Island Beat (March/April 2000) | Music, Film and Art

Keep in touch with the islands

  • Paul Campbell as Capone. Photograph by Wayne Tippets/Palm Pictures
  • Carl Bradshaw is the local don in Third World Cop. Photograph by Wayne Tippets/Palm Pictures
  • St Maarten’s The Mighty Dow. Photograph courtesy I. Yorke

Music: SOCA FROM ST MAARTEN

Eighteen years ago his Forkin’ was the talk of St Maarten. Today he’s looking for a hit in the form of a good Trini Woman. Who is this cheeky character? None other than The Mighty Dow, St Maarten’s calypso man-of-the-moment.

Dow (Isidore York), 35, is best known regionally for his 1980s hits Soca Salsa and St Maarten Rhumba. His music is a blend of calypso, soca, zouk and Latin styles. He’s one of the top calypsonians in St Maarten, having won the Road March title twice: in 1982 with Forkin’ and in 1983 with St Maarten Jamboree, and was a guest performer during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2000 Carnival season. Trini Woman, his soca song for this year, has that infectious Latin beat mixed with rapid Caribbean hip movement. It’s a song inspired by the way Trini men talk about their women, says Dow. “It’s what the Trini men say: the women cook, dance, and are loving and sweet.”

Calypso competitions are an integral part of Carnival festivities, testing the improvisational and narrative skills of the calypsonian. And Dow is usually an integral part of Carnival in St Maarten, which climaxes on April 30, birthday of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Dow started singing in 1981 and recognised the popularity of the Latin beat when St Maarten Rhumba became an instant hit, not only in the Caribbean, but in Latin America as well. He has since concentrated on that market because, he says, “Latin people respect the artists; they give you the incentive to go on.” Not that the region has neglected him — “the calypsonian is well-respected here,” he says of Trinidad, where he records his music. “Trinis have a lot to do with my music. I go to Trinidad three or four times a year, and every time I get inspired — by the people, everything.”

But singing isn’t Dow’s only talent. Apart from upbeat music that will have you swaying to the beat with little effort, he’s got skills on the pan — playing and arranging. As a singer, panman, and arranger, he was nominated for Billboard magazine’s Premio lo Nuestro a la Música award in 1990, which recognises the best and most outstanding Hispanic artists throughout the United States and Latin America. He didn’t win, but that nomination has had a remarkable impact on his popularity. Dow toured most of Mexico in 1997 and now hopes to record with Gloria Estefan — a long shot, maybe, but he was in her studio in December recording an all-Latin album.

Dow celebrates his 20th anniversary in 2001, but in the meantime he’s depending on Trini Woman to keep him in the spotlight.

Bonnie Khan

Film: Third World Cop

Third World Cop is produced by Island Jamaica Films and Palm Pictures, the team responsible for Dance Hall Queen (1997), and has now replaced it as the highest grossing film in Jamaica. While the movie does not carry the positive messages of Dance Hall Queen nor the strong narrative structure of the cult hit The Harder They Come, it is efficiently directed by Jamaican Chris Browne. Browne previously demonstrated his skills at directing action and drama in his short films Crossfire(1989) and  Banyan/UNESCO’s Entry Denied(1996). Third World Cop is his first feature.

Cop is a fast-moving action drama featuring two childhood friends whose lives have taken opposing directions. Capone, a gun-slinging star policeman (played with cool demeanour by Paul Campbell), is transferred from rural Port Antonio to the Kingston ghetto where he grew up. There, he confronts his old friend Ratty (Mark Danvers), now the right hand man of a notorious local don (Carl Bradshaw). Capone is the film’s hero, although, as his name implies, there is little difference between heroes and villains in this scenario. Cop follows Capone as he investigates the illegal importation of guns and the possible connection to Ratty, torn between  loyalty to his friend and doing “the right thing”.

The film features strong performances by Campbell and  Bradshaw, a veteran actor whose career began with The Harder They Come and who has performed in nearly all of the locally-produced Jamaican movies, including Smile Orange, Countryman, The Lunatic, Klash and Dance Hall Queen (which he also produced). Campbell showed his immense talent in The Lunatic and Dance Hall Queen. Audrey Reid, however, who created such an impact as the title character in Dance Hall Queen, is given far less scope here as Capone’s childhood sweetheart Rita.

The film is enriched by a number of supporting roles, such as comedian Winston “Bello” Bell as Capone’s nervous partner Floyd, constantly calling for “back up”, and Deportee, a lively debut performance by reggae artist Ninjaman. Music is a key element, as in most Jamaican films. Cop’s soundtrack is produced by Sly and Robbie, and includes performances by Beenie Man, Scare Dem Crew and the Marley Brothers.

With its Kingston ghetto setting, and its focus on the violent world of gun-running and police corruption, Third World Cop is depressingly realistic. (The Don’s hideout, for instance, is called Sadams.) Guns are a major issue in Jamaica. In fact, the July 1999 premiere of Third World Cop was postponed because of violence in the country. A letter to the Jamaica Observer argued that Jamaica “does not need a movie like this now or ever. We are tired of the guns, guns and more guns.”

In an interview with Splash magazine, Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records and chairman of Palm Pictures, defended the film against criticism that it painted a negative picture of Jamaica. “It’s made to be as real as possible, just like the music. Jamaica has been very successful with its music being very real and I would like to do the same kind of thing in film. It’s made for the masses; it is not an art movie.”

Third World Cop is an important addition to the Caribbean cinema movement. Unlike The Lunatic and Dance Hall Queen, Third World Cop is directed and produced by Jamaicans. It also makes use of the latest digital technology and strives to achieve a film look even though it was shot on digital video. This augurs well for other Caribbean producers who may have excellent film proposals, but cannot afford to shoot on film.

Third World Cop has been screened at the Toronto Film Festival, the Jamerican Film Festival in Montego Bay, and is now being distributed in the Caribbean, North America and Europe.

Bruce Paddington

art: THE SCULPTURE PARK

At the entrance to the University of Technology in Jamaica, amidst the students relaxing under the trees, there is a man holding the world in his hand, a horse rearing up on its hind legs, a man in a compass and a naked woman in a yoga position. These are just some of the larger than life-sized sculptures that are on permanent display at the university.

It is quite remarkable to discover this impressive celebration of Caribbean art at a University of Technology. For many centuries art and science were considered to be unrelated disciplines, but there is now a growing realisation of the need to break down such barriers and return to the days of antiquity when these artificial divisions did not exist. The University of Technology has been visionary in recognising the importance of marrying art and technology and creating a Sculpture Park.

Artists from the Caribbean region contributed a number of symbolic pieces, while five of Jamaica’s leading sculptors were commissioned to create works that reflected the five Faculties of the University. For the Faculty of the Built Environment, Basil Watson’s metallic sculpture The Compass depicts Man shaping his environment through the use of technology. The Faculty of Business Management is represented by Christopher Gonzales’s Icon of Togetherness, in which a cactus-like form expresses the knowledge given to the student by the University. Fitz Harrack’s sculpture for the Faculty of Engineering and Computing takes the form of a metal tree, with four arms jutting out into different directions, as if to communicate with and acknowledge the future.

The Faculty of Education and Liberal Studies is highlighted by a more traditional work by Kay Sullivan, depicting two students deep in study sitting on a base of a series of concentric circles. The piece that received the loudest applause at the opening of the Park in December 1999 was Laura Facey’s Earth to Earth. Designed for the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences, Facey’s beautiful work represents a naked woman, her body arched in a yoga position stretching for inspiration from earth to earth.

The other pieces on display are equally impressive, including The Horse, made from discarded automobile parts by Dr Lance Bannister from Barbados; a young man with his outstretched hand holding a globe, by Ricky George from St Lucia; and a Carnival-inspired copper piece by Ken Morris from Trinidad and Tobago. Eagerly awaited is Peter Minshall’s Monument to Intolerance. The artist’s sketch shows a pyramid, a sphere and a cube set on top of each other, while the construction gives the appearance of a cage or prison and will be filled with coils of gleaming razor wire.

The Sculpture Park initiative was spearheaded by the university’s President, Dr Rae Davis, and conceived and implemented by its Cultural Co-ordinator, Pat Ramsey. It presents a vision of technology in the service of the humanities, art uplifting technology.

 

Small is beautiful

“We wanted it to be the antithesis of something like the Cannes Film Festival,” says Ellen Lampert-Gréaux, co-director of the St Barth Film Festival (Cinema Caraïbe).

In 1996, Lampert-Gréaux and co-founder Joshua Harrison launched a five-night film showcase on the tiny island of St Barthelémy (population: 6,000) that was about the furthest thing from the south of France’s most famous extravaganza. Notably absent were the spoilt starlets, egocentric directors, studio execs, paparazzi and red carpets. Notably absent, in fact, was the cinema. In St Barthelémy, films are screened under the stars on the tennis court at the A.J.O.E., a community centre in the town of Lorient, where Roland, the projectionist, ascends via ladder to his rustic attic booth. The screen is the whitewashed back wall of the court, and the audience sits on white plastic patio chairs, which double as umbrellas if it rains.

Conceived as a means of enhancing the cultural life of the island, the St Barth Film Festival has set itself an ambitious task. First, there’s the focus on the relatively scarce commodity of Caribbean film. The organisers have circumvented the problem, at least partially, by ignoring the tedious debates about what constitutes a Caribbean film: their expansive definition has allowed the inclusion of films like Italian Gillo Pontecorvo’s Queimada, which has a fictitious Caribbean setting (and Marlon Brando in the role a free-market neo-colonist), and Claire Denis’s Chocolat, set in colonial West Africa. Then there’s the added problem, on this French-speaking island, of sourcing versions with French subtitles.

Yet, over the past five years the St Barth Film Festival has blossomed into a much-anticipated event on the local cultural calendar, with St Barth citizens welcoming not only the films, but also the band of filmmakers and other folks who are invited each year to present their work and to participate in the schools’ outreach programme.

The Festival has hosted directors such as Jamaican Perry Henzell (The Harder They Come), Venezuelan Fina Torres (Celestial Clockwork) and Guadeloupean Christian Lara (Sucre Amer). In 1999 the group included Mauritanian director Med Hondo, presenting West Indies, a quirky musical satire on colonialism and its discontents. Lydia René-Corail, director of the Noir Tout Couleurs festival in Guadeloupe, attended as well, along with Trinidadian Christopher Laird and Belgian producer Rolande Onkelinx. Laird and Onkelinx presented their video on Trinidad’s Carnival during the schools’ outreach.

Georgia Popplewell