Word of mouth (March/April 2013)

Enjoy seaside jams at the Tobago Jazz Festival, tour Nassau art galleries with Transforming Spaces,celebrate two decades at Holders Season in Barbados

  • Greed for speed. Photograph by Nicholas Bhajan
  • A little night music. Photograph by Corrie Scott
  • Steven Schmid speaks to guests on the transforming Spaces Art Tour 2012 about his piece “Geanexperiment” on display at Doongalik Studios Art Gallery. Photograph by Dominic Duncombe/ Stop Motion Productions
  • Arturo Tappin performs at Jazz on the Beach. Photograph courtesy Desiree Seebaran

Beach jams

Desiree Seebaran enjoys the seaside fusion of jazz and calypso at the Tobago Jazz Festival

Jazz on the Beach is almost always held on the last Saturday and Sunday of the Tobago Jazz Festival — a vital part of the climax. The beach at Mount Irvine is still mostly deserted when we get there promptly at 11 am. The stage is set up: Etienne Charles and Kaiso rehearse in salt-stained shorts, testing the sounds of their instruments in the open air, the almost noonday sun beating beads of sweat from their shoulders. An hour passes, and suddenly the beach is packed with people. The stalls selling beer, corn soup, and other local food are doing rousing business. We’re all eating, drinking, liming — while keeping an eye on the now empty stage.

Although the Tobago Jazz Festival is still an up-and-comer among the plethora of jazz festivals in the Caribbean, all of them boasting international headline acts, its focus on the fusion of local music and world jazz makes it stand out. “The strength of Tobago Jazz is the prevalence of local talent,” says Ruth Osman, a Guyanese-born jazz singer who now lives in Trinidad. She performed at the 2011 Jazz in the East at Speyside, one of the travelling festival’s most popular shows. “So it’s not just the stars. And the wide variety of music is also a pull: some soca, jazz standards, and local music that has been reharmonised to sound like jazz.”

Trinidad and Tobago has always had a strong musical reputation: our ghettos produced the only completely new instrument invented in the twentieth century. And this Caribbean melting pot has birthed musicians who are masters of invention and fusion. Just look at the metamorphosis of African, Indian, and French traditions that created calypso, soca, and chutney music. The 2012 Tobago Jazz incarnation built on that strength. Jazz on the Beach — along with Jazz in the East, Hillside Jazz, Jazz on the Waterfront, and the festival’s zenith, the Beach Jazz Fiesta — all showcased local bands with big talent.

Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne are always festival favourites. Esdelle sings calypso fused with bossa nova jazz, and her raspy voice skatted out her own local-flavoured compositions. Moyenne also transformed local classics like Andre Tanker’s “Back Home”, a deeply moving calypso originally arranged with African drums. Esdelle’s arrangement kept the calypso rhythm, but reharmonised the song with bossa nova and zouk.

And at the Beach Jazz Fiesta, consummate performer Vaughnette Bigford made KMC’s originally raw soca hit “Set My Soul On Fire” sound like vintage R&B. “As much as I love American jazz and can appreciate it in its various forms, I believe that as Trinbagonians, we come from a different place,” Bigford muses. “Calypso is ours — it’s part of who we are.

The fusion is just taking our music and representing it differently, and showing the different ways in which our experience can be expressed.”

At the 2013 festival — which runs from 20 to 28 April this year — you can expect more of the same, plus international headliners like Dionne Warwick and India.Arie. The smoothness of jazz with the tropical textures of calypso, soca, and other Caribbean music — with Tobago’s gorgeous beaches and green hills for a backdrop? Sounds like a great music vacation to me.



Art around town

Sonia Farmer explains how the Transforming Spaces art tour turns the spotlight on Bahamian artists

Curious about the art scene in the Bahamas? For one weekend every March, Transforming Spaces — part art festival, part bus tour — gives art-lovers and artists alike a glimpse at the range of contemporary practice in Nassau, making stops at participating galleries around the city. Though each gallery and art space offers something different, none wastes the chance to spotlight and celebrate Bahamian art.

This desire to expose Bahamians to their own art prompted the first Transforming Spaces tour a decade ago — not coincidentally, around the same time the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas opened its doors in 2003. These were early steps in what has been a rapid growth of formal art spaces and public installations in Nassau.

Traditionally, each participating gallery curates its own space. But in 2012, to push the tour into unexplored territory, Transforming Spaces made a call for work under the theme of “Fibre”, challenging artists to use indigenous materials — such as the straw used in traditional Bahamian craftwork — in innovative ways, placing them squarely in the realm of contemporary practice. International artists heeded the call as well. The response finally propelled the Transforming Spaces tour into the regional and global spotlight.

In 2013, Transforming Spaces — which runs over the weekend of 16 and 17 March — is taking a step back to its roots, allowing the seven participating art spaces a chance to curate their own presentations, before launching another themed call-for-works in 2014. If there were an unofficial theme to this year’s tour, however, it would be collaboration. In addition to sculptural works by Tyrone Ferguson and wooden sculptures by Andret John, Doongalik Studios will showcase Junkanoo costumes from the street festival in formal gallery spaces, bringing what are perceived as two separate cultural realities together.

At Stingrae Studios, artist Malcolm Rae will present his own engaging realist paintings alongside contemporaries in a beautiful garden setting, while at the Pro Gallery and Harry C. Moore Library and Information Centre at the College of the Bahamas, students will present five ceramic installations, as well as paintings under the theme “Kenetic”.

If their presentation is anything like their recent inaugural exhibition, newcomer Liquid Courage Art Gallery will be poised to welcome artists from beyond its borders. As will Popopstudios International Centre for the Visual Arts, which will welcome artist Annalee Davis from Fresh Milk in Barbados to participate. Meanwhile, in Popop’s main gallery, figurative paintings by abstract impressionist Kendal Hanna and his friend Eleanor Whitely will be installed, and in the Popop Cottage Poinciana Paper Press will launch a collaborative book by poet Obediah Michael Smith and painter Stan Burnside.

And at the Antonius Roberts Studio and Gallery at Hillside House, the exhibition “Ripple” will serve as a fundraiser, as the sale of works by more than fifty Bahamian artists will go towards programmes supporting local artists. “We want to speak to the fact that we as artists are standing up to help ourselves,” says curator Antonius Roberts. “Historically, we have contributed to countless charity organisations and events, so it’s time we come together and collectively fund ourselves.”

Indeed, what distinguishes the Bahamas art scene is a spirit of pulling together for the greater good — the success of one artist is the success of all. And with every new push into innovative mediums and unexplored practices, the Transforming Spaces art tour has ensured that the public — locally, regionally, internationally — bear witness and become part of this important conversation.



A little night music

Corrie Scott remembers magical nights at Holders Season

As the sun sets over the grounds of Holders House, twinkling lights in the trees appear like fireflies, as the breeze blows the branches of the huge stately mahoganies. Little wooden chattel houses and tents are filled with food and drink, art, sculpture, and jewellery. Here and there a floodlight shows off a beautiful bougainvillea in full bloom. You arrive to an enchanted garden. Music plays. Magic happens.

What started twenty years ago in Barbados as a three-event music festival in three different locations has turned into the world-renowned festival called Holders Season, attracting international star performers. That first year, guests enjoyed Verdi’s opera La Traviata at Heron Bay, a musical evening at the Royal Pavilion Hotel, and a final event in the grounds of Holders House, overlooking the west coast. Johnny and Wendy Kidd, who own the historic plantation house, were worried — how would they seat people among the trees, and where would the sound go? But the garden turned out to be the perfect venue for beautiful sound, as the trees created an acoustic “bounce back.” And so the Holders Season was born.

Since 1993, the Holders Season has rooted itself at Holders House, and grown into a month-long affair of opera, Shakespeare, comedy, and more, conceived by Richard Hanlon, the Kidds, and Philip Blake Jones. The twentieth-anniversary programme, under artistic director Stewart Collins, runs from 9 to 23 March, and longtime Holders patrons will no doubt remember many of the highlights over the years. Such as a performance by the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti — when the audience who flew in from all over the world overflowed into the polo field next door, and the Trinidadian steel orchestra Desperados played the first half of the evening. The panmen almost stole the show from Pavarotti, playing classical pieces in which you would have sworn you were hearing many different instruments — but it all emanated from the steel pans. Or the year Kylie Minogue had a theatrical “premiere,” singing and acting in The Tempest, and sharing the stage with Barbadian and British Shakespearean actors. The British actor Tim Rice — an old friend of the Kidds’ — and David Suchet of Inspector Poirot fame have hosted Holders evenings.

Classical night always brings favourite pieces, including full operas with orchestras. Then we go to Gershwin and Cole Porter, at jazz evenings with just a duo on the stage, or perhaps a full complement of musicians. Then calypso nights, when Trinidadians legends come and sing together and extemporise. The list goes on. And from the very beginning, Holders has also recognised Barbados’s own talent, inviting local choirs, calypsonians, and chanteuses to perform alongside visiting luminaries, with children’s workshops to encourage and stimulate the youth.

With Virgin Atlantic signed up as title sponsors, the 2013 programme includes an opening night “Tribute to Hollywood”; the South African quartet Africa Entsha, backed up by the Cameroonian virtuoso Muntu Valdo; a gospel night with the London Community Choir; plus comedy, drama, and the popular British tenor Russell Watson headlining a special gala night.

Showtime is 7 pm, but many arrive early to watch the sunset, clink glasses of Champagne or rum, and eat everything from flying fish to foie gras while they wait for the show to begin. Then the music will play. Magic will happen.



Greed for speed

Rodney Granado looks ahead to Rally Trinidad, a main event on the Caribbean motorsport calendar

The secret is out: Trinidad’s gravel stages are considered some of the best in the Caribbean for rally racing. Which means that drivers and international motorsport enthusiasts alike will flock to the island come March for Rally Trinidad, the annual high-action gravel event run since 2004 by the Trinidad and Tobago Rally Club, in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport.

Expectations are high this year, after T&T driver John Powell and Jamaican co-driver Mike Fennell made Caribbean motorsport history a few months ago, driving with the FORD M-Sport team at the 2012 World Rally Championship in Spain — the first Caribbean competitors at the international event. “I believe this was a Caribbean thing,” said Powell after his WRC debut, “whether you hail from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, or elsewhere. I want to thank everybody. I never got here alone.” Powell withdrew from further stages in the competition due to a medical problem, based on the team doctor’s recommendations.

But his fans at home will have a chance to watch him in action again at Rally Trinidad — a mainstay on the Caribbean rally calendar, complementing events in neighbouring islands. Regionally, Rally Trinidad has garnered the attention of top rally teams from Barbados, Jamaica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. RT13’s forecast suggests a grand battle for T&T’s top rally title, with Bajan Neil Armstrong and Jamaican Jeffery Panton matching driving skills with Powell and co-driver Nicholas Telfer, last year’s winners.

The itinerary kicks off with vehicle scrutineering — i.e., inspection of the cars — from 20 March, followed by a ceremonial opening, day and night stages at various locations, and culminating in a Super Special Stage on 24 March. The event website, www.rallytrinidad.com, gives racers and fans relevant info on stages, travel, and accommodation, plus maps and pictures of past events. Get ready to rally on!