Movers & Shakers (January/February 2003)

The Merrymen celebrate 40 years of music; Sam Mendes says farewell to London; the Santa Rosa School in Guyana gets more than they imagined; Trinidadian figurer skater sets sights on 2006 Winter Olympics glory; Peter Minshall wins an Emmy Award; Heather Headley goes R& B

  • Front row, from left Robin Hunte and Emile Straker Back row, from left Chris Gibbs, Willie Kerr and Peter Roet. Photograph courtesy the Merry Men
  • Sam Mendes with Tom Hanks on the set of Road to Perdition. Photograph courtesy Goldmine Productions
  • Students and teachers at the Santa Rosa High School. Photograph courtesy Hartmut Kruegar
  • Tunara McClean on the ice. Photograph by Kwame Laurence
  • Peter Minshall talks with Picoplat masqueraders. Photo by Sean Drakes / Blue Mango
  • Heather Headley, diva in the making. Photograph courtesy Helena Headley

The Merrymen at 40

Singing original songs in their quirky calypso style, with glitzy outfits and high-energy performances, the Merrymen were a popular fixture in calypso shows during the 1960s and 70s. This year the Barbadian group, led by the irrepressible Emile Straker, is celebrating 40 years in music and releasing their 40th album. During their lengthy career, the band has performed for many celebrities, including British royalty and Frank Sinatra, and Beatles producer George Martin recorded them in 1966 at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London. They’ve also chalked up a string of achievements, including being the first Caribbean band to promote tourism through music, and the group was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Caribbean Music Awards in 1997. Merrymen standards such as Beautiful Barbados, Big Bamboo, Archie and You Sweeten Me have become Caribbean classics.

Roxan Kinas

Sam Mendes says farewell to London

Director Sam Mendes — who has Trinidadian roots — celebrated his 10th year at London’s Donmar Warehouse Theatre this past October with a gala performance of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya. The event also marked the end of Mendes’s tenure as artistic director, as he goes on to devote himself full-time to films. Despite the presence of celebrities such as Titanic star Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Liv Tyler and Charles Dance, the evening was an intimate affair. In his speech Mendes said that his 10 years at the Donmar “have without question been the most important of my life . . . To say I will be sad to be moving on is an understatement.”

It was just over a decade ago that Mendes discovered the derelict playhouse in Covent Garden, saw its potential, and turned it into the dynamic, award-winning theatre it is today. With Mendes at the helm, the Donmar was able to attract the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman to appear on its stage. Apart from his theatrical successes, Mendes also won a Best Director Oscar for the 1999 film American Beauty, and some believe he’s set to do the same with 2002’s Road to Perdition, starring Paul Newman and Tom Hanks. Mendes’s grandfather was the Trinidadian writer Alfred Mendes, who, along with C.L.R. James, founded the literary magazine The Beacon in the 1930s.

Karen Martinez

Hands across the water

When the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) in Guyana applied for assistance to build a dormitory for students of the Santa Rosa School at Moruca, in Guyana’s North West region, their appeal was answered from further away than the group might ever have imagined. The APA’s request was embraced by Hartmut Krueger, co-ordinator of the German branch of Friends of the Earth International, who conceived a project that would raise funds for the school, as well as promote an interchange of ideas, students and staff between Santa Rosa and the Hauptschule Leichlingen, the school where he teaches. Krueger sought assistance from several quarters, including the towns of Chemnitz, Hagen and Essen in Germany, and BWIA West Indies Airways. For the Guyanese school, this has meant the construction of the dormitory, complete with furniture, the setting up of a small solar plant, and the involvement of the German students in efforts to save endangered marine turtles, plus opportunities for cultural exchanges — and many new friendships.

Trinidadian figure skater sets sights on Winter Olympic glory

The much-publicised exploits of the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1988 Winter Olympics may be eclipsed by another Caribbean success story in the coming years — if Trinidad-born figure skater Tanara McLean gets her way. The aspirations of the teenager, based in Canada, may seem somewhat audacious, especially since she became serious about the sport only at the relatively advanced age of 12. But McLean’s a natural. Over the past six years she has consistently beaten skaters who made their debuts on the ice while still in diapers. And now that she’s relocated to Saskatchewan to pursue her dream full-time under world-renowned coach Dale Hazell, a gold for Trinidad and Tobago at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin seems all the more attainable. Definitely someone to watch!

Kwame Laurence

“Shortpants tropical child” Peter Minshall wins Emmy

On 14 September, 2002, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Trinidadian Carnival and theatre designer Peter Minshall won a “Creative Arts” Emmy Award for his costume design work on the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Minshall shared the award with the group of costume designers who worked on the show. The Salt Lake City ceremony was the third Olympics to which Minshall contributed designs: he was involved in both the 1992 Barcelona games and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. On learning of the award, Minshall, who is renowned for his visually spectacular and thematically challenging presentations in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, was quoted as saying, with characteristic flamboyance: “Well, look at this — little shortpants tropical child in the white people cold winter t’ing!”

Heather Headley goes R&B

She’s played a lioness and a Nubian princess, and now Tony-award winner Heather Headley is playing the role that’s perhaps closest to her heart: R&B singer. Released in October 2002, Headley’s debut CD, This Is Who I Am, teams the self-proclaimed “Trinimerican” with top producers such as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (best known for their work with Janet Jackson) and Dallas Austin. Headley left Trinidad for the US at age 15, going on to study communications and musical theatre at Chicago’s Northwestern University. In 1997 she was offered the role of Nala, the feisty lioness, in what would become one of the greatest successes in Broadway history — The Lion King. She went on to play the title role in the Elton John/Tim Rice Broadway production of Aida, the classic love story set in ancient Egypt. Headley won a Tony Award for the role in 2000.