T&T Carnival, virtual edition
Carnival tunes escape our speakers, and close by, rhythms from a neighbour’s steelpan vibrate in our eardrums. We promise to behave, but promises offer no comfort when they are broken. Year after year, we come together as devout masqueraders confessing our bad behaviour. Our waistlines turn to rubber, and our feet beat the pavement while we fill the atmosphere with vibes. With the COVID-19 pandemic dragging on, an unprecedented version of Carnival is being served up in 2021, butone thing is certain: the road is wherever we are — even on our computer screens as we scroll through photos and videos of festivals past, and reminisce. And the silver lining? Imagine the energy and excitement of the first post-COVID Carnival. Mash it up, shell it down, and tun it over!
If you’re a Trini, and a serious Carnival jumbie, February 2021 will be a tough month. You could console yourself with the various virtual online events in the works. But if you feel like it needs to be the real thing or nothing, you could also follow the lead of all those people — yes, they exist! — whose annual Carnival plan is an escape to the sister isle. Tobago’s magnificent natural beauty is balm to the soul. Birdsong fills the air with playful melodies and harmonies, rainforest trails beckon, and captivating beaches mesmerise. This serene island has something for everyone, and might just be the distraction that saves you from the COVID Carnival blues.
Start with the obvious. Tobago boasts enough beaches for every unforgettable day of your trip. A coastal tour is an easy way to explore these sweet spots along the thirty-by-ten-mile island. Some treasures, like Batteaux Bay, Pirates Bay, and Bloody Bay, are unspoilt, charming, and have the allure of private beaches. Snorkel on the sublime reefs, dive among the teeming sea life, or simply relax in a beach chair and enjoy the fresh sea breeze — some of the best things in life are indeed free.
You may have visited Main Ridge Forest Reserve and encountered many bird species there. Another birder’s paradise is a boat ride away. The sanctuary on Little Tobago offers a day of natural indulgence, and the chance for some outdoor exercise: there’s quite a climb to the top of the trail. Look out for tropicbirds, boobies, shearwaters, frigate birds, and more. Snorkelling at Tyrrel Bay and spotting the abandoned villa on Goat Island are a great end to the day.
Have you already been to Fort King George Heritage Park? Overlooking Scarborough, Tobago’s largest fort is one of the island’s most popular, but there are others to explore, and picturesque views are just one of the rewards on this historical adventure. Did you know Tobago changed colonial hands more than any other Caribbean island?
The Mystery Tombstone
A tombstone with an abstruse inscription rests in Plymouth, on the leeward coast of the island. If you like brainteasers, this one is for you. Can you solve the riddle of Betty Stiven? “She was a mother without knowing it, and a wife without letting her husband know it, except by her kind indulgences to him.” There are many folktales in Plymouth — maybe some of the others will help you figure it out.
Bioluminescent Bon Accord
Under starry skies, when conditions are right, nightlife takes on new meaning at Bon Accord Lagoon. Tiny marine creatures called dinoflagellates emit a greenish-blue iridescent light in the water when it is disturbed. These bioluminescent micro-organisms glow to scare or confuse predators. A guided tour via kayak is the best way to experience this natural magic, as every stroke of the paddle creates ripples of light in the sea around you.
Word of Mouth
Jamaica’s Reggae Month
In Jamaica, February — the birth month of both Bob Marley and Dennis Brown — is dedicated to reggae music. It’s an opportunity to bring the genre into sharp focus and examine where it came from, where it is now, and where it might go next. For Jamaican entertainment journalist Richard Johnson, who has a reputation as a spotter of new talent, Reggae Month is a chance to take the temperature of the island’s music scene. He shares his tips with Shelly-Ann Inniss.
What makes a good musical artiste?
It’s a combination of things. These days, talent gets shoved to the back burner, and things like look and international appeal are brought to foreground. For me, talent is still very important. Lyrical content — whether it’s just a catchy hook or deep lyrics which cause you to think — there should be something for your audience to hold on to. Being able to connect with an audience is high on my list, too.
Tell us about a reggae artiste you predicted was destined for success.
Lila Iké, born Alica Grey, comes to mind. I read something about this young girl performing at an underground show with Chronixx as the headliner. Protoje was also on the bill, and he brought her on stage. She did her breakout hit, “Biggest Fan”. I was blown away. I had to interview her.
For the next few days, until I got the interview, my co-workers were sick of hearing the track in the office. Something about her voice, delivery, and overall vibe just made you know greatness was in her future. She now has an international record deal, a new EP, and has been making a name for herself.
Do you think you have a knack for identifying rising stars?
I know what I like, but as a journalist you must develop the ability to step outside yourself and see what also moves others. Sometimes you don’t understand it, simply because it’s not your speed, but you must see it. If anything, I have developed the ability to step outside myself and see who and what is moving the audience.
What’s your most memorable reggae experience?
It was possibly the summer of 1991. I was at Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay. It’s the final day of the festival and patrons are battle-weary. The July sun is beating down on the open field with all its fury, but thousands, including me, are standing our ground. The closing act is Dennis Emmanuel Brown, the Crown Prince of Reggae. Out of nowhere his voice comes through the giant speaker towers: “Here I come, with love and not hatred.” And the crowd erupts. Over the years I have experienced many moments with reggae acts, but that moment always does it for me.
Which Reggae Month events do you recommend?
Among my favourite events are those organised by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association, JaRIA. These include Reggae Wednesday, a free public concert each week. I recall veteran British broadcaster and reggae lover David Rodigan remarking how honoured he was to see the calibre of reggae acts performing for free in a park in the heart of the city. JaRIA also stages Reggae Open University, which is a biweekly panel discussion covering a range of topics dealing with the music. The panellists are often some of the music’s insiders, who offer a trove of information. So, if this is your thing, it’s definitely something to check out. Lastly, if you can, attend JaRIA’s honour awards at the end of Reggae Month. This event recognises some of the stalwarts of the music, including those who work behind the scenes, such as producers, engineers, and session musicians.
Songs of the Commonwealth
Launched in 2019, the Commonwealth International Composition Award seeks out new musical talent in the form of school-age composers around the world. As the judges prepare to select the latest winner, Shelly-Ann Inniss learns more about the competition and its Caribbean participants
Some people record their feelings in a journal, while others turn to music for consolation. The COVID-19 pandemic granted many children and teenagers their wish to stay home from school, but the price was lockdown boredom. For young people of school age — up to approximately eighteen — who are passionate about music, the Commonwealth International Composition Award offered a creative challenge.
Presented for the first time in 2019, the award is organised by UK-based Commonwealth Resounds, in partnership with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) and the Purcell School for Young Musicians. Young composers from the fifty-four countries in the Commonwealth of Nations are eligible to submit original pieces: compositions up to three minutes long, written for one to five performers. For 2020, the pandemic offered a timely theme.
The eleven finalists, ranging in age from ten to seventeen, came from Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Their pieces, delivered via video recordings posted to YouTube, show remarkable confidence and flair, in a variety of styles. They offered musical tributes to volunteers and professionals helping people affected by COVID-19, dedications to those who suffered from the virus, and meditations on the experience of being locked down at home. The creative responses to the pandemic were comforting yet almost fantastical, especially as it seemed like these young people emerged from the womb as talented musicians and composers.
The award brings more than just visibility. Prizes for the Audience Vote, Young Adjudicator’s Award, and Overall Award for the Commonwealth sweeten the project, in addition to opportunities for training, mentorship, and development. Each entry is evaluated by young adjudicators and given thoughtful and encouraging feedback. Reuben Bance, one of the adjudicators, was inspired by the testament to people’s courage, talent, and achievements during the pandemic’s tough times. “These pieces of music are a memento of this era. The quality of music is astounding,” he said. He believes there’s a lot to learn from how people can turn trauma into the most beautiful works of art. Take, for example, the piece by seventeen-year-old Jahfari Joseph-Hazelwood, the finalist from Antigua and Barbuda. His composition Stuck in Quarantine made him the only Caribbean representative among the 2020 finalists.
In the 2019 competition, Trinidadian Aliyah Ramatally won the Audience Award with a piece titled Mundo Nuevo — New World. She took the audience on an imagined journey through the Caribbean’s first contact with Europe, colonisation, and independence, juxtaposing her country’s national musical instrument — the steelpan — with traditional classical instruments like the violin, cello, and flute. It’s a perfect distillation of the value of the award, bringing together musical traditions from across the world.
For the grand finale of the 2020 award, the eleven finalists were each commissioned to write a new piece. The commissions will then be performed by professional musicians at a concert on 1 February, 2021, at the Royal Over-Seas League in London, and broadcast online. Viewers will have the chance to participate via the Audience Award. And for the talented young composers, this experience shows how music can cross all boundaries — including the isolations of COVID-19.
For more information on the Commonwealth International Composition Award, and to hear the pieces by the finalists, visit www.cicompositionaward.com