ISLAND VOICES

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 nantonp@sunbeach.net.
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
Queens Park
London
NW6 6NH


Wednesday 9th July at 7.00pm

Upstairs at
William IVth pub
786 Harrow Road,
London, NW10 5JX

Nearest tube Kensal Green

TANTI'S GOT COMPANY AT KENSINGTON OVAL

There is a rich history of performance art in the Caribbean and one of our most acclaimed is the Trini/Grenadian, Paul Keens Douglas, who burst on the scene in the mid 1970s with a memorable album, Tin Tin, celebrating ordinary life on these small rocks. Although he has continued to produce excellent work it is this raconteur’s tale of Tanti at de Oval from that album that remains my favorite. And now I know why. Buried beneath the bookish persona my mother projects, is a Tanti Merle like the one in that story, waiting to come alive. Last Saturday, on the third day of the cricket test match between the West Indies and Australia, she finally got her chance.

The whole family had descended on the new Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, built specially for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Both parents came, as well as The Husband, and our boys, who are often called the “two twins”. (As in, “All yuh is brodders or two twins?) True most days I am so tired it feels like I must have been looking after four little boys but at last count they are still just the “one twins”. So our little posse set out – parents and grandparents eager to bear witness to the one or two twins first live cricket match.

We would have taken them sooner but there never seemed to be any cricket on at this purpose-built cricket venue since the World Cup season – which we missed by hanging out in London. You see since 2007 the Oval has hosted precisely one small inter-island cricket match, one football match, the inauguration of the current PM, and two funeral services of national celebrities. But finally, with the Aussies on tour, this small rock is hosting our first test match at the architecturally award-winning Oval. By the time you read this you may already know we lost to the might of those beasts from down under - again. Given the prowess of the Aussies it was a very respectable loss.

So how does my respectable, intellectual mother morph into a version of Tanti Merle at de Oval? Well, for starters Tanti Merle loved a day at cricket but had to reconcile this with a fear of starvation and sunstroke – hence her famous large basket of food and pink parasol. Dr. S. was not far behind. Even though I assured her that our seats were in the shade and ample food and drink were on sale, she still started cooking from the night before. There was enough food to feed the entire neighbourhood. Then she started wondering how to take it all into the Oval. She dusted off her old market basket. It was time to act.
“Mom, you can’t take that basket.” I pleaded.
“Why not?” she retorted.
“The Oval website says no bags of that size.” I said, hoping she would not dash to her laptop and start Googling: Kensington oval Bridgetown market basket entry cricket match.
“What size?” she asked suspiciously.
“Basket size. Here, take this nice bag I brought you.” I said shoving a blue Marks and Spencer picnic bag at her.
“Are you ashamed of my basket?”
“Of course not mommy. But rules are rules. We don’t want them to refuse us entry because of the basket.”
“Humm… okay.”
Phew… that would have been really embarrassing. But then she took down a huge red golf umbrella – the kind that would have poked out the eyes of everyone within a two-metre radius. I again invoked the Oval’s rules and regulations. She sighed and put it back.

So off we went sans market basket and golf umbrella but still smelling like a mobile café. We had a spare ticket meant for a friend who could not join us. I said we should sell it. Everyone else wanted to keep the spare seat as a food stand. In the end I sold it at a discounted price to a quiet, young man wearing Trinidad national colours and speaking with a soft Guyanese accent. I figured he would blend in with our posse just fine and not be any trouble. But all he wanted was to get into the Oval and meet up with his friends so the seat remained empty and did eventually serve as the food stand.

We got to our excellent, shaded, seats and settled in to watch the Aussies bat at a steady rate of about three runs an over with the Windies unable to answer by taking any of their wickets. Even The Husband was getting bored. Then Phil Jacques hit four runs. The crowd came alive and started waving the Digicel-supplied red, plastic, number four, signs and blowing the red, Digicel whistles and horns. First Born was not amused.
“Stop cheering! They are not our team.” he ordered his family.
“Darling we should show our appreciation of good play.” I suggested.
“Not for them.” he replied firmly.
Then Jacques hit another big boundary. Four runs. The Oval was awash with waving red plastic “4” signs. My mother dived into her bag. Before I knew what was happening she was standing up sharing slices of sweet, coconut bread to all the people sitting near us in the Greenidge and Haynes stand. Lord knows what she would have started sharing if it had been the Windies belting out fours and sixes.

We had not properly wiped the crumbs of the sweet bread off our faces when the players headed off the field for lunch. Dr. S. sprung into action and started a production line heaping steaming Pelau (a yummy dish of rice, vegetables and chicken) onto plates and handing them out. As the smell of food wafted through the stand our little Guyanese/Trini boy, whose seat was being used to as a Pelau pot stand, appeared. We made to clear his seat and offer him food but he declined. In true West Indian fashion he had not come for his seat or food but to check we were okay and did we want some of their food. When he was satisfied that we were going to be fed just fine by Dr. S. from her blue picnic bag, he left, only to return a few minutes later bearing ice-cold drinks for us all.

As the cold Banks beer hit the back of my throat I knew that in spite of all the crime, corruption and pettiness in our region we have so much to be grateful for. There might be hell in Haiti but with people like our kind, generous little friend around, there is hope for us all. Look carefully and you will find the god of small things and ordinary people in the most unlikely places – like in de Kensington Oval.



(This week’s blog is specially for Avion Crooks who does Paul Keens-Douglas better than Paul Keens-Douglas.)

JULIE, YOU ARE THE ONE

I can no longer tell the time. In London it was easier. It was either British Summer Time of long, light-filled days and late evening walks or Greenwich Mean Time of darkness and damp that I simply endured. We are not so regimented on our small rock. Movements in time are anticipated but cannot be gauged with any accuracy. From November there was a regular cool breeze that everyone said was “Christmas breeze”. So when in March this breeze was still around I was puzzled that Christmas was moving seamlessly into Easter. Now we are in hurricane season. Officially. But until last week the weather was exactly the same in June as it had been in April.

But something fundamental has shifted. In the past week torrential rains arrived and the grass almost overnight went from burnt brown to glistening green. It was fierce, loud, unapologetic rain. The first day it thundered down, time, by contrast, got gentler and slower. Shamefully I abandoned work for a juicy novel and a hot cup of tea under my duvet. At 3pm. I suspect I was not the only one to welcome the rains by crawling into bed. The DJ on our local Love FM station cooed that this was “weather for leather” before fading to Foreigner’s Waiting For A Girl Like You. Pity his poor lover – enduring a man with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

But maybe DJ Love is the pick of the crop. Men on the streets of Bim do not miss an opportunity to let the laydeeze know how they feel. Walking from the car to the museum entrance last Friday a gentleman stopped me. I thought he had an inquiry about the museum. He looked me up and down.
“Sweetness, yuh man know yuh leave home looking sexy so?”
I looked him up and down.
“Precious, it is 8am. Do you think you could save the sexist crap till at least 9?”

If you are not safe from these exchanges early in the morning, in front of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, then nowhere is safe. J. was doing the weekly grocery shopping, and while weighing up the pros and cons of Flash versus Domestos, met the eyes of a stranger. He grinned widely - to best display his gold-capped front tooth that matched the three gold chains around his neck and the six gold rings on his fingers.
“Darling” he declared, “you is ah all beef roti.”
Now what is a girl to do? Is it best to smile, happy in the knowledge that at least you are all beef with no superfluous potato in the mix? Perhaps you should meet him on his terms with a retort like,
“Tank yuh honey. Shame you is jus de roti wid out de beef.”
Or is this the right moment to decide, sod this, I am having both Flash and Domestos, and head for the check out?

A superficial search of popular cultural references equating women with food yielded several calypsos. Special mention must go to the group Madd for the aptly titled, Food. The song’s object of lust is described as having “two legs - tick like a picnic ham”. She is also “top o’ de list, like ah macaroni pie in a Pyrex dish”. Another calyposian said his lady was “like ah lobster, everyting behind”. Being constantly viewed as little more than a small rock sex object is irritating but actually not particularly threatening. Men in the Caribbean are not keeping up with their women folk. For our local CXC exams - the equivalent of GCSC – sixty percent of the entrants are female. We also consistently produce more women than men graduates from our regional university. (Statistics courtesy of another high achieving woman - my mommy.)

But all this talk of food got me hungry and, with no one around to curb my culinary choices, I headed to KFC. Alone, and excited by the naughtiness of it all, I could hardly wait for my turn in the queue. Finally I was face to face with the girl in the red and white uniform. I flashed my best smile.
“Can you tell me what the Colonel’s Catch is please?” I asked expectantly.
“We eh have nutin’ name so.” she replied without looking up.
“But there’s a huge billboard outside saying try the Colonel’s Catch.” I said.
“Wait.”
Ten seconds later she was back.
“Is fish.” she said with a completely straight face.
“What kind of fish? Do you serve the meal as fish fingers or a fish sandwich?” I persisted.
“Look is fish. Yuh want one? Yuh holin’ up de line.”
“I think I’ll pass. Can I have the chicken wings with honey mustard sauce please?”
She handed over a box of wings. There was no sauce.
“Any chance of some honey mustard sauce?” I inquired.
She glared at me, her patience finally at an end.
“Look I cahn get none fuh yuh. De air conditioning in here eh working too good and it making hot. De sauce dem down in de back by de freezer and me eh going in no cold, fuh no sauce, and end up ketching stroke yuh hear.”
So no dipping sauce. Serves me right for buying junk food.

And really there was no need to have bought KFC wings with no sauce when in my back garden are two of the world’s best Julie mango trees laden with fruit. The trees are as old as The Husband so they are, shall we say, well established. You have not had a full and meaningful existence until you have savoured a sweet Julie and licked the juice as it trickles down your arm. Our mangoes are particularly good. I have heard people swear they intend to be my friend for the whole mango season – a real commitment as we usually get two crops a year. Julies are all flesh with no irritating strings attached. If Obama were a fruit, he would, without doubt, be a Julie mango.

THE REVIEW

Ishan Persaud’s first take on the title of Ingrid’s first exhibition as the Artist-in-Residence at the Barbados Museum “You Go Down The Ladder, I’ll Shine The Torch” was “why not just put on the light?”

I think one-day mother and son should have a series of “Conversations On Conceptual Art”. Before then, I recommend you go along to the exhibition before it closes on June 20, but there is no need to bring a torch.

Ingrid has had exhibitions before. A few years ago she exhibited at the Venice Biennale - one of the most sacred shrines of contemporary art. As well as showing curated art, the Biennale is laid out with magnificent, national pavilions. I think that year, Chris Ofili, winner of the 1998 Turner Prize, had filled the British Pavilion. On the lawn outside the official pavilions, Ingrid had built a circle of miniature pavilions representing all the countries that had never been represented at the Biennale. I think one of the things that this work was questioning was our perception of where art comes from. We easily imagine modern artists being angst, chain smokers with leathery faces, in cramped London studios, but not someone from Ecuador, Malawi or Taiwan. Ingrid’s art is about discomforting questions. She doesn’t do comforting or pretty.

I recall her working to midnight, the night before the opening of the Biennale, mixing cement and casting her pavilions. I have a more painful recollection of her coming up with an idea for a piece of work - fragile egg shells stuck on walls – late one evening before the morning of another exhibit. You may detect a certain frantic, last minute theme, to past exhibition preparation. So it was good to see Ingrid and her small team of helpers, set everything up at the Barbados Museum during the last few weeks – painting walls and floors, putting up boards, framing, hanging and installing pieces, sorting out the sound installation – well before the opening. This extra time meant that she had more time to worry. I think she was more nervous about this exhibition than at the Biennale. Perhaps the moral of the story is to find something unimportant to be harried and last minute about to distract you from worrying about the important stuff that you have prepared long before.

A nice crowd (as in, nice people, nicely turned out) came to the opening last Thursday evening. Perhaps 75 or so through the course of the evening, which I thought was a good size. But I have no other reference point other than the seventy-odd crowd that came to hear me speak at a lunchtime meeting of the Barbados International Business Association; perhaps not the best comparison, not least because I suspect they came for the free lunch.

I think a key theme of the art displayed at the Barbados Museum exhibit echoed that of her Venice Biennale exhibit. We all have preconceived notions about “art” and “museums” when there is much art living and breathing in the everyday around us. And in case that sounds a little conceptual and serious, all the pieces have a wonderful wit about them. My personal favourite is a small glass bookcase, glass doors flung open. Spewing out of it, menacingly, are massively enlarged, screen-printed pages of an archival notebook, documenting the collections of ordinary people. Someone appears to have a collection of skulls. The piece that seemed to absorb most people at the opening was the diary entries of what ordinary Barbadians did on May 6, 2008, which Ingrid collected for her “Make Today History Day” which you may have heard about on the radio or internet. These two pieces are a taste of Ingrid’s art. These are not static images on flat canvasses but something alive and engaging that makes the viewer a co-conspirator. Having said she doesn’t do pretty there are some pretty etchings representing the patterns that bookworms have made in the archival books. Well that is as pretty as she does.

Once he was able to contain himself after Ishan’s comment on the exhibition title, Ishy’s twin brother, Anish, suggested that the exhibition should instead be called “The Legend Of The Unknown”. Go along and make up your own mind.

The Husband

A BLOG CAN’T BLUSH

As nerves and insecurity set in before the opening of my little show last Thursday, TK, a friend who has lived through many of my dramas, sent me a great email pep talk. He knows precisely zilch about contemporary women artists, or any artists for that matter yet managed to write the following,

Listen, there's not a shadow of a doubt that you are the new Tracey Emin. I reckon you're easily better than Gillian Wearing, Christine Borland, Angela Bulloch and Cornelia Parker PUT TOGETHER. As for Tomma Abts, you leave her IN THE DUST! Louise Bourgeois isn't worthy enough to carry your paintbrushes. Yvonne Rainer shouldn't be allowed to breathe the same air as you in my opinion. Bracha Ettinger, Sally Mann and Eva Hesse don't belong on the SAME PLANET as you. You and Rachel Whiteread - gimme a break!! Rosemarie Trockel - f*ck off before I get angry…[etc etc]

With such blind loyalty propping me up and both The Husband and parents actually on island, it was a grand evening. I even got a little press coverage with one of the local TV stations covering the opening and doing an interview with me. Half way through filming I felt a gentle but persistent tap on my thigh that was instantly recognizable. I thought maybe if I ignored it, the seven year old attached to those annoying, tapping, fingers would vanish. Or perhaps his unobservant father, sipping wine and chatting in the corner, would lead his offspring away. But the small person didn’t go away and his father just kept refilling his glass, oblivious to my plight. When I could no longer ignore my now bruised leg being poked I asked to take a break from the filming. With exaggerated gentleness I inquired as to what exactly my precious bundle of joy needed that was so urgent.
“Mommy,” said Second Born, “I like the exhibition but I just don’t get the dust in the bottles thing. That’s stinky.” His nose crinkled to emphasize just how stinky he found the art.
“You don’t understand conceptual art because you are a sweet little boy who is only 7 ¾ my love.” I replied in a sugary voice that concealed rising hysteria.

Of course were there not so many witnesses present I would have tossed the kid at his father while yelling,
Nasty, precocious, little critic! I am a professional artist at work right now, not just your slave of a mother! Don’t you dare disturb the filming again looking all cute and innocent! And by the way, the dust thing works!
But in front a film crew is not the place to have that little meltdown moment. A blog on the other hand cannot blush with embarrassment at being a bad, selfish mother and therefore seems the appropriate forum for venting these vile thoughts buried deep in my psyche.

The extent to which the artwork can withstand scrutiny will unfold with time and I really wish I could tell you more but I am too close for that. So, I have been persuaded to hand over the rest of this week’s blog to another for a critical review of the show. This reviewer, as fierce and blunt as Second Born, has also imposed the condition that I do not edit the writing. High-risk strategy yes - but then so is taking public transport in Bim and I plan to try that next week just for fun. Later...