TTFF9: Something for everyone

Originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on September 15, 2014
JA
Jonathan Ali, photo courtesy the TTFF.

This year, the T&T Film Festival hosts its ninth consecutive celebration of films created in this country, in the region and the diaspora.
It’s been a steadily growing enterprise, recording 18,651 attendees for its screenings in 2013, the lion’s share of which were viewed during the festival proper.

The TTFF’s editorial director, Jonathan Ali, sat to answer some questions, posed by a customer-focused devil’s advocate, about the state of the festival and where it seeks to go in the future.

Q: Who does the Film Festival hope to attract as an audience? For the few shows that I’ve attended it seems to be largely the same folks over and over, with a lot of cross-pollination between the world of art galleries and the Lit Fest.

A: You clearly need to get to more screenings, Mark! We strive to be diverse in our selections when programming the Festival, and the increasing, and increasingly diverse, audiences reflect this.
The audience that will go to see the two-hourlong avant garde ethnographic documentary set in Nepal (Manakamana), is not necessarily the audience that will go to see the local farcical comedy A Story About Wendy 2, which is again perhaps not the audience that will go to see Bad Hair, a Venezuelan social-realist drama about a young boy obsessed with straightening his curly locks.

Q: Who does the Film Festival hope to attract as participants? Is there an overarching agenda or mission that guides the selection process and the efforts to bring new film makers into the festival?

A: The Festival’s main mission is to show the best new films by filmmakers from T&T, the Caribbean and the diaspora. We also seek to help develop the local and regional film industry by hosting workshops, panel discussions, presentations and so on.

So we seek to attract the filmmakers who are making these films, and who are enthusiastic about what are trying to do for the industry and be a part of it all.

We also hand-pick professionals from the international film industry—directors, producers, funding agencies, distributors and more—who are interested in what’s happening in the Caribbean.
Many people are interested to come and work with our filmmakers, share information, network, and make real and lasting connections that can get Caribbean films seen by a much wider audience.

Q: With the exception of God Loves the Fighter and the A Story about Wendy filmlet, have there been other films that have drawn in a popular audience?

A: Every year multiple films play to sold-out or near sold-out audiences during the Festival.
Two examples from last year in addition to God Loves the Fighter would be Bruce Paddington’s documentary on Grenada, Forward Ever, and Miquel Galofré’s Jamaica-set prison film, Songs of Redemption.

And then, there were several screenings of packages of local and regional short films that were also sold out.
In previous years we’ve had films like Mariel Brown’s Eric Williams documentary and Remembering a Revolution, on the 1970 events, plus internationally acclaimed films like Beasts of the Southern Wild (whose director, Benh Zeitlin, was our guest) selling out multiple times.
We feel vindicated when we see these large audiences; we know we’re succeeding in our mission.

Q: Is the entire Film Festival being staged this year with a blind eye to the runaway success of Welcome to Warlock? Even if it isn’t the kind of fare that usually gets screened, doesn’t it deserve some discussion or examination?

A: You said it yourself: Welcome to Warlock—which I have seen and admire, if more for its ethos than its aesthetics—has had unprecedented success.
The Festival seeks primarily to provide a platform for local films—all kinds of films—that are yet to see the light of day, let alone any kind of success.

That said, there will be a number of panel discussions during the Festival, and no doubt Welcome to Warlock will come up in conversation.
In fact, I look forward to it.

Q: What was the original intention of the Film Festival and what is it’s current mission if they aren’t still the same?

A: The Festival began in 2006 as a much-needed forum for local audiences to see themselves reflected on the big screen.
That still remains a core intention, but the mission has broadened. We now show films not only from T&T and the Caribbean but also from independent world cinema, which has proven a hit with our audiences.

We also are working more than ever before to help develop, in association with several partners including the T&T Film Company and the Film Programme at UWI, the local and regional film industry.
If we want to show local films, we realised we needed to help local filmmakers get those films made. So absolutely, there are synergies between the two, there is interdependence.

Q: Can you point to decisive successes that have emerged from the Film Festival? Have these served to provide leverage points for a local film industry?

A: The ever-increasing audiences at the Festival show clearly there is a desire, a market for local films.
We are fighting a formidable battle: a century of domination by Hollywood, and, therefore, a public that by and large has traditionally not been able to respond to anything but the commercial American formula. (I love good Hollywood films, by the way.)

Again, the increasing audiences at the Festival and the increasing number of local films being made are positive signs. We need to be patient.
And we need the committed support, financial and otherwise, of those who can and should give it.

Q: If you had to explain the T&T Film Festival to someone who has never been to one before, how would you describe it, why should they attend?

A: The Festival has many different components: great films of all kinds; relevant, affordable (usually free) workshops and other industry events; a chance for local filmmakers and cinephiles to interact and network with professionals from throughout the region and around the world.

But, above all else, the film’s the thing. So I’d narrow it down and tell your hypothetical person to come to this year’s edition and see a certain film, an Indian film, called The Lunchbox.
It’s a small movie, about how a mislaid lunchbox brings a young woman in a loveless marriage and a phlegmatic middle-aged widower together, without them setting eyes on one another.

It’s a spare, poignant, human drama, perfectly balancing sentiment and tact, with exquisite performances. If the person doesn’t find the film to be beautiful, tell them come see me and I’ll give them the cost of their ticket back.
No, double the cost.

About the T&T Film Festival…
The TTFF runs from September 16–30 at MovieTowne PoS and Tobago, Little Carib Theatre, Film Programme building at UWI, Medulla Art Gallery, Alice Yard, Alliance Française, Hyatt Regency Hotel, UTT at APA, Drink Bistro and Lounge.
All films at MovieTowne and Little Carib Theatre are $30 each. At MovieTowne, students in uniform or with student ID pay $15.

Find out more at
the festival’s website, or pick up a copy of the printed guide from MovieTowne or Little Carib Theatre.
An electronic copy of the guide can be downloaded here:
http://issuu.com/ttfilmfestival/docs/ttff14_guide and for the dedicated cinephile making decisions on the move, the Festival app for iPhone and Android is available on the appropriate app store.
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Band together

Launch concert review by Mark Lyndersay, originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on June 24, 2014.
TriniJazz_Collage
From left, performing at their album launch at the Little Carib Theatre, executive producer Michael Low Chew Tung, Anthony Woodroffe, Vaugnette Bigford, Rodney Alexander, Dean Williams and Modupe Onilu. Photographs by Mark Lyndersay.

It was the start of something, to be sure, and the crowds that filled the Little Carib Theatre last Thursday were keen to witness it.
It’s rare for a local jazz concert to claim standing room only status, but the musicians of the TriniJazz Project earned it for their first public outing performing at the launch of their eponymous new album.

The concert started promptly with bassist Rodney Alexander at centre stage for his composition
Musiq. Right from the start it was clear this wasn’t going to be a straight reading of the album, and the call and response passage by Alexander’s bass and Anthony Woodroffe’s felt sharper and more passionate than it was on the recording.

Woodroffe’s song,
I’m into you, followed with a lot more verve and lilt infusing the live version of the beat backing the composer’s delicate flute lead. A slashing percussion solo by Modupe Onilu pushed the song along even harder, coaxing the flautist to jam even harder when he returned to lead the song.
There was a delightful moment as guitarist Dean Williams leaned in close on the tips of his toes during a roaring jam to listen to Woodroffe’s playing as they eased off the soloing to rejoin the melody.

Dean Williams’
Li Jwe Gita (He plays guitar) followed with far more fire than he recorded for the album. Williams showed some fascinating strumming technique on the number, pushing outward from the ghetto of beat embellishment to which rhythm guitarists have been consigned for most of the soca era.

The result was a guitar lead that started like just that sort of playing before pushing outward with layered multi-chordal strumming and a deft fingering technique that sometimes felt like just a little too much fireworks for the melody.

Following the track list of the CD closely, Modupe Onilu’s
Awon Omo Ti O Ti came next, the percussionist offering a theatrical introduction to the song with his array of music and effects generating gear before leading the song on a small xylophone, the first I’ve seen in a T&T concert since the days when Andre Tanker used one for his sets at the Hilton.
An inspired trading of riffs between Williams and Woodroffe took the Onilu’s song soaring before the guitarist’s dense barrage of notes took it to escape velocity.

TriniJazz_PerformanceLink
Every serious singer should have a song that they own, and Vaugnette Bigford has found hers with her reading of Merchant’s One Superpower for this album. When she took the stage with her backup singers a respectful hush descended on the rowdy boys who had been romping on the stage just moments before.

The live performance was even more contained than it was on the album, backed by a lush, gently swooping music bed led by a sustained chorale by her backup singers and Low Chew Tung’s synthesised organ.

Bigford would also perform
Memory of your smile, lifted somewhat by a gentle bass solo from Alexander that suggested pulsing heartbeats and would return for the second to last song of the set with a lanyap number, a surprisingly tentative version of Valentino’s Birds Flying High.
Woodroofe’s
Yeah, No, Maybe got an energised makeover from a band emboldened an overwhelmingly strong response from the audience and a growing comfort with their confident interplay.

Rodney Alexander starts the wildness off with a Hendrix-style solo played with his teeth, surprising Dean Williams who moved quickly to take up the challenge.
The two traded fierce solo runs before Woodroffe parted the two like a smooth sax peacemaker, which then brought Onilu running to the fray with a really tiny drum from which he coaxed some gentle moans.
“These guys just won’t behave,” laughed Woodroffe after the number, “and it’s my song!”

Dean Williams introduced his second song
A Woman’s Sweetness, declining with a sheepish smile to explain the song’s inspiration. While the song starts well, Williams began to overplay it, losing the delicacy of the recorded version of the number in a shimmering cascade of effects and solo jam smarts.
The concert ended as it began, bookended by a Rodney Alexander composition,
Country. By then the TriniJazz Project was sounding less like an artful collaboration of like-minded players and more like an all-star band.

Alexander’s song offers many opportunites for soloing and interplay, and they were enthusiastically mined by capable players whose comfort with each other’s abilities filled the room with deft playing and confident vamping on the sweet, laid back beat.
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Many hands make light work

The TriniJazz Project
Parlemusic Productions
Album review by Mark Lyndersay, originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on June 24, 2014.
TJP_Cover
The TriniJazz Project is several things all happening together on a single CD.
Producer Michael Low Chew Tung, better known in the community of jazz musicians as Ming, gathered a group of young jazz musicians who had never recorded before to make an album.

The result is a collection of eight original instrumental works and two covers that push gently at the boundaries of the easy listening jazz that finds the largest audiences in T&T.
Each of the participating musicians is represented by two songs on the disc, providing a small but intriguing insight into the creative thinking of bassist Rodney Alexander, guitarist Dean Williams, saxophonist Anthony Woodroffe, percussionist Modupe Onilu and vocalist Vaugnette Bigford.

Mikhail Salcedo guests on tenor pan, drummer Richard Joseph does double duty as the album’s designer while Ming plays keyboards and runs the show.
The standout number on the album is Bigford’s sepulchral reading of Merchant’s
One Superpower, an arrangement that turns the song into an sombre indictment of man’s ambitions and hubris.

Compared to that tour de force work, her next song, a straightforward reading of Ray Holman’s
Memory of your smile falters. It simply isn’t in the same class of performance opportunity.
Bassist Rodney Alexander emerges as the album’s strongest songwriter, his bass driven songs
Musiq and Country providing expansive landscapes for the group’s proclivity for soloing and engaging in all too brief, though fiery exchanges.

These are also the songs that feel deepest rooted in a calypso style of composing, Country in particular feeling like a lost lavway from the fifties while Musiq reaches back to the funk-calypso experiments of the 60’s and 70’s that predated the formalising of the soca beat and so strongly influenced the compositions of Ralph McDonald.

Which isn’t to dismiss the work of the other musicians at all. Onilu’s work,
Awon Omo Ti O Ti, spends its first full minute exploring the musician’s collection of percussion based effects to create a persuasively primal atmosphere before racing into a nimble number led by his xylophone playing.

On
Questions Unanswered, the music swirls intriguingly without finding dramatic resolution. But there was no such uncertainty on Dean Williams’A Woman’s Sweetness, which lopes along like swing of a woman’s hips, flush with the confidence of its attractiveness. On Li Jwe Gita, the fretwork is flashier but elegant, layered over a bouncy beat that flirts with both samba and the Laventille Rhythm Section.

Anthony Woodroffe’s songs,
I’m into you and Yeah, No, Maybe both play to his strengths on the flute and saxophone but neither feels fully formed on the album. Even his colleagues play politely and respectfully and not even the usually incendiary presence of Mikhail Salcedo on Yeah, No, Maybe can rouse the song from its polite pacing.

Collectively, the album is a strong and eminently listenable collection of local music. Hardcore jazz buffs won’t find much to surprise them here, but the far larger audience of music lovers will find a lot to enjoy in this accomplished collection of local additions to the T&T songbook.

Ming has done a remarkable job of planting seeds on this album, recording five very promising musicians early in their careers and giving them a chance to explore the evolution of this album together.
This is definitely one of those “stick a pin here” recordings and it’s going to be interesting to see where these musicians go from here.

The TriniJazz Project
Vaugnette Bigford - Vocals
Anthony Woodroffe - Saxophone, flute
Dean Williams - Guitar
Rodney Alexander - Bass
Modupe Onilu - Percussion

Additional musicians
Michael Low Chew Tung - Keyboards
Richard Joseph - Drums
Afiya Althill - Vocals
Mikhail Salcedo - Tenor pan
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Making Dimanche Gras sing

Originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on March 24, 2014.
Carl_Henderson
Carl ‘Beaver’Henderson at his St James recording studio. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Nobody can doubt the credentials of Carl ‘Beaver’Henderson as a musician and producer. After his long runs in bands, beginning with The Last Supper when he was in his teens alongside Robin Imamshah and most spectacularly in Fireflight, he has been a constant presence in the music industry.

Henderson has been running his own studio as a producer since 1991, releasing work under his label, Heat of the Tropics.
His biggest recent hit was Ganga Farmer, with local reggae artist Marlon Asher in 2009, which triggered a ten city tour of Europe with Asher, Jah Melody and Maximus Dan three years ago that took the performers across the continent for two weeks.

His next tour will begin in the first week in June, when he takes 50 artistes from T&T, representing a sampling of the cultural profile of the country on another European tour, set to begin in the Berlin Festival of Cultures.
Henderson recognised a natural link between European dance music and soca almost a decade ago and has been stealthily seeding elements of the music into the local productions he’s worked on and encouraging other artistes to take note of the similarities.

By 2015 he hopes to have a new product on the local market that he’s calling electronic calypso.
“Not soca,” he insists, “that’s a brand that’s not particularly well known outside of T&T. People still know about calypso outside.”
But the veteran musician and producer still has a soft spot for the seminal music, so when TUCO’s Brother Resistance called a month before Dimanche Gras, Henderson had no real choice but to respond to a call from a former schoolmate and long term friend.

“I accepted because calypsonians have been pushed into a corner,” Henderson explained.
“I wanted to put them in a position of respect. I answered the call as a fellow soldier.”
There were no illusions about the scale of the challenge.

“I knew of the reports of the last couple of years, and I knew that I had a target on my back. Everyone had a reason why not. There were all kinds of negatives, but I kept telling everyone that failure is not an option.”
“My first decision was to produce with a television audience in mind.”

So Henderson turned the Savannah stage into a television stage set, placing the band, Errol Ince and the Music Makers at centre stage and having the calypsonians emerge from backstage. The large screens were the same ones used at the Soca Monarch competition.
To complete the illusion, he blacked out everything that wasn’t stage or audience, designating the extended wings on either side of the stage a “no-fly” zone and charging security with ensuring that nobody, not even the President of the Republic, was allowed to walk there.

The newly appointed producer also had to work with a team he was largely unfamiliar with. Brother Resistance had called on The Players Workshop, led by Gregory McGuire, Mervyn DeGoeas and Giselle Langton, to work on the theatrical aspects of the production.
“So there’s a month to go and I’m working with people I’ve never worked with in my life.”
Henderson committed a week and a half of his production schedule to building chemistry with the group, allowing him to keep his focus on the technical and presentation aspects of the show.

“I planned it on paper, but there was never a full rehearsal,” he said.
“We never got access to the stage until Saturday night. The sound check, dance rehearsal and set construction where happening simultaneously on Sunday.”
I arrived in the Savannah at 11pm on Saturday night and never left until 3am on Monday morning. I had no sleep; I went right through.

“I can tell you that was a lot easier when I was in my twenties.”
The first time Dimanche Gras producer emphasised speed and efficiency for the production. Each calypsonian had nine minutes to deliver each of their two songs, which ensured that the production would run to at least four hours.
Henderson’s mandate was to deliver a show that started at seven pm and ended at midnight.

“I think what everyone responded to was the flow of the show and our determination that there would be no lapses.”
“The anthem was to play at 7pm, but there were problems with security armbands, and we started at 7:03. Good enough for some, not good enough for me.”

Technically, Henderson introduced a dedicated bus to capture and enlisted Robin Foster and Samuel Jack to mix live audio during the show for broadcast. There’s now a full 64 track recording of the show to go along with the HD video produced by CarnivalTV for streaming.

The final statistics from the event not only satisfied viewers, but also justified Henderson’s decision to produce for television. The HD feed pulled 75,000 viewers on Carnival TV alone. The average viewing time was four hours on that platform.
“Ideally,” Henderson said, “a show like that should be two and a half hours long, maximum. I’d advise anyone not to let the show run that long.”

Ultimately, the Dimanche Gras 2014 producer notes that the success of the show was largely owed to the sense of common purpose and commitment to excellence by the team.
“At my last tech meeting an hour before we began the show I asked everyone what could go wrong,” Henderson said.
“Everyone explained what might happen and what was in place to manage it. After I listened to that, that’s when I finally relaxed.”
“The respect that I got from TUCO and the calypsonians was phenomenal, the NCC was extremely supportive from Chairman Allison Demas on down. Everyone cooperated, and it all came together because of teamwork.”

“I think my biggest success was in motivating people.”
Henderson recalls that the executives of support companies were putting down work to make the project happen, Cheval Maraj of All Events and Lighting Company and Ricky Raghunanan who built the stage structure were right there, alongside their workers making the project happen.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “Just do it right. You have to know where your market is. There are so many more things I could do If I had the time and the budget. I’d produce a show that nobody would forget for a long time.”
“This is a game where there are more coaches in the stands than on the field. I decided it was time to get my hands dirty.”

“For Carnival I’ve been a performer, I’ve been on the stage, I’ve been in the audience. That’s the experience and perspective that I bring to the table.”
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Time for the poet

Published in the Sunday Arts Magazine of the Sunday Guardian on March 09, 2014.
joseph_time
The cover of Anthony Joseph's new album, Time.

Anthony Joseph’s new spoken word album, Time, is a remarkable document from the poet, a funky collection of wordscapes, narratives and recollections of his youth in Trinidad and Tobago that’s limned by a passion for detail and clarity of purpose.
The album opens with a declaration of intent, Time: Archeology, a rehistory of the Caribbean’s genesis seen from the eyes of a man who sees influences, spirit stories and the human narrative of the region as a swirling miasma made up of geography, explorers, faiths and beliefs existing in both harmony and conflict.

“The struggle continues,” he says, “to define a space, to make this place our home.”
“While the diaspora unravels like a broken necklace.”
In these three potent sentences he brings together his sentiments about the challenges of the people and their broken geography, the scattered archipelago of the Caribbean’s islands.

There are, to be clear, more words, thoughts and literary richness on the first two songs in Joseph’s Time than there are on most contemporary hit albums and yes, I’m looking at you here Mrs Carter.
Joseph pulled Time together with a financial backbone raised on a
European crowdfunding website, KissKissBankBank, meeting and just surpassing the project’s 7,500 euro goal in April 2013.

That enabled a robust collaboration with American neo-soul funkster Meshell Ndegeocello, whose inventive and catchy bass playing anchors the album, a sparse, tasteful musical complement to Joseph’s steady and insistent reading of his poetry.

Ndegeocello, listed as composer, arranger and producer, assembles her full band’s worth of instrumentation (Joseph normally performs with his own Spasm band) but never seems to deploy all of it at once, bringing strong melodies and riffs into play in the spaces between Joseph’s words but backing away as his stories build, strong, wild and often fevered.

On Tamarind, a recollection of a beautiful woman with a “dark seed glow,” he writes…

Crossing the hard road in her
high thighed denim and the bus drivers and the shopkeepers
stared down from their canteens to watch her stroll past
in the deep white heat of midday like some emissary of the sun
that couldn’t be touched or even whistled after.

It’s the kind of writing that defies casual analysis. It’s poetry, strong and engaging, but these are also songs and stories that demand than a moment’s thought and threaded with uniquely Trinidadian perspectives, subjects and inspiration they are a very special experience on their return to these shores.

The centrepiece of the album is Michael X (Narcissus), a tough and unsentimental retelling of the shocking T&T murder story of Abdul Malik.
It’s Joseph’s longest work on the album, clocking in at seven minutes and 45 seconds but it seems compressed.

The piece has an almost cinematic feel to it, unreeling quickly from the announcement of Malik’s hanging to an unswerving examination of the brutality of the murders and the conflicting swanky allure of Malik himself.
Ndegeocello strips the band back to an insistent percussion driven bed for this work, all drums, congas throbbing, driving the story along with impatient cymbals shimmering above it all like fearsome blades of menace.

An all too brief excerpt from this unwavering account of the famous murders retelling the role of Gail-Ann Benson …
She had been shown around the bamboo.
She had asked ‘What is this hole for?’ And Abbot tell her ‘This is a hole for decomposed’ A hole dug to quench mercy. - Go from here - run! A hole dug to suffocate tears.


Time isn’t only concerned with history though. On Kezi, he might well be singing from the headlines in T&T.
He sings of Kezi: “Kezi is a woman have nine children an’ she seven months pregnant with twins.”
He sings of Mother Mavis: “A stray bullet pass and enter one house and shoot Mother Mavis dead.”
The music is contemporary rapso. The words and ruthless and insistent in their offended questioning.
The answers are not forthcoming, even for Joseph.

He concludes…
“Lord, tell me why it have so much things wrong with this beautiful country.
Tell me why it have so much thing going wrong in this beautiful island.”

Anthony Joseph’s collaboration with Meshell Ndegeocello has brought something quite startling into the world. An album with a lineage that’s claimed equally by Lancelot Layne and The Last Poets, a way of working with music and dense spoken word poetry that’s both compelling and tastefully respectful of the urgency of the power of the words themselves.

This is not a collection of works for easy listening. You will probably need to have the album’s liner notes, 12 pages of which are given over to transcripts of Joseph’s unapologetically dense and intricate poetry to fully appreciate what you’re listening to.

What you get as a return on that investment is a chance to immerse yourself in the world that the poet has experienced, a world that is as much disappointment and blood as wonder and transcendence.
In one of the few works that isn’t rooted in Joseph’s life in the Caribbean, he celebrates Malala Yousafzai, the determined girl child who defied the Taliban.

On Girl with a grenade he celebrates her defiance…
“It takes a child to build a fire in the sky, to light a flame for generations to come. It takes a heart, a lung full of breath to carve a human space in this madness.”

Joseph’s
Started off as a dancer, which name drops T&T performers like rain
The
new video for Tamarind
Anthony Joseph’s
website with links to the album online
Anthony Joseph will participate in the 2014 edition of the Bocas Lit Fest.
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Finding the jazz in kaiso

Published in the Sunday Arts Magazine of the Sunday Guardian on March 02, 2014.
R'Kardo
R’Kardo St’Von performs at the Little Carib Theatre during the Tribute to the Masters show. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.


The playbill described it as A Tribute to the Masters - A Kaisojazz Experience, but it was really a tentative exploration of some delightful kaiso classics as R’Kardo St’Von, backed by an experienced band, offered some gentle twists on legacy calypsoes.

The music, largely culled from the era of the singer’s youth, offered fertile ground for such musical reinterpretation, though some songs proved more successful than others.

St’Von, a capable and often colourful song stylist proved to be a generous leader of his team of musicians, giving them room to contribute creatively to the proceedings, but the show had the feel of a project that was under-rehearsed and under-arranged, the sparkling moments of inspiration in the performance contrasting sharply with straighter readings that seemed perfunctory.

The evening began with a deep dive into the treasury of calypso with a gentle lavway on Roaring Lion’s J’Ouvert Barrio, which offered the first dazzling moment of the evening for pannist Dane Gulston.
St’Von began singing along with Gulston offstage, finally backing onto the stage as the song wound to a relaxed conclusion.

Next up was David Rudder’s The Long Time Band, the first of the composer’s songs to be performed and the best known among the selections.
This was saxophonist Tony Woodroofe’s song, his long feathery solos fluttering around the edges of the melody.

Blakie’s Arabian Festival was the song that engaged St’Von most effectively in the entire show, and he had enormous fun with the lyric, the challenge of the tongue twisting intricacies of the song putting a broad and heartfelt smile on his face.

For Shadow’s Soca Boat, the singer fell into the trap that so many do when covering Shadow’s music, adopting the calypsonian’s tall, stiff stance and direct and declarative vocal style. The potential of this song was best exlored in the solos, which danced around Rodney Alexander’s insistent bassline.
Relator’s Steelband Music rose to another level during the call and response scatting and pan runs between St’Von and Dane Gulston.

Yet the moments of inventiveness and passion of the first half of the show didn’t carry over completely into the second half, which would prove to be a more loving and respectful engagement with the songbooks of St’Von’s favorite calypsonians.

His covers of David Rudder’s There is a land and The Hurricane emphasised percussion, but the singer felt cautious in his approach to the works, though when it came to his Sparrow medley, he rallied strongly.

Marvin Dolly’s gently strummed calypso guitar stripped the normally brassy Maria back down to the plaintive plea that’s at the heart of the song’s lyrics, stripping it of Sparrow’s bravado. St’Von’s reading of Sa Sa Ay seized on a romantic delivery of its French chorus, while the singer worked hard to rephrase the vaguely rapey lyrics of the song into a romantic adventure.

Kitchener’s Pan in A Minor was turned entirely over to Dane Gulston who delivered a merry romp on the tenor pan with the song, twisting and swerving with verve and enthusiasm around the classic melody.
St’Von returned for a warm rendition of Flagwoman, jazzing it up Al Jarreau style, before offering an exuberant and saucily appreciative reading of the heady raunch of Kitchener’s Battimamzelle.

Oddly enough, he would end the show with almost straight readings of Black Stalin’s Caribbean Man and Black man feeling to party, two songs that despite the perfection of their Errol Ince arrangements seemed ripe for some considered and dramatic reinterpretation.
For an audience seeking breezy and confident interpretations of classic calypso in a smooth jazz style, Tribute to the Masters would have been an amazing evening with kaiso classics.

Unfortunately, the event didn’t draw much of a crowd on opening night and most of the Little Carib Theatre’s seats remained unwarmed.
For those who came, the show satisfied, but also cried out for a bit more rehearsal and more of the inventive arrangements that popped up occasionally, a hint of the creative power seemed leashed by the urbane cool of the show’s mood.

Performers…
R’Kardo St’Von, lead vocals
Michael Low Chew Tung, keyboards
Marvin Dolly, guitar
Rodney Alexander, bass
Modupe Folasade Onilu, percussion
Anthony Woodroffe, saxophone
Dane Gulston, pan
Charli Griffith, Kelli Nova and Shaun-Mark Murray, backup vocals
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The other end of the whip

Originally published in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Features Section for February 12, 2014
Alfred_Talk
Chief of the Original Whipmasters of Couva, Ronald Alfred and interviewer Rawle Gibbons take questions from the audience at the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Rawle Gibbons can count his conversation with Ronald Alfred as one of the coups of his career.
The chat, part of the Masters of the Mas project launched in 2010, is an initiative of Jouvay Ayiti, a collective that gathers the resources of Arts-in-Action of UWI, the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies of Tunapuna, Scherzando Steelband of Curepe and Studio 66 of Barataria.

Alfred is not known as a talkative person. He is a giant of a man, broad shouldered and barrel chested, but you wouldn’t see that immediately when he works as the king of The Original Whipmasters.
In the band he wears vivid yellow with brilliant accents of colour, shards of mirror and wisps of swansdown decorating his costume, which tinkle merrily with every step.

Alfred shrinks into that costume, his massive frame blending in among the colourful, masked imps that constitute the band, their presence a mix of tinkling bells and slashing crack of whips. And none is louder than the explosion of the Whipmaster King’s massive braided rope, a sound that pressures the eardrum even across open air.

Ronald Alfred spoke for more than an hour with Gibbons on February 03 at the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre, the whipmaster agreeably coaxed into discussing the history, inspirations and antecedents of the band.

Cross-lit and bearing up a bit hesitantly under the insistent view of twin video cameras, Ronald Alfred offered a recounting of his knowledge of this remarkable band, which stands as an almost untouched instance of traditional mas; its practices and techniques handed down from generation to generation across most of the last century.

It’s a sacred tradition for the Alfreds, who have introduced each of their children to Carnival from the pram.
“My whip hangs in my house,” Alfred told the audience in the centre’s auditorium. “It ain’t in no bag or in some corner.”

The whip, the symbol of the band’s distinctive approach to the jab jab masquerade, is something of a coveted item and curiously enough, not one that Ronald Alfred hesitates to share.

He teaches schools the tradition of the mas and makes 75 each year for the children who attend his master classes. At Christmas, he creates another 100 for the community surrounding Whipmaster Drive, the family’s home in Couva and finally makes another 57 for the band members.

It’s a labour of love for Alfred and his family, who don’t charge people to play mas with them but demand something more precious and far rarer than cash, a dedication to the ideals of the masquerade that is their life.
At the end of the talk, Ronald Alfred rose from the tiny chair in response to a request for a demonstration.

As the video crew scrambled off the stage and the Whipmaster King put his mask on, the power of his masquerade seemed to fill the room, along with more than a dozen members of the band, their jingling bells a musical susurrus that was soon punctuated by the cracks of whips large and small.

The power of the jab jab mas, a spectacle of colour and gentle bells that holds the terror of the deadly clown with each snake’s strike curling of the whips, undimmed by something as clinical as a documentary recording under unkind fluorescent lights.

The conversation with Ronald Alfred is part of Jouvay Ayiti’s 2014 production of a devil Mas band titled “Impersonation” (spelt IMPsPersonsNations). The group tries to interview veteran mas performers who have worked in the style of each year’s band. The next scheduled talk is with Blue Devil masman Tico Skinner at Studio 66 on February 24.

The recording of the Whipmaster talk will form part of the project’s archive and a copy will be given to the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre for use in the Schools Broadcasting Service.
The 2012 Local Lives story on the band is
here.
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Elize Rostant: Nature’s jeweller

Story and photographs by Mark Lyndersay.
Originally published in the Sunday Arts Magazine of the Sunday Guardian on December 01, 2013
MWL_20131126_6293
Elize Rostant working on pieces from her Christmas collection at her Cascade home. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Elize Rostant had one of those engagingly bohemian childhoods that’s this country’s best gift to a child.
Growing up in Gasparillo, her parents spent many hours piling into the family car on trips into the countryside.
“It was really seeing the country,” as Rostant recalls. “I’m just trying to recreate that beauty in my work.

"She was raised along with two sisters and two brothers by parents who were both teachers.
“Looking back I realise it was a very academic household. My parents were the only people on the street who had gone to university. We had a library and when we read and found something we didn’t understand, we would have to go and look it up in the encyclopedia.”

“That was just normal to me then, but I know now just how uncommon that was.”
Almost as uncommon as her distinct memories of her father in a dashiki and full afro deejaying as Sio’s Super Sounds and a mother who continued to play music for pleasure.
“We were encouraged to experiment,” she said.

So Elize Rostant did, and found her calling in art early in an internship with jewelry designer Gillian Bishop when she was just 15. The family connection was hardly tenuous. The late Pat Bishop was the godmother of her sister Alyssa; so another Bishop adopting another Rostant was just part of the flow between the families.

Elize Rostant would go on to take her degree in fashion at the Savannah College of Art and Design crunching the course of study into an intensive two and a half years.
Of all the design paths that the school trained her for, however, it seemed that she was always on a path back to jewelry.
“Even my finals work had these metallic collars,” she recalls with a smile.

With formal training in design, she began to appreciate her mentor Bishop’s work even more.
“I’m always inspired by her work; you’ll see a gem hanging off the piece by just a little wire. Amazing stuff.”
The young artist returned to T&T and took up a job at the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism to render the compensatory service that her scholarship called for.

“Last year I realised that I hadn’t done anything for two years, and it was really time to do something.”
The show that resulted from that first return to her art met with mixed results.
“My last collection included feathers, which people liked, but didn’t buy,” Rostant confessed.

But the young jeweller isn’t daunted and will present her work, alongside other work by Christine Lorde and Gillian Bishop at the Christmas Bazaar by Signature 2000, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh 3.0 beginning at the Hotel Normandie on December 08.
Potential buyers will see in her new work an enthusiasm for colour and textures expressed using beads made of glass, acrylic and wood along with fabric and ribbons.

“I have to be conscious of the weight of the work when I’m done” she admits with a hearty laugh. “I’m also thinking a lot more about whether someone will wear the piece.”
During Carifesta in Suriname she met the husband and wife team behind Atelier Doré (http://ow.ly/rdFVF) whose work in silver rekindled her desire to work with metals again.

Rostant is keen to get behind a jeweler’s bench again, but works steadily at her dream on a restored Singer sewing machine which doubles as a work bench for her current works.
She’s working in a humble atelier of her own, a cozy space poised above her small living room in a Cascade apartment, the single bulb burning down on the polished, weathered wood as she deftly twists metal filaments and fashions cascading fingers of beads into organic shapes that she hopes will be just the right accessory for a customer.

Visitors to the Signature Christmas bazaar can expect vivid colours and delightful textures from Elize Rostant’s new collection as well as an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of early work from a promising new jewelry designer.
“I want to produce work that really expresses me,” Rostant says, “work that’s lasting in the world. This collection will be for the woman who has style and wants to make a bold statement with her accessories.”

Curious about how this photograph got made? There's a photoblog about it
here...
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Bitter Seeds Review

Growing pains
A review of Bitter Seeds by Mark Lyndersay, originally published in the T&T Guardian on November 12, 2013
Ram_Krishna
Ram Krishna Kopulwar and his bullocks in a still from Micha X Peled’s Bitter Seeds.

Micha X Peled’s documentary film, Bitter Seeds is a grim polemic, but unlike such issue-driven fare, this is a surprisingly watchable film with a strong, compassionate heart, calm reasoning and at its core, the guts to acknowledge that the problem isn’t as simple as American industrial imperialism.

Director Peled found Telung Takil; a village at the heart of India in the region of Vidarbha which the documentarian posits is ground zero in a epidemic of farmer suicides occasioned by the shame of poverty.
As the film opens, we are introduced to Manjusha Ambarwar, a sharp witted young woman whose father, Ramdas, is identified as the first farmer to end his life after realising that he could never escape the mountain of debt into which he had inexorably slid.

Then we meet Ram Krishna Kopulwar, a sad-eyed farmer who doggedly ploughs his three acres of land with two bullocks. The man and his two animals guiding a single blade through earth that seems indifferent to their efforts.
Ambarwar is keen to become a journalist, not a favored job option for a young woman in rural India.
Kopulwar's beautiful daughter, Sawpna, is being groomed for the preferred role that of a wife to a suitable husband.

The key players are quickly set in place, set against the harsh beauty of the largely undeveloped landscape of this part of India and the essential conflict of their aspirations and the unyielding reality of their circumstances quickly springs into sharp relief.

Peled’s basic thesis in this film is in harmony with his other documentaries on the consequences of globalisation on communities; Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town and China Blue.
The villain in Bitter Seeds is the multinational chemical giant, Monsanto, whose genetically engineered seeds have commanded the market, sold under license as Jai BT and many other attractive brand names dressed in colourful packaging adorned with photographs of flourishing cotton blossoms.

In Peled’s film, the genetically modified cotton seeds from Monsanto are not delivering the returns that farmers hope for and farmers using the product are experiencing higher than normal crop failure rates.
Ram Krishna Kopulwar already has a loan from the local bank and now must turn to a money lender for the money to pay for the seeds for his next crop.

Monsanto’s BT seeds are not self-regenerating and must be bought for each crop seeding, contributing to the accelerating cycle of debt.
Monsanto’s representatives, though notably not anyone from the company itself, dispute this. From the salesmen to the local company creating the seeds under license from Monsanto, they point instead to poor financial management by farmers and an inability to manage the demands of the new seeds.

In the film, Vandana Shiva, an appealingly passionate environmental activist, argues that industrial agriculture doesn’t translate well to the smaller acreages of India’s cotton farmers. Industrial agriculture, she says, is a business of subsidy and engineered processes, neither of which are available to small scale Indian farmers.

BT cotton, the film notes, requires more water and fertilizer, which must be applied on a very specific schedule. But most of the farmers of Vidarbha have no irrigation and depend on the rains.
In a particularly moving moment in the film, Ram Krishna Kopulwar plays host to three men who have brought their son to formally meet Sawpna with a view to arranging a match.

Kopulwar sits uneasily as the three generations of men detail their demands for a dowry. It’s a price that he is unable to pay and tells them so with a smile that’s a heartbreaking mask of shame and helplessness.
It’s not hard to see how a man put in a position of such absolute humiliation might consider ending a life without any apparent hope.

The film claims that a farmer kills himself in India every thirty minutes. The sheer number and scale of the deaths is undisputed. More than a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide in the country over the last decade and a half, but while the film struggles admirably to skewer Monsanto, it isn’t clear that the company’s seeds are the only reason for the staggering suicide rate.

Indeed Nature, the respected science journal, while frowning generally on genetically modified seed stock,
disputes the essential theory of the film as part of its evaluation of the scientific manipulation of plant regeneration.

What’s particularly troubling about the situation outlined by Bitter Seeds is the way that GM seeds appear to have completely taken over as the only resource for farmers in India.
Traditional cotton seed stocks, which could be fertilised by cow dung and not expensive chemical regimens while providing fresh seeds for the next crop have disappeared from the shelves of agriculture suppliers.

Kopulwar’s crop falls prey to a mealy bug infestion after being saved by a last minute shower of rain, and he loses half his crop. His three acres of land will remain in the hands of the money lender for another season after he makes a payment his original loan.

After months of work, he can barely meet his debt to the bank, can’t pay the moneylender and has no hope of arranging a match for his daughter. Micha Peled’s film wrestles mightily with all the elements that India brings to bear on his chosen subjects, but it ultimately fails to offer a persuasive conclusion.

Suicide rates in India were increasing before Monsanto introduced its controversial GM seed strains to the market and small crop farmers, scraping by on the lower end of the economy, are particularly vulnerable to the social and financial forces that are pressuring the poor and financially marginal in that country.

Manjusha Ambarwar publishes her first piece of writing for the local agriculture focused paper, winning herself some closure for her father’s death, and perhaps a shot at a career that allows her to chart her own destiny.
We leave Ram Krishna Kopulwar where we found him, walking stoically across a freshly ploughed field, still resolutely determined to wring a solution to his problems from earth that’s equally resolved to fight him all the way.

And India remains India, a beautiful, absolute land of sudden hard rains and dry crumbling earth, of deep spirituality and devotion and hard divisions of class and knowledge into which the unprepared stumble and sometimes, never return.
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