What’s fun and fresh in the Caribbean this month

Buzzworthy: Tanya Stephens speaks her mind about sex and power; Nigel Harris heads back to UWI; Ria Ramkissoon creates high-drama handbags; Christopher Chambers is a man of mystery; Imran Khan calls it like he sees it; Michelle Henderson makes sweet creole jazz; and Sugar Daddy teaches Europe the soca beat. Catch this month's reading picks and new music releases to get you in the groove- from soca to pan

  • Tanya Stephens
  • Simeon L. Sandiford
  • The Salt Roads Book Cover
  • The Jones Chronicles
  • Survival for Service
  • Vahni Capildeo
  • E. Nigel Harris
  • Ria Ramkisson
  • Christopher Chambers
  • South Africa v West Indies
  • Michele Henderson
  • Sugar Daddy
  • Machel Montano concert DVD
  • Calypso @ Dirty Jim’s CD

Rude girl power

Tanya Stephens isn’t the usual sugar-coated musical snack-bite that record companies seem so fond of. She’s too honest — and too outspoken — for that.

Her trademark voice, coarse yet undeniably sexy, simultaneously shocks and titillates, as she tackles issues other dancehall artists run from. Her combination of bold lyrics and explicit street talk, in classics like Ninja Bike and It’s a Pity, is respected by her peers in the industry and lapped up by her audience. No one examines the urban reality of Jamaica and its male-female relations with more fire.

Big Tings A Gwan, the title track of her first album, was popular on the dancehall circuit back in 1994, but her real breakthrough came in 1995 with Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet, a fierce anthem with a forthright message for her male listeners: you may think you rule the world, but you’d better treat your woman right, because “Yuh haffi know fi handle it when gal a gwaan rude”. She’s not anti-male, but as her lyrics make clear — “mi know we haffi play it by the stupid rules of men” — she’s critical of their unquestioned position, particularly in macho Jamaican society, and isn’t afraid to say it.

From sex to motherhood to financial independence, Stephens fearlessly speaks her mind, and her message more than holds its own in the male-dominated dancehall world. Female fans cheer her on, and her male listeners sit up and pay attention, wondering if they’re ready for this yet.

Dylan Kerrigan


Harris comes home
When University of the West Indies Vice Chancellor Rex Nettleford retires in August, he will be succeeded by a fellow UWI graduate: Professor E. Nigel Harris. The son of novelist Wilson Harris, he left his native Guyana in 1965 for Howard University, followed by medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a residency at UWI’s Jamaica campus. Specialising in rheumatology, Harris helped devise a test for a previously unknown disease, Antiphospholipid Syndrome. In 1996 Harris was appointed dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Now he comes home to the Caribbean and the next phase of his distinguished career. PS

In the bag
They’re slung on the shoulders of the chicest New Yorkers, featured in the hippest fashion magazines, and sold in trendy stores from Harrod’s to Henri Bendel’s. Bold, colourful, and richly detailed, Ria Ramkissoon’s handbags blend the flair of her native Trinidad with the high drama of her New York City life. The diverse line boasts mixes of leather, suede, canvas, and nylon. While they’re functional enough for working moms, be warned — bags this stylish belong on the arms of serious fashionistas. Check them out at www.riaria.com. KM

Mystery man
Jamerican writer Christopher Chambers seals his position as a thriller writer with his second novel, A Prayer for Deliverance, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Sympathy for the Devil. Prayer chronicles the personal and professional challenges of FBI agent Angela Bivens — a rare black, female character in the hugely popular suspense/mystery genre. But, plot twists aside, the real mystery is how Chambers writes so effectively from a woman’s point of view. “I have lots of female friends,” he laughs. “I know their drama.” KM

Lucky star
One of the brightest moments in the West Indies cricket team’s recent South Africa tour was the work of a little-known 20-year-old Bajan, selected as a replacement for the third Test. The Windies needed an unlikely 441 runs to win. Dwayne Smith walked to the crease with a dislocated finger and no prior Test experience, bar 20 runs from the first innings, and set fans’ hearts racing; 93 balls later, the athletic all-rounder had saved the game and achieved the first West Indies debut Test century in 26 years. “I knew that if I could bat for a while there was enough time for me to get a big score,” he said, “and to do something for the West Indies too.” DK

Big voice
She may be Dominica’s best kept secret, but not for long. With acclaimed performances at jazz festivals throughout the Caribbean, Michele Henderson is achieving her goal of putting the nature island on the musical map. Michele (pronounced MEE-kel) boasts a repertoire that fuses creole styles like zouk and kadence with contemporary jazz. But it’s the sultry way she delivers R&B ballads that guarantees her star will shine well beyond the Caribbean. “The world should know Dominica,” says the petite powerhouse. “It’s small, but compelling.” Just like its most ardent ambassador. KM

Outside the Caribbean, soca invariably fails to ignite mainstream music charts. Young Tobagonian Stafford “Sugar Daddy” Samuel is out to prove the exception. In 2003, with the support of the Trinidadian label Rituals Music, his Sweet Soca Music — a refreshing fusion of soca lyrics, dancehall chant, and house beats — leaped into the European charts, gaining top ten status in France and Italy. Sony France quickly snapped him up, and Sugar Daddy’s first album was released in January 2004. Get ready for another dose of sugar. DK

Dylan Kerrigan, Kellie Magnus, and Philip Sander

Out of Africa

The Salt Roads
Nalo Hopkinson (Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-53302-5)

Hmm. Who’s the lady on the cover?

Striking, isn’t she? She’s Jeanne Duval, a sexy ginger-brown part-African who’s a dancer in Paris in the mid 19th century.

I thought Nalo Hopkinson was a science fiction writer?

That’s how she was tagged when she started out. And she used a sort of science fiction backdrop to her first two novels, Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber. But a deep Afro-Caribbean folk feeling is much more important in her writing.

So what’s this new book about?

It’s partly about Jeanne, the ginger-brown dancer. It’s also about a sugar plantation in Saint Domingue, and enslaved African women called Mer and Tipingee. And it’s about an enslaved Nubian called Thais 1,500 years earlier. And it’s about spirit, and rebellion and defiance, and people finding their destinies.

That’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? How on earth does Hopkinson bind all that together?

With difficulty, to be honest. It’s a tremendously ambitious book, covering nearly two millennia through four main storylines thousands of miles apart, one of them not even human.

But what do these stories have in common with each other?

Two things. Africa, above all. Jeanne Duval is part African, and her lover is the great French poet Charles Baudelaire, though he cuts a pretty sorry picture in the book. Jeanne is the inspiration for some of his poems, and through him for the work of other men like Jules Verne. Thais, the Nubian slave and prostitute from Alexandria, travels to Jerusalem, and the book hints that she becomes

St Mary of Egypt, “the ‘dusky’ saint”. On the plantation, Mer and Tipingee, longing for freedom and a return to Africa, get caught up in a revolt against the blancs. It fails, but it preshadows the successful Haitian revolution against the French.

And the other thing they have in common?

The African gods and spirits who intervene in human lives, defending and protecting and making demands. Ezili inhabits the heads of Jeanne and Thais and Mer at different times, influencing their actions as each woman grows, whether it’s in healing, love, or sainthood. It’s a rich, vivid spiritual world, made beautifully real on the page.

Bottom line. Is the book any good?

Read it.

Jeremy Taylor

“Write it. From the beginning”Bertha shouts.Ella (to Jean): What can I do?
Jean: Write it.
Ella: What.
Jean: Her story.
Ella: My story.
Jean: Right back. From the beginning. From the start. Everything . . .
Ella: But what about Charlotte Brontë . . . (Indicating the book.)
Jean (taking the book): She had never tasted a mango or seen one rot in the midday heat. She didn’t know that fabric rots. That furniture falls apart. That everything decays as quickly as it grows. That the road they built returned to forest . . . She had never seen the wide Sargasso Sea.

After Mrs Rochester, Polly Teale’s dramatisation of the life of Jean Rhys, was premiered by the Shared Experience Theatre Company in Northampton in March 2003, and later ran at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London. It has now been published by Nick Hern Books (ISBN 1-85459-745-0)


Family album

One Love: Life with Bob Marley and the Wailers
Lee Jaffe, with an introduction and interview by Roger Steffens (Norton, ISBN 0-393-05143-9)

Being placed under house arrest by machete-wielding ton ton macoutes in Haiti; cavorting with millionaires on private jets; being protected from the evil intentions of a hulking, philosophical rapist in a notorious Kingston prison by one of Jamaica’s most infamous gunmen — all experiences Lee Jaffe was faced with after forming a musical friendship with Bob Marley, when a chance encounter brought them together in Manhattan in 1973. The subsequent Rastafarian transformation of this Jewish artist and harmonica player is recalled with sensitivity in his beautiful coffee-table book. Filled with previously unseen images of Marley and his comrades when the Wailers were just on the brink of international stardom, One Love sheds much light on the group’s inner workings during Jamaica’s most politically volatile phase.

David Katz

The Jones chronicles

The Play’s the Thing . . . Errol Jones at 80
Marcia Riley (MAGSR, ISBN 976-8194-07-3)

And the play’s the thing that links the many recollections in this thespian family album of the man director Roger McTair called “The Jones”. Not merely an actor, but the very definition. The late director Jimmy King, in his extensive reverie on local theatre, says that some actors are born keepers of scrapbooks, some achieve the habit, and others practically have scrapbooks thrust upon them. Jones falls into the last category. As with autograph books on graduation day, it seems that every man, woman, and stagehand in West Indian theatre wanted to sign his or her name against this tribute to Trinidadian actor and director Ralph Leonard “Errol” Jones.
Compiled by Jones’s niece Marcia Riley, this collection of memoirs, interviews, and photographs is more than the story of one player. It remembers many of our legends as fledglings: artist Carlisle Chang and Carnival designer Peter Minshall doing set; a young Derek Walcott writing for the new Trinidad Theatre Workshop; actors like Freddie Kissoon, Horace James, Barbara Assoon, and Eunice Alleyne in their earliest roles. Some of the striking black and white images of Jones and his fellows, both on and off stage, have suffered in reproduction, but more important is the reassurance that they exist: that this colossal talent, these decades of Caribbean theatre — and this affection for a great actor — have been documented and not allowed to fade to black.

Anu Lakhan

Actor Stanley Marshall remembers a famous Errol Jones anecdote

We were rehearsing for a production at the Basement Theatre one night. Errol had the ’flu and occasionally would cough. Derek [Walcott] was out front and the coughing was annoying him. Well, it was time again for Errol to cough and so he did. Derek shouted out, “Who’s that coughing?” Nobody said anything.

Rehearsal continued. But who can control a cough? Errol coughed again and Derek at the top of his voice shouted out this time, “Whoever is coughing go home!” Errol promptly got up and left the theatre.

Within ten minutes it was Errol’s cue to come on stage. Derek called out, “Where’s Errol?”, then in a most exasperated tone of voice, “Where’s Errol?” From backstage came the chorus, “Derek, you told him to go home.” End of rehearsal.

Remembering the revo

Survival for Service: My Experiences as Governor General of Grenada
Paul Scoon (Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 0-333-97064-0)

Grenada’s 1979–83 “revolution” is ancient history for the Caribbean’s young generation, but it still holds an emotional charge for those who lived through it or close to it, and it bristles with unanswered questions. Sir Paul Scoon was Grenada’s governor general at the time: a strict constitutionalist and a natural conservative, he was never going to be a sympathiser. He argues here that the revolution’s prime minister, Maurice Bishop, was a Marxist-Leninist from his law student days in London, and was fully committed to a secret “communist” agenda when he took over in 1979.

According to Sir Paul, the “revo” produced nothing of value except perhaps part of its adult education programme. He blames Bishop’s deputy, the supposed hardliner Bernard Coard, for the fatal 1983 party crisis; having bungled the finances, Coard needed to placate the army and blame Bishop for the mess in order to gain power himself. The Americans, initially reluctant to intervene, kept British prime minister Margaret Thatcher out of the loop — she heard about the US-Caribbean military action the evening before it started, and unsuccessfully begged president Ronald Reagan to call it off.

Sir Paul’s view of events is the “authorised version”, differing on many important points from other published accounts. And it is mostly impersonal. We see Sir Paul playing tennis with Bishop under the gaze of four sullen guards, taking refuge under the settee as his residence comes under fire, discreetly endorsing a polite suggestion from Barbados that some military action might be advisable.

But though he knows many of the main players in the story (Bernard Coard was a student of his), he shows no interest in their inner motivation, and they remain two-dimensional, ultimately puzzling. Derailed idealists, or heavy-booted Stalinists? American reluctance to be involved? There is still room for debate.

Jeremy Taylor

Undiscovered countries

It’s a lovely early-summer morning in Oxford. Exams are almost over, so there aren’t too many undergraduates about, but the tourists are here in their droves, Americans mostly, queuing to visit the colleges and chapels, peering eagerly at anyone hurrying by in an academic gown. Dons and postgrads stride purposefully through the quads, clutching books and papers, on their way to the Bodleian Library, or to a committee meeting, or to lunch. Vahni Capildeo is in her element. She’s currently a research fellow at Girton College, Cambridge, but she’s spending the long vacation here in Oxford, where she studied for her BA and her PhD. And today she has a visitor on her hands — “Not a tourist, a guest,” she says firmly.

At the gates of Christ Church, her old college, Capildeo smiles me past the porter. In the chapel, she shows me the shrine of St Frideswide, Oxford’s patron saint, and gives me a quick etymology lecture (Capildeo is a scholar of Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon, those weird, thorny tongues). Then she takes me to the University Botanic Garden near Magdalen Bridge — one of her favourite places, she says — and we stroll through the beds and along the river. She seems to know the names of all the herbs and flowers here — also their old folk names, their medicinal uses, medieval lore. When I stoop to feel the texture of a small furry leaf, she quickly tells me not to touch the plants. Then we come upon a bed of sinister-looking specimens, with purple and black leaves, spikes and thorns, tendrils twisting like claws. Capildeo seems delighted. Later, re-reading her poetry collection, No Traveller Returns (Salt Publishing, ISBN 1-876857-88-9), I come across “Shape of a Vase”, which includes this prose passage: “If you like long, sharp shapes, it is possible to keep two bunches of purple irises in the green glass jar in the kitchen, and see them fail to open, and not be much dismayed, because there is the shape of their leaves.” I remember that slightly sinister bed behind the pond, and smile.

No Traveller Returns, Capildeo’s first book, is unsettling, uncanny, uneasily wise — a discontinuous meditation on identity and self-awareness. These are merciless poems — mercilessly observant, mercilessly precise. Like a medieval codex, the book seems laced with charms and spells, to seduce the innocent and repel the hostile. “Magic makes no exceptions, it is / unsympathetic,” Capildeo writes. But the verbal brilliance of her poems is like armour intricately crafted to protect the vulnerable flesh of the self, fearful of, yet simultaneously eager for, discovery.

Capildeo was born in Port of Spain in 1973, but she isn’t a particularly “Caribbean” poet. “Geography is an odd way to define a writer,” she says, immediately adding, “But in terms of human experience, where you grow up does matter.” So too does genetics. Her father Devendranath Capildeo, who died a few months after No Traveller Returns was published, also wrote poems. And Capildeo belongs to what is becoming a Caribbean literary dynasty. The Capildeos, as most Trinidadians will hasten to point out, are cousins to the Naipauls; Vahni is connected by blood to Seepersad and Shiva Naipaul, to the Trinidadian-Canadian novelist Neil Bissoondath, and, of course, to the infamous Sir Vidia himself.

When she was a child, Naipaul’s novels were forbidden territory; in A House for Mr Biswas, the Capildeos were ruthlessly transformed into the tyrannical Tulsi family, an unwelcome and all but unforgivable sort of immortality. To read the books of her much older cousin was to flirt with disloyalty. The taboo has long been ignored, of course, but Capildeo still seems ambivalent about the family connection. She’s sure Sir Vidia would not approve of her writing. The celebrated Naipaul style aims at purity, directness, the unimpeded transfer of ideas — “His ideal form would be ESP” — whereas she’s fascinated by the play of language itself, by the possibility of writing that creates resistance to its reader, the sudden shifts in perspective by which what seems certain suddenly comes undone.

A handful of poems in the early sections of No Traveller Returns deal with Capildeo’s home island, examining family stories and childhood memories with both detachment and tenderness. From here, the sequence moves outwards, geographically, spiritually, intellectually. Its long central section, “The Monster Scrapbook”, is the book’s emotional core, probing into issues of memory and imagination, solitude and companionship, connection and miscomprehension and reconciliation. “What is there that is not known already?”Capildeo asks, then proceeds with wit and ferocity to spin a web of answers.

No Traveller Returns at first seems a pessimistic title. Caribbean readers may wonder if it alludes to Capildeo’s distance from the place of her birth, which she addresses, for instance, in a poem called “In the Loft”: “To continue here I am an exile / to return home a traveller / expected to tell stories / in both places of settlement”. But more profoundly, the title refers to the inner journey that is human consciousness, the irreversible voyage through experience and knowledge, “from the mind that feels free to report on the world, into the mind that knows it must question itself.” And Vahni Capildeo records her journey with honesty and nerve and bewitching verve.

Nicholas Laughlin

From “Tenses”

It is a present without a destiny.
It is a perfect memory spoiling for another voice.
It is taking in verse tragedies above a dish of strawberries,
tiger summer with pooled curtains drawn.
Mistake’s creation,
it is certain loss again.

Happiness follows its own laws, no more than beginning,
it is kind with the lie of a finger coming plangently to rest,
striped aspects . . .
So easily misheard is a
statement of intention,
in the best belief of its being a statement of the harsh past.
An end-stopped orchard’s

— Vahni Capildeo

Machel, centre ring

The Xtatik Circus 
Machel Montano and Xtatik 5.0

This concert DVD by Machel Montano and the latest version of his band includes one hour (not two, as the liner notes suggest) of concert footage from the group’s Bacchanal Wednesday performance during Carnival 2003. The show itself looks great: the circus concept is appealing, the stage set-up and lighting are A-class, the thousands-strong crowd is engagingly responsive, and the acrobatic lap dances of the infamous “Power Puff Girls” are occasionally quite amazing.

Even uninformed viewers would know they’re witnessing a performance by a man and a band who are hugely influential in their home country. The production values are strong as well: the images are crisp, the sound is good, and the camerawork and editing lively. With guest performances by veterans like the Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose, there’s everything in this DVD to delight fans of soca, and of Montano in particular.

But what about soca newbies? The crossover audience who’s going to, as General Grant sang some years ago, “take soca music straight to the Billboard charts”? Machel says several times during the performance that the show will be “going international”, yet The Xtatik Circus makes few concessions to the legions of potential international buyers for whom “Machel Montano” and “Xtatik” may not exactly be household names.

Some portion of the nearly five gigabytes available on a DVD could certainly have been devoted to bios, perhaps a Machel discography, maybe something about the soca scene, maybe something about Trinidad and Tobago and Carnival. The beauty of a DVD menu is that users who don’t need them could easily ignore these things, while they’d be a boon for those new to the scene.

And the concert, which in fact could do with some rigorous editing, could also have been given some context. Introducing the piece or intercutting the footage with other scenes of Carnival night-life, for instance, would have shown viewers who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon that the concert’s electric atmosphere isn’t limited to that space — that in fact it pervades the entire city in the week leading up to the main event. It might have been useful to present each song as a separate DVD chapter, so users could navigate directly to their favourites. (That way, too, viewers might know the names of the selections — nowhere present on either the DVD or its packaging.)

None of these things, however, seems to have hampered the DVD’s distribution. A Google search revealed that The Xtatik Circus is available from several online sources, and recently was even being offered as a competition prize on BBC1 Radio’s 1Xtra programme. So at least they’ve got that very critical aspect of things right. Now it’s just for us to start being a whole lot more meticulous about the other details . . .

Georgia Popplewell

Dirty ole time

Calypso @ Dirty Jim’s 
Various Artists (Maturity Records, MM 003)

It’s a splendid concept, both in marketing and historical preservation terms: a CD recreating the atmosphere and repertoire of a performing venue that is as iconic in the calypso sphere as the Savoy or the Cotton Club is for jazz. Calypsonians Lord Superior, Relator, Bomber, Calypso Rose, the Mighty Terror, and the Mighty Sparrow, all veterans of the art form themselves, are the ones charged with interpreting selections from the 1950s, the era when Dirty Jim’s Swizzle Club on Port of Spain’s South Quay was the place to hear calypso, and their performances — and the musical accompaniment by Syl Dopson and his band — are outstanding. The single anachronism on the album is Sparrow’s bittersweet Memories, which must have been included because its subject is nostalgia.
If there’s anything to criticise about this album, it’s the recording, which is lovely and rich, but doesn’t truly recreate the atmosphere of a live performance in a nightclub. A Buena Vista Social Club-style film version is reportedly in the works.

Georgia Popplewell

Here at Caribbean Beat, we’re all fans of the late André Tanker’ s music, and some of us were personal friends. So we’re dismayed that in a review of his Greatest Hits Vol. 1 album, published in our January/February 2004 issue (“Chosen one”, page 29), we erroneously gave the date of his death as Carnival Friday, 2002. Tanker, of course, died on Carnival Friday, 2003. Subtracting a year from his life is the last thing we’d have wanted to suggest — we wish he were with us now, still making his glorious music.

Big Apple ska

Close My Eyes
The Slackers (Hellcat Records, 80455-2)

The Slackers, a formidable seven-piece band, admit to so many musical influences — everything from the Beatles to Bob Marley to Curtis Mayfield — it’s nothing less than astonishing that they’ve forged a sound that’s distinctly, unmistakably, their own. What’s even more astonishing is that this unique sound consists mainly of ska and reggae, and that it’s being created by a band whose own roots are squarely in New York City.

The Slackers’ latest release, Close My Eyes, continues a musical journey that started in the early 90s. For those of us who’ve been following ska and reggae for decades, the Slackers are a revelation: a band without a single Jamaican core member playing music that sounds so authentically Jamaican you’d swear Coxsone Dodd himself was at the controls. As it happens, the Slackers’ influences also include legendary producers like Dodd and Lee “Scratch” Perry, and much of Close My Eyes sounds like it could have been laid down in a cloud of smoke at Dodd’s Studio One or Perry’s Black Ark.

The album is mainly middle-of-the-road reggae, heavy on drum and bass, and chock-full of melody lines that grab you right away and sound better with each listen. But one of the most compelling tracks, the soul-baring Mommy, combines lyrics that would bring a tear to the most jaundiced of eyes with a joyous ska rhythm. Vic Ruggiero, the Slackers’ main vocalist, songwriter-in-chief, and keyboard wizard, is in particularly fine form here, in all three of his specialty areas, as are the sublime horn section of Glen Pine and Dave Hillyard, on trombone and sax respectively.

And having been fortunate enough to catch the Slackers in concert in Vancouver a few months back, I can attest that they’re every bit as good live as they are on record. That’s saying something.

Garry Steckles

Rhythm roundup

 Dancehall production team Fat Eyes (Collin “Bulby” York and Lynford “Fatta” Marshall) have worked with everybody from Sean Paul to Beres Hammond, and the two compilations they’ve released on Rounder Records’s Heartbeat imprint have track listings that read like a who’s who in reggae. Dancehall Dee-Lite (Heartbeat 116-617-726-2) contains some previously unreleased material by the likes of Hammond, Sizzla, Luciano, Morgan Heritage, Elephant Man, Buju Banton, Culture, and Junior Reid. The two-disc set Fat Eyes Presents Dancehall Attack & Dee-Lite (Heartbeat 11661-7765-2) contains 32 best-selling tracks from the Fat Eyes back catalogue.

On his debut CD Eyes Off Me (Flow Masters Records, FMR-BME-EOMO3), Trinidadian Christian singer Shiselon skilfully grafts righteous rhymes on to hip-hop rhythms, co-opting the genre more often associated these days with macho posturing for the purposes of his ministry. Similar messages come from Visions of the Father (Lion of Zion Entertainment, LZD 6528) by ’Imisi, a Christian reggae group comprising a pair of Tongalese brothers and a dreadlocked white American. Lion of Zion label-mates Christafari make a guest appearance on the title track on this album of smooth and catchy uptown reggae numbers. Christafari’s own latest release is Gravity (Lion of Zion, LZD 6527), with Avion, Isaac, and Marge Blackman of Trinidad and Tobago’s Love Circle lending their vocal, compositional, and instrumental skills on several tracks.

The two-disc album Two To Go (Sanch, CD 0303-2) presents 30 jazzy numbers by the six-member Samaroo Jets Steel Orchestra, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most enduring steel pan ensembles. Led by the Amoco Renegades’ legendary arranger Jit Samaroo, the group plays a mixture of bossa nova standards and classical, pop, and calypso numbers. The 12-member Graduates Steelband features a similar playlist on Pan Dance Party (Sanch CD0208), as do conventional steel orchestras Amoco Renegades and Fertrin Pandemonium on the re-mastered double-CD Pan on the Plaza (Sanch, 0302-2). Also included on this great-sounding release are Panorama numbers Pan in A Minor (a Renegades classic) and Pandemonium’s memorable rendition of Ray Holman’s My Band.

Recording the good stuff

If you own a steel pan recording produced after 1985, chances are it was recorded by Simeon L. Sandiford of Sanch Electronix. The small Trinidadian company records, produces, and distributes Caribbean music, with a particular emphasis on the steel pan, and states on its web site that it aims to be “a catalyst for ensuring that the steel pan becomes internationally recognised as a mainstream musical instrument and that steelband music is universally accepted as the preferred vehicle for relaxation, rehabilitation therapy, and spiritual well-being in a modern world.”

That’s a huge goal. But unlike some others with big missions, Sandiford actually seems to have some idea of how he’s going to achieve it.

While others in the steel pan sphere obsess about things like patents and standardisation, Sandiford has concerned himself in recent years with finding the best way of capturing and reproducing the nuances produced by Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument. He’s clocked hundreds of hours in panyards during the Carnival season, experimenting with microphone placement, speakers, and digital technologies, and also documenting his findings in articles like the “The Third Umpire’s Criteria for Judging Panorama” and “The Symphonic Soundstage”. The company has also designed and trademarked the PanWagon, an amplified steel pan rack which Sandiford says could make it possible for steel orchestras to return to the streets during Carnival and compete with those deafening sound systems.

The organisation that would eventually evolve into Sanch was registered in 1979 as a manufacturer of speakers and distributor and retailer of high-end electronic equipment. After a series of rapid currency devaluations made that business uneconomical, however, Sandiford — who has a background in physics and electronics — decided to get into the recording business. “The mandate was that whatever we did had to have potential for earning foreign exchange,” he says.

He did his first recording in 1984: Exodus Steel Orchestra’s Lucy in the Savannah. Thinking it “sounded good”, he went at it again in 1986, recording Phase II Pan Groove and All Stars and releasing the material on cassette. One day, on a whim, he sent one of his steel pan recordings to the California-based classical music label Delos, whose products he carried in his store. That resulted in the 14-album Caribbean Carnival Series, a set of Sanch recordings re-packaged and distributed under the Delos banner. By 1995, however, some changes in ownership at Delos had forced the label to refocus their energies on their classical catalogue. Sandiford was left with a backlog of steel pan recordings. “We decided, look, you know what? We better start Sanch.”

Had Sanch been a label devoted to recording commercial music like soca or reggae, the rest might have been history. But the very nature of what the label does, and the way they do it, has meant they’ve gone about their business quietly — and patiently. “I’m never in a hurry to do stuff,” says Sandiford.

The Sanch catalogue now comprises some 50 CDs, including a smattering of non-steel-pan recordings from groups like the Marionettes Chorale, the Signal Hill Folk Choir, and the Lara Brothers parang ensemble — they even have a CD of music by the Benedictine monks of Trinidad’s Mount St Benedict. In addition to steel pan recordings of calypso, including some newly re-mastered recordings in Microsoft’s HDCD format, Sanch also has a good selection of pan jazz, the most recent of which is their outstanding 2003 release Reid, Wright and Be Happy, which the company has submitted for Grammy Awards consideration.

“You’re fighting piracy,” Sandiford says. “And you cannot win that battle. What you have to do is look for customers who want the genuine article, and who will support you because they are also into the high-end thing.”

Sanch’s products, as a result, have also distinguished themselves through excellent presentation: high-quality packaging and cover art (usually created by Sandiford’s artistic collaborator Ken Scott), and, perhaps most importantly, good technical liner notes, in most cases translated into more than one language. For Sanch and Sandiford, longevity is the key, in business, as in life, as in art. “How do I know a good steel pan arrangement?” says Sandiford. “That I can remember it. That 10, 15 years later I can hum some bars of it. Then I know it’s good stuff.”

Georgia Popplewell

Reggae Romeo and Juliet

The 1970s were a groundbreaking era for Jamaican cinema, when classics like The Harder They Come and Smile Orange achieved both local popularity and some measure of international success. But more recent movie-making efforts have either centred on gratuitous displays of violence or been Hollywood treatments presenting the island as an idealised playground; both genres have been highly popular with different audiences, but each has been equally criticised.

One Love, a new feature film shot entirely in Jamaica, deliberately refrains from over-focusing on the urban violence with which the nation has been typically associated in the international media. Co-directors Rick Elgood and Don Letts (who directed 1997’s Dancehall Queen) sought instead to visually emphasise the natural beauty of Jamaica, as well as its various social complexities. One Love takes a light-hearted look at some of the island’s social taboos.

The plot involves a forbidden love affair between Kass (played by Kymani Marley), a poor Rastafarian musician, and Serena (Cherine Anderson), daughter of a prominent Pentecostal pastor. Adapted from a British stage play by noted Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone (who directed and wrote the screenplay for Smile Orange), the film also benefits from a varied and well-integrated soundtrack — featuring selections from Bob Marley, Shaggy, Luciano, Junior Kelly, and Kymani Marley himself, of course.

Anderson gives a strong performance, as do the veteran actor Winston Stona, playing her domineering father, and Idris Elba, as her unfortunate choice of husband-to-be. Winston “Bello” Bell, Carl Bradshaw, and Vas Blackwood draw plenty of laughs in their roles as incompetent villains, though at times each is reduced to cheap gags and basic stereotypes. Marley’s performance is more problematic, partly because he seems inexperienced on screen, and also because it’s hard to separate the recording artist from the character he’s supposed to be playing. Several scenes are also clearly in the realm of fantasy, far divorced from any sense of realism. But overall the film succeeds as an enjoyable vehicle, with deeper issues somewhere below its surface.

One Love was well received at Cannes last year, and its London debut drew rapturous applause. It remains to be seen how this Jamaican Romeo and Juliet will be viewed in its home island, but if Dancehall Queen is anything to go by, Elgood and Letts have a hit on their hands.

David Katz

David Katz talks to Don Letts, co-director of One Love

Dancehall Queen, the previous feature film you co-directed with Rick Elgood, broke box office records in Jamaica. How did it come about?

Throughout the years I had a lot of dealings with Chris Blackwell: I’ve made videos with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Black Uhuru, and Bob Marley for CB, so CB decided he wanted to make the movie Dancehall Queen. It’s ironic, because I always wanted to make something that reflected my existence in Britain, but if you get an opportunity like that, you don’t turn it down.

How long did it take to make One Love?

From having the idea to getting it finished, it took seven years. But the actual shooting lasted six weeks.

What is the focus of the new movie?

The new film is very much a feel-good movie. It really doesn’t deal with any kind of dancehall culture per se, because people understand that Jamaica is a complete culture; it ain’t just the rasta and the ragga and the ganja, there’s a whole trip going on there, and I think this movie helps to redress that balance a little bit. It’s a Jamaican love story in the tradition of Romeo and Juliet, but it’s also about people coming from different backgrounds, whether it be socio-economic or religious, working out their differences to go forward. And right now in Jamaica, they really need that message.

Irie invasion

In 2003, four beautiful young Jamaican women stormed the world of international high fashion, winning the hearts and minds of designers, editors, and photographers from across an industry notorious for its white façade. Not since the days of Kimberly Mais (once the Caribbean’s most commercially successful model) and Lois Samuels (a former Vogue cover girl) has the industry been so taken with Jamaican beauty. Today, catwalks and billboards sizzle with the irie vibe, agency bookers (those behind-the-scenes cogs in the global fashion machine) go weak at the knees for it, and industry magazines such as Harpers & Queen, Vogue, and Elle have all witnessed first-hand the Jamaican invasion.

Is this trend evidence of a general industry shift towards models of mixed ethnicity? Not according to American Vogue contributing editor Audrey Smaltz. “I have not seen a difference in the past decade,” she says. “Models from the Caribbean and Africa are exotic and beautiful, but Caucasian designers are not ready for them, so they are not selected for the majority of shows.” Such realities put the achievements of the “Jamaican four” into perspective.

Signed in the US to Supreme Management, the same agency as Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, Nadine Willis is a young mother from downtown Kingston whose rags-to-riches story is the stuff Hollywood screenwriters yearn for. One of 22 siblings brought up in various boarding-homes, and a single parent at 19, Willis’s desire to “provide a good life and an education” for her daughter found her shooting with photographer-stroke-starmaker Mario Testino within three weeks of her arrival in London.

Soon after, at the behest of Gucci numero uno Tom Ford, she became the face of the 2003 winter Gucci campaign. “In my many years in the business, no one has ever moved to the top so quickly. This probably happens once in every 20 years. It is truly incredible,” says Sarah Lean, head of London’s Select Model Management.

According to I-D magazine’s fashion editor David Lamb, it wasn’t luck, but the right look. “Nadine has an aura of power and intelligence,” he says, an aura “which comes across as glamorous and plain sexy.” The impact she has as an unofficial ambassador for the Jamaica tourist board isn’t lost on Nadine either. “It makes them more interested in us,” she told the Jamaica Gleaner. “Everybody has heard about Jamaica, and everybody wants to come here. It is very amazing to see how people respect us over there.”

Nakeisha Robinson is another leggy beauty breaking the mould and making the right sort of friends along the way. Heralded as Naomi Campbell’s protégée by the tall supermodel herself, Nakeisha has been called “the muse of Julian McDonald” — one of the UK’s top designers — and has found critical acclaim sashaying the catwalks of Paris and London for Givenchy and Alexander McQueen.

“I really admired her spirit,” says Campbell of their first encounter. “She’s bright, she’s beautiful, she’s got great attitude, walks well, and looks great in clothes. She’s going to go far.”

The third face in the Jamaican invasion is Pulse Jamaica Fashion Model winner Jaunel McKenzie. A virtual unknown just one year ago, the 18-year-old spent 2003 year jet-setting across the Atlantic for one couture collection after another. New York, Paris, Milan, and London all fell under her spell — as did the men pulling the strings, who some say are “perpetrating a Jamaican moment in the house of Gucci.”

Of her meteoric rise — which includes becoming the first Jamaican model to shoot American Vogue, and runway demand for big hitters like Dolce & Gabbana, Stella McCartney, and Yves St Laurent — Jaunel is understandably excited. “It is amazing . . . I feel very good, in fact great within myself. It is such a good feeling to know that I have accomplished all of this. You know, Nike, Gap, the Pirelli calendar.”

Carla Campbell, another model from the Pulse family (Jamaica’s top modelling agency), is the face of FUBU, and soon to feature in the next James Bond flick, After the Sunset, currently shooting in the Bahamas. “Things have been great for me in New York,” she says. “My career has gone to a whole new level. I have gotten a string of new assignments.”

These include catwalk appearances at New York Fashion Week and Caribbean Fashion Week, music videos for Janet Jackson, Beenie Man, and Jay-Z, fashion magazines, billboards, and an appearance on MTV’s Fashionably Loud. Carla’s face, body, and attitude sell products all over the world, and the momentum she’s created feeds the feeling that Jamaica has the look everybody wants.

Whether the style police are ready or not, the fashion world has been warned — Jamaica is staging a takeover.

Dylan Kerrigan

The first wave

Before Nadine and Nakeisha, Jaunel and Carla, there were Kimberly and Lois . . .

Kimberly Mais-Issa
Winner of Pulse’s Jamaican Fashion Model Search in 1987, Kimberly Mais — as she was known then — is one of the island’s most successful exports. From the age of 17 she was successful on the European fashion scene, gracing countless magazine covers, before moving on to Japan, where she secured the Kirin Beer campaign, among many others, and became one of the most recognisable faces in Asia.

Lois Samuels
Samuels — another Pulse “find” — is talked of as the Caribbean’s most successful model ever. After working with many of the industry’s brightest and best — including Jean Paul Gaultier, Calvin Klein, and Thierry Mugler — it wasn’t totally unexpected when she became the first Caribbean model to appear on the cover of German Vogue. Samuels later departed from the fashion scene to pursue a writing career. Her first book, a memoir titled A Glow in the Dark, was released in 1999.

Clash of the titans

In early March, at the first match of the England cricket team’s 2004 tour of the West Indies, an old rivalry will be revived.

It’s been quite a while, and it seems even longer. Too long, in fact, for England’s arrival in the Caribbean is never less than a major event, a ready cause for celebration keenly anticipated by friend and foe alike, and more so this time after a six-year hiatus. On the field at least, the mother country has few fond memories, but the Wisden Trophy is still a contest to stir the soul, the drama quotient high, laced with dreamy moments of cricket history, immense individual achievement, and no-quarter conflict. Fellowship still to the fore, of course, a whiff of controversy too, maybe, and England prone to founder with a wind set fair.

Six whole years. The West Indies Cricket Board would shorten the cycle for financial reasons alone, though England rarely relish the trip, and have not won here since 1968, when Garry Sobers’s kindly declaration surrendered the Trinidad Test match. Since then, a squared rubber has seemed the height of ambition, but England, fresh from a well-earned two month break for the first time in years, now harbour genuine aspirations for more.

If the tourists are notoriously slow starters in major series, it’s a charge that could hardly have been levelled in 1998, after the fateful opener in Kingston, when the match was abandoned due to the poor quality of the pitch. The embarrassment will live forever, but rest assured Sabina Park will be in tip-top condition come March 11. Charlie Jo will see to that. Elsewhere pitches have lacked pace — the perennial bugbear — and a year ago Australia’s Steve Waugh suggested Kensington Oval in Barbados was the slowest he’d ever played on, forgetting perhaps his time on the sub-continent. Poor travellers they may be (28 defeats in 38 Tests abroad since 1997, and another mauling in South Africa), but the West Indies are a far tougher proposition back-a-yard.

A clutch of youthful quicks are vying for recognition — Ravi Rampaul the latest, with Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor bursting a lung alongside Mervyn Dillon and Corey Collymore. Jermaine Lawson’s remodelled bowling action may earn a recall, and Omari Banks’s offspin was a welcome fillip in last year’s victory over Zimbabwe. The Anguillan guitarist is no mean batsman either, but, sad to relate, he withdrew from the South African tour with a lower back stress fracture, joining Taylor and Marlon Samuels hors de combat. Adam Sanford re-appeared, and Dwayne Smith, the Barbadian batsman, made a spectacular debut century  in the drawn Cape Town match, which also saw 25-year-old Trinidadian chinaman bowler David Mohammed given a chance. Wavell Hinds, though, was another late casualty, and could miss the series with a severe groin strain.

Lara’s response to losing the highest Test innings record to Matthew Hayden was entirely predictable — a biggy of his own in Bulawayo in November, overtaking Sir Vivian Richards as the West Indies’ leading run-scorer in the process, and notching a thousand runs in a calendar year for the third time. Then, for good measure, a double hundred in Johannesburg, including 28 off an over from Robin Peterson, the most in Test history. In Cape Town he became the fifth, and fastest, man to 9,000 runs. Leading from the front, one could say.

The West Indies captain has ravaged England before, and may do so again. More mature, and a ready listener, he speaks of a vision for the future, while wrestling with the vagaries of an inconsistent team — like England, the batting can appear deceptively strong, but the adage that bowlers win Test matches is still plainly apparent.

England, who suffered their heaviest Test defeat for three decades in Sri Lanka before Christmas, will retain some confidence, the Lara factor notwithstanding. Michael Vaughan has superseded Hussain as skipper, but, while Nasser is still around, 14 years on from his debut in Kingston, another newcomer that day, the grand old stager Alec Stewart, has handed the gloves to Chris Read, the wicketkeeper in England A’s Busta Cup side here in 2001. Andrew Flintoff’s graduation has been well worth the wait. The Lancashire all-rounder’s controlled power hitting against South Africa, unseen since the heady days of Botham, was thrilling theatre, and he has already struck more one-day international sixes than the England legend.

West Indian left-handers have struggled at times against in-swing, and if “Freddie” develops an out-swinger, so much the better. Andy Caddick is absent, following a long-term stress fracture of the back, Darren Gough has retired from Test cricket, and England are praying Simon Jones is fully recovered from horrific knee damage sustained in Australia. Glamorgan’s raw pace bowler made his comeback on the “A” tour to Malaysia and India in January, while Stephen Harmison and Jimmy Anderson are also an inexperienced new ball pairing. Another all-rounder, Rikki Clarke, is destined to make a mark, and Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty form the spin component.

Four Tests are compressed into five weeks on this tour, followed by seven one-dayers around the Eastern Caribbean and Guyana, and the initial exchange is bound to be crucial — coming from behind in a short series is always difficult, though England managed it in Sri Lanka in 2001, and have also won in Pakistan. The showdown is on the flat wicket in St John’s in Antigua, and betting men might fancy a draw.

Despite the usual flood-tide of English supporters into Barbados and Antigua, dozens more have cancelled holidays in protest at exorbitant ticket prices set by the West Indies Cricket Board. The new president, Teddy Griffith, at once cast doubt on the short-term financial outlook, and suggested that creative methodologies might offer a remedy. This, assuredly, is one of them, and a possible harbinger of things to come. Prospective World Cup fans should start saving now — 20 quid a week for three years might just secure a seat.

As part of a top-price £389 ticket, the English are being charged a £160 levy to defray costs for erecting temporary 9,000-seater stands in Barbados and Antigua, and other development work. Though the levy was intended for tour operators, the travelling fan was always destined to bear the brunt — yet more than 12,000 optimistic Brits are expected to descend at different stages. Bacchanal is upon us — give thanks the next one’s sooner.

England tour of the West Indies 2004

1st Test 11 to 15 March Jamaica
2nd Test 19 to 23 March Trinidad
3rd Test 1 to 5 April Barbados
4th Test 9 to 13 April Antigua
1st one day international 18 April Guyana
2nd ODI 24 April Trinidad
3rd ODI 25 April Trinidad
4th ODI 28 April Grenada
5th ODI 1 May St Lucia
6th ODI 2 May St Lucia
7th ODI 5 May Barbado

Stephen Thorpe

Get up, run up

Jamaica may be best known for reggae music, exclusive beaches, volatile politics, and fiery cuisine, but followers of international sports know that the island’s athletes are also world-class. In fact, for the last 50 years Jamaica has dominated track and field events, particularly in hurdles and sprints. The island currently leads in international relay competition, and the 14 medals Jamaican athletes have won in the last two years means the nation has positioned itself above the USA in the per capita medal count. Jamaican athletes have a higher relative success rate in international sporting events than athletes from any other country in the world.

Such an inspiring record naturally attracts sponsorship, and the nation has been fortunate in attracting the support of Puma, whose agreement with the Jamaican Olympic Association and Jamaican Amateur Athletics Association means the innovative sportswear company will be the exclusive supplier of shoes and sports apparel for all Jamaican teams competing at international events till the end of 2008.

Though Puma is a huge international success, it has a less corporate ethos than many of its competitors — the firm is still controlled by its founding family in Germany. Their hands-on approach is gaining favour in Jamaica, as demonstrated by Buju Banton’s appearance last year at a free public party thrown for the Jamaican team on the eve of the Athletics World Championships in Paris.

Buju agreed to appear not for glory or fame, but because Puma has promised to supply clothing and equipment to the local football team he supports in inner Kingston. Gestures like this go a long way on the island, particularly with aspiring athletes from have-not communities. While the present Jamaican national team has high hopes for this year’s Olympics, Puma’s commitment means the next generation of sporting hopefuls can also fire up their dreams.

David Katz

Cricketers on the green

In West Indian folklore, the silk cotton tree, a massive tropical tree with deep ridges that reaches heights of 80 feet or more, is a symbol of strength, endurance, and survival. Its immense trunk and buttresses offer shelter from sun, wind, and rain, and when damaged by fire or lightning the trees often recover to sprout bright green leaves and flower buds where life appeared to have ebbed away.

Silk cotton trees once covered much of the area of Port of Spain, but today are scarce. A few live on, many older than great-grandparents, providing an enduring symbol of survival and rebirth. When a group of Trinidadian citizens decided to establish a non-profit trust for the benefit of the residents of the Port of Spain neighbourhoods of Belmont, East Dry River, St Ann’s, and Cascade, they were inspired by a majestic silk cotton tree that stood alone at the corner of Belmont Circular Road and the Queen’s Park Savannah. Thus the Cotton Tree Foundation was born.

Since 1993, the Cotton Tree Foundation, like its namesake tree, has underpinned the local terrain, while its branches have reached out across the community. From school literacy programmes and building refurbishment to the funding of community health clinics, the foundation’s work has been immense, and continues to be so.

Unfortunately, money does not grow on trees — not even legendary silk cotton trees. Which is why on 24 March the Cotton Tree Foundation is hosting a celebrity two-a-side golf tournament at the Moka Golf Course, sponsored by some of the Caribbean’s biggest companies and featuring many well-known cricket personalities.

Scheduled for the day after the second Test match between the England and West Indies cricket teams, the tournament will bring together current cricketers, ex-cricketers, and TV personalities, including Sir Viv Richards, Mike Gatting, Mike Atherton, Trinidad-born BBC commentator Rishi Persad, and current West Indies captain Brian Lara. They’ll have a relaxing day away from the pitch, fans will get to see cricketing royalty trying its hand at a different game, and the foundation will do what the fabled tree never could: sprout much-needed funding for current and future projects.

The Cotton Tree Celebrity Golf Tournament takes place on 24 March. For further information, or to make a donation, call (868) 623-5120, or email cotree@wow.net

Dylan Kerrigan

Sailing the blue Caribbean

The south-western tip of Tobago boasts crystal water, colourful reefs, golden beaches — how on earth do competitors in the Angostura Tobago Sail Week manage to keep their minds on boats and buoys, ropes and sails? For 22 years now this has been the south Caribbean’s premiere sailing event, and the gorgeous surroundings must have something to do with it. It helps also that sailing conditions off Crown Point are near-perfect, with wind and currents co-operating to make challenging daily courses for more than one hundred boats in five classes. The Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association and main sponsor Angostura have earned a reputation for running a tight ship, with scrupulously organised racing and the Caribbean’s most raucous Lay Day activities attracting boats from up and down the islands and around the world. What once was a purely local event has become a major entry on the international sailing calendar, a fitting climax to the Caribbean racing season, where old rivalries are fired up and new ones born, old friends welcomed and new ones made.

This isn’t called “the friendliest regatta in the Caribbean” for nothing.

Angostura Tobago Sail Week runs from 9 to 14 May. For more information, visit www.sailweek.com or email regattapromotersltd@tstt.net.tt

Other 2004 Caribbean sailing events:

St Maarten Heineken Regatta
5 to 7 March: “Serious fun” is the motto of one of the Caribbean’s biggest sailing regattas

International Rolex Regatta, St Thomas
26 to 28 March: Run by the St Thomas Yacht Club; a Rolex watch is awarded to each class winner

Bequia Easter Regatta
8 to 12 April: The gorgeous waters of the Grenadines are the setting for the biggest event in Bequia’s calendar

Antigua Sailing Week
25 April to 1 May: 250 boats from around the world compete for the Lord Nelson Cup

Mt Gay/Boatyard Regatta, Barbados
27 to 30 May: Racing in scenic Carlisle Bay off Bridgetown, hosted by the Barbados Yacht Cub

Philip Sander

Ready for adventure

The next time you fly over Trinidad, gently lean over the passenger next to you and look out the window at the dense forest below. That expanse of green may conjure up images of monkeys, snakes, crocodiles, and other mysterious beasts lurking beneath the canopy. Others may imagine a wild terrain underneath, thick with overgrowth and cut by narrow trails knee-deep in mud: the perfect environment for getting lost.

Still others — like Bruce Hay and Ryan Mendes — look at the Trinidad bush and see nothing but a great big playground, and an opportunity to stage an exciting, new kind of sporting event called adventure racing.

Hay and Mendes both have experience on the international adventure racing circuit, and two years ago the duo pegged their homeland, Trinidad and Tobago, as having the perfect blend of topography, variation in altitude, rugged trails, climate, and waterways for hosting this multi-discipline, all-terrain, ultimate test of endurance. It would be the first event of its kind in the Caribbean.

Adventure racing is similar in philosophy to the triathlon, combining multiple sporting disciplines into a single race. Like a triathlon, an adventure race relies on cycling, swimming, and running as the primary sports comprising each event. But where adventure racing differs from any other sport around is in its rugged nature, and its penchant for including challenges such as kayaking and rope climbing. Adventure racing also incorporates orienteering, a navigational challenge, which means competitors must find their way to the finish line using only a lightly detailed map, a compass, and their basic instincts.

When setting an adventure race course, race promoters like Eco Adventures (Hay and Mendes’s company in Trinidad) tend towards wild, off-road, challenging country, and have no qualms about forging a trail that starts in a river in the hours before dawn and ends with an open sea kayak in the dead of night.

Adventure racing competitors work as teams, rather than individually. So finding a well-matched partner can mean the difference between winning and losing, since teammates must stay in contact with each other at all times and cross the finish line together. There have been four adventure races to date in Trinidad, including the most recent event in October 2003, which was also the longest thus far. Called the Lucozade Island Raid 2003, this 15-hour-plus test of fortitude started at 2 a.m. and spanned the island from one end to the other. The event attracted a field of more than 20 teams, and called for a serious training regime from the top competitors. The race winners, Robert Sharpe and Collin Wilson, have in fact won each of Trinidad’s four adventure races; naturally, they have serious training to thank for their success. The pair prepared for the race by spending as long as nine or ten hours on a single weekend training session.

Racers in last October’s event had the choice of competing in an alternate, shorter course, billed as a seven-hour race, which attracted a field of about 20 teams. This option, says Hay, helps open up the event to newcomers, or to those who want to compete on a more casual level. In 2004, its third year promoting the sport, Eco Adventures has a new approach to its adventure race series, including a system that lets top competitors accumulate points towards a final prize-giving.

There will be a series of three races, starting in March, and each event will be longer and more intense than the last. In Trinidad, the field size is limited — each course can currently handle only about 20 two-person teams. However, according to Hay, hopes are that Trinidad’s adventure races will begin to attract more contenders from around the Caribbean, helping to grow the sport at a regional level.

Amanda Mitchell Henry

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