Tag Archives: culture

Trauma in the Spotlight

Disclosure:  As a teen, I dreamed of being an investigative journalist.

It’s been a full 24 hours since my most recent trip to the cinema and I’m still kinda traumatised.  After the film finished, I discussed it for a solid 90 minutes.  After a night of poor sleep, I woke up and did a quick internet search before work: I needed to know how true this story was.  I got that the main thrust is true, but how many liberties did the filmmakers take for dramatic effect?  How much artistic licence did they employ? Continue reading

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

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!

Honey, Food is All About Power #Dispatch: Thy Tran

I was honoured to be interviewed as part of Bani Amor’s series ‘Race, Place and Adventure’ bringing to light the voices of travelling writers of colour this summer. But you should check this out cos Everywhere All The Time is awesome, fun, and ALWAYS thought-provoking!

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

Awesome or what? An arty week in Martinique

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.

Yup.

 

Gotcha.

The mango hit the ground with a thud.

Breakfast was ready.

  Continue reading

Carnival Caribbean Stylee: Very Possibly the Best Thing About Being Alive

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.Kiddies carnival 2013

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

The Christmas Films (including how not to make a film about a liberation movement)

Maaaayn, it’s been a while.

Further evidence of my cushy life could be that I’m only now distressed about my last weekend of freedom before the 9-5 starts cramping my style again, or perhaps evidence to the contrary; everything’s been so hectic for the past 6 weeks that this has been the first week I’ve been able to sleep late, let my head stop reeling from things to do, and basically stop long enough to think about writing something worth reading.

I can’t promise that this is it, but at least I’m trying right???

Continue reading

Anniversaries and Artistes

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.

Enjoy!

Ooh la la! One crazy month in Martinique!

It’s not a huge secret that I love Martinique.  I try and play it cool like it’s a place like any other, with its good and bad, people and places.  Just another Caribbean island but with a French twist, but that’s a lie.  The truth is that I love this complicated place despite myself.  And several seemingly unconnected innocuous events will help me explain why.

First, there was the night I debated and discussed until I fell asleep.  Exhausted, we all crashed out on our sofa.  Me, and the husband and wife creative team I’ve been calling housemates this past summer.  The subject?  The private view had of Hélène Raffestin‘s art exhibition ‘Sois belle et plais toi’ which I’ll translate as ‘be beautiful and make yourself happy’ (‘please yourself’ has distinctly sexual connotations in English).  The title had intrigued my housie who noticed the play on the play of words on the charming French expression ‘Sois belle et tais toi’ aka ‘be beautiful and shut up’.  Who says the French aren’t romantic?  We were both looking forward to seeing how her desire to look at ‘the role of women in our contemporary society’ would manifest itself in her art.

She did a good job.  Art is supposed to provoke debate and emotions and she certainly did that.  According to the flyer, Raffestin lives and works in Martinique, did her first art school here, and we infer was born here.  The picture of her is shadowy, so although she looks ‘kinda white’ she could also be mixed.  Why is that important?  Because this is Martinique.  The personal, the impersonal, the private, the public, it’s all political!  Martinique, an ‘overseas region of France’ exists as a complete anachronism.  A colony in the classic Age of Empire sense of the world in the age of 21st century necolonialism.  And it retains many of the features of a colony, such as skin colour as an arbiter of social class.

Raffestin’s critique of women in ‘our contemporary society’ threw up immediately the question of ‘which society?’  Continue reading