Caribbean Beat Magazine

Island Beat (March/April 1996)

People events in the news around the islands

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May Days

From Tobago, the call goes out to the Caribbean sailing community: “Mayday! Mayday!” Or perhaps that should read: “May Days! May Days!”– for it is not a cry for help, but rather an invitation to join in six days of sailing fun and excitement from May 12 to 17, off the island’s south-west coast.

The Tobago Race Week– later dubbed The Angostura Tobago Race Week, in honour of its most loyal sponsor, and now called the Angostura Yachting World Regatta– has grown from a rather intimate, home-grown affair to a notable event on the Caribbean sailing calendar. Last year, a total of 90 boats competed in the various events– a big jump from the 23 competitors in 1989. This year, about 130 yachts are expected to show up.

One of the factors responsible for the Regatta’s increasing popularity is the involvement since 1994 of the respected Yachting World magazine, which has been able to promote the Race Week amongst its international readership. In years past, the Regatta mainly attracted participants from nearby islands such as Barbados, Grenada and Bequia; the 1994 event, however, registered boats from all over the world.

While the Regatta’s main excitement still lies with the hard-core Racing Class (who, after all, can resist the sight of a gaily-coloured spinnaker billowing in the wind?), the fastest growing race category is probably the Live-Abroad Class, geared to those hardy souls who reside permanently on their boats. This, understandably, is the category that attracts most of the foreign boats; yachts from as far as afield as South Africa and Australia have taken part.

Since all sailing and no play would make even Captain Hook a dull boy, the Angostura Yachting World Regatta does allow for a day of rest and let-your-hair-down recreational activities. The Lay Day, as it is known, takes place mid-week at ever-popular Pigeon Point beach; everything from volleyball to sack-races to beer-drinking competitions could be on the agenda.

Trinidad sailor Mike Connell– who hopes to be able to participate, “if I can find a crew”– describes the general  appeal of this regatta: “It’s comfortable racing– not gruelling, like some other races. It’s competitive, but fun.”

That, you might say, just about sums it up.

– Donna Yawching

Stand By For Sailing Week

Thought badly bruised by Hurricane Luis last summer, Antigua was back in business by late 1995: all shops and restaurants were open by November, and the great majority of hotels were ready for visitors in time for the start of the winter season.

The biggest event on the Antiguan calendar between now and the summer Carnival is the annual Sailing Week, scheduled for April 28- May 4. This is the largest event of its kind in the Caribbean, according to the Antigua Sailing Week Committee, and is “rated among the top five regattas in the world”. Last year’s event attracted 243 entries from 34 countries and a large press contingent; organizers are counting on an even bigger group of sailors, yachting enthusiasts and journalists this year, to underline the fact that it takes more than a mean-minded hurricane to put Antigua out of action. They have already lined up an impressive array of blue-ribbon sponsors for the event, including American Express, Rolex, Bacardi and Cable & Wireless.

Antigua’s regatta offers five challenging races, with courses ranging from 16 to 28 miles; spectators watch from a small armada of chatter boats or from vantage points on shore. Apart from the trials at sea, there is plenty of onshore action too- nonstop music and partying, contests and games, receptions and dinners. Come late April, this is the place to be.

Voices From The Past

A major exhibition of antique maps, views and paintings relating to the history of Jamaica will be on show on April 28 and 29 at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston. This will be a rare chance to see some priceless historical material, including an extensive range of original maps dating back to 1548 and some fascinating paintings giving an unusual feel of life in the colonial period.

Jamaica’s colonial plantations and their products – sugar, coffee, cocoa, pimento, ginger and indigo – were of great importance for the wealth they produced. During the 18th century a large group of wealthy absentee landowners developed, living in England but anxious to visit their plantations from time to time and willing to pay a good deal of money to have them surveyed and painted by leading artists of the time. They would show off their paintings and plans in England: of course the artists made them look magnificent, depicting the slaves as content with their lot rather than suffering the terrible conditions and restrictions of plantation life.

Some of the Great Houses from that time can still be seen today, but many were painted by visiting artists. James Hakewill was one of them: he produced a series of 21 hand-coloured aquatints after his tour of 1820-21; they show scenes of the capital, several plantations and interior landscapes. Other important artists of the time were Robertson, Kidd, Duperley and Belisario. There was a stone lithographic publishing operation in Kingston as early as 1837, only a few years after the process was discovered.

The mapping of Jamaica was begun in 1528 by Benedetto Bordone of Venice, who published a rather crude woodcut map with no detail save for the name Jamaiqua and a large range of mountains in the interior. Jamaica was basically unsurveyed until 1671, when John Ogilby published the first large-scale map. Many other important and decorative maps followed by English, French and Dutch cartographers; as shipping increased, more accurate sea-charts emerged in the form of “pilots” or navigational books.

Maps proliferated in the 19th century: one by James Robertson in 1804 measures five feet by 12 feet, with every conceivable detail added. But it was only after emancipation in 1838 that cartography placed more emphasis on accuracy than on decoration.

Many of the item on show in April are of great rarity and have not been on show for many years, if ever. Don’t miss this chance to see them.

Paul Nicholas

Antique Caribbean maps and prints:

see Caribbean Directory, page 82

A Barbados Congaline

Do you love a good carnival? Tired of the long wait between the February Carnival season and Barbados’s big August Kadooment? If so, and you don’t know about it already, then there’s good news.

It’s a nine-day cultural extravaganza of music, parades and feeing. And it’s in late April.

Even though De Congaline Carnival in Barbados is the Caribbean’s youngest-it’s being held this year for the third time-it’s already rattling the regional carnival scene and attracting throngs of visitors from all over.

“The primary objective,” says one of the organisers, Derek Wilkie, “is to stimulate the local and regional music industry. Also, to bolster small business along with T-shirt manufacturing and design.” This year’s event, he says, “will be bigger than ever. We have several major sponsors coming in and both the Barbados Tourism Authority and the National Cultural Foundation see its potential and are getting involved.”

The nine-day festival begins with an opening ceremony on Sunday, April 21. That includes the formation of a human congaline that claims to be the longest in the Caribbean, and the launch of the Congaline Village with its food and craft stalls and live performances showcasing every sort of regional music.

Bands from across the region will be providing daily entertainment and performing at some of the highlight events. One of which is BAJAM, held on the historic Kensington oval cricket grounds: two stages give bands and featured performers that “fun competition” feel as they attempt to outdo on another in exciting the crowd.

The Carnival culminates with a big May Day Parade in May 1 (a local holiday) and a grand finale on live music from a bevy of top local and regional performers, providing a taste of carnival hits from around the Caribbean. Prizes in a number of categories in the May Day Parade are open to all, including visitors, which is another unique feature in this burgeoning festival.

While no-one has specific figures, organisers do know there is a doubling of Canadian arrivals during Congaline week, as well as a significant jump in arrivals from Germany and the UK. Says Derek, “We’re providing another product for the tourist industry during what is traditionally the island’s slowest period. Although we are still embryonic, this has already become a significant event regionally and internationally.”

Another unusual attraction in Barbados is the 1996 Holders Season of opera and drama, running from March 9 to 30 at the 17th century Holders House. Starting with a cabaret dinner and a performance of Sondheim’s Side by Side, the festival offers productions of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (March 12, 21 and 26), Puccini’s Tosca (March 16 and 28) and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado (March 20 and 23). The season ends with a Gershwin Gala and formal picnic. 

Roxas Kinas

A Peak Experience

When the St Lucian government held an “Environment Month” some time back, it seemed to produce little public response. But this wasn’t apathy: it was familiarity. The environment already powers the psyche of St Lucia, and only the occasional reminder seems to be needed. This is a place where landscape, language and life naturally intertwine.

In this Catholic island it isn’t too fanciful to see heaven in the lush green cloud-shadowed peaks of Morne Gimie, or hell in the boiling black mud and sulphurous fumes of Soufriére, the “drive-in volcano”.

Morne Sorciére een mist, garçon. Ees whole day rain today! Most of the work of Derek Walcott, the St Lucian poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, gets its impetus from this landscape, where the twin peaks of the Pitons represent much more than plugs of cooled lava. They are an androgynous symbol of the land itself: the breasts of “fair Helen” (of Troy: the French and British fought epic, almost classical battles over St Lucia), and also the male, protective “horns” of the island. Walcott (himself a twin) spear-headed a move some years ago to head off an ill-conceived foreign project to slice off the top of one of the Pitons to make way for a fancy hotel.

La foway et la terre sé la vie says the motto on the Ministry signboard near the rain forest environmental project. The forest and the land are our life. Compère Zandolie (Mister Lizard) is their mascot and the children’s friend, reminding everyone of the importance of the environment.

But it is the Pitons themselves, those environmental exclamation marks, that most reflect the island’s aspirations and St Lucians’ innate love of excellence. Reduced to a simple design — a circle with two triangles — they have become the logo of the National Bank, the local beer (Piton i bon!) and most of the tourism industry. The St Lucian “peak experience” is also reflected in the triangular motifs of island architecture; even bus stops have peaked roofs.

Of course, St Lucians are sometimes made aware in more direct ways of the presence and effect of their environment. Strong winds (the Arawak god Hurucán combing his hair) can decimate the fragile banana crop, and devastating floods can follow a rainstorm. So trees are not felled wantonly, and the newer housing developments have strict rules about tree-felling.

Environment Month? The St Lucian landscape is a daily surprise. La foway et la terre sé la vie.

– Michael Gilkes

A Taste Of St Maarten

Caribbean’s most popular destinations, not only during the winter season but year-round. At least 250 restaurants grace its 37 square miles, encircled by some of the finest beaches in the Caribbean, including a long scenic stretch at Orient Bay on the French side. The 36 beaches, which range from remote to well-developed, are a major drawing card; so is the duty-free shopping.

The town of Marigot, on the French side, turns into an outdoor market-place each Saturday. On the Dutch side, in Philipsburg, both Front and Back Streets are lined with shops that feature bargain prices on name-label clothing, Dutch chocolate and cheese, Delft china, liquor and other goods. Popular shopping arcades thrive near resorts such as Mullet Bay, Maho Beach, Pelican and Divi Little Bay.

To get the best bargains, wise shoppers bring plenty of cash or travellers’ checks. Most prices are listed in US dollars and in French francs or Netherlands Antilles florins.

A get-acquainted island tour is an essential starting point for first-time visitors. It only takes a couple of hours, including stops. Friendly taxi drivers make an excellent source of information about island activities.

Time-share sales have boomed in St Maarten. At Princess Juliana International Airport, sales staff from a new time-share project may offer arriving passengers cool drinks, island maps, and an invitation to lunch or a boat trip. Shoppers in Philipsburg and Marigot may be approached with incentives to make resort tours. For those willing to exchange beach time for a 90-minute sales pitch, all sorts of freebies are available, including boat and air trips to St Barts, dinner for two at selected restaurants, T-shirts, travel bags, sunset cruises and casino trips.

French or Dutch? No matter which side of St Maarten/St Martin you choose, the sun, beaches, shopping and night-life will delight you. This is an island that offers an unforgettable vacation.

Despite the battering received from Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn last year, St Maarten made a rapid recovery, and was back in business well before Christmas. To underline the point, the island opened a new welcome promenade for visitors in front of its famous Courthouse, and announced plans for a $30 million port development project which will allow two “mega cruise ships” to berth simultaneously.

Mary Montague Sikes

Caribbean Style

So many peoples and cultures have left their mark on the Caribbean: the original Amerindians, the Spanish, the French, the British, the Dutch, the Americans. You see the different fingerprints everywhere, not only in language and food and music but in houses and shops and offices. The stately water-front buildings of Curaçao, the cobbled streets of old San Juan or Havana, the stone churches of Barbados, the wooden buildings of Georgetown, the Miami-style office-blocks of uptown Kingston — they are so different that it’s hard to believe they are all part of the same Caribbean.

Is there such a thing as a recognisable Caribbean style, a distinctive Caribbean architecture and design? It’s one of the biggest questions that the young Caribbean School of Architecture (CSA) in Jamaica is grappling with. Founded in 1988 as part of the College of Arts, Science and Technology (recently promoted to become the National Polytechnic University) in Kingston, the CSA serves 13 Commonwealth Caribbean countries, and its quota of regional students is rising – in 1993/4, 32 of the 117 students were from beyond Jamaica. The School provides pre-professional and fully professional training, including BA and MA degrees and research, and is now graduating 12 full-trained architects a year plus about 36 apprentices to join architectural practices around the region.

The project has won the backing of regional governments and international support agencies: not only are costs much lower than sending Caribbean students abroad to train (about 30% of the international costs), but the region can now train its own architectural professionals, just as it trains its own doctors, lawyers and engineers; and it can train them in its own way.

Just what that means is still being energetically debated. Students have been producing valuable monographs on regional architecture, identifying buildings of historic value, and arguing about a “philosophy” of architecture for the CSA, and for a region at home with everything from 16th-century Spain to the enclosed concrete towers of late 20th-century Miami. The debate is likely to rage for some time.

– Jeremy Taylor

A Century of Cricket

Some say it is the most beautiful cricket ground in the Caribbean, even the world. The Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain reaches its centenary this year (1996), and the Queen’s Park Cricket Club, founded five years before the ground was opened in 1896, has been recalling a century of great sport.

Set beside the foothills of Trinidad’s Northern Range, the Queen’s Park Oval is the best-appointed cricket ground in the West Indies. With space for over 25,000 spectators, it can hold more than Trent Bridge, Old Trafford or Edgbaston — three of England’s Test venues — and claims the most knowledgeable and volatile cricketing audience in any part of the world.

The beauty of the Queen’s Park Oval lies in its backdrop of green hills, its marvellous samaan trees, and its traditional atmosphere, which survives all the ground’s modernisation. The club has managed to make the best of both worlds, providing good accommodation and facilities while remaining sensitive to those who have watched the game at the Oval ever since an old cattle farm was part of a the ground up to the late 1940s (causing the northern end to be called the Farm End rather than the Pavilion End).

The original pavilion was built in 1896, when an agreement between the Queen’s Park Cricket Ground Company Limited and Her Most Excellent Majesty Queen Victoria was signed, with a 199-year lease. It was refurbished in 1952, and again in 1993 when the offices and administrative facilities were streamlined and computerised. The Club now has a membership of over 2,500.

The Oval is not just a cricket ground, though. Over the years it has played host to football, athletics, cycling, boxing, hockey, netball, concerts and even Carnival competitions and fetes. It was one of the main venues where Carnival bands gathered and where a beauty queen show was staged on the eve of Carnival. It has been the site for rallies and state events.

Yet it is for cricket that we remember the Oval best. At the turn of the century, English teams came to show off their skills to locals who were coming to terms with the game. But over the years the tables turned dramatically; West Indian giants like Learie Constantine, George Headley, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Garry Sobers, Wes Hall, Rohan Kanhai, Vivian Richards and the Queen’s Park players — Jeff Stollmeyer, Gerry Gomez, Kenny Trestrail, Charlie Davis, Joey Carew, Brian Lara — gave magnificent performances on the Oval turf.

Old-timers also know the names which made the Oval into such a marvellous arena for sport, like the old administrator W. C. Nock and others who followed him– Sir Errol Dos Santos, Sir Lindsay Grant, Botha Tench, Sonny Murray, and today’s president and former West Indies all-rounder, Gerry Gomez. In the Oval’s centenary year, they must take a bow for keeping the Queen’s Park Oval’s flag flying above this beautiful, sunlit ground.

– Horace Harragin

Shades of Black

Two young Trinidadians, together known as Shades of Black, are the backup singers for the world-famous zouk band Kassav. Natalie York is “the jingle queen of Trinidad and Tobago” (no locally-made commercial is complete without her voice.) Karla Gonzales became known through her role in a local TV soap opera, then worked with local bands and videos. Now people look at her striking face and ask, “Where I know you from?”

The duo, and former member Juslyn Jones, met the world’s top zouk band at the Caribbean Sound Basin studio in Trinidad in 1992. They were snatched up and flown to Martinique for tryouts; Kassav later returned to Trinidad to record their famed Tek It Izi album, with Shades of Black as backup.

In 1993, Shades made their own album– Wonderful, a collection of zouk songs with a Trinidad touch–for Sony, Kassav’s own producers. It was released in France and the French West Indies, and sold well. The same year they toured France with Kassav and Africa with Guadeloupean saxophonist Jean-Michel Rotin, performing in the Ivory Coast and Bali before finishing up in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Yorke’s high soprano and Gonzales’s husky tones can be heard on Kassav’s 1995 album Difé Soupape. This month, Yorke sets off for a six-month stint with a cabaret in the Philippines– cancans, pineapple hat, the works– while Gonzales went solo for Carnival after recording her first solo single for ’96, Take It.

Nazma Muller

Reggae Review

“One day this music is going to get bigger and reach its rightful people.”

Bob Marley’s prophecy was fulfilled when he was inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame, a first for a Caribbean artist. Reggae’s persistence on the cutting edge of pop has made it the music of the 90s. Since 1992 it has had a greater presence in mainstream pop, with several successful forays into the R&B and pop charts.

Last year, Shaggy, Diana King and Ini Kamoze had the best outing. Shaggy created history with a debut at No. 1 on the British pop charts, displacing Michael Jackson’s You Are Not Alone with his Boombastic. In the Summertime, from the same album, did well in both the British and American charts. A third song, The Train Is Coming, an old Jamaican hit, appeared on the soundtrack of the film The Money Train, a breakthrough which could make Shaggy the most successful dancehall DJ since Shabba Ranks and a strong contender for a Grammy (even outside of Billboard’s reggae category), an indication of how deeply reggae has penetrated mainstream pop music.

Ini Kamoze, who had been off the scene for a couple of years, came back with a bang. Hot Stepper, another crossover record, not only topped the Billboard pop chart but reached the No. 1 slot in 15 countries in Europe. Diana King rocketed to stardom with the single Shy Guy, which was released on the soundtrack to the Martin Lawrence and Will Smith hit film Bad Boys. She also became the first Jamaican to have a million seller in Japan, one of reggae’s biggest markets.

Significantly, one of these songs needed to break into the local market before their success– a big change from the time when the large record companies took their cue from the Jamaican market. Now, it seems that any successful record can break into international markets, given the right promotion. Other artists with international success last year included Terror Fabulous, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Patra, Snow and Capleton.

In Jamaica, Buju Banton released ‘Til Shiloh, one of the most important albums of recent years, and something of a sea-change for a DJ whose initial success was tainted by the violently homophobic lyrics of Boom Bye Bye. Banton is responding to a redemptive change in the dancehall diet, brought about largely by the singular inspiration of the late Garnet Silk, who died tragically in 1994.

The charts are still dominated by the DJs, particularly Buju Banton and his rivals Bounti Killa and Beenie Man. Shabba Ranks, meanwhile, has been resurfacing in the Jamaican market. Among the groups, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers released their best album yet, Free As We Want 2B, which has had international chart success. Mystic Revealers continued to consolidate their reputation as a roots group.

Of the singers, Luciano is the pick of the pack. His tone is not as unique as Silk’s, but he possesses a similar spiritual authority, and a flexibility (he can sing pop) that could make him one of the most exciting talents of the 90s, if his potential is realised.

Dermot Hussey