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.
Great films don’t only entertain me, they’re an assault on my imagination! They stimulate my intellect, fuel my quest to understand. Film has long been a magical medium offering an unusually intimate look at many a place I may never visit. Like great novels, when done well, cinema plants the desire to see with my own eyes, places I’d often not previously considered visiting.
Film feels powerful because the immersion in another place is shallower than a book, but quicker. 90 minutes earlier, I’d barely heard of El Salvador (the South American immigrant community is comparatively small in London), now I’ve seen Innocent Voices; I know a lot more about one kid’s story, his life amidst a civil war, and the horrors of child soldiery. I’d love to learn more. Continue reading
The trip I’ve planned traversing the African continent should contain just enough adventure to be considered an appropriate remedy to an extraordinarily long summer break. I’m not complaining, you understand, I just want it to be clear that I’m not skiving off normal life. On the contrary, I’m trying to live it to the fullest! In case you’re still undecided on what to do this summer and in need of some inspiration, here’s how I prepared my summer adventure.
What I hope to do:
It’s always best I find to start the adventure with a daydream. What do you think would be a single awesome thing to be able to say at the end? Before my epic adventure is complete I’ll have dipped my toes from North to South Africa and from East to West. I’ll have gotten a little acquainted with some incredible capital cities, taken in awesome landscapes to set my heart a flutter, and then at peace all over again. I’ll have sampled unimaginable amounts of scrumptious African cuisine, decimated (okay dented, I still have to eat when I get home) my savings in AfroChic, and caught up with some beautiful people I have the honour to call friends. I’ll also get to see the hometowns they recalled so vividly and lovingly when we were young people in the UK together.
Where in the world excites your imagination and why? Is there someplace that you’ve always wanted to go for a really random reason? Or because of a book you read once? A scene in a film? Act on that impulse! 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.
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???
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.
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