Golden voices — Trinidad’s Marionettes Chorale
Caroline Taylor on the half-century anniversary of Trinidad’s popular Marionettes Chorale
It was all a little inevitable. My mother was the conductor, and my two godmothers were the executive management. Some of my best-established blackmailers are those who can recount me “conducting” from the audience as a pre-schooler, with frilly white socks on my hands. Dubbed a “Marionette-ette” by one of those godmothers, I have been part of the Marionettes Chorale quite literally from my own conception. In fact, the only Marionettes concerts I have ever missed were those when I was away at university, overseas working on theatrical projects — or in Trinidad, but trying to be absolutely sure it really wasn’t all too predictable, and that the music, community, and legacy of the Marionettes was something too valuable to me to forego.
It was. And the coming year — starting this July, with our Landmarks concert series — is an especially beautiful time to be a part of this organisation, as we commemorate fifty years of existence. I’m often asked by people what I enjoy most about being a member of the Marionettes, and the achievements I’m most proud of. The list is long, but there are a few things that, for me, define our fifty-year history.
The Marionettes were the first choir to be formed in post-Independence Trinidad and Tobago, and one of the few organisations even to survive this long in our local cultural landscape. Soon after formation, the group also became the first local choir to blend voices with steel, when performing with the PanAm North Stars. After retiring, unbeaten, from the local music festival in 1980, the ’Nettes — as one faithful member lovingly calls the group — then became the first and only local community choir to earn major prizes at international choral festivals, competing against some of the best choirs in the world, over three tours of Britain.
At home, the Marionettes are known for giving local or Caribbean premieres of celebrated classical works like Orff’s Carmina Burana, Fanshawe’s African Sanctus, Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, Poulenc’s Gloria, Bernstein’s Missa Brevis and Chichester Psalms, and Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man (A Mass for Peace) — including the accompanying film.
But the Marionettes’ repertoire extends far beyond Western classical, and includes opera, spirituals, Broadway, Caribbean and international folk songs, and of course Trinidad and Tobago’s calypso. Our commitment to our national art forms includes the commissioning of choral arrangements of Caribbean and national folk songs, calypso, and other music, to perform both at home and overseas. The sad fact is, this is not something that happens nearly as often as it should in the Caribbean.
With Landmarks — which runs 12 to 14 July at Queen’s Hall in Pot of Spain — the Marionettes revisit some of our proudest moments. Performing will be some of our best-loved soloists, as well as the Youth Chorale and new Children’s Choir, under the batons of artistic and musical director Gretta Taylor (my aforementioned mother) and new assistant musical director Roger Henry. The series also marks the launch of a companion double-CD of the same name, and a full year of planned anniversary events, including performances, workshops, exhibitions, and documentary features.
So, as inevitable as it all seems — from being a founder member of the Youth Chorale, to being the youngest-ever member of the senior choir, and now its assistant artistic director — here I am, proud and happy to be part of an organisation with such a rich legacy, and a future that already looks so bright with possibility.
For more info: visit www.marionetteschorale.com
Feathers in the city
Nathalie Taghaboni dons her rainbow plumage and heads downtown for Caribbean Carnival Toronto — still better known as Caribana
The ticket collector at Kennedy subway station stares at me, as I put my token in the slot and attempt to get through the turnstile. It’s as if he’s never seen a fully plumed and glittering Bird of Paradise enter the Toronto subway before.
I am on my way down to the Canadian National Exhibition Stadium armed with the Caribbean version of chutzpah. All I am missing is my standard — because, after all, travelling on the subway with a six-foot stick festooned with strips of coloured cloth would attract attention. I lift my tail feathers and go through the gate, throwing a smile over my shoulder at the fascinated Toronto Transit Commission worker. I think I made his day.
I walk along the platform, smiling at the many faces of the world. Most smile back. The Asian lady hurrying along with her small son. The Ethiopian man and his wife sitting across from me in the train car. The Swedish girl — or is she Danish? — stares back with a curious smile. The Pakistani woman in her own festival of colours nods approvingly — well, I assume she approves. My eyes are painted with kohl and I bow to her in Namaste as I enter the car. She’s wondering how come I know how to do that. She doesn’t realise that, as a Trinbagonian, I know enough about the world to fit in anywhere; admittedly, not dressed as I am, but otherwise I do make a good global citizen.
I can’t sit down, because I will crush my feathers, so I stand there holding the rail as the subway rumbles and bumps downtown. Curiously, the rattle sounds like a soca beat, and I sway a little.
People alight and depart, all stare, but no one asks why I am dressed like a bedazzled member of an endangered species. I get off at Bathurst station and climb up to ground level. The sunlight greets me warmly, because it knows who I am. I am its child, transplanted perhaps, but sun-born nevertheless. Other costumed Carnival children are there waiting for the streetcar. We acknowledge each other with a nod and grin, the silent admission of wilful insanity in an otherwise coldly sane place. We don’t strike up a conversation. Not yet. We can’t. We’ve been indoctrinated in the “see-but-don’t-see” attitude of North America. We’ll wait until we’re near the CNE grounds, before we remember who we really are.
The streetcar heads south on Bathurst, stopping every few hundred feet. We exchange passengers who don’t know, for those who know do. The conversations pick up, accents be damned. We’re speaking the same language now. “What band are you with?” some ask. The beads and feathers don’t really say much. That’s the curse of modern mas. My Bird of Paradise could show up anywhere, and no one would know, not even the band leader.
We arrive at the place where the Caribbean takes ownership of Toronto. We hear the thud of our music, we see the droves of our colour — for we own these colours, yes? We don’t have to explain anything for the next few hours.
Toronto is a beautiful city, no question. I’d choose it over any city, any day, but it isn’t until Carnival season is announced that true colour begins to saturate the fabric of this multicultural metropolis. Every flag of every nation is flown. Toronto undergoes a metamorphosis, and fifty shades of blah get a makeover.
This foot is mine
Shakirah Bourne imagines Barbados’s Kadooment Day masquerade from an ankle-high perspective
You wake to see the sunrise exactly once a year. The cock’s crow which normally signals the start of the day alerts you that you are late.
Kadooment Day is here.
At the stadium, the bandleader looks at your freshly scrubbed exterior and you barely have time to shut your eyeholes before you are blasted with glitter. Soon it’s hard to believe you left home in white. The Victoria’s Secret coconut scent is masked by body paint, and mud that someone pulled from under the food tent.
You examine the costumes. It is the only day of the year when the stink of oppression from conservative society clears, and Bajans bask in the freedom to run wild on the streets in T-back bottoms, shaking ginormous breasts barely contained in beaded bikini tops.
You all stand crushed together outside the stadium gate, eagerly waiting on your turn to wukkup around the track, rehearsing acrobatic dance moves that will hopefully get you five seconds of fame on local TV. And you’re off! Like horses, you burst out from the gate, screaming the lyrics to your favourite soca song.
It has begun.
The day when you raise sweat-drenched hands with complete strangers, when all brands are equal, and vagrants and politicians smell alike. The day when Christians do a slow wine to the tune “Amazing Grace”. The day when the iron gates of mansions hidden behind bearded trees sprawl open, and neighbours introduce themselves to each other over a plate of rice, macaroni pie, and baked chicken.
You remember the year you fell in a cameraman’s face, before being dragged off by the nearest policeman. You then danced on the officer, to the delight of nearby spectators. That picture got over two hundred likes on Facebook.
This time you make sure you’re laced tightly, to prevent slippage. It is dangerous to stop in an army of drunken revellers, who can only see as far as the rum-laced Coke in their hands. Although you’re light on your heels, navigating between tangled body parts, you still succumb to mashed toes and a burst mouth.
The DJ’s pleas to put on the colourful but heavy headpieces fall on deaf ears. No one cares about a competition, because you have all already won.
You don’t complain when you’re sprayed with moisture, and you shake the alcohol from your collar. Packed crowds grow further apart, and the avid gym-goers are separated from those who only joined a month before. The trek up the hill feels three times as long with bruised toes and sore heels.
You arrive home just before the seven o’clock news. You look at yourself, stained with mud, mouth open, and wonder again if this is the end of the line, but instead you are shoved safely under the bed.
You breathe a sigh of relief, and enjoy the tongues a-wagging as you recap another beautiful Crop Over experience to the other sneakers.