Battle for the Soul of the Republic

For Pat Bishop, RIP

Imagine this: the whole of George and Nelson Streets is a great heritage arcade of restored turn-of-the-century buildings on the outside—but inside are concert halls, restaurants, recreated barrack yards and a sprawling modern multi-media museum called the House of Music. It is based around the restored Christopher Brothers Recording Studio at 7 Nelson Street—one of the oldest recording studios in the world. Here, legendary Spoiler recorded his great songs. Trinidad has the second oldest recording industry in the world, it is only fitting. The House of Music is a magnificent facility and Port of Spain’s main tourist attraction—a place where great concerts of all types are held.

The project to build it and restore these buildings was one of the major projects in the rehabilitation of East Port of Spain and the resurrection of Laventille and environs. The East Port of Spain Heritage City project had finally honoured these great communities that are the mothers of pan, mas and calypso. Beautiful schools, community centres, redesigned panyards… all kinds of industry had sprung up overnight. Fish farms, local delicacies, master artisans of all sorts had become global brands. A cable car system now connects the Hill to the city…

Magnificent stylish buildings—combination museums, concert halls and Internet cafes—have been built all over the hill as rewards to communities which had eradicated crime. But it was the genius of the people that had finally been given the resources to fly. In fact, the cultural renaissance in T&T was being led by Laventille—just as it was before…

Laventille’s pan and mas factories pour out hundreds of millions of dollars in goods every year to service the 300 Trinidad-style carnivals worldwide. The Hill, South East Port of Spain and Belmont are known worldwide as responsible for the renaissance in mas. Young boy band leaders have suddenly sprung up with dozens of innovative bands based on the new prize scheme for bands 30-100 with the $3 million first prize. It is said that some of these bands used to be gangs…

Acoustic Carnival Monday has been a hit. Because of the ban on DJs in the city centre on Monday and because the only amplified thing can be live music, there has been a proliferation of live bands, steelbands, tamboo bamboo, acoustic brass bands, African and East Indian drumming sides… All are all over the place making glorious music. The vibe is different—more intimate, more real, yet more epic, more joyous… All village Carnivals are also on Monday. Public Transport Service Corporation tours leave every 15 minutes to all parts of the country so people can experience the 100 different Carnivals T&T has to offer during this magic time. There is a sense of an entire island humming with a different beauty, a different truth…

The quality of costumes is magnificent because of the creation of the Guild of Masters. The Guilds are massive workshops where the country’s Master Elder Artisans were placed with Master Students and given the resources to re-create the country’s greatest Masterworks. Their entire processes were recorded and formed the curriculum of the now world-famous University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Academy… The Guilds recreated the 100 greatest mas costumes of all time—all displayed at the magnificent Carnival, Steelband and Festival Museum—Trinidad’s wonder of the world…

Every day a roster of these costumes dances for the public in the great restaurant courtyard at the Museum centre—serenaded by Road Marches and great songs from our past. In the Museum great recreated Hosay tadjes also stand with magnificent Ramdilla effigies—all recreated by the Guilds… These masterworks inspire hundreds of young people who learn skills from the brilliant UTT Academy programmes teaching our masterworks. It has led to a renaissance in style all over the country—in houses, landscaping, sculpture, industrial design… all manner of innovations. Our students are known as the most creative on the planet—proficient in the skills of five civilisations…

But it is the hills that are the greatest thing… There are avenues in Laventille where all houses are white with blue roofs, flowering plants and trees abound. There are neighbourhoods where houses are every colour of a deep rich rainbow. Everything is solar-powered. And during poui season every house has a golden poui courtesy Peter Minshall—and for days the hills are ablaze with golden magic.

Many youths are away most of the year. Steelband orchestras are only in the country for two months. They’re on year-long tours playing the planet’s biggest festivals. Many started smaller combos inspired by the seven-side pan competition that had captured the nation’s imagination. The cultural sector had gotten its act together: tour agents are booking T&T acts world-over. Best Village troupes, painters, dancers, filmmakers—most of the year are abroad touring. Every year hundreds of new artistic millionaires are minted. There’s a running joke—parents want their children to be artists instead of lawyers and doctors… But nah, we need doctors and lawyers, too…

All over the phenomenal island—magic, beauty, truth and industry. Industry emerging from native genius. We have found ourselves in ourselves. We have looked inside and found two of the greatest truths: “To thine own self be true.” And as Minshall said: “Islands have a right to be magical!”

This is what Pat was fighting for. Let us make this dream manifest.

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Posted on August 26, 2011, in President's Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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