diaspora Film and Art

Film revealing economic power of Diaspora to be screened at Caribbean Diaspora Forum

New York will play host to Caribbean Week,  June 4-9, 2012 . June 5 will feature a documentary film on the economic power of the Caribbean Diaspora, as Caribbean News Now reports.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — A documentary that reveals the economic power of the Caribbean Diaspora will be screened at the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO)’s Diaspora Forum in New York on 5 June.

The documentary, Forward Home: The Power of the Caribbean Diaspora, showcases the experiences of members of the Caribbean Diaspora who straddle the dual worlds of Caribbean homelands and global cities as tourists, travellers and entrepreneurs, and the organizations that make the relationship work, according to Dr Keith Nurse, the film’s executive producer.

“The documentary maps the uncharted territory of diasporic tourism and provides empirical evidence to support what we have known anecdotally, which is that the diasporic economy is of huge significance to the diversification and competitiveness of the Caribbean economy,” said Nurse, who is the director of the Shridath Ramphal Centre (SRC) of the University of the West Indies (UWI).

The SRC is a training, research and outreach organization that services the Caribbean region in trade, industrial and development policy matters.

Forward Home is based on an analysis of the diasporic tourism and investment flows of four Caribbean countries and counterpart global cities – Jamaica and London; Guyana and Toronto; Suriname and Amsterdam; and the Dominican Republic and New York – and was shot in nine countries.

The Diaspora Forum is part of the programme for Caribbean Week in New York – a series of consumer events and business meetings, showcasing the diversity and vibrancy of the Caribbean to thousands of New Yorkers and visitors to the Big Apple.

Themed Rediscover Home: Defining our Role, the Forum brings together ministers, commissioners and directors of tourism, as well as senior tourism officials and the Caribbean Diaspora in an exchange of information on the unique selling propositions of the various destinations.

This year’s Forum will also feature presentations by Montserrat, which is celebrating its 50th carnival, and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, both observing their golden jubilee. In addition, the CTO will give an update on its Rediscover Home programme – a series of activities aimed at encouraging the Caribbean Diaspora to rediscover the Caribbean – including a loyalty card and the Diaspora website.

For the original report: Caribbean News Now!: Film revealing economic power of Diaspora to be screened at Caribbean Diaspora Forum.

For a full schedule of events, see also: Caribbean Week in NYC

diaspora History

Trinidad Celebrates Indian Arrival Day

Indian arrival and survival

On May 30th annually in Trinidad and Tobago the arrival of Indians, as indentured laborers to the British-ruled  island in 1945, is commemorated. The following, written by Louis B Homer, was published in the Trinidad Express Newspaper, May 29, 2012.

ndian Arrival Day is not a celebration about the adverse working and social conditions experienced by early immigrants from India. Rather, it celebrates the overcoming of the difficult conditions they endured during indentureship and the establishment of a firm Indian presence in Trinidad and Tobago, says anthropologist Dr. Kumar Mahabir.

” It is a celebration of progress and achievements over the past 167 years since our ancestors left their homes in India and made Trinidad their new home.” says Mahabir chairman of the Indo Caribbean Cultural Association. He said, “The arrival of Indian immigrants into Trinidad was an historic journey that began in 1845 and ended in 1917, during which 143,939 Indian nationals arrived in Trinidad to work on the sugar cane, cacao and rubber estates” .

During the period of indenture the records show that of the total number that arrived 89 per cent were Hindus, 10 per cent Muslims and 0.04 per cent were Christians

“Although often referred to as indentured labourers, not all were labourers in the strict sense of the word,” says Mahabir. Many were trained artisans and craftsmen with skills in pottery, jewelry, tailoring, tattoo making and making sweets.

Their arrival in Trinidad was an economic venture, because in the early days of their arrival there was famine and other social problems in their country. The majority came through Calcutta and the united provinces of Bihar and Orissa, while a small number came from Madras.

Mahabir said, “Modern thinkers are of the view that Indian arrival should not be measured in terms of the numbers that arrived during the period of indenture (1845 – 1917), but the introduction into Trinidad of another strand of cultural and religious strain that have helped to strengthen and bond all races in Trinidad and Tobago.”

In addition to their skills and crafts Mahabir said, “They also brought plants and herbs of a religious nature, many of which are used today in the preparation of herbal medicine or religious practices.”

Some of the plants included the arahoo, ashook, bael, congolata, gainda, katahar, khus khus, madar, nem, peepar and camphor.

The camphor wood is currently used in cremation ceremonies. The leaf of the bael tree has religious significance. It represents the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.

Indian arrival brought Dewali, hosay, Ram Leela, Eid-ul-Fitr, Phagwa, and other cultural and religious observances.

They also brought different foods, fruits, musical instruments and above all their Holy books, the Koran and Bhagvad Gita.

The Koran and Bhagvad Gita have played major roles in the judicial system of the country. Followers of the Hindu and Moslem faiths feel more at home when they use these holy books as a medium to “speak the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Their contribution in the development of agriculture went beyond the cultivation of small crops. They had ventured bravely into cane farming in a lucrative way.

Former prime minister Dr Eric Williams in The History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago published in 1962 stated, “The Indian cane farmer in Trinidad, cultivating cane on a small plot of land which he had been allowed to buy in exchange for a return passage to India, represented a challenge in Trinidad to the traditional method of production, in the British sugar colonies in the West Indies. To that extent the indentured Indian immigrant, the last victim in the historical sense of the sugar plantation economy, constituted one of the most powerful social forces for the future in the struggle for the establishment of a proper social structure and modern industrial relations.”

Historically the inspiration for celebrating Indian Arrival Day was derived from the Indian Centenary Celebrations of May 1945 when a few members of the Indian Revival and Reform Association (IRRA) had approached the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Inc with the idea of hosting this event.

A few members of the IRRA merged with the Hindu Seva Sangh Inc to commemorate the celebration throughout the country. What began as a centenary celebration grew later into a national festival and in 1995 it became a national holiday.

Mahabir said, “After and during the period of indenture many places where Indian families settled were named after villages in India, for example Fyzabad, Coromandel, Piparo, Delhi, Madras, and Golconda.”

At St James a vibrant Muslim community emerged between 1858 and 1861 when nine ships carrying nearly 3,000 immigrants from Madras had arrived in Trinidad. Many were from south India where there was a large community of Tamils. At the end of their indenture they settled in Peru Estate, opposite St. James barracks where once per year they celebrated the Firepass festival. While the Firepass festival disappeared in the 1930’s, it was replaced with the Hosay celebrations.

Because of the involvement of the entire community in the Hosay festival the participants were allowed to enter Port of Spain by using Marine Square.

By 1910 the whole eastern section of Peru estate was almost settled by Indians. St James has a number of streets that reflect the early settlement of Indians. Calcutta, Delhi, Patna, Benares, Lucknow, Agra, Bengal, Nizam are some of the names.

Mahabir said the latest attempt to widen and deepen the celebration is a visit by members of the association to Tobago where some aspects of the celebration will be conducted.

For original report: Indian arrival and survival | Trinidad Express Newspaper | Featured News.


Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans provide intense, thrilling performance.

The following dance review was written by Jordan Levin and published in the Miami Herald, April 26, 2012.

Physically ripped and emotionally expansive, the Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans returned to Miami and the Adrienne Arsht Center on Friday evening. The swell of emotion that surrounded the troupe’s performance there a year ago, as community leaders gathered to support a company on the verge of collapse after the Haitian earthquake, has leveled off somewhat. And that made it easier to look at the troupe and its work.

Choreographer/director Jeanguy Saintus’ nine dancers perform with a physical and emotional intensity that makes them seem always about to explode. Lean, narrow-framed and muscular to a degree exceptional even for the dance world, they’re built like greyhounds — but with the ferocity of tigers. Add powerful live drumming, and Ayikodans has a terrifically intense — and at times overwhelming — impact.

Saintus created Anmwey Ayiti Manman! (Cry Haiti Mother) right after the 2010 earthquake, as he and the three dancers he was able to gather grappled with the terrible event. The mesmerizing Linda Isabelle Francois is a Haiti mother figure, but she’s no maternal tower of strength — she’s as tortured and uncertain as her trembling offspring, Johnnoirry St. Phillippe and Makenson Israel Blanchard. Barbed wire drapes the bare concrete wall at the back of the Carnival Studio Theater, and tops two walls covered with newspapers on each side (Haiti hemmed in by bad news), and the sounds of wind, ominous rumbles and singer James Germain’s plaintive vocals add to the bleakness.

This youtube video presents excerpts of “Anmwey Ayiti Manman”:

The men scramble on the floor and clutch Francois’ legs, cover their gaping mouths in a silent howl, hurl themselves at the walls and try to climb over. Francois stretches arms and legs in spasmodic pleading, then curls into a ball, unable to help herself or them. At the end she puts her neck into a noose hanging from the ceiling, then jerks it down, and hurls it to the ground in defiant, frustrated rage as the lights go out — a moment so unnerving and strange the audience didn’t know how to react. Ayiti Manman is so raw that it can seem like therapeutic more than artistic expression, an unmediated outpouring of emotion.

Danse de l’araignee (Dance of the Spider), a new work commissioned by Arsht Center, was passionate in a more physical and exhilarating way. Inspired by Gede Zarenyen, a Haitian vodou spirit, and by spiders themselves. Saintus doesn’t shy from creepy-crawly imagery or movement — Danse de L’Araignee seethes with aggressive, coiling, unthinking energy, and even touches of cartoony horror. The nine dancers wear ghostly grey-black lip and eye makeup, and early on carry metal bowls on their heads, where reflected red lights look like buggy eyes. (Al Crawford, lighting designer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, donated his talent for dramatic lighting.)

But what mostly emerges from Araignee is a surging collective power, driven by five drummers pounding out incendiary, rapid and complex rhythms, and Germain’s soaring, moaning, raw gospel voice. The dancers, in Malou Cadet and Miko Guillaume’s tight briefs or slinky black dresses, writhe and crawl and roll over each other, reaching hands clutched like claws, taut legs snaking up by their ears, eager to attack or merge. The women — Francois, Cassandra Woolley Dolce, and Sephora Germain — stalk and snake their torsos. Steven Vilsaint and Emmanuel Pierre hang from a suspended ladder, seeming to turn themselves inside out. The dancers explode in leaps and (in the case of the astonishing Vilsaint) flips in the air, then rocket to the floor. The dancers’ intensity and force are spectacular, and Saintus brings them and Araignee to a wild level of animal intensity and energy. It’s thrilling — breathtaking even — but also exhausting, like a ritual that lifts you up even as it wrings you out.

For original post: Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans provide intense, thrilling performance – Entertainment –

See also: Repeating Islands

Festivals Religion

Kingston festival “Kingston Pon Di River”

The following report, written by Vinette K. Pryce, was published in Caribbean Life News on May 9, 2012.

The second annual staging of a cultural assembly billed “Kingston Pon Di River” reintroduced an African aspect of Jamaica’s culture previously ignored or shunned at mainstream celebrations and heritage festivals.

The literary, arts and music festival held at Boone Hall last week featured The St. Thomas Revival Band, a group that were neither promoted nor announced on the billing.

Introduced by Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, the island’s high commissioner to England who emceed an evening offering of drumming featuring talents from Cuba and Jamaica, the added attraction marshaled tourists, visitors and nationals to experience what is usually a private religious ceremony practiced to pay homage to Africa, the regarded Holy Land of the Pocomania sect.

Following the instrumental feast, a procession of men, women and children dressed in red, white and blue emerged from the dark, grassy, hillside setting into the light of the moon where awe-struck patrons watched with curiosity.

With heads tied to fashion a turban, their red, plaid, bandana fabric represented the national cloth and signified a unity between religion and country.

The members of the group seemed entranced by their music as they walked to a white tent where a long table prepared an altar and became the central focus for what ensued as a spirited, ritualistic, revival ceremony.

“The Indians share their culture; the Chinese, Syrians and Jews too, we as Jamaicans should embrace our total heritage,” Dollis Campbell, one of the three promoters representing Dynamic Event Services said.

It was at her urging that the Yallahs-based church group found a welcoming audience at the riverside, weekend fest.

Far from somber, the serious worshippers proved to be missionaries of their faith, ancestry and country.

Without engaging recruitment tactics to patrons, they impressed a number of guests who remained riveted until the midnight end of the ceremony.

Dressed similarly to a Roman Catholic Pope, his head to feet ceremonial dress distinguished him from his congregation and other religious believers in the group.

“People think we are about obeah…but we light candles, sing and praise our Lord…that’s all we do,” Pastor Jonathan Williams said.

To see the way he sprayed mouthfuls of water or liquor into the air can only be described as artistic and perhaps akin to rituals performed in Brazil or Haiti.

He seemed to direct the motions of the lively, musical revivalists who segued from each song singing the gospel of their faith.

They employed the tenets of the festival to deliver literature, art and music to an audience perhaps un-familiar with their mode of worship.

Allegedly rooted in West African traditions, revivalist culture is mostly regarded as an underground religious rite practiced by a segment of the society known as Pocomanianians.

The authentic Afro-Christian religious folk form evolved during the eighteenth to nineteenth century and was regarded in traditional religious circles as a vehicle of rebellion in colonial times. Pocomania reportedly emerged during the 1860s in churches which exuberantly fused African and Protestant performance styles, images, and traditions.

The ritual meetings involve prayers, dances, and rhythmic drumming.

Participants often go into a trance.

However, on the Saturday night that celebrated the 140th anniversary of the capital, Caribbean city, an abbreviated ritual minus magic offered a glimpse into Jamaica’s African ancestral tradition.

A long table filled with fruits of every kind, Duck bread (special ceremonial dough) colored candles, flowers, and beverages formed the central focus of attention.

Ceremoniously staged to thank the ancestors for granting powers of healing and life, the gifts to the spirits are later shared among a congregation.

Each colored candle allegedly represented a significant aspect of the ceremony.

For first-time witnesses it was the candles that captivated the most attention when the preacher indicated that when lit, they could be the vehicle to goodwill and hoped-for wishes.

Individuals voluntarily lit particular candles they hoped will provide fulfillments the pastor allegedly relayed to ancestors. A number of prior skeptics and cynics allayed their fears and proceeded to the altar in order to seek positive enticements.

“This is my first time seeing this but I am totally impressed and proud of my country and culture. I am happy I came, I have learnt a great deal,” Norma Davis said after the ceremony.

With a band of musicians constantly fueling infectious sounds, the entire audience joined the revelry and embraced the nation’s cultural heritage.

Janet Silvera, Dollis Campbell, and Millicent Lynch are the three founders of DES credited for enlightening the sophisticated, elite patronage to their milestone anniversary feature and event championing the historic dateline.

Perhaps, the highlight of the festival, this presentation is being hailed with appreciation by nationals and visitors alike.

Kingston has had its allure but until recently few visitors could boast the privilege of sitting up close to witness the legacy and rich, African tradition still practiced by revivalists in modern day Jamaica.

For the original report: Kingston festival attracts visitors and locals alike • Caribbean Life.

History Music Steel Pan

New York steel band pioneers to be honored

The following article was taken from Caribbean Life, May 16th, 2012.

Rudy King

Two surviving members from a three-piece steel band which appeared in the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers will be among the special lineup of individuals being honored at a Tribute to New York Steel Band Pioneers organized by the Trinidad & Tobago Folk Arts Institute, Sunday evening May 20. The gala event will be held at Tropical Paradise Ballroom, Brooklyn from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m.

Michael Alexander and Alfonso Marshall (whose name, after he subsequently became an actor, was changed to Austin Stoker) are the two surviving steelpan players from the 1954 production, which starred Pearl Bailey and was written by Truman Capote. The members of the history-making steel band unit were recruited from Trinidad by the noted Trinidad-born choreographer-director Geoffrey Holder, who was also in the House of Flowers cast.

The other honorees are Caldera Caraballo, Milton Gabriel, Edward George, Lennox Leverock, Roy Sangster and Kim Wong. Two well-known names associated with steel band activity in its early days here, Rudolph King and Conrad Mauge, will be honored posthumously. Among them, the steel band stalwarts selected for this recognition aggregated countless hours as leaders and players in the formative period of New York’s steel band culture, as they endeavored to introduce the new musical sound to American audiences. Their experiences ran the gamut from Caldera Caraballo’s touring with Harry Belafonte to Kim Wong’s collaborative projects with folk music icon Pete Seeger to Rudolph King’s sharing nightclub billing with calypso singer Mighty Charmer, prior to the latter becoming a household name in a different sphere as Louis Farrakan.

For original posting: Awards for New York steel band pioneers • Caribbean Life.


Sparromania!: Wit, Wisdom, and Soul from the King of Calypso, 1960-1976

The following review of the 2012 compilation of the music of Slinger Francisco, the Mighty Sparrow, was written by David Lewis and appears in the May 2012 issue of Black Grooves.

Artist: Mighty Sparrow

Label: Strut / K7!

Formats: 2-CD set, 2-LP set, MP3

Catalog No.: Strut090CD

Release date: January 24, 2012

Any collection dedicated to the work of Slinger Fransisco, better known in the Caribbean by his calypso sobriquet Mighty Sparrow, is going to be woefully incomplete. So any review of such a collection could easily turn into bellyaching about material that is missing. I’ll refrain from that, but will note that by focusing their collection Sparromania! on Sparrow’s career from 1960-1972, listeners will miss some of Sparrow’s memorable pieces such as the iconic “Jean and Dinah,” the popular “Drunk and Disorderly” and the racy double-entendre song “Saltfish.”

Those concerns aside, this compilation showcases Sparrow’s penchant for biting social commentary that earned him the title “Calypso King of the World.” His insightful commentary on “Kennedy and Kruschev” shows Sparrow at the top of his game, both lyrically and musically, with a driving rhythm section and quips on world affairs. His social commentary on “Ah Digging Horrors” is still applicable to Trinidad’s current struggles with high crime rates and the economic downturn, years after it was originally written:

Ah digging horrors, ah digging the blues
Anytime I choose to peruse the daily news
Ah digging horrors because
All I read about is kidnappers, more laws, and wars. (see the following you tube video)

Sparrow’s genius with the witty, oratorical calypso form can be heard in the track entitled “Picong Duel (Sparrow and Melody).” Picong is a West Indian speech form where speakers trade witty banter and comic insults in a spirit of good fun. Picong is deeply intertwined with the history of calypso and still appears today in “extempo” (improvised calypso) competitions. This exchange pairs the two giants of calypso, Sparrow and Lord Melody.

The collection also delves into Sparrow’s experiments with non-calypso genres during this period, such as the jangly ‘60s pop sounds of “She’s Been Gone Too Long” or the calypso-fied version of “Try a Little Tenderness.” Purists will lament the wasted space: why include songs like this when there are worthy, socially relevant calypsos that are left by the wayside? While some of these “excursions” into other genres are not of the same musical or lyrical quality as Sparrow’s true-true calypsos, they document the growth and change in the calypso form itself throughout the 1960s. The influence of U.S. based pop and the growing international success of reggae inspired calypsonians to experiment with pop and soul sounds which would eventually solidify into a new “spinoff” genre: soca.

And while many of these experiments ultimately do not stand up to Sparrow’s other output, one of my favorite tracks on the compilation is the raucous “What’s the Use of Getting Sober?” A lazy shuffling guitar accompanies Sparrow and a few friends as they express their love of Trinidad rum:

Here comes the bottle, I gotta get some
I want my mouth to smell stink with rum!
What’s the use of getting sober
When you know you will be drunk again?


While calypso fans may have many of these recordings on albums from the 1960s and ‘70s, many of the originals—and even Sparrow’s CD releases of the material—have been difficult to find in the United States. The extensive liner notes by David Katz on the history of calypso and Sparrow’s career make this a great introduction to a small slice of his musical output.

For original post: Sparromania!: Wit, Wisdom, and Soul from the King of Calypso, 1960-1976 |