Need to know | Events calendar (Jan/Feb 2020)

Essential info to help you make the most of January and February across the Caribbean — Carnival Kings and Queens in T&T, Barbados’s Hometown Festival, Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition, and more

  • Shynel Brizan, T&T’s Queen of Carnival 2019,  portraying Mariel-la, Shad-ow of Con-scious-ness from the band Palace of the Peacock, presented by Moko Somõkõw. Photo by Jason C. Audain
  • Basil Charles. Photo by The Mustique Company
  • Sir Arthur Lewis. Photo by Keystone Press/Alamy Stock Photo
  • 1932 or 2019 is a series of digital collage works by Leanne Russell, combining photographs taken after Dorian in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, and those salvaged from a lost collection taken by artist Brent Malone’s father in 1932, along with stories collect
  • Nicole Minnis’s oil painting After the Storm depicts three children whose home has been destroyed. She writes: “In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit the island of Eleuthera, where we lived. Anyone who has ever been through a major hurricane like Andre
  • Cydne Coleb’s Specimen examines how catastrophic events and personal traumas redefine an identity. She writes: “An individual is altered within themselves (psychologically and physiologically) as well as externally through a newly established and sing
  • Photo courtesy Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc
  • Nelsion Nurse (at left) receiving the best designer award for Mashramani 2019. Photo courtesy Nelsion Nurse
  • After debuting in Paris, Jamaica, Jamaica! moved to São Paulo (pictured here), and now opens in Kingston in January. Photo courtesy Matheus José Maria/SESC SP
  • Photo courtesy Matheus José Maria/SESC SP
  • Roger Robinson. Photo courtesy Peepal Tree Press
  • A Portable Paradise
  • Carnival in Guadeloupe. Photo by Hemis/Alamy Stock Photo

Don’t Miss

Carnival Kings and Queens in T&T

As dusk fades into night, a parade assembles on the paved “track” that leads to the spotlights of the Queen’s Park Savannah stage. Offloaded from vans, ornate segments of costume crafted from wire and fibreglass, fabric and feathers, sequins and rhinestones come together to form an astonishing array of fantastic forms: giant birds with hovering wings, cascades of blossoms and foliage, horses and lions, African or Amerindian warriors, mythological figures, cosmic eruptions, and other entities that defy simple description. By long tradition, Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival masquerade bands are led by King and Queens with elaborate and sometimes massive costumes — some of them more than twenty feet tall or broad — who compete for supremacy in the weeks heading to the festival. Crossing the Savannah over two nights, in preliminary and final rounds, the Kings and Queens are judged on imaginative flair and craftsmanship, plus the vibrancy and energy of the athletic men and women who dance these creations on stage.

How to get there? Caribbean Airlines operates numerous flights daily to Piarco International Airport in Trinidad from destinations in the Caribbean and North and South America


Top Five

Mustique Blues Festival memories

Sixteen miles south of St Vincent, Mustique is a 1,400-acre privately owned island along the Grenadines chain. Its serenity and charisma helped earned its reputation as a getaway for royals, celebrities, and anyone looking for a secluded retreat. But that doesn’t mean the island is bereft of nightlife: Basil’s Bar on Britannia Bay is a world-famous hotspot, and renowned as the home of the annual Mustique Blues Festival (running this year from 22 January to 5 February).

Twenty-five years ago, bar proprietor Basil Charles and multi-award-winning British performer Dana Gillespie started the music festival, on a friendly dare. One night while Gillespie was visiting on holiday, she amazed the bar’s crowd with an impromptu performance. She promised to arrange a proper blues festival if Basil got a piano — and the rest is history. The Mustique Blues Festival has evolved into a high-intensity good time, and also a charity event for the Basil Charles Educational Foundation, which offers scholarships to children across St Vincent and the Grenadines, to complete secondary school. To date, the foundation has helped one thousand children with their education.

As the festival celebrates its twenty-fifth year with local and international artistes — or old friends, as they’re called on Mustique — Basil Charles shares his top five memories of festivals past.

I’ve known the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger since 1971. He played as a surprise guest artist in 2005, and it was amazing. We didn’t advertise that event, yet people came from Bequia and everywhere. He sang old blues and favourites like “Honky Tonk Women”, “I’m Going Down”, and “Dust My Broom”. I got goosebumps.

We had violinist Nigel Kennedy perform, and it was sensational. It’s unusual to have a violinist perform at a blues festival, but everyone loved it.

Saxophonist Big Jay McNeely was a crowd-pleaser. Dressed in complete black with white gloves, he made us turn off the lights. He grabbed a lady from the audience who wore a white dress. He lay on his back [on stage] and from far all we saw were his fingers playing the sax. It was phenomenal.

Joe Louis Walker, a powerful electric blues guitarist and singer, is also beloved. He played here before being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. I went as his guest.

But my greatest memory is that each artist performs for free. These are people I have met over time. I host them, and they do it for charity. Dana Gillespie, Dino Baptiste, Steely Dan, Ian Siegal — everyone.

As told to Shelly-Ann Inniss


Life and Times

Sir Arthur Lewis

How much do you know about Sir Arthur Lewis, St Lucia’s first Nobel Laureate? 

Did you know that St Lucia is the country with the most Nobel Prizes per capita? Or that the island’s two laureates share a birthday? When poet Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992, he followed in the footsteps of his countryman Sir Arthur Lewis, the economics laureate in 1979 — and the first black man to receive a Nobel Prize in a category other than peace.

Each January, St Lucians commemorate these two exemplars during a week-long programme of lectures, poetry readings, symposiums, and more, scheduled around Nobel Laureates Day on 23 January — Lewis and Walcott’s shared birthday. The poet’s life story may be better known to the public, but Lewis’s career was equally stellar, credited with groundbreaking contributions to the development of postcolonial countries in the era of Independence. Here’s a closer look:

  • Sir William Arthur Lewis (23 January, 1915–15 June, 1991) was the fourth of George Ferdinand Lewis and Ida Louisa Lewis’s five sons. His parents were originally from Antigua.
  • At seven years old, he fell dreadfully ill and was unable to attend school for three months, so his father assumed the role of his teacher and home-schooled him. By the time he was ready to return to school, he was two academic years ahead of his peers.
  • His original ambition was to be an engineer. Instead, he won a scholarship to the prestigious London School of Economics, where he earned a BSc and a PhD. He was the first black student, and soon the first black professor, at LSE.
  • After a stint at the University of Manchester, Lewis returned to the Caribbean in 1959 when he was appointed the first Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. In 1963, he moved to Princeton University in the US, where he was based until his retirement twenty years later.
  • Lewis also served as an economic advisor to the governments of several newly independent Caribbean and African nations, and as president of the Caribbean Development Bank.
  • Over the period 1941 to 1988, Lewis wrote eighty-one academic articles and ten books, including The Theory of Economic Growth (1955) and The Agony of the Eight (1965). His work included the development of the Lewis Model, explaining the growth of developing economies like those of the Caribbean — first outlined in a 1954 article.
  • In 1979 Lewis shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with American Theodore Shultz, whose work also focused on developing countries.
  • St Lucia’s community college is named for Lewis, and other educational institutions have named buildings or schools after him, including the University of the West Indies and the University of Manchester. His portrait appears on the EC hundred-dollar banknote.
  • After retiring from teaching, Lewis moved to Barbados, where he died in 1991, and was survived by his wife Gladys — whose family had known Lewis’s since they were children — and two daughters.

On View

Refuge at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas

Since last September, the tragic effects of Hurricane Dorian have caused many across the Caribbean to reflect and unite. Bahamians demonstrated a spirit of resilience in the wake of the destruction inflicted on the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, but questions about how and where to find hope and healing after the catastrophe consumed minds. When your home is destroyed, where is home? Opening on 19 December, 2019, and running until 5 April, 2020, the exhibition Refuge at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) is intended as a form of therapy at this pivotal moment in Bahamian history, and a safe outlet to share experiences, anxieties, and dialogues on the future, while offering institutional support to the nation’s artists. The forty-one artists assembled in Refuge — seventeen of them from Abaco and Grand Bahama — include the three whose works are featured on these pages.


All About . . .

Barbados’s Holetown Festival

Traditional Barbadian chattel houses, charming boutiques offering unique creations by local artists and artisans, and ultra-cool nightlife are all characteristics of Holetown on Barbados’s west coast. And don’t overlook the history of this picturesque community. At the annual Holetown Festival (16 to 23 February), cultural showcases and other events like street parades and markets harken back to 1627, when English colonists first settled this area of Barbados. For all the history buffs, the Barbados National Trust shares some lesser known tidbits about Barbados’s first town.

The Holetown “Hole” was a small stream at the English settlers’ landing site. Allegedly, they carved the inscription “James 1st of England and of this island” on a nearby tree, claiming the island for their mother country.

Holetown once had a whaling station, in the late nineteenth century.

1st and 2nd Streets are two of the oldest named streets not only in Holetown but also in all of Barbados.

Holetown’s St James Parish Church is the oldest consecrated site in Barbados. The original wooden church was built in 1628, and eventually replaced by a limestone coral structure.

The oldest survey of any Barbados plantation was on the Forde Plantation (dated to 1648), and shown on the Hapcott Map. The Forde Plantation has since evolved into an area of Holetown.

The police station in Holetown is thought to be part of an old fort, and the arch that leads visitors into the station is believed to be an original feature.

The Holetown Monument was set up in 1905 to commemorate the tercentenary of England “discovering” Barbados in 1605. However, subsequent research has put that date in question. The monument inscription was later changed to reflect when England took possession of Barbados: February 1627.

History aficionados can journey through time at more of Barbados’s historical sites, including:

  • Nidhe Israel Synagogue, Bridgetown
  • Tyrol Cot, St Michael (home of Sir Grantley Adams, first premier of Barbados)
  • Wildey House, St Michael (headquarters of the Barbados National Trust)
  • Gun Hill Signal Station, St George
  • Welchman Hall Gully, St Thomas
  • Andromeda Botanic Gardens, St Joseph
  • Morgan Lewis Windmill, St Andrew
  • Arlington House Museum, Speightstown, St Peter

On the Beat

The reggae story

David Katz previews Jamaica Jamaica!, an exhibition of artefacts celebrating an astonishing musical heritage

Jamaica Jamaica! is an immersive experience. Displays of wooden marimbulas bring the indigenous folk form of mento into focus, and original instruments once owned by the Skatalites will delight all ska devotees. Shrines to Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark and Clement Dodd’s Studio One, the latter often hailed as “Jamaica’s Motown,” are stunning homages to the island’s iconic recording studios, using archival material from each site. And the staging of the Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston — where it opens on 2 February, running for six months — is itself highly significant. This is easily the most comprehensive overview of Jamaica’s complex musical culture ever to reach a museum setting, and its arrival helps give reggae new legitimacy in its birthplace, since the music has often been denigrated by mainstream Jamaican society, due to its longstanding association with a disenfranchised underclass.

According to exhibition mastermind Seb Carayol — a documentary producer and exhibitions curator who divides his time between Marseille and Los Angeles — Jamaica, Jamaica! aims to “restore its rightful place in the history of black music, looking beyond the clichés to which it is too often reduced.” Itmakes an effort to get beyond a mere surface-level exploration of reggae. Instead, in several thematic sections, the exhibition tries to provide the historical, political, and social context so often missing from explorations of the music’s evolution, allowing for a “history of decolonisation through the music,” as well as the widespread influence that various sub-genres of reggae have made on other global forms of popular music.

As the exhibition makes clear, the story of reggae is long and complicated, and to understand its evolution, certain historical specificities of the island’s colonial phase must be considered. In terms of the music itself, after explorations of African-Jamaican religious practices such as kumina and revival, we find the quintessential formation of the Skatalites in the early 1960s, the prevalent roots reggae of the 1970s, as well as the subsequent dancehall craze and the attendant culture of the sound system. Innovations in Trench Town, the relation between music and politics, and the creation of landmark film The Harder They Come also feature. 

Musical artefacts, graphic arts, film clips, audio materials, and carefully written explanatory text all help guide us through the most important phases — the result being a nuanced and informed understanding of how Jamaican music has evolved over the years and just why it remains so important. And each of the items on display has been cleared directly with the Jamaican rightsholders, giving an extra layer of legitimacy to the project through carefully brokered partnerships, sensitive to potential issues of appropriation.

Previously staged for extended periods at public arts spaces in Paris and São Paulo, Jamaica Jamaica!, for its Jamaican edition, iscurated by Carayol in conjunction with O’Neil Lawrence of the National Gallery and Herbie Miller, former manager of Peter Tosh and the Skatalites, who currently runs the small Jamaica Music Museum within the Institute of Jamaica in downtown Kingston. “My idea was to showcase at home what is left of the tangible memory of music in Jamaica,” says Carayol, “digging on the island to make an exhibition where items would be locally sourced. I am very pleased that new items will be shown that have never been exhibited before, all from legendary studios, producers, musicians, and artists.” The new items include vintage archive material from Studio One and other iconic recording facilities, plus artefacts from Count Ossie’s Rastafari camp, and original field recordings of kumina performances, alongside an interactive sound system installation.

The opening of the exhibition is perfectly timed to coincide with February’s designation of Reggae Month in Jamaica, with musical performances taking place daily in Kingston and elsewhere. Panel discussions and other special events will give the public maximum opportunity to delve deeper into reggae’s many potential meanings.


The Read

A Portable Paradise

The second book of poems by Trinidad-born, UK-based Roger Robinson, A Portable Paradise (Peepal Tree Press) tackles subjects as topical and painful as London’s Grenfell Tower fire and the scandalous deportation of Windrush-era West Indian migrants, and as timeless and tender as the author’s childhood memories. Delving with equal insight into pleasure and sorrow, Robinson argues that “earthly joy is, or ought to be, just within, but is often just beyond our reach.” A Portable Paradise is shortlisted for the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize, to be announced in London on 12 January, 2020.

Shandilay Bush
After Louise Gluck

When the fevers will not end,
when the doctors with all their study
are silenced, when even your family,
close and extended, are lean with worry,
murmuring fervent prayers within earshot;

when you no longer have enough
energy to raise your body unaided
to sitting position; so weak that
you think that you may not make it past
this day; and you’ve made peace 
with the idea of death, because life
takes an effort that you can no longer summon;

but when you are drenched in sweat
and you can’t shake the shivers,
you ignore my bitter taste
as you sip, because by this time
all you want to do is live.

Before I was boiled as your cure
I’d absorbed everything:
nights of full moons, rainy seasons,
nutrients from decomposing dung beetles,
loamy soil, bird song, a list to end your suffering.
I will let you live if you want to live. 
I am already drowning your fever as you drink,
your life hanging by my leaves,
your body of fat, skin, blood and bone
all weaker now than my slender stalk.

Drink now, past the dregs to the grit,
and in your mind we are forever
bound; my bitter taste that you once
swore that you couldn’t stomach,
you will now sip, and the taste
will come to remind you
of life, of oh sweet sweet life.


Datebook

January and February bring Carnival season across the Caribbean, from Haiti in the north to Trinidad and Tobago in the south, with a grand finale in the days before Ash Wednesday on 26 February

Haiti

Port-au-Prince, the capital, is home to Haiti’s biggest Carnival celebrations, with massive floats moving through the streets to a soundtrack of kompa. Smaller but equally exuberant, Carnival in Jacmel, on Haiti’s south coast, is a showcase for traditional papier-mâché skills, with elaborate costume headpieces in the form of exotic animals — giraffes, zebras — and caricatures of political figures.

Dominican Republic

In some places, Carnival parades last one or two days. In the Dominican Republic, every Sunday during the month of February brings colourful processions through the main cities. Costumes and traditional characters are unique to each area and demonstrate the diverse population’s folkloric traditions and beliefs.

Guadeloupe

The action starts on Dimanche Gras — “Fat Sunday” — with a parade in Pointe-à-Pitre. Monday, Lundi Gras, brings an early-morning pyjama parade, followed by the performance of burlesque weddings, as couples cross-dress in each other’s wedding garments. Tuesday, Mardi Gras, is the biggest parade in Guadeloupe’s capital, Basse-Terre, as the streets fill with excited revellers in masks and costumes.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is a day of Carnival tabanca or mourning. Guadeloupeans take it to another level, as crowds dress in black and white, and burn an effigy of Vaval, the King of Carnival. “Vaval, pa quitté nou” (“Carnival, don’t leave us”) they cry, as the festival comes to its close.

Martinique

Among the colourfully costumed masqueraders and overflowing music, other traditional Carnival characters inject a note of the sinister. Similar to the jab molassies of Trinidad to the south, Martinique’s Neg Gwo Siwo is covered from head to toe in a glistening black syrup, frightening children and reminding onlookers of the island’s history of plantation slavery. And look out for Mariyan Lapofig, a woman dressed only in dried banana leaves, another reminder of Martinique’s rural folk roots.

Carriacou

Grenada’s sister isle affectionately refers to its Carnival as Kayak Mas. For Monday night mas and Fancy Mas on Carnival Tuesday, besequinned masqueraders and oil-covered jab-jabs dance to upbeat music. And Carriacou’s unique Shakespeare Mas features elaborately costumed performers challenging each other with their best recitations of the works of the Bard. Try not to fumble, or you’ll get a tap from your opponent’s stick.

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinbagonians call their Carnival “the greatest show on earth,” and certainly when it comes to the stamina required to make it through the Carnival season, they can’t be beat. Weeks of concerts, competitions and fetes lead up to Carnival weekend, when steel orchestras compete for the Panorama trophy and singers go after the Calypso and Soca Monarch titles. J’Ouvert at dawn on Carnival Monday is like a second start of the year, and then it’s non-stop till Las’ Lap on Tuesday night.