Category Archives: Caribbean

Who in Harlem or Port-of-Spain Remembers Claudia Jones?

I think I might have a country crush on Trinidad and Tobago.  As a country, it simply fascinates me and there’s a startling number of paradigm-shifting black radicals who were born and raised there which may explain why.  Claudia Jones is just the latest to set fire to my imagination.

I’m also a big fan of carnival.  In the part of London where I grew up, I felt like I was the only black girl whose parents didn’t make sure they participated in Notting Hill’s festivities in full costume, even though in the days before the jubilee line extension and the overground line, Notting Hill was FAR.  Some kids participated every single year throughout primary school.  We went as a family every year, but I wasn’t ‘in’ carnival.  My happy hippy school, wider community and black-and-proud family nevertheless ensured that I had it drummed into me that Notting Hill Carnival was an important expression of our Caribbean culture, and was also to be celebrated as an act of remembrance of our place in British history.

I thus grew up knowing the name of Claudia Jones as she was ‘the mother of Carnival’.  What she created sixty-odd years ago as an indoor event designed to demonstrate that Caribbean culture was joyous and valuable, not simply alien and inferior, is now the biggest street party in Europe. Continue reading

Hey now, Haiti: young Haitians flip the script on Instagram

Just yesterday somebody asked me which Caribbean nation was the most beautiful. Without really hesitating I replied ‘Haiti.  No one ever mentions how gorgeous it is.’ My response is mine and thus totally subjective. And there’s plenty of places in the Caribbean I’ve yet to stumble onto. But out of Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, Dominica (which comes in a distant but good second), Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Cuba, the Domincan Republic, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana, none touch Haiti’s simply overwhelming beauty imho.

Fusion

Earthquakes. Cholera. Grinding poverty. AIDS. Political upheaval.

Most news about Haiti isn’t exactly the cheerful stuff of tourism brochures. But underneath the tiresome tales of suffering and misfortune lies a fascinating country of unutterable beauty, quirky charm and unexpected quaintness. Now, young Haitians — those who have never known a time when their country received good press —are turning to social media to showcase the happier, sexier side of their country.

This is the Haiti that the rest of the world forgot about more than 30 years ago. It’s hard to remember now, but back in the late 1970s Haiti was an up-and-coming Caribbean vacationland — a tropical hotspot whose tourism industry was the envy of neighboring Dominican Republic. Bill and Hillary Clinton honeymooned in Haiti in 1975, and not because they couldn’t afford to go elsewhere.

Then AIDS happened. In the early days of the public health scare, 32 Haitian…

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3 Choons Currently Blowing Up My Radio in Martinique…and others now blasting out of speakers across Port-of-Spain

I really love the music I hear in Martinique.  Old and new. As people across the Caribbean from Haiti to Trinidad and Tobago and many of the islands in between, and the region’s many coastal nations all gear up for the most spectacular of our Caribbean traditions, carnival, I thought I’d share some of the (admittedly non-carnival) sounds that are just unavoidable in Martinique at the moment.

1) Soprano – Fresh Prince.  This track’s joy comes from a mixture of 90s nostalgia, dancing ‘à la Carlton’ and comedy lyrics like ‘Jeffrey, bring us some ice!’ Seriously catchy.

2. Lycinaïs Jean – Aimer (to love).  If the last big zouk tune you heard was a Kassav tune from the early 90s, catch up here.  This song has dominated the airwaves for MONTHS.

3.  E.sy Kennenga – Comme Si (As if).  As in…dance ‘as if’ no one’s watching, sing as if no one’s listening, live every day like it’s the last day of my life, as the lyrics suggest. Another catchy number with a video produced by fan-generated content. If you’re not in a place where dancing, drunkenness and disorderly or ‘no’ behaviour in the capital’s streets will be socially acceptable for the next 7 days, enjoy this taster of some of this French Caribbean island’s contemporary popular music.

If you’re not feting hard but you wish you were, this selection of the biggest, latest soca tracks from Trinidad Carnival 2015 is for you (from DJ Private Ryan)

Happy Carnival!

Travel and Adventures of a Victorian Troublemaker: Henry Sylvester Williams

Henry who you say?  His name may have slipped through the annals of history but Henry Sylvestre/Sylvester* Williams was a man whose work back in the day is still echoing over a hundred years after his death.  Hence his life and work merit the number two spot in this series of Five Great, British and Black Moments which is movingblack’s contribution to black history season.

Well, that and it’s in chronological order (number one is here)

The Short Version:

hsw

Henry Sylvester Williams

1)  Henry Sylvester Williams  coined the term ‘Pan-African’.

2) When considering the biographies of Sylvestre Williams, WEB DuBois, Marcus Garvey and Edward Wilmott Blyden, a group of final-year students at l’Université des Antilles et de la Guyane voted him the Father of Pan-Africanism last year, so it’s official.

3) He organised the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, sowing seeds which would yield extraordinary fruit half a century later, long after he’d been forgotten.  Assembled to organise for an end to colonial exploitation and racism, and for self-determination, their warm, formal reception by the British establishment – including a tea with prominent MPs on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament – is basically unthinkable to those agitating for such things today.  The conference was attended by eminent black activists from all over the world, as well as a number of the British political bigwigs of the day – Liberal Party people, Fabian Society folk, the Cobden girls – who believed social justice was for everybody. Continue reading

Great, British and Black: Five Key Moments

There are lots of black people ‘of African descent’ in the UK.  Perhaps the Kreyol expression ‘nou bel e nou la!’ / ‘we are here and we are beautiful!’ reflects the centuries-long battle to have our presence merely acknowledged.

Despite 500 years of debate and denial of our presence in more and less creative ways, we’re still standing. If this is news to you, please check out the National Archives’ web exhibition.  It’s rather appropriately titled ‘Black Presence’ and covers the period 1500-1850.

If it’s not news, then you may also know it would be remiss of me to pretend the UK’s not celebrating black history month this month, and that all sorts of weird and wonderful events and occasions are not happening as a result.

I LOVE black history month – or ‘season’ really considering things start kicking off towards the end of September and slow around mid-November.  As October approaches, traditionally my girls and I would keep the social calendar clear, stock up on What’s On brochures and debate what looked ‘actually unmissable’, and what looked like a rehash of something already done.  In London we were always spoilt for choice as councils, museums, theatres and arts venues seemingly competed for the most innovative and interesting ways to bring history that is black and yet British to life. Continue reading

Trouble in Paradise? Travelling Through Protests in Martinique, St Lucia and London

I’ve been travelling a lot this summer.  I’ve been magnificently blessed.  I’ve also travelled with my eyes open, and something unusual has caught my attention:  Quite separately from my natural antenna keenly tuned to signs of social upheaval, it seems that every place I’ve visited has been in the throes of a political drama.

Seriously!

I’m not expert in international political analysis, but I swear every stop involved someone explaining that something wasn’t working normally as a result of protests.

Before you write me off as some leftwing fantasist seeing the revolution everywhere I go, here’s what I mean:

1) Martinique:  Petrol Strike.

Firstly there was the question of whether I could leave for my adventures in the first place.  A week before my anticipated departure, there were talks of yet another petrol strike.  Two days later it was confirmed and began.

As usual in Martinique, the petrol stations were blockaded and the island came to a swift, choked standstill.  In a petrol strike, business meetings are postponed, schools lack teachers and pupils or close, services – including health and police – effectively shut down because key personnel can’t get to work. The state doesn’t appear to have reserves in these eventualities/make provisions for ‘key’ staff.  Riots don’t break out because the would-be opportunists/discontented are also conserving whatever petrol they have left.  Thus it was that all movement in the country halted days – hours really – before I hoped to begin the adventure of a lifetime.  ‘Off island,’

C’est pas possible! I fumed.

No one knows how long it will last.  Although the petrol strikes in the last year have always lasted five days or fewer, everyone remembers how it was a ‘mere’ petrol strike that started the historic 40 day national strike/protest of 2009.  The discontent which fuelled that moment remains widespread – particularly the social complaints – so I’ve often heard Martinicans say they expect another such outbreak, with some rather apocalyptic predictions of a violence which will be markedly different from the last period of protest.

On the Friday before I was due to leave, the worst happened.  My ride to the airport phoned me to say she’d run out of petrol; if Coralie couldn’t get some the following day, I’d need to try and find somebody who still had petrol, and who loved me enough to use the little remaining petrol they had on me.  She might be able to take me the 10 mins to the port with what little petrol they had left, but not the 30 min drive to the airport.  Boats and planes had the fuel to get me off Martinique to St Lucia, where a flight would take me to London and my summer adventure would begin.  But could I get to the port or airport to board? Continue reading

A Black Brit Hangs with Matinitje aka Martinicans

Madinina, as Martinique is known to locals, is a beautiful place.  It’s very easy, on any random day, to take a picture lifted out of a stereotypically stunning postcard version of Caribbean topography on an average mobile phone.

The Flower Isle

I’ve not done any empirical research on this, but it seems sometimes as if every Caribbean island’s name has a subtitle; Dominica is the Nature Island, St Lucia is Simply Beautiful, Grenada is the Spice Island, Madinina is the Flower Island.

Can you imagine how many flowers you have to be able to see, how frequently, how many varieties and how lovely they have to be for an island to end up nicknamed ‘the flower island’?  Combine the overflow of beautiful flowers in all manner of species and colours, with a terrain of peaks, valleys and more peaks, rivers and waterfalls, a fabulous coastline, rainforest and incredible landscapes.  And that’s just the land mass.

Les Gens

As much as I love walking across the beach after work, or watching the sun dip behind the horizon line spectacularly at dusk, what I really love are the people.  Unfortunately, they have a distorted vision of themselves.  I never knew any one people to be so convinced of their own worthlessness.  And I’m black.  Nothing gets Matinitje (pronounced Mat-in-it-che) more frenzied than talking about the wotlessness of other Martiniquais (pronounced Mar-ti-nee-kay)*.  Seriously.  But I always find the display somewhere between alarming, amusing and disturbing because it has not been my experience at all.

The greatest gift that Africa, with its traditional culture of ubuntu, the Biko quote goes, would give to the world, is a more human face.  Without getting overly sentimental, that’s kinda how I feel about moun matinitje aka Martinican people.  For me, this is an unconditionally giving people.  They give of themselves very naturally and very generously. Continue reading