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.
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
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.
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
This past month has seen my heart delight in exposure to some of the serious local talent in my Caribbean island home of Martinique, and its artistic output. It has been fantastic. It’s also convinced me that while I’m not the whizziest kid on the planet, not being experienced in embedding videos is no reason not to big up artists who do great work. Or work that I like at any rate. Continue reading