Now that I finally understand that a love of Martinique does not necessarily equate to an endorsement of colonialism, mental slavery or white supremacy, I’m coming out of the closet as a Madininaphile. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that my chosen residence at present is the centre stage of an animated feature at cinemas now. Enter Battledream Chronicle.
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)
I don’t watch TV here. I used to. 10 years ago I lived on a daily diet of BET and a German cop show I still remember storylines from relatively vividly. It was called Le Clown in French, and it was awesome. A standard detective/action hero main character but because it was German the things that people called the police for were different from what I was used to. The things that a jury would think were important were different. I found it fascinating to see how another people lived. That it, like lots of violent cop shows came on at like 8am was also a revelation; we have a ‘watershed’ in the UK, which means that if it’s not suitable viewing for kids it shouldn’t be on TV before 9pm.
It’s probably why I like languages in theory. I say in theory cos in practice I become more reluctantly bilingual by the day I swear. When I’m feeling stressed out, suddenly I’m all ‘argh, as if my day wasn’t shitty enough, I have to explain my vex face in french! ARGH!!’ But that happens when you’re a bit homesick.
I used to love French. When I was in secondary school, I used to translate my favourite RnB tunes into French – for fun! In my spare time! And then I’d do my regular French homework! When I did A levels, I would listen to French radio every morning. And not the music stations, like news programmes. I was a proper francophile. Continue reading
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.
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
I love Martinique. Love it! Why? Because I catch the most jokes here. I write this with a silly grin, teary eyes and chuckling. This place is nuts. It’s like Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted. Beautiful but incomprehensibly crazy. Though it might be a crap analogy because I remember feeling like I didn’t ‘get it’. Although it’s possible that it is therefore the perfect analogy.
But I digress.
What had me laughing so hard I felt compelled to blog about it? Slavery – history versus the discourse here? The state of education in contemporary Martinique? Or perhaps both? I’ll let you decide.
First off, I was not alone. The group of crying splutterers included me, two Martinican dudes, and two girls, one Martinican and one Guadeloupean. We had convened at 8am and were reviewing the contribution of our comrade in educational struggle, who was also a Martinican, at around midday. His task was to translate the fruits typically found in a jaden kréyol Matinitje (literal translation: traditional Martinican creole garden) into kréyol – as in the language – so that creole-speaking students learning to read and write their language could have a written reference point aka a dictionary while they learned a bit of Martinican cultural history. There’s a real and problematic lack of learning materials in creole – the first language of many if decreasing numbers of Martinicans (and St Lucians, Dominicans, Guadeloupeans, Trinidadians and Haitians…Mauritians, and Seychellois…but that’s another story). Bref, this was an important task. Continue reading
In the name of attempting to describe some of the bonuses to living in Martinique, I will simply describe the past week and let you decide if this place is awesome, or what.
This morning, peckish but not starving, I considered my breakfast options. Once I’d decided, I jumped out of bed, wandered into my garden and with the help of an ‘tool’ carefully manoeuvred so that the guava I’d had my eye on all week, would fall towards me rather than into the bushes directly below the tree, or worse, onto the neighbours’ patio. Score! Manoeuvre completed, I then scrutinised the mango tree opposite, decided there was nothing ripe and instead went for the mango tree at the front of the house.
The mango hit the ground with a thud.
Breakfast was ready.
It’s all been a bit intense around here. I’ve got deadlines, and major headaches accompanying them, not least with a crazy cold. Feeling stressed, tired and ill seems doubly miserable when the sky is bright blue, the horizon line is well-defined and the sunshine is gloriously skin-tickling warm. Carnival feels like a long time ago.
I was in the library for hours this morning, trying to talk through an assignment with a colleague, and then complete it. Nothing especially complicated, but a lot of preparation is required for a lengthy document which I have to produce in French. So it’s just a little stressful. Over-enthusiastic air-conditioning did not help matters.
Having anticipated a distractingly sour mood, I had one appointment at least to look forward to. To clear my head a little, I did lunch with a sister-friend. We had a lot to catch up on seeing how we hadn’t sat down together for 2 whole weeks! And catch up we did: we just talked and talked and talked and talked for four straight hours. Continue reading
In Martinique, as in many parts of the Caribbean, there’s one word that’s being whispered more and more frequently right now: Car-ni-val!! Official and unofficial public holidays, costumes, Caribbean music, mass participation and dancing in the streets = my kind of party! With 5 days to go til Jouvert, the anticipation is in the air and I am not immune to it.
Once upon a time, when I woke up on a February Sunday morning in Port-of-Spain, it wasn’t exactly a regular Sunday. The day before I’d been watching the children’s carnival parade, and then been to a fabulous carnival fete (party/soirée) where I ate, drank and danced merrily in the company of fellow revellers to performances by some of the biggest soca artists Trinidad and Tobago had to offer. Blaxx was my favourite, but Destra had put on such a fantastic performance at Soca Monarch two nights previously I feel the need to give her a shout out too. The party was Penny’s Annual Bash. A former Miss World/Universe and a born-and-raised Trini, her fete was a classy affair, and the only place I consumed wine and champagne with my three course meal that came with the ticket. I was due to leave Penny’s a little early to head to the steel pan finals (carnival’s brilliance is because at the heart of the festivities are the competitions), but we got caught up in the good time…
The other irregular thing about this particular Sunday morning alarm, was the time. It was 3am. It was dark. I was waking up in the middle of the night deliberately. To go to a party. Yes. I was definitely in Trinidad, for carnival. Continue reading
Approximately a year ago today, I left London in a hurry. Not out of choice, that’s just the way things go sometimes. There was an exciting new job waiting for me and a 4 week notice period in the old one. Compared with previous international departures of months (as in 4 or 12!) of advance notice, just under four weeks was kinda fast. There were a lot of goodbyes. No shortage of tears. Sometimes the result of lovely things said. There were no regrets. This adventure called Life had spoken quite definitively, it was time to rock and roll onto pastures new. My longstanding undimmed passionate love affair with the Caribbean had yielded a new fruit: emigration. Continue reading
I’m in hyper-reflective mode this week as my one year anniversary since arrival in Martinique approaches.
But while I prepare to reveal my innermost thoughts on that occasion, I thought I’d share some more local music on the same theme of anniversaries.
Namely the first music I interacted with upon arrival in Martinique; Taime’s La Ka Lité. The video absolutely wowed me when I first saw it, such was the creativity with no millions behind the artist. I hadn’t been in Martinique for 24 hours.
Taimé is certainly a talented young fellow and his skills as a cartoonist and filmmaker are on impressive display here, along with the extremely catchy tune. Check it out and tell me it isn’t cool…at least the lil Lion…
Keeping to the theme of anniversaries…
So image manipulation is like in the family it would seem for this young artiste. Turns out that Taimé is the godson of none other than Euzhan Palcy. She’s his ‘marraine du coeur.’ As in the patron of London’s Images of Black Women film festival. As in an early black female writer-director. As in the internationally renowned iconic black filmmaker. Who just happens to be Martinican, or a martiniquaise.
While her name might not ring a bell, hopefully her film Black Shack Alley aka Sugar Cane Alley aka Rue Cases Nègres, an award-winning black film classic celebrating 30 years of acclaim and general awesomeness this year is familiar.
If you don’t read French, this is the one time where checking out the film instead of the book – Rue Cases Nègres by Joseph Zobel – is perfectly respectable. It’s a powerful coming of age story set in 1930s colonial Martinique and is well worth watching if you’ve not seen it yet. I personally love the Medouze character, and José’s relationship with the old man, but I’m especially partial to a well-spun yarn.
In the absence of a decent trailer, instead you should check out this 10 mins montage of various scenes which gives a taster. It’s French so it starts with the credits. The opening voiceover sets the scene nicely ‘It was the summer holidays. All the kids from Black Shack Alley were waiting impatiently for the adults to go to work in the cane fields so that they could be alone and free all day long.’
I first saw Rue Cases Nègres a decade ago and I loved it instantly because it seemed to represent an image of the Caribbean childhood of my parents and the stories I’d heard about my grandparents’ lives. Which I’d never seen on screen. And certainly not from their perspective.
Taime’s work was less personally affirmative. However it did introduce me to the concepts of creole hip hop, and top-quality music videos for unsigned artists. Thus a serious eye-opener!
With no further ado, I present two pieces of Martinican artistry which I’m fond of, produced some 30 years apart.