Word of mouth (May/June 2017)

The Pure Grenada Music Festival makes room for many genres, and traces of Bhojpuri, brought from India over a century ago, still liven Guyanese speech

  • Photo by Alexandra Quinn
  • Photo by Amanda Richards

Keep it pure

David Katz looks forward to the multifaceted Pure Grenada Music Festival

Unlike the many genre-specific festivals regularly staged on larger islands, Pure Grenada’s roster is an inclusive one, the multifaceted approach allowing for jazz, blues, soul, and other foreign forms, along with the mainstays of soca, reggae, dancehall, and related variants — so long as the performer in question has enough artistic integrity and originality to be deemed worthy of making the cut.

Now in its second year, the annual Pure Grenada Music Festival unfolds at different venues across the island during the first weekend of May. As with 2016’s inaugural event, the music of Grenada and the wider Caribbean region is the festival’s main focus, counter-balanced by the presence of a handful of high-profile international acts. With the flagship Festival Village located on the edge of one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world, and themed music nights taking place on the exclusive confines of Calivigny Island, attendees are truly in for a feast of the senses, and in keeping with the ethos of “purity,” the festival has a commitment to minimising any potentially negative impact on the environment, with recyclable materials mandatory for food vendors and a general view to “going green.”

There’s also a high proportion of local performers on the bill, most of whom are largely unknown to the outside world — the festival thus gives a chance for Grenadian acts to be heard by new audiences who may be encountering the island’s culture for the very first time. It’s all part of the festival’s commitment to nurturing local talent, and all profits are channelled into Music & Beyond, the non-profit organisation established to support the island’s budding musical practitioners.

Upcoming artists to watch for this year include Lion Paw and the D Unit Band (a group that has backed some of the biggest names in reggae, led by a singer heavily steeped in the gospel of his childhood), the hybrid jazz-rock outfit Quiet Fire (whose bassist, Dexter Yawching, hails from Trinidad, and violinist, Aixa Miguen, from Cuba), the smooth R&B of balladeer Sonika (the first Grenadian singer to have a VEVO channel), and the conscious dancehall of A#keem & Nature Claim, who will be performing at Pure Grenada in unplugged acoustic mode. In contrast, the presence of Tarrus Riley, Queen Ifrica, and Third World from Jamaica will surely delight reggae connoisseurs.

The initial spark behind Pure Grenada was a general “rebranding” of the island that places emphasis on Grenada as a desirable destination for travellers interested in arts, culture, and eco-tourism. Reaching Grenada from Europe has become somewhat more challenging in recent years, since several international carriers curtailed their routes to the Spice Isle. Yet those that make the effort to travel here are rewarded by the island’s relaxed pace and unspoilt beaches, all freely open to locals and tourists alike. Grenada has always taken a sensible approach to its tourism, which has seen it thankfully avoid the overdevelopment of neighbouring tourism hotspots, and this inclusive aspect is also reflected in the festival itself, which has kept many of its events free of charge, so that local residents will not face unwarranted exclusion.

If you’ve never been to Grenada before, Pure Grenada makes the perfect time for a maiden voyage — and if you’ve already been blessed enough to spend time on her shores, it’s just another reason for a welcome return.


Say it your way

As Guyana marks the anniversary of Indian Arrival in May, Neil Marks explains how traces of Bhojpuri still liven everyday Guyanese speech

I grew up in predominantly East Indian communities of Guyana, spending half of my school years in a place called La Grange, in West Bank Demerara, and the other half at Enmore, East Coast Demerara.

It’s safe to say, then, that I was indoctrinated in the Indo-Guyanese Creole that was the everyday language in these places.

Back in those days, I hardly bothered about the strange words used at home and next door and among friends at school. Of course, they were strange only to those who didn’t understand these words, and whenever I did speak Indo-Guyanese Creole, I’d be labelled “coolie,” the derogatory word used for the men and women who were recruited from India to work on the sugar plantations under the system of indentureship.

Beginning on 5 May, 1838, almost 239,000 Indians made the treacherous journey across the oceans and were deposited on various plantations across the then-colony of British Guiana. One of those plantations was Enmore.

The sugar estate was next door to where I lived. The sugar workers I saw come and go on a daily basis were descendants of those who came on the ships. Some of the older folks had memories of grandmothers and grandfathers who came and decided to stay when indentureship ended, one hundred years ago this year.

Those who chose not to return to India, and made a life for themselves and their families in Guyana, spoke their language and practiced their cultures, most of them steeped in Hindu rituals. The language they spoke was Bhojpuri, related to Hindi, with elements of the local dialects of the states they came from, usually either Bihar or Uttar Pradesh.

Of course, Bhojpuri was not the only language spoken by the Indians who settled here. There were also Avadhi, Maithili, Khari Boli (Old Hindi), and Tamil. However, through association, a form of Bhojpuri overtook the other languages.

The Bhojpuri words still used today often occur in everyday life — to pass instructions, to issue a strong warning, to win the affections of another, or just to engage in idle chatter.

I prefer the Bhojpuri words used to differentiate relations. So, for example, if someone tells me that so-and-so is their grandfather or grandmother, I don’t have to guess or ask whether they mean from the paternal side or the maternal side. Nani and Nana are your maternal grandmother and grandfather, and Ajee and Aja are from your paternal side.

If someone threatens to jataha me, I know to keep moving, or they’ll lick me down with a piece of wood. If I am told to maanjay the bartan, I know I have to do the dishes, or if I am told to bring the chaddar to wash, I know to go and get the sheets off the bed.

When it comes to food, asking for more surwah means the sauce from the curry or stew. Of course, if the food is delicious, I’ll sannay the plate, using my fingers to lick off everything, making sure the plate is good as clean.

To swar or paku someone is to cajole them into going along with your scheme. And if you allow that to happen, well, then you’re a good-for-nothing, so be prepared for an insult like korhee or katahar or lamata coming your way.

These are just trinkets of what remains of the Bhojpuri language in Guyana. I suspect its survival depends on those who are not afraid to speak it, and in some effort to preserve or document this part of our culture.

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