India’s hidden African communities

The following article was written by Dr. Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya and published in Global: The International Briefing.

Indians with African ancestry often go unrecognised but perhaps this is to be expected in a country with a population of 1.2 billion whose diversity is as wide as the Indian Ocean.

Africans traders, sailors and missionaries moved across the Indian Ocean of their own free will for centuries. From the 13th century, African traders operated from Jan­jira, an island off the west coast of India, and from the 16th century Janjira became a power base for Africans who ruled not one, but two states in western India. In 1948, a year after independence, when India’s princely states were incorporated into the new India, the states of Janjira and Sachin were ruled by Sidis – the name by which Indians of African descent are generally known today…

Being a heterogeneous group, they have lost whatever African languages they spoke in the process of settling down. A few of the elderly can recall some Swahili. But as many generations were born in India, most Sidis today speak the local languages -Gu­jarati, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu, for example.

Sidis are Indian, and blend in with the multicultural mosaic of India. In terms of clothing, housing and language, they can­not be differentiated from other Indians. Sidis have all but adapted to life in India, similar to the numerous other migrant groups. What really sets Sidis apart from other Indians are their artistic traditions. Sidis blend into India’s diversity but their music and dance signal a connection with Africa. Melodies and themes in Sidi mu­sic have been identified as Tanzanian and Ethiopian.

Sidi servants once entertained the noble courts with their ngoma drums, rattles and conch shells. Music and dance took on an important function, as it gave them some­thing of Africa to hold on to while adapting to their new country. Sidis in Gujarat felt a need to form a new identity and entrenched some aspects of their ancestral culture by gathering at the dargahs (shrines) of their Sidi Sufi saints: Bava Gor, Bava Habash and Mai Mishra.

Sidi religious practices involve music, song and dance. Their polyrhythmic drum­ming style, known as goma, brings their African roots to the fore. Though origi­nally a religious performance, goma was brought to the stage by the Sidi Sufis who considered the theatrical performances an extension of their worship. African drums (mugarman, which stands on feet; musindo, similar to a dhol, or double-headed drum, but only played with the hands; and armpit drums), malunga (braced musical bows), mai mishra (coconut rattle) and nafir (conch trumpet) add to the authenticity of the performance.

There are several goma groups, and the tradition has become a vehicle for Sidis to travel outside their village, across the coun­try and overseas. Dressed in animal skins decorated with peacock feathers, and with painted faces, Sidis perform their African-derived music all over the world – in Ma­laysia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, the USA and the UK. One audience member in Delhi admitted to having seen Sidis on the Discovery Channel but had not known that they lived in India.

Some Sidis believe they are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad’s first muezzin, Hazrat Bilal, an Ethiopian. Bilal’s beautiful voice and devotion to the Prophet won him this important position.

Over the past decade, scholarly interest in the Sidis has grown. They have estab­lished the Sidi Goma Al-Mubrik Charitable Trust, which is administered and managed by Sidis. The Trust aims to enhance the economic, social and educational needs of the community. This exemplary initiative might be a model for migrant communities to follow throughout the world.

For the original and full report: India’s hidden African communities.

Film festival ends year with Lara Brothers film and performance

Repeating Islands reports on the screening of La Gaita, a film that features the parang group, The Lara Brothers. Nov. 26, 2012.

The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (ttff) will end its activities for the year on a high note with a screening of the award-winning parang documentary La Gaita, followed by a live performance by the celebrated Lara Brothers parang group, on Saturday 8th December in Santa Cruz.

This free screening and performance will bring to an end the bpTT Community Cinergy series of film events held across the country in 2012.

Winner of the ttff/12 People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary, La Gaita profiles the Lara Brothers, the oldest existing parang group in T&T. The film, directed by Janine Fung, pays loving tribute to the band, telling their story in their own words and music. In particular, the film follows the gregarious, extroverted Willy Lara and his more reserved elder brother, the late Tito, whose moving funeral forms part of the film.

Speaking about her experience making the film, Fung noted that “The Lara Brothers have a responsibility—one they have taken on for the last 70 years—to serve their music, their faith and their country.”

She continued: “They are messengers, travelling from rumshop to rumshop throughout Trinidad performing, because they simply love parang, as a way to express themselves and for the people to relate to that expression.”

The film screening and live performance will be held at Baya’s Place, Chiquitto Drive, Sam Boucaud, Santa Cruz (next to the Brian Lara Grounds) from 7pm. Refreshments will be on sale.

The ttff is held annually in September and October and is presented by Flow, given leading sponsorship by RBC Royal Bank and bpTT, and supported by the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company, the National Gas Company, the Tourism Development Company and the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism.

For the original report: Film festival ends year with Lara Brothers film and performance « Repeating Islands.

See also: Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival

Chucho Valdes plays free New Orleans concert

Chris Waddington reports on the upcoming free concert of renowned Cuban pianist Chuco Valdes, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune, Nov. 16th, 2012

Observers of New Orleans culture often describe the town as “the northernmost city of the Caribbean.” It will feel a lot more Caribbean on Monday, November 19, when Cuban piano legend Chucho Valdes plays a free concert at the Joy Theater, 1200 Canal St. In fact, you can expect something like a musical heat wave when his percussion-powered quintet finds the groove.

At age 70, this multiple Grammy winner offers a direct connection to the Cuban tradition. His father, Bebo Valdes, was an influential Cuban bandleader. The elder Valdes also served as his son’s first piano teacher.

But the son isn’t a slave to tradition. Valdes first made waves in the United States when he performed here with the band Irakere, an ensemble that fused elements of funk, rock, jazz and Afro-Cuban music. Irakere won a Grammy Award in 1979. The group included such seminal Cuban artists as reedman Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Although both of those players eventually defected to the U.S., Valdes has continued to reside in Cuba while touring internationally.

At the keyboard, Valdes has always displayed a composer’s grasp of musical proportion. He knows how to wring a melody for sweetness, and he has a jazzman’s ear for harmonic variation. Sometimes, Valdes treats his piano as if its keys were 88 carefully tuned drums. He can make you dance and make you think at the same time — a neat trick for any musician.

Monday’s set list is likely to include “New Orleans.” Built around the two-beat rhythm of early jazz, the song is dedicated to the Marsalis Family and appears on Valdes’ 2010 recording ‘Chucho’s Steps,” which won a Latin Grammy.

For  the original report: Cuban keyboard star Chucho Valdes plays a free New Orleans concert on November 19 | NOLA.com.

Interview: Leslie Lucky-Samaroo

In the following interview othersounds.com speaks to Leslie Lucky-Samaroo about his role in the music recording industry of Trinidad and Tobago, Feb. 21, 2011.

Leslie ”Lucky” Samaroo is a Trinidadian entrepreneur who turned his passion for music into a business. He started up his own pressing plant, International Recording Co. Ltd, which was key to creating an independent record industry in Trinidad. His other ventures included a record label called Tropico and later an airline called Carribean United Airlines.  In the mid-70’s he was forced to leave the music business when climbing oil prices threatened to ground his entire airline business.

How did you get into the record business?

In 1957 I applied and obtained a licensee agreement from RCA (Records) which was the key in establishing a pressing plant in Trinidad. I spent many weeks with RCA at their recording studios in NY, observing and learning sound recording techniques. I can still remember my first recording in Trinidad, sitting in a goat pen on the hills of Levantille with my Ampex 601 Recorder, RCA four channel mixer and four RCA 77DX Microphones and recording Ebonites Steel Band playing ” Oh My Beloved Father”, and releasing my first 45 on the Trinidad / Tobago market. It was an instant hit and best seller.

Were there any other pressing plants before you decided to open

Emory Cook (of Cook Records) was the first to set up a pressing plant in Trinidad Tobago. The pressing process was his downfall, but his recording was and still is the best sound quality of a Steel Orchestra ever produced. Before my Company ” International Recording Co. Ltd.” came on the scene I was told that SaGomes was probably the first person to produce a local recording, I have no idea who recorded or pressed the 78 records.

What else can you tell me about International Recording Co. Ltd?

My plant was the traditional type using vinyl materials in hydraulic pressing moulds. IRCL produced (and pressed) over 4000 local recordings including, Sparrow, Melody, (Lord) Kitchener, Duke, La Petite Musical, Joey Lewis and Orch., Ron Berrage and Orch., Pete De Vlugt and Orch., Cyril Diaz and Orch., Panam North Stars Steel Orch., Silver Stars Steel Orch., Gay Desperados Steel Orch., Cavaliers Steel Orch., and many others too numerous to mention. I did two special recordings for RCA,…Ivory & Steel, with Winifred Atwell and the Panam North Stars Steel Orch., and Miles Davis with the Panam Steel Orch. One of my best sellers was a 45 called ”Portrait of Trinidad” by Mighty Sniper from 1965.

You sold your company in the mid 1970’s. What happened?

In 1966 when my small plant burnt down at Dundonald Street in Port of Spain (POS), I built the largest and most modern plant facilities in the Caribbean at Sea Lots in POS. This plant had automated pressing capability, record mastering and plating, printery, and the largest recording studio in the country. However, in 1969 I started a new Company, Arawak Airlines, but changed the name shortly afterwards to Caribbean United Airlines. I was encouraged to go into the Airline business when the National carrier BWIA could not carry on with the Domestic service to Tobago, because of financial constraints. In 1973/74 I was forced to put the airline in receivership, when the Government refused to grant me a fare increase of TT $6.00 due to the fuel crisis at the time. Although the Government promised to refund me all moneys invested, I never received any refund. I had to sell the recording Company to repay my debts.

Since that time I lost track of the local recording Industry.

For the original report: Interview: Leslie Lucky-Samaroo.

Bailan los parranderos!

This account of parang music, the music of the Trinidad Christmas, was posted by Shaina Lipp in Afropop Worldwide, 9th November, 2012.

Wake up n’ get out of bed! The parranderos are here to serenade us! Living in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1970s, you may have fallen the not-so-unlucky victim of parang, a semi-seasonal activity in which groups of musicians and revelers pay festive night time visits to houses in small communities. So, break out the food or the rum and let’s dance!

Parang is one fortunate and fruitful example of the cultural transmission (and the subsequent borrowing and fusing of traditional forms) that results from this travel. The word parang is derived from two Spanish words: ‘parranda,’ meaning ‘fête, or spree’ and ‘parar,’ the verb ‘to stop.’ Traditionally, the serenaders of parang (parranderos) visit the homes of families and friends during the night to wake them from sleep; they play music, dance and sing as they go paranging throughout the town to spread good vibes and general merriment. In exchange for entertainment, parranderos are usually given food and drink: pastelle (a type of bready desert), sorrel and rum.

The earliest examples of the music are heavily influenced by joropo, a classic style of Venezuelan folk music, but quickly came to include a significant helping of Caribbean groove in the mix. Because parang takes its original influences from Afro-Venezuelan culture, we see an instrumentation that reflects this migratory origin: the cuatro, maracas, claves, box bass, bandolin, caja and the marimbola. But the parranderos do not stop there! For the best sound, wood blocks and graters, scratchers and spoons are incorporated into the mix, adding a percussive heft to the soaring vocals.

Over the past several decades, parang has changed in some significant ways, accounting for broader developments in Trinidad and Tobago’s cosmopolitan musical culture. While the caroling-type tradition is still practiced in some places during the holidays, larger and more organized ensembles have expanded the style, doing much to professionalize the once informal sub-genre. In the course of doing so, the parang season has been extended significantly . What was once a holiday custom now takes up much of the year, beginning in October and running through January, and culminating in a series of national contests hosted by National Parang Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NPATT). With the addition of new instruments, the implementation of riddims and more English language, parang has aligned more closely with mainstream Trinidadian culture.

Perhaps most exciting are the recent developments…In an unprecedented announcement, the NPATT ruled: regarding all competitions and official instrumentation, parang now officially incorporates the steelpan! While in the past some groups have played steelpan, now for the first time it will be considered as an official component of the parang ensemble and will be judged alongside the more traditional instruments in the competitions that define success for parranderos. It would seem the addition of pan is a smart move on the part of the NPATT, given plethora of new possibilities available to the instrumental expansion, such as soca-parang, and will likely increase versatility of the genre. and we can’t wait to hear it!

For the original post: Bailan los parranderos! • Afropop Worldwide.

50 years of Jamaican album covers tell the story of a nation

Ian Burrell reports in The Independent, Sunday 04 November 2012.

As Jamaican music evolved from tourist-pleasing calypso to the explosive culture of dancehall, the artwork that adorned its record sleeves told the story, too, of the unique social development of a dynamic young nation.

Wilfred Limonious is one of the most distinctive artists in reggae, though his style was neither rocksteady, ska nor dub. His instrument of choice was the graphic designer’s pen and his medium the 12-inch cardboard sleeves used to clothe and decorate long-playing vinyl records.

On the shelves of record stores, a Limonious cover is instantly recognisable. His artwork might not instantly catch the eye of a gallery owner but to record buyers, it adds value to the music it was designed to promote.

His skill was that of the cartoonist. A graduate of the Jamaica School of Art, he worked professionally for the Jamaica Star national newspaper, where his much-loved cartoon strip “Chicken” captured the unique humour and spirit of the Caribbean islanders – especially on the tough streets of the capital, Kingston.

So when reggae went through a style revolution in the 1980s with the explosion of a new dancehall culture indigenous to Jamaica, Limonious became the go-to artist for sleeve design. Occasionally, he would sign his work with his surname, written discreetly in capital letters.

A classic Limonious is his cover for a 1985 album from the Channel One studio called Stalag, 17-18 and 19, featuring a cartoon depiction of a prison camp transformed into a reggae dancehall where the cons, soldiers and female guards are gyrating to giant speakers. The image is peppered with humorous comments. “Even the rats are dancing,” says the reggae writer Steve Barrow as he points to a pair of prison rodents at the bottom of the sleeve, accompanied by a Limonious note: “A dem rat yah nyam up man ina prison”.

“He’s telling you these are tough rats,” says Barrow. “That’s the archetypal Limonious. It’s the detail – you look at it as you would a cartoon in a newspaper, and because of his work he was familiar with Jamaican street dialogue. This is pure DC Thomson, the Bash Street Kids almost.”

And now at last, the late Limonious – who also studied for a while in Romford, Essex – and some of the other Jamaican artists who have made the island’s music into more than just an audio experience are getting deserved recognition as Barrow and his co-author Stuart Baker have compiled their art and design into Reggae Soundsytem, a coffee-table compendium which is alive with colour.

The book is also a reflection of Jamaican history, from its British colonial years on through its fight for national identity, taking in social and political issues and the presence in the culture of drugs and firearms. All these subjects are vividly depicted in reggae sleeve art.

The covers of calypso records from the 1950s show a crudely stereotyped Jamaica, then still a British territory, where the women danced under palm trees and the smiling musicians wore straw hats. “The music was something more to sell to the tourists,” says Barrow. “You see Jamaica portrayed as a kind of tourist paradise with dusky maidens or a folklore troupe dancing on the lawn of a big hotel.”

But the albums that came out after the country gained independence in 1962 reflect a growing confidence and show how the fresh sound of ska embodied the new Jamaica and how music producers looked to America for credibility as they sought to create a Caribbean dance equivalent to “The Twist”.

As the music became even more distinctively Jamaican in the late 1960s, the word reggae began to occur on covers – sometimes spelt as reggay. “It wasn’t fully codified at that time,” says Barrow, comparing the Sonny Bradshaw Seven’s On Tour with Reggay! from 1969 to Ernest Ranglin’s Boss Reggae from the following year.

By the 1970s, black consciousness had become the central theme of the music. Albums began to appear with drawings of lions and African landscapes, such as T Campbell’s work for Dennis Brown’s album Visions in 1977. One of the best-known artists of this roots-reggae style is Ras Daniel Heartman, whose 1972 drawing of a Rastafarian boy, Prince Emanuel, has become a famous poster image.

Limonious and other cartoon-style artists such as Jethro “Paco” Dennis emerged in the 1980s alongside the new and frenetic digitally produced reggae that came to the fore as Jamaica was struggling with political upheaval and violence. That tension is epitomised in Junior Delgado’s Bushmaster Revolution of 1982, which captures in photographs the CIA’s fear of a Cuban-style uprising.

Barrow and Baker have used album covers to reflect the island’s long-running fascination with firearms, from the cowboy film-poster style exemplified by Toyan’s How the West was Won in 1981, to the disturbing gun glorification of early 1990s ragga, which reached its height with Ninjaman’s 1990 album My Weapon.

“There’s nobody who lives in Jamaica who doesn’t know the local badman,” says Barrow. “Some people never cross their paths but they all know who they are. It’s a part of life and the dancehall is not going to flinch from showing that, because if it did, it would lose its credibility.”

That same authenticity is reflected in album-cover photography, too, such as in the 1985 album Sunday Dish by Early B, who is shown in his shack cooking up some rice and peas. “That one’s real ghetto style,” says Barrow. “They’re selling this as hard as it gets, he’s making Sunday dinner in the zinc-fence ghetto.” Appealing to the hardcore local audience, it was a long way from the tourist-inspired covers of a generation before.

Barrow, 67, who is familiar to any reggae fan for his peerless sleevenotes and his role in the Blood & Fire sound system, has lived through Jamaican music’s evolution, even from a distance in east London. As a teenager he was a patron of the earliest clubs to play West Indian music in Britain, the Flamingo and the Roaring Twenties in London’s Soho, and in later life he could walk through Kingston’s Greenwich Farm district and be hailed – “Wh’appen Fatha Steve?” – in recognition of his devotion to the culture.

And his collection of album cover art? It is not just a visual journey through the development of one of modern music’s most dynamic genres, it is also a compelling history of a young nation and its people.

‘Reggae Soundsystem: Original Reggae Album Cover Art’ by Steve Barrow and Stuart Baker (£30, Soul Jazz Books) is out on 12 November

For the original report: Heart on sleeves: 50 years of Jamaican album covers tell the story of a nation – Features – Music – The Independent.

Gallery of Album Art

Diaspora Tourism Significant To Caribbean Economies

A Caribseek News report:

Diaspora Tourism Significant To Caribbean Economies

Revealing the economic power of the Caribbean’s overseas communities, the half-hour documentary “Forward Home” will have its UK premiere on Monday, November 5 at 6 p.m. at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall.

2012-1031-car-ca-uk-forward-home-dr-keith-nurse-webDr. Keith Nurse. The film’s executive producer is economist and creative industries specialist, Dr. Keith Nurse, who is the WHO Chair at the University of the West Indies.

Produced and directed by award-winning Trinidad-based filmmaker Lisa Wickham, with stunning cinematography by Sheldon Felix,  “Forward Home” illuminates the findings of Dr. Nurse’s ground-breaking research project, “Strategic Opportunities in Caribbean Migration”, which studies four Caribbean countries and their counterpart communities in global cities: Jamaica and London; Guyana and Toronto; Suriname and the Netherlands; and the Dominican Republic and New York.

“We have begun to document the uncharted territory of what we call ‘Diasporic Tourism,'”, explained Dr. Nurse who added “what has been widely known anecdotally, we now have empirical data – solid facts and sound research – to back it up.”

The groundbreaking two-year study shows that more than 60 percent of the tourists who arrive in Guyana and Suriname are “Diaspora travelers” or Caribbean nationals living abroad. In Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, these nationals account for between 15 to 20 percent of tourists who travel to the region.

“We have found that Diaspora Tourism is a significant component of Caribbean tourism, and it is not a monolithic construct. These are not just leisure tourists, but people who come for educational and medical reasons, for festivals and other cultural events. We have also found there is an intersection between Diasporic Tourism and the telecommunications, airline, shipping and media industries,” he said, noting that the findings have been far more dynamic than expected.

Dr. Nurse, who was born in the United Kingdom and grew up in Trinidad, recommends more strategic planning and marketing on the Diasporic sector to further propel diversification of the Caribbean economy. By so doing, “we can encourage and enlist more Diasporic entrepreneurs, both at home and in the global cities where Caribbean diasporas predominate.”

Purchase tickets by logging on to www.imaginemediatt.com.

For original report: Diaspora Tourism Significant To Caribbean Economies.