Monthly Archives: March 2013


pres-commandOver the course of the last year ACTT lobbied for the creation of a ‘President’s Command Performance’ as the signal event for Republic Day in Trinidad and Tobago. The event is meant to be ‘the black tie event of the social calendar’ where the best of our best are showcased onstage. The show culminates with a signature speech by the President and a gesture on his part. In his generosity and with vision His Excellency the just demitted President of the Republic Professor George Maxwell Richards agreed to the event- and to make it one of his legacies to the Office of the President.

Due to programming conflicts the inaugural performance could not have been held on Republic Day 2012. Many scheduling conflicts later it was finally decided that the Command Performance would be the President’s last event and act before the inauguration of our fifth President of the Republic. The Command Performance was held at Central Bank on Sunday 17 March 2013 featuring an extraordinary showcase of artists, from: storyteller Paul Keens Douglas; operatic genius Eddie Cumberbatch;  dance guru Sat Balkaransingh; cuatro virtuoso Robert Munroe; a historic All-Star recreation of Lovey’s Band- the first band that recorded T&T’s music 100 years ago; and pan master Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe. The show was ably MCed by Dennis Mc Comie and His Excellency delivered a stirring speech on the need for ‘Restoration’ using the state of the President’s House as a metaphor for the state of the nation. The speech is available here.


Points of light

Despite the gloom of this seemingly blighted republic, there are points of light. Despite being cursed with leaders unable to convert a bounty of human, natural and financial resources into a golden community, there’re stars pointing us true North…

brown-gigThree weeks ago, possibly our two greatest young musicians shared the stage at Live Art Bistro on Albion Street—jazz drummer/pannist Sean Thomas and jazz trumpeter Brownman. Bassist BJ Saunders ably accompanied the two virtuosos. The show was epic, probably better than anything else in the world that night… It was strap-on-your-seat-belt-jazz with a blistering set. Both musicians matched each other note for beat. Both are super-skilled, straight-ahead players with very sophisticated jazz vocabularies. They experimented with tone, colour, pace and time-signatures. You could feel atoms electrify as they deconstructed songs from Brownman originals to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”.

The two are equals in skill—but have very different trajectories. This is about Trinidad’s continuing tragic failure to create systems to facilitate its geniuses. Simply put: Sean stayed, Brownman left. And that matters. Brownman—now based in Toronto—is listed by Air Canada as one of the “Top 10 reasons to visit Toronto” and is touted in its mainstream press as “Canada’s preeminent jazz trumpeter”. With almost 300 recording appearances and over 4,000 live performances, Brownman has seven different bands. He’s performed or recorded with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Paul Simon, KRS-1, Nelly Furtado and the Dave Matthews Band. His accolades include Canadian National Jazz Awards, a Toronto Independent Music Award and a BRAVO! channel documentary on his life. His career was facilitated by one of the most sophisticated cultural industry systems in the world—Canada’s. Read the rest of this entry

All the world’s a stage… How to reload a Golden Age

Part III

The battle between the forces of the elite Euro­pean-led Mardi Gras and the working class African-led Camboulay is not just a Carnival battle—it is a metaphor for the battle for the nation’s developmental direction and soul. Our crises of crime, institutional collapse, loss of identity and direction are because our leaders have consistently negated the authentic, the working-class, the indigenous, and the “roots”—choosing instead the foreign, plastic and elite. We’ve become a Mardi Gras people—fake, soul-less, status- and trinket-obsessed, surface and empty. We confront nothing and wait until the rot overwhelms. We’ve abandoned our own star. The Carnival, the culture and the country are all collapsing because of these choices…

From the 1930s, with the first experiments to create pan, to 1956, with the world’s first platinum album, Calypso, by Harry Belafonte, this country went through an extraordinary period of transformation. Our folk culture evolved into classical forms with genius levels of execution, eventually becoming global. During this Golden Age, hundreds of heroic nationals impacted every corner of the globe in sports, politics, the arts, liberation movements and science. Pan, mas and calypso emerged in their modern forms spawning 300 Trini-carnivals worldwide.

Read the rest of this entry

300 Carnivals falling – How to Reload a Golden Age

Part II

OUR PROBLEM is that we’ve never understood our majesty. Never understood how large our cultural footprint is in the world. Never internalised the hundreds of heroes we’ve uttered into the universal pantheon. Never understood the power of the things we created. Never understood the billions just awaiting our reaping—if only we embraced who we are… It is not just Trinidad’s Carnival that’s falling. It is all 300 we’ve spawned…And it is not Carnival alone that falls—but all T&T’s cultural forms…

For 12 years the Artists Coalition (ACTT) has led battles against four successive administrations to get the commonsense facilitating systems for culture in place. These are systems the rest of the world put in place since World War II. ACTT inherited the struggle from two generations before us. Pioneers like Beryl McBurnie and Charles Applewhaite died without seeing it. Warriors like James Lee Wah threw their hands up in disgust at the paralysis…Every single political administration since Independence has refused to do the right thing. Now we’re paying the price in every facet of our life.

Every single collapse we are witnessing in the Carnival is related to generational collapse— to what happens when you fail to build institutions to honour your legacy, and manage the succession of traditions and knowledge-systems from one generation to another. We are thus always re-inventing the wheel, always victim to every invader, conman and gimmick…And have less authentic knowledge each year to create with…Our tragedy may be that our colonial rulers cared more about our landscape and culture than our post Independence politicians… Read the rest of this entry