


CB: How do you decide what to talk about?

GP: I talk about whatever I feel like, really, bearing in mind that
my audience is global, not simply regional.

CB: How do you decide what music to play?

GP: I have three criteria: I play Caribbean music; I play music
that tends to be underexposed — and I know this means all Caribbean music,
with the possible exception of reggae. And, last but not least, I play music
I like.

CB: Aren’t there copyright issues with music?

GP: That’s being sorted out. Right now I’m playing mainly stuff
I ask direct permission from the artists to play. I hope to be able to choose
from a wider playlist very soon. That said, I also think podcasts are a
great way for artists — especially independent artists — to expose their
music.

CB:
Apart from the fun you obviously seem to be having, why are you
doing this?

GP: The main reason I started CFR is that podcasting seemed to represent
a point of convergence for so many of my interests: computers, gadgets,
audio, new media, music, literature, writing. I’d been reading about podcasting
since the phenomenon started being talked about, but really only began listening
to podcasts in earnest in December 2004. I’m a great believer in spoken-word
audio as entertainment and as a method of disseminating information, and
I also lament the Caribbean’s limited presence on the web. So making sure
the Caribbean had a voice in the podcasting community, however small and
however idiosyncratic, was also one of the reasons I started the show.

CB: Where do you see CFR going?

GP: I actually see CFR partly as an incubator for ideas I may have
that could be started in audio form and perhaps be ported over to other
media, like video and text. But I do want to develop the show more, add
some spoken word dramatisation-type segments, maybe a radio serial, that
type of thing. I also did my first “soundseeing tour” this weekend. And
I could also create separate feeds for different types of shows.

CB: Are you surprised at the success of CFR?

GP: I’m astounded. What happened is that some very key people discovered
CFR quite by accident, and talked about the show on their own podcasts.
I’m really grateful to them. I’ve already mentioned Dave Slusher, and it
was thanks to him that The Dawn and Drew Show, which has been the number
one podcast for weeks now, heard about it and plugged it on their show. A
podcast called The Fake Science Lab Report also mentioned us and even requested
an audio promo, which Adam Curry got hold of and played on his show. I guess
that’s why they call it the World Wide Web. I have to say I’m enjoying being
part of the podcasting community.

CB: You’re still the Caribbean’s only podcaster [at the time of
writing]: do you feel an awesome sense of responsibility?

GP: Yes, I do feel a certain amount of pressure at being perceived
as representing the entire Caribbean. I was shocked to see CFR described
on one website as something like “the global voice of the Caribbean”. That’s
pretty scary. US podcasters, for instance, have the freedom to do all sorts
of crazy stunts, because they’re so many of them — people are podcasting
from their kitchens while they make dinner, all sorts of things. I hope that’s
going to change soon. Caribbean podcasters, bring it on!

Tune in to Caribbean Free Radio at www.caribbeanfreeradio.com

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The soul of Curaçao

As if testing the faith of those in attendance, Mother Nature did her best
to wash away the 17th annual Curaçao Jazz Festival in 2004. Uncharacteristic
May rains swept across the grounds of historic Landhuis Mei Mei, but nothing
could dampen the spirits of the assembled jazz fans.

“This festival has a warm, personal feel to it — it’s very organic,” says
Monty Alexander, a three-time performer at the festival. “Once you’ve played
here, you really feel like you know the people.”

In a career spanning four decades, Jamaica-born Alexander has played piano
for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins,
Quincy Jones, and Sly and Robbie. He tours the world, performing at renowned
festivals such as Montreux, North Sea, and Monterey, yet he always has time
for the intimacy of Curaçao. “I’m the kind of musician who likes
crowds of all sizes,” says Alexander. “But this place captures the soul
of the island, and that’s what makes it so special.”





Monty Alexander with Curaçao Jazz Foundation president Jamila Romero<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Monty Alexander with Curaçao Jazz Foundation president Jamila Romero
David Pye

What also makes it special is the core of local supporters
and volunteers who have helped keep the Curaçao Jazz Festival up and
running for the past 17 years. After roaming the island in search of a home,
experimenting with venues such as the World Trade Centre, the National Theatre,
and the Curaçao Festival Centre, the event found a permanent home six
years ago at Landhuis Brakkeput Mei Mei, an 18th-century Dutch plantation
house and national landmark. The event has since taken on greater significance,
attracting big names like Al Jarreau and George Benson.

“People are becoming acquainted with the surroundings here, and that can
only help the festival to grow,” says Percy Pinedo, host of a weekly jazz
program on Willemstad’s Radio Z86. “Attendance has traditionally come from
the local market, but we hope our reputation will grow.”

The 2004 edition did its part to bolster that reputation, as rain-soaked
fans stood on their feet to listen to Monty Alexander’s unforgettable set.
The following night, Grammy award winner Michel Camilo picked up the baton
along with bass player Charles Flores and drummer Cliff Almond to ignite
the jazz-savvy crowd. “It’s really incredible to see what’s going on with
Caribbean jazz, and each little island’s festival is significant,” explains
Camilo. “It’s like a big tree with branches that represent everything from
New Orleans jazz and West Coast jazz to the Afro-Cuban rhythms of the 1940s
and 60s.”

“A lot of the musicians who played with Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson
had West Indian backgrounds,” adds Alexander. “Now there’s a whole new crop
on the way, and it can only get better.”

Like Alexander, Camilo feels at home in front of the intimate gathering
at Brakkeput Mei Mei, cherishing the obvious connection with the audience.
They feed on the energy he generates, and they send it right back to the stage.
“By definition, a festival should be a party, and not a serious concert hall
event,” he says. “It should be a celebration of the music, and of the energy
that the audience shares with the artist.” And the Curaçao Jazz Festival
is a party — for both the audience and the musicians who love to perform
there.

“It’s a wonderful festival, and I hope they’ll keep inviting me,” says
Alexander. “If they do, I assure you I’ll keep coming back.”

David Pye

The 2005 Curaçao Jazz Festival takes place from May 28 to 30
at Landhuis Brakkeput Mei Mei. This year’s event will showcase Afro-Caribbean
heritage. For more information, visit
www.curacaojazzfest.com

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Rhythm roundup





Image 15<br />
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Image 15

New York-based, Haiti-born saxophonist Alix “Buyu” Ambroise’s
impressive debut release Blues in Red (Justin Time JTR-8506-2)
recasts traditional Haitian rhythms within a jazz framework, and the bond
between the two is solid (they’re cousins, after all). Haitian drums and
chants entwine with organic jazz riffs on the CD’s ten tracks, which range
in style from post-bop to ballad to Antillean jazz. Blues in Red comprises
five dazzling pieces based on Haitian traditionals and four numbers by Haitian
composers such as Manno Charlemagne, plus a nod to the pantheon in the form
of a driving rendition of Ellington’s Caravan. Also adding Haitian
touches to an American form is Wyclef Jean, who approaches his continuing
exploration of his roots in a more full-blown fashion on Welcome to
Haiti: Creole 101
(Koch Records, B0002WZTB6). The results are mixed,
but compelling all the same.





Image 16<br />
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Image 16

• Putumayo’s Afro Latin Party (Putumayo, P235-A)
celebrates the infectiousness of Latin rhythms on a compilation which includes
Croatian salsa, Cuban ska, and Oregonian mambo.





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Image 17

• In soca, Shurwayne Winchester’s carefully crafted Give
Thanks
(JW Productions, JWCL 284) has “international record deal,
anyone?” written all over it. The two-time Trinidad and Tobago Road March
King showcases his versatility with a pleasing selection of soca numbers,
including the ultra-catchy 2005 hit Dead or Alive, ragga tracks both conscious
(Don’t Waste the Water) and vaguely slack (Roll that Bumper, Bouncing
Around
), plus a heavy dose of croonerly “popso” — to use the term coined
by VP records — tracks like Wine on Me, Time with You, and
Friend to Wife.





Image 18<br />
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Image 18

• Winchester’s labelmate Destra’s 2005 release is an ambitious
concept album inspired by — and named for — Laventille, the iconic east
Port of Spain district where she grew up and still lives today. Laventille’s
emotional centre is the title track, a reworking of David Rudder’s 1986
classic The Hammer, recast as a community-building song lamenting urban
blight, with Rudder as singing partner. But overall the album lacks the
tight, neat production of Destra’s work of the past couple of seasons. The
pop/soca (and note I don’t call it “popso” — I think it’s something different)
formula Destra has been developing over the past few seasons is eminently
workable, and in a solo career that’s barely begun she already has three
party classics to her name (Is Carnival, Bonnie and Clyde and
Up In The Air — all featured on a track called The Pre-Release Medley).
But not a track on Laventille can hold a candle to any of its predecessors.
The CD also features spoken-word interludes (full disclosure: this reviewer
had some input), in which Destra muses on life in the ’hood.


• 96.1 WEFM’s compilation The Soca Switch has had its good
years and bad years: this, number 11 in the series, is one of the good.
Carnival compilations depend on the compiler’s ability to predict the season’s
hits, and this year they’ve hit the jackpot with some of the season’s biggest
names and songs. Among the picks are the 2005 Road March, Shurwayne Winchester’s
Dead or Alive, Machel Montano’s You, KMC’s First Experience,
Maximus Dan’s Royal, Body Water by Mini Priest (who should
win a prize for cutest sobriquet), Scrunter’s Trombone, the late Onika
Bostic’s All Is Yours, Bunji Garlin and Patrice Roberts’s The
Island
, ZAN’s Watching Woman, and Beenie Man’s Cyar Take Yuh
Man
— that, in fact, is the entire track listing. No compilation covers
all the bases, but you could probably re-create a pretty decent 2005
Carnival fete in your living room simply by looping this CD and getting down.





Image 19<br />
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Image 19

• VP Records’ compilation D Soca Zone: 5th Spin
looks a little more viable now that Vincentian Jamesy P looks set to join
his countryman Kevin Lyttle in international recording-contract country.
But Jamesy P’s Nookie Tonight was already one of the album’s standouts,
on the basis of its popularity if nothing else. Otherwise, D Soca Zone
is a mixed bag, comprising what sound like second-tier tracks by a series
of artists, several of whom have had their moments on the front lines of
the Caribbean soca scene.


• Bearing the clever subtitle “the soundtrack album from the 3Canal Show
2005”, 3Canal’s 2005 CD Jab Jab Say is one element in the
group’s holistic, digital-age approach to music production and marketing.
The Show, now in its second year, and already one of the Carnival season’s
essential events, has become the cornerstone of a machine which also includes
a J’Ouvert band and a clothing collection, and this year’s “soundtrack”
features the usual conscious messages and raucous fun we’ve come to expect
from rapso’s crown princes.

Georgia Popplewell

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Soca breakthrough?





Kevin Lyttle<br />
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Kevin Lyttle
Courtesy Atlantic Records

The music industry depends on being able to anticipate the
next big thing. But music piracy and declining sales have forced even the
most established record labels to hold off on taking risks, to continually
seek out new ways to out-manoeuvre bootleggers. Artists need to be capable
of commanding and keeping media attention — it’s not just about the sound
or the lyrics, it’s about looks and skills on the dance-floor, it’s about
marketing power.

Boosted by major-label budgets and marketing spin, soca has finally made
its way to the Billboard music charts, with St Vincent’s Kevin Lyttle
and Barbados’s Rupee as its poster boys. Soca music originated as a fusion
of calypso with Indian rhythms, a combination of the musical traditions
of the two major ethnic groups of Trinidad and Tobago. It has since grown
past the geography of the islands and boundaries of that definition.


Lyttle signed a worldwide multi-album deal with Atlantic Records late in
2003. Once inside the giant marketing machine, Lyttle and his hit Turn
Me On
(which had been released in the Caribbean in 2001) seemed to grow
wings. In 2004, it peaked at number four on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart,
and hit number two in the UK.

Lyttle turned the whole of Europe on with the song, registering top-ten
placings on charts in several countries. The single was certified gold in
Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. But Last Drop,
the second single from the Turn Me On album, did not trouble chart
statisticians, and Lyttle is currently doing gigs for Walt Disney World in
Orlando, Florida.

There has been no word from Atlantic about a follow-up record yet, but
that did not stop the label from signing Rupee (Rupert Clarke), a vocalist
who serves up a style similar to Lyttle’s, a mixture of soca and R&B
that’s been labelled “soca lite”. His 1 to 1 album has been certified gold
in Japan.





Rupee<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Rupee
Courtesy Atlantic Records

This move to tinker with and add to the original elements
of soca to make it more marketable has worked before, and has worked with
other forms of Caribbean music. Antigua’s Arrow released the driving party
anthem Hot, Hot, Hot in 1983, and a subsequent version by American
Buster Poindexter made the song a hit in the US. Twenty-two versions of
the song went on to be recorded — in 12 languages — and more than four million
copies sold. Then the Baha Men of the Bahamas released the Anslem Douglas–penned
Who Let The Dogs Out? in July 2000, and the song went on to win a Grammy
Award for best dance recording of that year. This slowed-down version of
the Trinidadian’s Carnival hit top ten in 12 countries. The song was even
named the number-one sports anthem of all time by MTV. The group released
four albums in the wake of Who Let The Dogs Out? but none contained
a comparable hit.


So are we on the cusp of a “soca breakthrough?”

There’s much to be learned from the “calypso craze” of the 1940s and 50s.
The Andrews Sisters’ 1944 recording of Lord Invader’s Rum and Coca Cola
is still remembered as one of the top songs of the time. As the Second World
War wound to an end, who could think about bombs and death, with a chirpy
ditty about island life on the radio? The US record labels went to work
packaging a “more intelligible and appealing” calypso sound. By the time
Harry Belafonte’s Calypso album was released (it was the first single-artist
album to sell over one million copies in entertainment history), several
artists with little or no experience in the calypso tents of Trinidad were
making money from it. Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Maya Angelou all
had calypso records.

By 1957, calypso accounted for one quarter of the popular record sales
in the US. In London, Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner were the toast of
the town. Hollywood released three “song and dance” calypso-themed features
Calypso Joe (starring Angie Dickinson), Calypso Heatwave
(starring Maya Angelou), and Bop Girl Goes Calypso. Dorothy Dandridge
and Harry Belafonte shared screen time on the movie Island in the Sun.
But by the early 60s, the labels had moved on to the next best thing. Will
today’s soca trend follow a similar pattern, or will it prove to have the
staying power of reggae, a major international musical force since the early
1970s?

Tracy Assing

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Loud enough?





Kees and Hans Diefenthaller of Kes<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Kees and Hans Diefenthaller of Kes
Courtesy QME

For four years now the Decibel Film and Music Festival has
been a place where the Trinidadian entertainment business can get itself heard
by international investors and producers, and where young people interested
in an entertainment career get a close-up look at the ways things really
work. Organised by Question Mark Entertainment, the two-day event — part
conference, part music showcase — attracts entertainment executives from
the United States and Europe. The participants this year include Mark Burg
(executive producer of movies such as John Q, Love Don’t Cost a Thing, and
Saw), Wayne Jobson (producer of No Doubt’s Rock Steady album), Arthur Gorson
(president, The Mine Productions), the multi-platinum rock band Sugar Ray,
and CSI actor Gary Dourdan.


In his welcome address at last year’s Decibel, Question Mark CEO Simon
Baptiste said: “This project has been a labour of love for all involved,
and the goal has always been to present participants with a clear understanding
of how the entertainment business operates, to provide students in attendance
with the necessary guidance for choosing careers within the fields of music
or film, and to offer new and upcoming acts the opportunity to showcase
their talent to their fans and powerful executives who can make a difference
in their future careers.”

Several hundred students from schools around the country attend the conference
every year, and Baptiste says the numbers keep growing. “Students and teachers
come up to me afterwards to let me know that they appreciate it, and how
much fun they had,” he reports, adding that it’s that kind of feedback that’s
kept the festival alive.

“It has never been about financial reward,” he adds. “We’d just like to
think we are making a difference. I remember when I was growing up how much
I liked going on field trips where I could talk to people about different
careers, and I felt we have lots of people talking about becoming a doctor
or a teacher or a lawyer, but we don’t have a lot of people talking about
careers in entertainment.”

Baptiste runs Question Mark Entertainment with the assistance of Carolyn
Pasea, and the outfit also handles artist management and event co-ordination.
He says they were recently contacted by Bunim/Murray productions (creators
of MTV’s Real World series) about the possibility of helping to co-ordinate
the filming of an installment of the MTV Real World/Road Rules Challenge
in the Caribbean. Things are still very much in the discussion stage, but
Baptiste is excited at the prospect.

In previous years, the Decibel music showcase has hosted performances by
Trinidadian bands and performers like Pras, SugarCult, Lit, Willa Ford,
the Orange Sky, Incert Coin, Maximus Dan, Abdel Wright, and Imij and Co.
This year, the buzz is all about the band Kes, which will make its debut
at the festival.

Kees, Jon, and Hans Dieffenthaller and Riad Boochoon make up the versatile
band. The quartet has been performing together in different bands for a
number of years, but only came together in this new configuration after
Carnival 2005.

Kees Diefenthaller, who has performed with both rock and soca bands in
his home island of Trinidad, leads the outfit. Although he’s spent the last
three years performing with soca band Imij and Co, Kees has thrown himself
into cultivating a new sound with Kes. Their music sounds like a blend of
all the things he’s learned throughout his career, a unique Caribbean rock
blend, incorporating soca and dancehall influences.

Kes has produced a six-song EP in time for the festival, and are hoping
to shop their new sound with the industry heavyweights expected to attend.
This year the music showcase takes place at Trinidad’s newest nightspot, the
Zen nightclub.

Tracy Assing

The 5th annual Decibel Film and Music Festival takes place in Port of
Spain, Trinidad, from May 5 to 7

“I want our music to go somewhere”

Kees Dieffenthaller left Presentation College in San Fernando with dreams
of becoming a veterinarian. Instead, after years performing with alternative
rock and cover bands like Gregory’s Dream, and a stint with the soca band
Imij and Co, he’s become one of Trinidad’s most popular young performers.

Twenty-three-year-old Kees is always polite, smiles easily, and has a great
sense of humour. “You have to stay grounded, or you lose everything. I’m
humble because I know I don’t know everything,” he says. “There is pressure
on you to be creative all the time. But I stay focused because I want our
music to go somewhere.”

He has served up several Carnival hits over the course of his career. Tracks
like Push
, One Day, and Hypnotise have an R&B flavour,
but still manage to move people at the parties. And Kees has been working
on his writing skills. “I’m concentrating on the structure of songs,” he
explains.

“I’m listening to a lot of jazz, checking different musical arrangements,
a lot of Dave Matthews. You don’t ever stop learning.” In fact, the new
band Kes just may tackle a version of Crash Into Me, a chart-topper
for the Dave Matthews Band in 1996. The band has been working on the track
in the studio, and manager Simon Baptiste is very excited about the sound.

“I just think they have something,” says Baptiste, “I expect great things
from them.”


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sports buzz


Anchors aweigh

When Tobago locals recount stories of Angostura Sail Week, they tell of
intense rivalries, close finishes, fantastic crystal waters, and near-perfect
winds around the coast from the main sailing base at Crown Point. With over
a hundred vessels participating, each with its complement of screaming skippers,
slippery decks, and men or women overboard, the event requires excellent organisation
by the Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association and the main sponsor, Angostura.

 






High seas action at the 2004 Angostura Sail Week<br />
Click to View Larger Image
High seas action at the 2004 Angostura Sail Week
Tim Wright

But there are also stories that have little to do with serious
sailing and an awful lot to do with the famous “lay-day” activities and
celebrations. Wednesday is the traditional rest day at Tobago Sail Week,
and from midday onwards crews compete against each other in three-legged
races, a tug-of-war, the galley chefs’ cook-off, and the highlight of the
day’s competitive events: goat racing. “Lay-day” is a chance for the many
crews, as well as hundreds of spectators, to enjoy some light-hearted fun
— the true spirit of the regatta — while working off any hangovers from
the “Express Yourself” party the previous evening.

Now in its 23rd year, “the friendliest regatta in the Caribbean” has outgrown
what was once a purely local event to become the premier event on the southern
Caribbean sailing calendar, attracting serious racers and fun-seeking sailors
from all over the world, across five classes: racing, cruising, cruiser-racing,
and charter- and comfort-cruising. Things begin with the skippers’ briefing
and an opening ceremony on Sunday evening, with the serious racing taking
place on Monday and continuing on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

On deck, there is little time for relaxed sunbathing, as constant 15- to
22-knot trade winds mean the awe-inspiring action of the races comes thick
and fast. Manning foredecks, cranking winches, and weighing down on windward
rails may look almost sedate from the seashore, but on the ocean the battle
for first place is an exhilarating combination of skill and nerve.

Crown Point Hotel is home to the regatta village, housing the regatta office
as well as the Angostura bar, stalls selling boat parts and beach accessories,
live music, DJs, and, on Friday, the lively prizegiving ceremony (more a
raucous good time than anything too ceremonial). Expect much camaraderie
and one last fete before the sun sets for another year.

Dylan Kerrigan

Angostura Sail Week takes place in Tobago from May 8 to 13. For more
information on accommodation, crew sign-up, and the schedule of events, visit

www.sailweek.com or
email
regattapromotersltd@tstt.net.tt

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theatre buzz


Dragged on stage

Six drag queens are cavorting on the stage of London’s Theatre Royal, manipulating
the macho boasts of calypso lyrics to better suit their own points of reference.
Or, to be more accurate, five and a half drag queens are cavorting, as one
“semi-retired” reveller is dressed in a business suit, but wearing lipstick.
The setting is an underground Trinidad nightclub during Carnival, where
the nearby presence of hostile police threatens serious disruption, should
the club be discovered by the outside world. As the dramatic tension builds,
laughter dwindles once the audience registers the very real plight of the
protagonists.

Hailed by the British press as “Trinidad’s most promising playwright”,
Christopher Rodriguez is known for complex, provocative theatre pieces and
his fondness for mixing the intellectual and symbolic with the emotional.
His latest play, High Heel Parrotfish, may be his most controversial
yet. “Even though it’s a fun play and a laugh a minute, putting black drag
queens on stage in the Caribbean will say a lot about black homophobia and
what we need to do about it as a people,” Rodriguez told me shortly before
the play’s opening. “I think we’re now dealing with the issue of looking
at how discriminatory we can be — that black people can be fairly discriminatory
and really get off the hook, because we’re the first to point fingers at
anybody who will attempt to discriminate against us . . . I’m sure some
people might come out of curiosity, but others probably will just avoid it
altogether.”

Raised in a privileged suburb in Santa Cruz, north-east of Port of Spain
— “a little enclave cut into the foothills of the Northern Range” — Rodriguez
attended St Mary’s College, where he was first introduced to the dramatic
arts. In the late 1980s, he spent five years in London pursuing a course
in accounting, an experience he describes as “culturally a real eye-opener,
just to get along”, but as friends from St Mary’s were also in London, studying
at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Rodriguez gradually
became involved in theatre. At the offices of Talawa, the leading black
theatre company in Britain, the affable writer traces the events that led
him to become a playwright.

“I was waiting for exam results in London, and a friend of mine, Helmer
Hilwig, started working on doing The Sound of Music in Trinidad; then
I qualified, went home, started working at Price Waterhouse, and got involved
in the show. The stage script didn’t seem like it was adapted that well, so
I started on it, just jumping in and saying, ‘Let me see if I can try to
make these scenes fit for the Queen’s Hall stage,’ and somehow it worked.
Then we did Miracle at Stollmeyer’s Castle with Brian McFadden, where
they wanted us to put these Mozart songs together, taking traditional songs
and turning them into a complete story. But at this point I was a functioning
accountant, and that was really my big interest.”

 





Christopher Rodriguez<br />
Click to View Larger Image
Christopher Rodriguez
Courtesy Talawa/Photo by Richard H. Smith

International recognition came once Rodriguez began writing
plays of his own, signalling an end to his accountancy career. “I decided
I would like to write a play, a full dramatic piece, and I took the bold
step of calling UK theatres and saying, ‘This is Christopher Rodriguez, I’m
sure you know my stuff, I’m sending something in, can you read it,’ sounding
official and important, and I think because I was so bold, a lot of people
bought into it. The play Clear Water got shortlisted for an international
playwriting festival, judged by the Royal Court and the British Council,
so in 1997 the Royal Court invited me to spend four weeks on a writer’s residency,
and that was really a step into the theatre world here. The Oval House theatre
in south London had a copy of the script of Clear Water, and when
I staged it in Trinidad in 1998, they came and made an offer for me to be
writer-in-residence, and I thought, this is a good time to leave accounting.”

Clear Water attempted to highlight the overriding negative valuation
attached to African cultural practices in Trinidad, exploring the fractured
nature of a Caribbean psyche that has emerged in the post-colonial era.
Similarly, his award-winning BBC radio play, A Parandero Is Missing,
has a specifically Trinidadian setting, as the protagonists are a group
of “cocoa panyols”, who, like Rodriguez himself, are Trinidadians of Venezuelan
origin. But other plays, though set in Trinidad, have explored more universal
themes; Independence Day is centered on the social taboo facing a
married couple in which the woman is twenty years older than the man.

Rodriguez is keen to emphasise that, although High Heel Parrotfish
is set in Trinidad, the play is actually about attitudes towards homosexuality
in the Caribbean as a whole; he also notes it was originally staged in Trinidad
in 1996 in a more light-hearted form, as Life Is a Drag.  “The
play is meant to reflect much more on the Caribbean than it does on Trinidad
specifically,” he explains. “Trinidad is a little more tolerant in comparison
to the other Caribbean islands, and perhaps the Carnival aspect helps, because
it really is ‘anything goes’ at Carnival time; all the taboos fall, and
it’s understood on the two days of Carnival that anybody can do what they
want, and come Ash Wednesday, we all collectively forget anything we saw
those two days. So it allows a little more scope and a little more tolerance,
and Trinidad is increasingly tolerant.

“The first time we staged it, it was really for fun, and it was a very
mixed audience that attended; people from all walks came, including a vanload
of pensioners, and the response was amazing. The reason I thought it was
timely to stage now was because it’s coming against this doctrine of Jamaican
homophobia that was sanctioned by the entire Caribbean in a way, and this
is really unacceptable. So this time, I thought I would really push the comedy
and develop it into a full comic story, but in the meantime, also have the
idea that comedy just runs that line of tragedy all the time. So the more
I take the comedy up is the more I emphasise how dangerous it is, that if
people find out what is happening, there is going to be a disaster that the
country somehow sanctions. And at the same time, it’s a celebration that
people still have the courage to go out and attempt shows like that, and
then it becomes a much more political animal than it was before. But I don’t
believe in doing politics in a lecture phrase, so it remains very entertaining.”

Ever busy, Rodriguez already has a couple of other plays in the offing,
each bearing his particularly hard-hitting hallmarks: The Making of St
Johnny
, which explores the potentially deadly politics of insular, small-town
Britain, will open soon at the Lichfield Garrick, while Losing the Race,
which examines issues of migration, colour, and loss, is currently being considered
by the National.

David Katz

High Heel Parrotfish runs at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East,
until May 7

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What the Caribbean is talking about this month

Follow their footprints: T.O.K.’s album Unknown Language finds a new way to talk about contemporary Jamaica and more

Follow their footprints

They were hailed by the New York Times as “the world’s greatest dancehall-reggae boy band,” but T.O.K. — stands for Touch of Klass — are much more than that. Yes, they’re famous for the dancehall smashes on their 2001 debut album My Crew, My Dawgs, but unlike most boy bands this quartet — Xavier “Flexx” Davidson, Craig “Craigy T” Thompson, Alistaire “Alex” McCalla, and Roshaun “Bay-C” Clarke — also demonstrate a social conscience.

2005 may be the year they go mainstream. From Kingston to Brixton, Footprints, their tribute single to victims of violence, has spread across the globe faster than any other Jamaican song this year. Crafted masterfully on Donovan “Don Corleone” Bennett’s “drop leaf” riddim, Footprints began as a tribute to Alex’s own brother, who was killed by a stray bullet. “We feel a duty to be positive role models,” T.O.K. said at the time.


Their storytelling approach and heartwrenching authenticity place listeners bang in the middle of an urban world where violence has become commonplace. This isn’t the sugar-coated unreality of MTV “bling” videos — this is the real deal, and Footprints’ urban poetics relate to listeners the world over.

In June they dropped their sophomore album Unknown Language to much hype. Named for the language barrier imposed by their native Jamaican patois, the album combines sweet melodic crooning and R&B harmonies with dancehall gruffness and pop hooks. The track Fire Fire even works in a sample from Tobagonian Calypso Rose’s classic Fire in You Wire. “The inspiration for the new album title comes from just wanting to take the group and dancehall music to another level,” they say.

“We’re making music that cannot be put in one particular genre. It’s not dancehall straight. It’s not pop straight. It’s not R&B straight. That’s what makes us very different . . . this is just the beginning. We want to capture the whole world with our music,” explains Bay-C.

With their refreshing style of urban truth and a far less glitzy production than most mass appeal bands, T.O.K. may just have found the right formula to follow.

Dylan Kerrigan

 

Bookshelf

 

The power of ten

The Ten Incarnations of Adam Avatar  Kevin Baldeosingh
(Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 1-84523-000-0, 454 pp)

This big and ambitious novel uses the idea of reincarnation to travel through more than five hundred years of Caribbean history. It begins with the first Amerindian settlers in what is now Haiti; then it explores the worlds of a 16th-century Spanish conquistador, a Portuguese slave trader, and 17th-century colonial Barbados. We meet women who become pirates and stickfighters and crusaders against slavery. A black estate owner in 19th-century Trinidad struggles to subjugate an almost-white servant he has bought at auction, a young Indo-Trinidadian fights in World War II, and a contemporary university lecturer teaches students how to think.

All these people are the same person, an avatar (a divine or spiritual being in human form) reborn into a series of different lives. “He” is sometimes man, sometimes woman; sometimes a wielder of power and sometimes the victim of it; sometimes noble and sometimes wicked. And in each incarnation, he is haunted by a mysterious “Shadowman” who does not change across the centuries, and who cuts short each life after exactly 50 years.

These tales of the Caribbean past ask far-reaching questions. How has human life really changed over five hundred years? Is human life becoming less “wretched”? Are humans using their brains to improve their lives? What dark cosmic forces might we be up against? Does life’s meaning and purpose derive from the epic or the ordinary? Are some people really reborn into new lives? What would the purpose of that be? And, not least, as “Adam Avatar” slowly reveals his life stories, how can his audience be sure that these are real memories and experiences, not schizophrenic delusions? Is the “avatar” a true immortal, or a human fraud?

Kevin Baldeosingh is a newspaper columnist in Trinidad, and has already published two satirical novels (The Autobiography of Paras P and The Virgin’s Triangle). Adam Avatar is longer than the two earlier novels put together: it is a radical change of direction, a hugely ambitious and complex novel, and an impressive imaginative feat. There are more questions in it than answers, and the jostling ideas don’t always sit comfortably together; on the whole, the storytelling works better than the philosophising. But it’s a book bristling with ideas, its human voices are convincing, and it deserves to be read.

Jeremy Taylor

Poets’ half-dozen

Calabash Chapbook Series:
Gateman  Blakka Ellis (33 pp)
Bryan’s Bay  Ishion Hutchinson (25 pp)
Weights and Measures  Niki Johnson (25 pp)
Light in a Book of Stone  Mbala (23 pp)
Soft Flesh  Saffron (27 pp)
In Disguise  Andrew Stone (29 pp)

Since 2001, the Calabash International Literary Festival has annually brought hundreds of lit fans to idyllic and isolated Treasure Beach on the south-western coast of Jamaica, for a long weekend of book readings, music, Red Stripe, and general merriment. In 2004 Calabash expanded into the realm of publishing, with a 50th-anniversary edition of Roger Mais’s Brother Man. This year, apart from another anniversary volume, this time of John Hearne’s novel Voices under the Window, Calabash launched a series of six poetry chapbooks, all by members of the Calabash Writers’ Workshop (another branch of the ever-growing Calabash enterprise). Each chapbook contains about a dozen and a half poems. There is no Calabash school of writing — each poet has his or her individual style; what they share is an admirable frankness about Jamaican life.


Half the poems in Niki Johnson’s Weights and Measures are addressed to the elusive “Anthony” familiar to readers who know Johnson’s work; these are lyrics of memory and desire, one moment almost embarrassing plainspoken (“Anthony, / do you remember the park?”), the next tangled in puzzling obsessions (“rain is not a tiger / rain is not / a tiger”), just like any real-life adult affair. And the title poem, about two women in a kitchen, finds in this ordinary domestic scenario a gentle metaphor for love, the passing of time, the lessons of age.

Mbala is clearly an experienced poet-performer; but even plucked from the spotlit microphone and pressed in the pages of Light in a Book of Stone, his dub poems vibrate with energy and attitude. They’re also refreshingly unpretentious. In “pests”, Mbala describes “a cloud of / mosquito words” that fly up his nose; “i have no / choice / but to blow them / on paper / here / have a poem”. A dab more of that kind of humour might have helped Blakka Ellis’s Gateman, which tends to the earnest; but in “Foot Bawl” and the title poem, about a headstrong security guard, Ellis shows how sharp his lyrics can get when he lightens his touch.

With a title like Soft Flesh and a pen-name like Saffron, it’s no surprise that Phillippa Sauterel’s poems have intimate matters in mind; there’s no shortage here of damp sheets and sultry odours. Like its title poem, Soft Flesh tries to ask some hard questions, but too many of these lyrics end “wilting back to flaccid”. Still, when her puns are most pointed and her poems earn their ironies — with verbal rigour, as poems must earn everything — Saffron can achieve an urgent wit.

Most of Andrew Stone’s poems start with patient observation — of people, animals, situations — trying to make from the fragments of what can be seen whole metaphors, and from metaphors illuminations about the true nature of things. If everything is In Disguise, he wants to apprehend what lies behind the veils, but his craft is still catching up with his ambition. Ishion Hutchinson, the youngest of these Calabash poets, shows real assurance in Bryan’s Bay, and signs of a definite lyrical gift. He knows what a poem is supposed to sound like, but many of his notes are off-key. There’s a danger in publishing too early, and Bryan’s Bay sadly falls prey. (The series editor, Kwame Dawes, should have known better.) But there’s enough promise here to leave me eager to see the kind of poet Hutchinson will become; as eager as I am to see what Calabash will come up with next year.

Philip Sander

Arts and soul

The Arts Journal (Guyana), vol. 1, nos. 1 and 2, ed. Ameena Gafoor

Starting a magazine is a brave venture. Starting an intellectual magazine is so brave a venture as to verge on the insane. And starting an intellectual magazine in the Caribbean — where audiences are small and fragmented, and sources of funding close to non-existent — well, perhaps some forms of extreme madness are close to saintliness. Blessings, then, on Ameena Gafoor of Guyana’s Arts Forum, who in early 2004 launched The Arts Journal (subtitled “Critical Perspectives on the Contemporary Literatures, History, Art, and Culture of Guyana and the Caribbean”), a substantial publication with the ambition to stimulate the growth of a critical tradition in Guyana. That first issue focused on the Indian Caribbean experience, with articles by, among others, Kenneth Ramchand, Clem Seecharan, Verene Shepherd, and Gafoor herself, plus a section of plates reproducing works from a 2002 exhibition called Under the Seventh Sun, curated by Bernadette Persaud.

The Arts Journal’s second issue was understandably delayed by the catastrophic flooding in Guyana last January and February; it finally appeared in March. It ranges even wider than its predecessor: here are Victor Ramraj on David Dabydeen, Raymond Ramcharitar on Ken Ramchand, M.N. Menezes on Amerindian music, an interview with writer Peter Kempadoo, and photographs by Robert Fernandes.

You might say The Arts Journal’s mix of formal academic papers and essays aimed at a wider audience is uneven; you might say it just means something for everybody. Either way, it’s an important achievement not just for Guyana but for the Caribbean. We need more serious periodicals, and more people like Gafoor, willing and able to do the hard work of publishing them.

PS

Man in the middle

Remembering the Sea: An Introduction to Frank A. Collymore,
ed. Philip Nanton (Central Bank of Barbados, ISBN 976-8081-37-6, 160 pp)

In 1973, when the magazine Savacou published a special issue dedicated to Frank Collymore, the fifty writers on the contents page were a who’s who of West Indian literature. As editor of Bim, the first of the three magazines in the advance guard of the West Indian literary invasion of the 1950s — the other two were Focus, in Jamaica, and Kyk-Over-Al, in Guyana — Collymore played a major role in the careers of dozens of writers, including Derek Walcott, George Lamming, Kamau Brathwaite, and Edgar Mittelholzer. He encouraged them, corresponded with them, and most importantly published their early work; then he got his friend Henry Swanzy, the producer of the BBC’s Caribbean Voices programme, to broadcast their stories and poems across the region. Collymore, who died in 1980, is remembered fondly by many older West Indian writers, but to younger generations, even in Barbados, he’s merely a name from the past.

Remembering the Sea, published by the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment, with support from the Barbados Central Bank, is a very welcome attempt not just to revive interest in Collymore, but to start real debate. This is no hagiography; it reprints an admiring essay by Collymore’s friend A.J. Seymour, but also includes new essays by Stewart Brown, Marcia Burrowes, Sonji Phillips, and editor Philip Nanton which take a clear-eyed look at Collymore’s work as editor, poet, actor, and artist, enquiring into both his real successes and his real flaws.

The key to understanding Collymore, Nanton suggests, is recognising his liminality — academic-speak for “in-betweenness”. He stood at a threshold between ethnicities, classes, traditions. He described himself as “one of the whiter of the non-whites” of Barbados; artistic or intellectual pursuits were not expected of a man of his class, nor his bohemian easygoingness. But Collymore seemed to delight in defying expectations, and the story that unfolds through this book is far more interesting than the honorific “grand old man of West Indian letters” leads one to expect. And if Remembering the Sea does no more than trigger a reconsideration of Collymore’s achievements as a writer — see especially Stewart Brown’s careful essay — then it will have done West Indian letters a grand old favour.

PS

Fruit of passion

i was schooled by ackee
scholar of passion
that turns the blood
a poisonous mauve
she told me one
night of purple skies

ackee is serious
about devotion
using her shirt tail
to fan the heat between her thighs

— from “Caribbean Passion”

And in her new book of poems, Caribbean Passion (Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 1-900715-92-9), Opal Palmer Adisa is serious about her devotion to ruthless and sensuous honesty. Best known as the author of highly challenging, politically relevant prose and verse, Adisa is also a broadcaster, performance artist, literary critic, and lecturer, currently teaching at the California College of the Arts.

Adisa’s work has been greatly informed by her childhood experience of life on a sugar estate in the Jamaican countryside, where her father worked as a chemist and her mother as a bookkeeper. It was in this setting that young Opal was introduced not only to the art of storytelling, but also, after her parents divorced, to the ceaseless oppression faced by women and the ongoing injustices heaped on the poor. Such formative experiences, coupled with her mother’s efforts to improve the lives of those around her, gave Adisa the desire to “give voice to the voiceless” at an early age.

As she was raised just ten miles outside Kingston, Adisa always attended school in the capital; nevertheless, when she moved to New York in 1970 to study at Hunter College, she found herself in a bewildering environment marked by human confusion and dense congestion, where she felt herself very much an outsider. A move to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue an MA in creative writing in 1979 brought considerable relief, as the slower pace, milder climate, more permissive atmosphere, and vibrant arts scene helped her find her element as a writer. Her subsequent book of short fiction, Bake Face and other Guava Stories, examined the lives of four strong-minded women in rural Jamaica, living rich lives despite their poverty. The complex novel It Begins With Tears explored the problematic transgressions of a group of women in a small Jamaican village; a book of poems, Tamarind and Mango Women, won the PEN/Josephine Miles Award in 1992 for its imagistic account of mother-daughter relationships.

With Caribbean Passion, Adisa continues to challenge our perceptions of Caribbean life. Although the title and sensual cover image suggest a collection of steamy, romantic verse, many of these poems detail the region’s turbulent history and chaotic present, suggesting an overriding resilience in the face of unspoken sexual abuse, lost Haitian refugees, and gender-based tyranny, all delivered in a unique and authentic voice. And Adisa insists that her work ultimately aims to assist in a healing process, offering strength and hope in the face of countless challenges.

David Katz

 

“I focused on the difficult”

David Katz talks to Opal Palmer Adisa

What have you attempted to address in Caribbean Passion?
There are four sections: history, erotic entanglements, personal and cultural biography (sprinkled with strong ‘omanist sentiments), and cultural poems of celebration. The title and cover image were calculated tropes to lure and then expose — or, more accurately, share — who I/we are fully.

How do you feel the Jamaica of your childhood has influenced your writing?
In every way . . . I write the stories I write because of how and where I was raised. Before TV, storytelling was the major form of entertainment among both children and adults, so my childhood in Jamaica has impacted and influenced not just how I tell stories, but the content of the stories as well.

Why have you often chosen to focus on difficult issues?
I focused on the difficult because I didn’t see that being taken on too much by any other writer, and I know now that this is very much influenced by my mother’s work, helping to start a credit union for cane-cutters and other labourers on the estate, warning my sister and I to address every adult, regardless of their social position, with equal respect . . . I witnessed men who worked in the factory fighting with their women, and I heard the maids talking across yards and fences about issues with their men, but I also witnessed some formidable women who fought back with fist as well as tongue, so I wanted to write about this so we can look at it and decide to change, to heal, to grow more wholesome.

 

Rhythm roundup

 

Jah bless

Spirit of Love  Eldon Blackman (Jamoo Good News Limited)
Oyniye  Avion Blackman (Lion of Zion Entertainment, LZD-6531)

The Blackmans are one of the most remarkable families in Caribbean music — I’d put them up there with the Marleys, in terms of both talent and musical output. Yet outside of their native Trinidad and Tobago and the particular niche they’ve carved out for themselves internationally, they’re largely unknown.

But this hasn’t stopped the Blackmans from doing their thing. The children of the late Ras Shorty I (formerly Garfield Blackman), the soca pioneer-turned-spiritual visionary, are scattered throughout the world, doing what talented musicians do. There are Blackmans performing in Asia, California, and, at the time of writing, Sheldon Blackman is in London for a memorial concert in honour of his father. Those Blackmans who have remained in Trinidad have also been quite prolific, performing as the band The Love Circle and releasing the occasional CD, and it’s been a joy to watch as each family member comes into his or her own as a solo performer. They have an astonishing range of styles and voices, none of which affect their success as a unit: a Love Circle performance is at one level a ballet, where band members slip gracefully in and out of supporting and lead roles as the repertoire requires.


Abby (who is not a Love Circle member) was the first of the Trinidad branch to release a solo album, followed by Sheldon in 1999 (he’s done three more since), and Isaac in 2004. Now they’re are joined by Eldon and Avion on two quite different releases, both of which remain true to the ideals of jamoo (“Jah music”), the genre created by Ras Shorty I during the period of his spiritual transformation.

There’s an unvarnished beauty to Eldon Blackman’s vibrato-free voice that makes it an apt vehicle for the uncomplicated, introspective songs that have become his trademark. The self-produced Spirit of Love features 14 tracks, ten written by Eldon himself. He seems most at home on songs with a gentle 1970s folk rock/baroque pop spirit, and while it never loses its Caribbean flavour, Eldon’s music at times strongly recalls artists such as Nick Drake, America, and The Moody Blues. He also reprises two of his father’s songs, successfully refurbishing the classic Who God Bless with background harmonies from his sisters Marge and Nehilet and others. Among the album’s finest numbers are Mummy We Love You — a touching tribute to Claudette Blackman (who raised 12 children and performs today with the group), on which Eldon is joined by his more flamboyant twin Sheldon — Spirit of Love, Sail Me, Holy One of Jerusalem, and City of Grace, featuring sister Marge.


Avion Blackman is now based in Los Angeles and a member of the Christian reggae group Christafari, and her sophisticated debut Oyinye is produced by Lion of Zion Entertainment, whose head (and Christafari front man) Mark Mohr is now her husband. The benefits of being backed by an organised (albeit small, independent) record label are all in evidence on this slickly produced album, which features fine acoustic instrumentation (including Avion on guitar) and savvy musical arrangements. The promotional material for Onyinye compares Avion to Sade and Norah Jones, and her voice does possess the sultriness of the former, but for the spiritual component I’d also add India.Arie. Included among the 13 sensual praise songs, lover’s rock, R&B, and jamoo/roots numbers are compositions by Avion, Mark Mohr, Ras Shorty I, Isaac Blackman, and the late April Blackman (the sister who died at 20), to whom the album is dedicated.

Georgia Popplewell

Full points

Pan Have We DNA  Chalkdust (Juba Productions)

Chalkdust — this year’s Calypso Monarch, last year’s Calypso Monarch, and one of the finest topical calypsonians ever to set pen to paper — has seldom released a CD with fewer than two masterworks on it, but this is the first time in my memory that he’s come out with a CD on which not one single tune falls short of that high standard. If Chalkie keeps this up, we can soon expect to find him neck-and-neck with Sparrow for copping the most Monarch crowns. Chalkie’s latest contains all four of his most recent Monarch winners: two (Trinidad in the Cemetery and Chalkie the Fish Monger) from 2004, and two (I In Town Too Long and Ah Doh Rhyme) from 2005. Fish Monger was a “bomb” — a new song Chalkie premiered at the Savannah. Chalkie saves his sharpest wit and technical flair for these last-moment compositions, and Fish Monger (an affectionate praise-song for his calypsonian colleague Cro-Cro) is a masterwork, as is Doh Rhyme, a topical smut in which Chalkie encourages the audience to supply the rhyming naughty words, while he himself substitutes an innocent, non-rhyming alternative. One of the nicest touches is the addition of the sound of a wildly cheering Savannah audience to the studio recording of Fish Monger; anyone who’s been there when Chalkie dropped a bomb in the Savannah will appreciate this enhancement.

Michael Goodwin

 

Smoother than smooth

Candice  Candice Alcantara (Parlémusik CAS 2005)
The Ming-Toy Project  élan parlé (Parlémusik EP 2005)

Singer/songwriter — and élan parlé collaborator — Candice Alcantara’s debut release on the Parlémusik label is a solid vocal jazz/R&B/inspirational effort appealingly arranged and produced by Michael “Ming” Low Chew Tung. Among the 13 tracks are a slo-mo version of the Gregory “GB” Ballantyne/Len “Boogsie” Sharpe calypso ballad Life Line, with veteran Mavis John as guest vocalist, and a dramatic cover of Richard “Nappy” Mayers’s Old Time Days. On the ambitious Keep on Moving, Alcantara also tries her hand at a bit of spoken word/rapso, and performs two versions of Low Chew Tung’s sweet bossa nova-toned ballad Love Our Children, one of them in Portuguese.

The other release on the Parlémusik label is élan parlé’s fourth CD, The Ming-Toy Project, which sees the jazz fusion ensemble fleshing out their repertoire with ten Ming originals by the hard-working Ming himself, plus a version of Lord Kitchener’s Old Lady Walk a Mile. Among the usual calypso and Latin grooves are straight-up fusion numbers like Orbitus (Galactic Voyage), the moody Grover’s Groove and a slow blues called Hit the Rhodes.

GP

 

Also worth a listen:

• Tobago’s Signal Hill Alumni Choir celebrates two decades as one of the premier performing ensembles in the Caribbean with Signal Hill Alumni Choir 20th Anniversary (Sanch CD 0501-2), a two-CD set featuring selections from their wide ranging repertoire, which includes soca, Caribbean folk songs, reggae, and classical. The somewhat roomy recording is released by Sanch Electronix, who also recently released a specially-priced Special Edition Series comprising several two-CD steelpan and jazz recordings remastered using HDCD technology, a proprietary digital format developed by Microsoft. All the above are available at www.sanch.com.

• US-based Barbadian writer Anthony Kellman dons the singer/songwriter hat on Limestone, which comprises 15 Caribbean-flavoured easy listening tracks which take on themes of Caribbean history and that old pop music mainstay — love and relationships. Purchase Limestone at www.cdbaby.com

 

Theatre buzz

Heart of steel

Fourteen years after its premiere in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Derek Walcott’s musical Steel finally makes it to the Trinidad stage with a reworked script and a lavish production intended to celebrate the Nobel Prize–winning poet and playwright’s 75th birthday. The production promises to put to rest the international quarrel about ownership of the steelpan — invented in Trinidad in the last century. Walcott’s lyrics are set to music by his longtime collaborator Galt MacDermot, the composer whose musical Hair revolutionised Broadway in the 1960s. The stellar cast includes Trinidad-born Hollywood actor Leon Morenzie; Brian Green, the Trinidad-born, Paris-based baritone celebrated for his opera roles around the world; the Caribbean’s “Queen of Soul”, Mavis John; and supporting actors from the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. Set and costumes are designed by artist Jackie Hinkson, and the musical arrangement is by Gene Lawrence.


Steel tells the story, in song and dialogue, of the birth of the steelpan in Trinidad. Set in the depressed Port of Spain district of Laventille after World War II, it is both a love story and a social examination of the urban community that, despite its economic conditions and violent social backdrop, was able to invent this extraordinary musical instrument. The story is told in part through the eyes of a once-proud calypso king, who at the end of his career counsels a young pan musician about his own future in a society that has failed him.

Steel immortalises the story of the steelband, from rusty drums and pitch oil tins to a pristine orchestral music of the New World — a metaphor of Caribbean peoples themselves, fighting stigma, abuse, and contempt with an enormous capacity to create, invent, and achieve against tremendous odds.

The collaboration of Walcott and MacDermot for this production is the climax of a lifetime’s friendship, starting in the 1970s, which has produced classic works like The Joker of Seville and O! Babylon. Walcott’s lyrics successfully articulate the new global individual who embodies the influences of many cultures, the collision of many experiences, and the collective histories of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It finds expression through the renowned Walcott technique, combining a philosopher’s vision, a poet’s sensitivity, a painter’s eye for colour, a dramatist’s skill with dialogue, and an actor’s flair for posture, through a language that marries the classical precision of standard English with the range of its Creole offspring. This finds its musical equivalent in MacDermot, born of Caribbean parents, whose musical scores now cross the boundaries of jazz, folk, gospel, reggae, rap, and traditional and classical styles.

The million-dollar production — which has two major sponsors in British Gas and Neal and Massy Holdings Limited — is one of the highlights of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop’s 2005 “Year of Derek Walcott”. Other birthday celebrations include the establishment of the TTW’s Fund for Literature and Drama, offering prizes for young Trinidadian writers and film-makers, including a TT$10,000 prize for short fiction sponsored by Walcott himself.

Steel runs at Queen’s Hall, Port of Spain, from September 13 to 18. For information, or to make bookings, call 868-624-8502

Kris Rampersad

 

Art buzz

Black and white stories

White Creole postcolonial feminism, anyone? (Didn’t think so.)

“I know. This is not stuff that people talk about,” admitted artist Joscelyn Gardner when I caught up with her in mid-June, a few days before the launch of her multimedia installation White Skin, Black Kin at Caribbean Contemporary Arts (CCA7) in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
“At least, not in Barbados,” she added with a wry smile.

Gardner should know. She’s Barbadian. In fact, the lithographer and visual artist, whose practice focuses on issues of Creole identity from a postcolonial feminist perspective, was born in Barbados to a family that has been resident on the island since the 17th century. And although Gardner now lives in Canada, teaching fine arts at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, she’ll tell you in a heartbeat that she’s as Bajan as they come, and she’s certain that Bajans don’t talk about that kind of stuff.

So Gardner’s clearly not thinking about boosting her sales when she describes her work, in her artist’s statement, as “addressing the denial, repression, and dissociation that operate in relation to the subject of slavery and white culpability”. But for Gardner, art is not just end product, but a medium for the articulation of a bigger message — what she describes as “the intertwined historical/ancestral relationship between black/white women in the postcolonial Caribbean”.

In this sense, art is very serious work. And Gardner — who during her residency at CCA7 devoted considerable effort to researching the role played by 19th century Creole women operating in the margins of the patriarchal structures of colonial society — is a serious artist.

Her installation, which ran until mid-July at CCA7, consisted of two separate but interrelated works: Plantation Poker: The Merkin Stories and White Skin, Black Kin: A Creole Conversation Piece. The former is a series of lithographs on frosted mylar, displaying excerpts from the diary of Thomas Thistlewood, an 18th-century Jamaican planter who recorded in detail his abusive sexual exploitation of slave women. Interspersed among these panels of text are graphic black-and-white drawings melding images of various instruments of torture — a cat-o’-nine-tails, a whip, shackles, flagella, spurs, a weight — with intimate female images. The words and images work together to convey a powerful message about female Creole sexuality.

“It’s a way of reclaiming or empowering these females,” Gardner explained, “because you’re taking these tools of torture and you’re making them into decorative elements.”


The second half of the exhibition was a minimalist video and sound installation made up of a mounted photographic reproduction of an actual portrait of an 18th-century Barbadian planter (Portrait of Seale-Yearwood Esq), a topsy-turvy doll on a mahogany armchair, five audio tracks, and two DVD projections (Sisters and A Creole Conversation Piece).

This last element, a silent digital video, is the piece’s central component, projected onto a large screen dominating the space of the exhibition room. In this digital reproduction of the typical 18th-century family portrait, a white woman and her two daughters sit in a drawing-room adorned with all the trappings of the wealthy colonial planter class. But throughout the looping video clip, ghost-like black female figures move through the drawing-room, asserting by their very presence and movement their rightful place in the space (both physical and historical). The idea, one concludes, is to force us to question the Eurocentric and patriarchal orthodoxy that passes for genuine Caribbean history.

In this strikingly and refreshingly original multimedia installation (originally mounted at the Barbados Museum in 2004), it is as if Gardner has distilled all the Caribbean into one person, one Creole woman, captured that one woman’s repressed and subconscious thoughts, and then presented that hidden female consciousness in a form that we can not just experience but almost inhabit, if only for a while.

Gerard A. Best

 

Gallery roundup

Clay and Fire: Ceramic Art in Jamaica, National Gallery of Jamaica

Late master potter Cecil Baugh is the best-known name in this wide-ranging show, but the curatorial team (including National Gallery curator emeritus David Boxer and ceramicists Norma Harrack and David Pinto, both of whose work appears) has assembled a collection starting with Taino vessels and early African-Jamaican works, and ending in a survey of today’s leading ceramics artists, including works by the late folk potter Ma Lou of Spanish Town, and sculptures by artists not usually associated with ceramics.
Until November 5

Winston Kellman: Recent Works, Zemicon Gallery, Barbados

Winston Kellman, a favourite of the Barbados art scene, has made a career of observing the passage of time in his island’s landscape — the contrast between the slow decay of old plantation buildings and the rapid advance of vegetation; the variations in line and colour that accompany the changing tropical seasons. His masterful, lively charcoal drawings are at the core of this show, which also includes works in oil and watercolour.
September 4 to 23

Back to Black: Art, Cinema, and the Racial Imaginary, Whitechapel Gallery, London
This major survey of the work of black artists from the US, the UK, and the Caribbean in the 1960s and 70s covers a period of dramatic transformation and rapidly growing consciousness. As the civil rights movement in the US dismantled centuries of racial discrimination, many black Britons looked to the Caribbean for ideas about identity and roots. Some viewers may wonder why the show focuses on Jamaica to the exclusion of other islands, and the notion of blackness in the Caribbean is far more complicated than the one suggested here, but this is nonetheless an excellent opportunity to see the works of artists like Jamaicans Edna Manley, Kapo, and Everald Brown, Guyanese Aubrey Williams, and Trinidadian Horace Ové.
Until September 4; then September 30 to November 20 at the New Art Gallery, Walsall

Peter Doig: STUDIOFILMCLUB, Kunsthalle Zurich
Since early 2003, British artist Peter Doig and Trinidadian artist Che Lovelace have been running a low-frills weekly film club at Doig’s studio at CCA7 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, showing Caribbean, foreign-language, and art-house films. A show of the posters Doig paints for each screening opened at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in April, and moved to Zurich in August. Influenced by traditional Trinidadian sign-painting as much as by film imagery, these posters share with Doig’s full-scale works a puzzling, dream-like intensity and a fascination with the way the mind assembles images from fragments of everyday experience.
Until October 30

Flux and Fire: Six Jewellers and Their Art, National Museum of Trinidad and Tobago
This group show collects the work of five women jewellers: Barbara Jardine, Rachel Ross, Janice Derrick, and Sarah Marshall of Trinidad, and Jasmine Thomas-Girvan of Jamaica. Spanning generations — with Marshall at the beginning of her career, and Ross and Jardine glorying in the full alchemy of their craft — what these six have in common is the extent to which each has dedicated her creative life to the art of jewellery-making. Life and work are interwoven, extraordinary and unique; each of these elegant objects has a story to whisper.
September 29 to October 16

 

Business buzz

 

Crafty style

Shoppers alert! For a whole weekend in September, art, craft, gifts, apparel, and fashion accessories from over thirty Caribbean countries will be on display in Barbados, at the 12th Caribbean Gift and Craft Show. By far the largest trade show of its kind in the Caribbean, the CGCS is a prime opportunity to see the finest products of the region all under one roof, and last year over 15,000 visitors took the opportunity to do just that. Buyers from around the world flock to order craft and gift items that capture the spirit and style of the islands.

The 2005 Caribbean Gift and Craft Show takes place from 22 to 25 September at the Sherbourne Conference Centre in Barbados. For further information, contact Caribbean Export, T: 246-436-0578, cgcs@carib-export.com, or check www.caribbeangiftandcraft.com

 

Big picture

In the central Trinidad village of Felicity, the great Hindu epic, the Ramayana, is re-enacted every year as the rituals of Ramleela lead up to Divali, the festival of lights.

Trinidad and Tobago: Portrait of Two Islands, with photographs by Alex Smailes and an introduction by Jeremy Taylor (Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 1-4050-0749-4, 227 pp), will be published in October 2005.

 

Island hopper

September starts — and the summer season ends — with a huge party in Brooklyn, at the famous Labour Day Parade (5 September), when a real Caribbean carnival breaks out in the heart of New York’s second borough (see page 64), mixing the best festival traditions of all the islands — music, spectacle, food, and fun • You’ll have a few weeks to rest and recover (you’ll probably need them) before the start of Tobago Fest (28 September to 2 October), combining a mini-masquerade with old traditions like the Tobago speech band. If you missed Carnival in February, this may be the next best thing. • That same weekend, the Jamaica Coffee Festival (2 October) in Kingston will introduce you to world-famous Blue Mountain coffee, prized by java connoisseurs everywhere. What better place to sample the blend, plus coffee-laced confections of every imaginable sort, than the gracious lawns of Devon House, with the Blue Mountains themselves rising in the near distance? • But maybe you can’t get enough of partying — a week later, head north for Miami Carnival (9 October) — costumes, steelbands, soca, and endless adrenaline in this honorary Caribbean city, with the prospect of winding down in sybaritic South Beach.

Music lovers, mark your calendars: for ten days in October, the Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan and Jazz Festival (21 to 30 October) blends hot steel with cool grooves at locations across T&T. Produced by the Queen’s Royal College Foundation, the festival brings some of the country’s best steel orchestras together with performers ranging from the Signal Hill Alumni Choir to soca star Shurwayne Winchester. • And if you catch an early flight out, you might just manage to squeeze in the World Creole Music Festival (28 to 30 October) in Dominica, where world-class performers meet home-grown talent for one of the Caribbean’s feistiest musical events.

As October draws to a close, Hindus in Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname prepare for Divali (1 November; date to be confirmed), the joyful festival of lights. This is the time to experience Ramleela, a dramatisation of the Ramayana traditionally enacted in Hindu communities in the weeks before Divali — an extraordinary folk theatre experience, climaxing with the burning in effigy of the evil Ravan, as good triumphs over evil.

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