Below is my review of a new work on CD I heard performed live recently. Philip Nanton will be performing in London soon so catch him if you can - he is extraordinary.
Island Voices, From St. Christopher and the Barracudas, Introduced by Emmanuel "Fish Head" DeFreitas, Chief of Police (Rtd)
If you are lucky enough to have spent time on any of the English-speaking Caribbean islands then this is a CD that you will enjoy and cherish as one that captures the essence of life on these small rocks. Island Voices evokes so many of the wonderful, colourful characters, places and prejudices that are common to every island and suggests, through vivid language and humour, something that might be loosely termed our common Caribbean culture. And before the academics start jumping up and down about the very idea of an identifiable Caribbean culture that is not prejudiced by the gaze of the viewer, they should listen to the accounts of life given by characters such as Best Boy in the rum shop and Shades the coconut vendor. I think they will recognize them as characters they have crossed paths with at some time.
Everybody knows a Best Boy. He started life christened Theopholous (not entirely out of place in a region with names like Wavel and Curtley). Even though he is far too aged to be a boy, the name “Best Boy” has stuck. He can often be found in the rum shop liming and, for the price of a drink, will tell of life in “de good ol’ days” when he was groom to a horse called Jupiter ridden daily by his boss, a fine lady of the plantocracy. Of course as with every good rum shop lime this romanticizing of colonialism elicits an unpacking of the history of black consciousness – with a few cuss words to Best Boy thrown in for good measure.
And you’ll know Shades too – so called because he always wears shades that colour his world a green and gold hue. He sells coconuts by the side of the road swinging his machete with a practiced skill that would qualify him for a place with Cirque du Soleil. Move off these streets to the quieter tree-lined suburbs and you are introduced to the “ladies of the heights” with their subtle one-upmanship of trainers bought in Puerto Rico and holidays cruising the Caribbean. Or maybe you have met the church ladies who run church matters without a thought for themselves. The padre’s attempts at community outreach by including those outside this clique, in our narrative one Mrs. Maynard, are met with stiff opposition by those who wish to keep the doing of good deeds to themselves. (“Yuh can’t let people like dat woman into de community any ol’ how”.) The stories of these and other characters - like the ex-pat who lives to complain about the thieving locals but would never go back to his native land - are threaded together by the opinionated narrative of “Fishhead” who tries in vain to censor language and create a more upstanding image of our people.
Through Island Voices Philip Nanton and his team of actors simultaneously entertain us and preserve our rich heritage. They are the rightful heirs of Louise Bennett and Paul Keens Douglas and we are richer for their art. And it is work of love, made on a shoestring budget. Buy the CD now and show them how much we appreciate this excellent compilation of the voices of our islands.
CD available from Cloisters Bookshop, Bridgetown; UWI University Book Shop, Cave Hill; and Philip Nanton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Price: Bds $50.
Come and listen to the extraordinary Philip Nanton reading his stories on
Thursday 3 July at 7.30pm
Queens Park Bookshop
87 Salusbury Road
Wednesday 9th July at 7.00pm
William IVth pub
786 Harrow Road,
London, NW10 5JX
Nearest tube Kensal Green