Friday, March 27, 2009
Caribbean music and music businesses are set to get a much needed booster shot as Liverpool SoundCity (UK) and Miribai Communications (T&T/Caribbean) join forces to begin a major UK and worldwide promotion for Caribbean artists and music businesses, starting with a launch at Liverpool SoundCity 2009.
The team is headed up by David Pichilingi and Becky Ayres, UK in conjunction with Josanne Leonard, T&T, who is also on the board of the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN) the umbrella organisation for the Association of Independent Music (AIM, UK) and other international independent music associations. The strategic partnership will include the development of Caribbean artists in the UK, promotion at industry events and festivals, and building networks for Caribbean music and entertainment companies within the UK/Europe music industry.
"We are very proud to be working with the Caribbean on SoundCity 2009 and beyond. The love of the music is something we are both deeply passionate about. This is the start of a much wider and deeper business relationship that will see us working on a range of exciting projects together over the coming years."
David Pichilingi, Festival Director, Liverpool SoundCity
“Over the past few years Miribai has been hard at work building up strategic alliances in the UK and other markets to support our Caribbean creative industries. The Caribbean is a major producer of music and other cultural products, with artists such as Eddy Grant, Shaggy, Billy Ocean and Rihanna having major profiles in the UK, so we’re excited about this relationship. Our main goal is to roll out a range of projects to support a sustained presence in the UK and Europe and add real value to our region’s artists and creative businesses. We’re in for the long haul. ”
Josanne Leonard, Miribai Communications
“With over 133 different genres of Caribbean music, and a population of over 40 million people, the Caribbean basin represents a force to be reckoned with. The UK is strategically, culturally and economically the ideal place for the Caribbean to establish a firm foothold, not only to access the UK but also other European markets. As the third largest music market in the world and with 1.3 percent of the UK population being of Afro-Caribbean and mixed Caribbean descent, Caribbean music and culture already resonates strongly on the British cultural psyche. There is a great need to nurture this however, and to help Caribbean music to flourish in the mainstream. This strategic partnership is a crucial step in enabling this to happen.”
Rebecca Ayres, LiverpoolSound City
About Liverpool SoundCity:
Liverpool SoundCity was founded in 2006 by Dave Pichilingi to promote music from the Northwest region of the UK internationally. The festival itself began in 2008 as part of the European Capital of Culture which was bestowed upon Liverpool in recognition of its cultural richness and diversity.
Liverpool SoundCity (20th - 23rd May) www.liverpoolsoundcity.co.uk is the UK's biggest summer city music festival and business conference. In 2008, it hosted 25,000 music fans and industry, 322 bands, in 22 venues over 4 days and nights. In 2009, Liverpool SoundCity will showcase over 70 acts from 25 different countries, to an audience of music industry and fans, with artists from the Caribbean at the forefront of the event. Music industry delegates invited to watch the artists perform will include those who work in music making (artists, production), marketing (plugging and promotion), film and video making, design, booking agents, venue owners, promoters, management and the core business (record labels, publishing, production companies). Liverpool SoundCity has close relationships across the whole of the UK music industry, including:
Associations: BPI, AIM, UK Trade & Investment, Music Managers Forum, Music Publishers Association, UK Music, British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, Musicians Union, Arts Council, British Underground, British Council
Record Labels and Publishers: Universal, EMI, Warner Music, Sony BMG, Beggars Group, Ministry of Sound, Wall of Sound, Deltasonic, Moshi Moshi, Because Music, DFA Records, Ed Banger Records, Heavenly, Domino, Warp, Anjuna Beats, Sentric Music, the AIM membership, which includes 800+ independent labels
Live Promoters: The Liverpool SoundCity Live promoters include Eat Your Own Ears www.eatyourownears.com, one of the most foremost promoters working in live music today, plus promoters who work on the following festivals and events: Leftfield Stage at Glastonbury, Field Day, Underage Festival, The Great Escape, Concrete and Glass, Warehouse Project, End of the Road, and Medication, a student night in Liverpool which has drawn a crowd of 3,000 every Wednesday night for 15 years!
Booking Agents: William Morris, CODA Agency, ITB, Primary Talent, and XRay Touring.
PR: LiverpoolSoundCity’s PR company Idea Generation www.ideageneration.co.uk will help in promoting the Caribbean music export desk. Idea Generation is the UK’s largest arts, cultural and entertainment PR agency with clients including the Edinburgh Comedy festival, ICA, British Council Film Dept, Amazon.co.uk, The Big Chill festival and Monkey: Journey to the West amongst many others.
Media: Liverpool SoundCity has strong relationships with Clash Magazine, NME, Mojo, Q, Uncut, MTV, BBC Radio, BBC 6 Music, BBC Introducing, NME Radio, Xfm, The Guardian, The Observer, The Times, Sunday Times, Independent, Telegraph, Music Week, Virtual Festivals, efestivals, NME.com Stool Pigeon, Artrocker, Record of the Day, Last.fm, Rushes Film Festival and is working closely with the Miribai Communications to ensure that all relevant media, both mainstream and underground are targeted and cultivated.
Brands: Liverpool Sound City, through its sponsorship partners Big Fish Events www.bigfishevents.co.uk has strong relationships with brands such as Red Bull, Red Stripe, Gaymers Cider, Guitar Hero, Smirnoff, and is constantly developing relationships with new brands which are relevant for SoundCity and its partners.
According to Becky Ayres: “We are incredibly excited about our relationship with Miribai Communications to enable success for Caribbean music in the UK, and believe that the Caribbean artists who will perform this year at Liverpool SoundCity will be a huge asset to the festival. We’re looking forward to welcoming artists, music industry, media and officials from all over the Caribbean region and will ensure that the artists performing are given great exposure to give them maximum opportunities to be seen by a music loving industry, media and fan based audience. I think it’ll be one of the highlights of the whole event!”
About Dave Pichilingi:
Dave’s background is in the management and marketing of major and independent record labels, including RCA/BMG, Produce, V2, EMI and Factory Records. He has worked extensively with music artists and has accumulated a total of 3.5 million unit sales worldwide. He is currently Director, Liverpool Sound City, Director of Robot Records, Director of the Masque Venue (Barfly) Ltd, and Director of Tri-tone Music. He is also Chairman, Music Development Agency (North West) Ltd. And an adviser and consultant to a range of music businesses and forums, David holds degrees of BA (Hons) in Drama and English from Lancaster University and MBA from the University of Liverpool.
About Becky Ayres:
Liverpool SoundCity’s International Director, Rebecca Ayres, has worked closely with Josanne Leonard, Miribai Communications, the main driver of the project for over a year. In 2008, she helped launch the Caribbean Pavilion at London Calling at which over 30 Caribbean music businesses and artists participated. As the International Events Director at Liverpool Sound City, Rebecca has extensive experience of working with music export offices worldwide and has helped to develop relationships for these in the UK, through a diverse range of contacts including BPI, AIM, Music Managers Forum, MPA, UK Trade & Investment, British Council, British Underground, and many large and small independent companies, ranging from labels and artists managers to booking agents and promoters.
Josanne Leonard heads Miribai Communications, a boutique consultancy specialising in the media, communications, arts and entertainment sectors. Miribai provides strategic advice, marketing, public relations services to governments, institutions, artists, media and entertainment companies and cultural organisations. Josanne is also an experienced broadcaster, radio/tv producer and public affairs specialist who has worked with clients and affiliates in the Caribbean, USA and Europe. Miribai has built up excellent networks in the entertainment and cultural sectors and provides support for the Caribbean Creative Industries Professionals Business Network to develop and promote cultural enterprises of the Caribbean. Miribai Communications has just launched the brand Clinkx to promote B2B linkages between Caribbean entertainment professionals within the region and further afield; advocacy and lobbying; sector wide development programmes.
For further information, please contact:
UK: Rebecca Ayres +44 7977 201 852 firstname.lastname@example.org
Caribbean: Josanne Leonard + 1 868 633 3397 email@example.com
Sunday, March 22, 2009
What’s Next for Our Creative Sectors in the Caribbean?
By Josanne Leonard
It’s now three months since the controversial CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was signed in Bridgetown, Barbados. It was back in October that the agreement was signed even as debate raged across the region about the broader implications of the EPA and our state of readiness for benefiting from potential opportunities. In the case of T&T, government officials had declared this country “ready to sign” several months before. Whatever the merits and demerits of the EPA, the dye is now cast. The region has entered 2009 with the ink dry on the deal and fully wedded to the EPA. So what now?
While by no means exhaustive, this article attempts to highlight some of the EPA text on the Protocol on Cultural Cooperation, with a focus on the implications for the region’s Cultural Industries and Entertainment Sectors.
By way of brief background however, it is important to note that historically the Europeans have not allowed market access commitments into their audio-visual sector (television, film etc) in any trade agreement. This is a jealously guarded sector, integral to their sense of culture and identity and which is supported by a range of cross-cutting policies, incentives and institutional mechanisms designed to buttress and support it while strengthening it’s competitiveness. For example, over the past sixteen years Europe’s MEDIA Programme has supported the development and distribution of thousands of EU-produced films and audio-visual works as well as training activities, festivals and promotion projects.
Between 2001-2006 more than half a billion Euros were injected into 8,000 projects from over 30 countries. Its successor programme, MEDIA 2007 which runs until 2013, provides 755 million Euros to Europe’s audio-visual industry. MEDIA 2007 has some clearly defined objectives which seek to do the following:
1. Take account of both the importance of the creative process in the European audiovisual sector and the cultural value of Europe's cinematographic and audiovisual heritage.
2. Strengthen the production structures of small businesses to make the European audiovisual sector more competitive, as they constitute its core. This will mean contributing to the spread of a business culture for the sector and facilitating private investment.
3. Reduce imbalances between European countries with a high audiovisual production capacity and countries with low production capacity or a restricted linguistic area. This priority responds to the need to preserve and enhance cultural diversity and inter-cultural dialogue in Europe. It will foster transparency and competition on the single market, and thereby potential economic growth for the whole union.
The EU has also placed a new and strategic focus in MEDIA 2007 on the digital revolution and how the EU should adapt to remain competitive. These are but some of the markers on the other side of the Atlantic.
To emphasise, the EU has never permitted market access commitments in the audio-visual sector and the EPA is no different. What the EPA does provide, according to the officials at the CRNM (Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery), is a legal right to market access involving commercial enterprises in the entertainment sector except audio-visual. What has been agreed is a special Protocol on Cultural Cooperation which was seen by the CRNM as an opportunity to extract some development assistance. The CRNM says that in terms of objectives, “the Protocol aims to improve the conditions governing the exchanges of cultural activities, goods and services and redressing the structural imbalances and asymmetrical patterns which may exist in trade in these, between CARIFORUM states and the EU. The Protocol’s starting point is the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.”
According to the CRNM, the Protocol on Cultural Cooperation is meant to “provide ample room for collaboration to allow access for Caribbean audio-visual material through special mechanisms which broadly defined include the following:
1. Co-produced audiovisual products and services involving European and Caribbean creative teams (80-20 percent formula for the production budget) will qualify as domestic productions and meet the audiovisual content rules in all EU states and in the Caribbean.
2. Co-production treaties when completed between individual EU states and Caribbean states or region, should make it possible for Caribbean audiovisual producers to access funding support for creative projects.
3. Artists and other cultural practitioners (who are not involved in commercial activities in the EU) will be able to enter the EU to collaborate on projects, get training, learn new techniques, engage in production, etc. They will be allowed to stay in any EU state for periods up to 90 days in any 12-month period.
4. Technical assistance through different measures, such as training, exchange of information, expertise and experiences, and counselling in elaboration of policies and legislation as well as in usage and transfer of technologies and know-how. This support will include co-operation between private companies, non-governmental organisations as well as public-private partnerships.”
The Protocol text therefore needs to be reviewed and discussed extensively with those in the creative sectors to determine what strategies are needed to understand the full implications of its provisions. It means, too, that we have to set our house in order or lose the chance to realise tangible benefits for our creative sectors and audio-visuals (tv, film and new media) in particular.
This should begin with a proper assessment of what is in the Protcol and how to use it. For example, we have to get a snapshot very quickly of what Caribbean producers and originators of audio-visual content will require in order to gain better market access to distribution platforms in the EU; find out if there are existing collaborations with EU firms and/or producers; identify possible threats and opportunities for Caribbean producers and distributors; and identify possible areas of collaboration (technical co-operation, co-financing etc).
Several things are needed urgently in our own yards if our creative sectors are to realise any benefit from the EPA:
· Local Content. We have to recognise and admit that, for a variety of reasons, we have developed very little content. If we have little or no output of local content, then we have little or nothing to market.
· Co-production Agreements. Apart from Jamaica which has an agreement with the UK, the region has no co-production agreements with EU countries. The experts say that even the Jamaica-UK agreement is not forward looking with one glaring omission being new media, animation etc.
· Financing. There are few financing instruments for the creative industries and even less for audio-visuals. The Protocol suggests that Caribbean producers can access EU funds once bilateral agreements are concluded with the Europeans.
· Incentives. As with financial instruments, there is very little in the public policy space to encourage investment in the regional audio-visual sector. In T&T, a tax benefit to companies which support cultural/creative projects is yet to be implemented.
· Culture Policy. We need regional harmonised policies in the areas of culture, media and telecommunications.
In a recent briefing on the EPA and opportunities for the audio-visual sector, a senior CRNM official contended that the region has a two to five year window to get into the game. We are way behind on the policy and regulatory fronts so if all these pronouncements about the competitive advantage of our creative sectors are to mean anything, then we have to move to put our collective houses in order.
Given the collapse of the traditional commodities and financial markets, there could be no better time to turn inward and support homegrown music, fashion, design, film & television and the rest of our cultural sectors which can provide new avenues for sustainable growth and employment. Industry must now aggressively roll out discussions in conjunction with our culture, technology, investment and trade officials to figure out what we want to extract out of this done EPA deal.
On the policy front, this is the time for our politicos to champion medium and long term measures in support of the knowledge-based or creative economy. More importantly, our governments have to ensure that National Indicative Programmes place creative industries at the centre of national development agendas.
The EPA may have been seen by some as a happy ever after fairy tale, to boost the fortunes of creators and creative enterprises (mainly micro and small) with a desire to survive the corporate filter that has all but killed local content and creativity. Because of the EPA, we are now engaged in earnest debates about quality and quantity of local audio-visual content. Yet for the last three decades, we have been contented as new independent states to view ourselves through the foreign media prism. Yes, even as grumbled about the quality of our culture on all fronts, we somehow lacked the perspective and commitment necessary to identify the importance of our homegrown media institutions to support our cultural, political and social development. And the Caribbean Media Corporation is in need of a life-line yet again!
So possibilities in the EPA will remain exactly those...possibilities…if we do not move to decisive and strategic action. With all the ‘sexiness’ around creative industries, this is the time to recognise that our cultural sectors not only add value to our tourism sectors but may very well the key to developing a new and sustainable brand of tourism product that protects our fragile island environments. Topic for another time!
Talking with Gordon Rohlehr about his life and work, its hard to envisage a time when he was not captivated by the cultural expressions of the Caribbean especially calypso. According to Rohlehr, he was fascinated by every calypso being a short story and intrigued by the calypsonian’s ability to compress and tell so much in so little space (four stanzas). He jokingly referred to becoming an arm chair expert in gender studies through the study of the man-woman theme in calypsos like Jean and Dinah and Marabunta Jane. “This was not like any literature that I had read especially the fierceness of the encounter and the fierceness in the way in which the calypsonians spoke about their relationships (with women) most of them probably fictional” says Rohlehr. “Calypso to me “ he continues, “captured and reflected a language and narrative that was easier to access than the work of the writers, poets and novelists even though they were saying similar things. Calypso spoke in a more immediate way and its what inspired me, an outsider as I’ve been called on occasion, to study the calypso in greater depth even more than the people who have created the thing”.
The second part of this interview picks up excerpts from Gordon talking about the post Caribbean Artists Movement era in London. By the late 60’s many of them had returned to their various homes in the Caribbean and found ways to continue the cultural discourse. Rohlehr recalls there was a lot of movement of cultural workers across the region and these led to ‘occasions’ for collaboration. But then came the early seventies, a time of political and social change and these encounters turned into ‘occasions’ that were not just cultural but political as well. Says Rolehr: “The return of people to the Caribbean brought with it whatever consciousness they had developed abroad, wherever abroad was.…Africa, England, Canada or North America. Walter Rodney who had gone to Mona from Africa to teach African history questioned the Back to Africa movement and Rastafarianism and asked people in Jamaica what they knew about Africa. For my part I was studying and analysing the calypso art form. In both instances we were seen as outsiders in the heartland and in a charged atmosphere where people were reacting to the rapid disillusionment with Independence, these were no longer discussions about history or sociology or culture but rather politics”. Rohlehr shares some of his insights and views on this intersection of change in the Caribbean right up to our present political arrangements.
JL: How would you describe this rapid disillusionment with Independence that bore such promise with charismatic leaders like Dr. Williams and others?
GR: I think what was taking place was a generational kind of change. Suddenly we had a generation of people between the ages of 17 and 18 year to 25 and 30 years emerging out of the shadow of a generation which would have been 45, 50, 60 years old… the latter being the one which would have been very much involved in all of the movements that created Independence or the Federation. When I went to Mona we had been in and out of the Federation already so one might argue that I’m a post Federation person. This post federal generation was confronting and questioning a generation which was ten or twenty years older but which had assumed enormous authority in this new period of self government and self determination. That led to what I’ve termed in my most recent book ‘Between Literature and History’, an oedipal situation which describes a clash essentially between fathers and sons because of the virtual absence of the female gender in definitions of national identity. Its not that women were not involved but their involvement was not recognised in the way that it ought to have been. So we had this confrontation between fathers and sons and oedipal confrontations are ones that lead to ‘buss head’ and death.
JL: So this was about political testosterone?
GR: (hearty laughter). Yes, its either the fathers were going to get the sons and snuff them or the sons were going to somehow upset or dislodge the fathers and they both seemed to know that. I think that’s what happened between Eric Williams and CLR James, between Rodney and Burnham. And with others too like Rupert Roopnarine and Clive Thomas. So in the case of Guyana it was Rodney, Roopnarine and Thomas vs. Burnham, Burnham and Burnham (boyish chuckle). In Trinidad the generation of Lloyd best, Dennis Solomon and the whole Tapia group lined up against Eric Williams but Williams neutralised the entire thing and did so in very interesting ways. He locked up that generation during the Black Power Movement. Williams showed that that he wasn’t leaving any prisoners when he locked up men like your father Winston Leonard, Abdul Malik and even older figures like Jack Kelshall. But even before those detentions there was a list of non-desirables published in one of the smaller islands and one wondered why these young, bright, academics and professionals were being defined as non-desirables.
JL: Were you on that list?
GR: No I wasn’t strangely. I was kind of disappointed that no one thought I was important enough to make the cut. I was just an idiot talking about calypso and everybody knew there was no culture in calypso or no anything in calypso so I was probably regarded as a deluded person and they left me alone.
JL: Let’s get back to the issue you raised about the generational struggle during the late 60’s and early 70’s.
GR: While it was a generational thing that movement brought writers, orators and researchers and people with any kind of consciousness together. They may have been quite different in ideologies but what they had in common was a sense of representing something new and distinctly different from a previous generation which unfortunately happened to be in control of everything. That’s where the struggle came. That’s where the marching came. That’s where a lot of the bitterness came and the senior generation was driven to defend its turf and take extreme steps. A lot of things that took place in T&T in 1970 like the states of emergency and detentions were extreme and might have even created rebels. I think a lot of attitudes were shaped and hardened because of extremities.
It’s like in Guyana in 1953 when the PPP included both Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham, the British retaliated by locking up many people. Many of the people they incarcerated became more conscious as a consequence. Carter’s poetry grew out of that. Its not that he wasn’t writing or wasn’t conscious before but that experience deepened it and in his case he became depressed and disillusioned but he still kept writing. When I talk about the powerful grip of history, the colonial governors left us a style of governing and authoritarianism of one man making the decision. That was the model that we had moving into Independence and we are still fighting it. Today we see it coming up in the notion of an Executive President even though the Prime Minister already has considerable powers. We adopted the model of the colonial past and the same people who adopted that model are making recommendations fifty years later about changing what we have. But we are changing it back to that model and not in the direction of opening out the process.
JL: So we’ve come full circle it seems. I do want to ask you about your relationship with Lloyd Best and Tapia. From your lovely porch here you could with a good sling shot and precision arm land a few mangoes in the Tapia yard.
GR: To me, Lloyd recognised authoritarianism as one of our problems hence his term ‘doctor politics’. I think he might have recognised that he too was a product of the thing he criticised and because of it kept suggesting ideas like expanded local government and a big maco senate to control the authoritarianism that he knew would always be there at the centre. My relationship with Lloyd was a very informal one but I recognised what he was doing. I thought it was valuable. I tried to think of the society without Tapia and later on without the Trinidad and Tobago Review and wondered what our discourse would be like, what would we be talking about, what would be the issues. I’ve always felt that we would lose a great deal if those instruments were allowed to die. I thought I saw the threat of that happening after 1976 when Tapia went into politics and all of them lost their deposits. People withdrew their enthusiasm including contributions to the newspaper. It was at that point that a lot of my longer pieces were published by Tapia. Lloyd himself would say that this was a point when the general was kind of sinking. He was glad to have them and I was glad to be able to do it because to me he was a very courageous person. He didn’t just wilt under the enormous pressure. I remember when they burned down the Tapia Office on Cipriani Boulevard with all the back numbers and library of archives. That would have broken a lesser man and sent him mad. I respected and valued that strength and I felt that I should support it in whatever way I could. And I think he knew that he could depend on me, not that he ever said that to me. But when someone died like CLR James or Questel, he would not come and say “do you have a piece?” but rather “where the piece? You supposed to be writing about these guys!” So that was the nature of my relationship with Lloyd.
JL: Given the many years of your paths crossing on the academic and literary fronts were you involved in any way with Tapia politics?
GR: No I wasn’t. I looked at it from a distance and saw it as an attempt of a young intelligentsia trying to make an intervention in the popular politics. I felt there was a big gap between the world view of this young intelligentsia and the political process and that it was not going to be easy to make that intervention. I didn’t see any third party emerging anywhere in the Caribbean not just Trinidad. You get two parties and they exchange power every two terms of office. The fact that the PNP lost in the last elections in Jamaica is just simply a sign that they have returned to their traditional pattern. You have a shifting middle class vote and whatever side they shift to wins. In our case, we have a growing middle class made up of all kinds of elements. It’s not coherent in any way; it doesn’t perceive itself as a single group so that any third party like the COP would have the characteristics of a pick up side as Lloyd would say.
JL: But do you think this could morph into a more robust political third force?
GR: It could make a difference. Perhaps it is signaling that countries like ours require a completely different kind of constitution where the possibility of sharing power becomes a reality. Perhaps the proportional representational system of which Williams was afraid would make a group like the COP stronger and more self-confident because they would get some representation. I don’t know if the people who are calling for change though would be prepared to go that way. The minute you do, they would say, ‘ay, look at Guyana” and would find everything negative to say about the PR system there. But somewhere along the line we have to be able to tap into that element of citizens, bright and accomplished people, who feel themselves outside of the political process. This is not a healthy thing for the political emergence of the society. I don’t know how the society is going to decide to deal with that.
JL: I’m a believer in culture first, then politics and everything else follows. When you look at our society through your cultural prism what do you see?
GR: What I see is that we’re faced with what used to be one form of Gayelle activity, the three cornered stick fight in which you would have three fighters whose mission was to burst the heads of the other two with each being as vulnerable from blows from the other two. I always felt the stick fighting metaphor was an important way of understanding contestations in a place like Trinidad, even down to the rhetoric. I think that a lot of what we’re doing is still stick fighting and I’m looking on with great interest at what has emerged and what is happening now.
JL: Gordon it’s been a tremendous honour and pleasure spending this time with you and I hope to be able to come back.
GR: I enjoyed it and please don’t forget my copy of the tape.
(Writer’s note: this interview was conducted before the November 5, 2007 General Election in T&T)
JL: What was your first encounter with T&T?
GR: I was on my way to Jamaica from Guyana and I had to stop at the Bel Air Hotel at the airport to connect the following day. I remember that night there was a steelband fete and I had the ‘unfortunate’ experience of trying to dance a Castilian that went on for out ten minutes long and got tired half way through. I would have come back again on my way home in 1962 but my first time here really was in February of 1968 on my return to Guyana from Birmingham via the US, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbados. I seemed to be delaying my return to GT (laughter). This was of course the Carnival season and I had my first experience of a Trinidad Calypso Tent. Then about two months later, I came to take up a position at UWI, St. Augustine which had not yet been vacated. It was a peculiar time to start working since it was April and not the end of the semester and I’ve more or less been here since then.
JL: What were some of your early experiences of T&T?
GR: Trinidad was a place that I discovered in bits and pieces. I was always down in town. I was fascinated by Woodford Square and all the people who spoke at lunch time and aired their views. There were others too including quite a few eccentrics who cracked jokes and commented about people passing through the square. So that was a very early experience. In 1967, while in the UK, I had done the lecture on ‘Sparrow and the Language of Calypso’ at the West Indian Students Union in London as part of the part of the programme of the Caribbean Artists Movement which met every month at the West Indian Student Centre. Someone here knew that I had done it and when I was passing through Trinidad in February 1968 on my long way home to GT, they asked me to give this lecture at the Town Hall. So that was really my first introduction to Trinidad or rather Trinidad’s first introduction to me.
JL: How were you received, being an ‘outsider’ talking about calypso?
GR: I think the lecture was well received and it was serialized in the Guardian for about five or six days immediately after. So when I returned in April of ’68, there were people who knew me and knew of my interest in the Calypso. Teachers at Mausica for example asked me to talk, then teachers in Port-of-Spain asked me to talk and then they started asking me about comparing Trinidad’s music to Jamaican music. I just knew a bit about Jamaican music so I think that is what forced me to develop a parallel interest in Jamaican music, thus my interest in the two musics of the Caribbean. That was my entrée into the society really at all levels. By 1969, I was talking about Calypso and the music of Ska and Rocksteady to fellas from East Dry River in Renegades Panyard and that was a very dangerous thing to do as I later discovered. But all these youth wanted to hear more about what they did and what youth of the Caribbean were doing particularly in music. They wanted to hear about history too and Neville Hall, a Jamaican lecturer in History at the St. Augustine Campus at the time gave them a series on history. Then there was Lewis Bobb, a Guyanese lecturer in Political Science who talked to them about political development. All three of us received death threats in 1970 when the marches started because one of the initial tendencies was to blame these subverts who had come from the rest of the Caribbean for stirring up the youth. So people like Patrick Emmanuel from Grenada and Bill Riviere form Dominica were targeted at the time. But for me there was no such thing. I was just chatting with just about anybody who wanted to hear what I had to say and I never invited myself to anything. People invited me to come and talk and I would just do it.
JL: Well Gordon any conversation with you is inevitably going to lead to your body of work and in particular your dedicated interest in the Caribbean Cultural Studies sphere but I really do want to get a keener insight into this young man who left the Caribbean to study in the UK. Given your interests as a Caribbean person what was it like for you going to the UK?
GR: I had gone to UCWI London-Mona in 1961 just at the time that the Federation was breaking up. But the spirit of the Federation was still very strong among many of the students on campus, some of whom went around Jamaica trying to persuade people not to vote for the withdrawal of Jamaica in that referendum which was held. So I regarded myself as a Caribbean person, representing the Caribbean and speaking for the Caribbean. In Birmingham, which was my first real encounter of a place outside of the Caribbean, I was doubly or trebly aware of my Caribbean-ness. I think that the experience in England reinforced the feeling that we people coming from the Caribbean have a unique set of experiences (since one might argue that the Guyanese experience is not exactly the same as the Trinidadian or Grenadian or whatever) but barring that, as a group we almost instantaneously understand each other. So I went to England with that.
JL: What was the focus of your academic pursuits?
GR: Interestingly, I was working on ‘Alienation and Commitment’ in the novels of Joseph Conrad. Conrad was a Polish writer whose second language was French. Conrad ended up in the British Merchant Fleet, became a Ship’s Captain who had to write exams in English and then became this author writing in English with a syntax which was curiously French. But what was he writing about? He was writing about colonialism, he was writing about Malaysia, Africa and then he wrote that enormous novel about Latin America after independence. I saw in his writing something that was very relevant to the Caribbean experience…the experience of colonialism. The way in which it fractured communities….the way in which there was this massive misunderstanding between the colonizers and the colonized. Also, I saw in Conrad something I could learn through him about the Caribbean….about what some of the serious writers of the Caribbean like Lamming, Naipaul, Braithwaite and Walcott were saying. So that my serious study of West Indian Literature probably began in England though I had done work at Mona largely on my own because at the time there wasn’t a full course in West Indian literature. It was in England that I polished up an essay which I had written at Mona in 1963 called ‘Predestination, Frustration and Symbolic Darkness in Naipaul’s House of Mr. Biswas”. It won the Alan Layne Prize an essay prize and was in fact my first real academic publication that came out in Caribbean Quarterly. It was an undergrad piece that sort of made the big league. Another piece I wrote was called ‘Facing Our Past’ which was a comparison between Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams, In the castle of My Skin by George Lamming and Ruins of a Great House and A Far cry from Africa by Derek Walcott. I don’t know how I got to that but Facing Our Past examined how these three completely different West Indian writers looked at history. I left Mona with all sorts of notions in my head and with that tendency to write about our literature so whatever work I did was very relevant to my understanding of myself as a Caribbean person.
JL: Something that jumped out at me was when you said that West Indian Literature was not a full time course at Mona and it was in England that you interfaced more seriously with the work of Caribbean Writers. How did you view this?
GR: Well you’re talking about self-definition, self-identification. When you leave the Caribbean it’s almost like a crisis in your life because for the first time you really have to identify yourself, say who you are, know who you are, before you are absorbed by that vast wilderness that Naipaul writes about so effectively in Mimic Men. That’s what happens to his main character who goes to England already ruined because his Caribbean experience has left him in a state of psychic devastation and he goes with the hope that the place he has heard about will make him whole. Of course the place destroys him and makes him empty not whole and I think Naipaul has been writing against that emptiness since then. So one had to deal with that business of self-identification. What was exciting though was as you’ve said, a lot of our writers were there. And not only writers but painters, sculptors, musicians and other cultural workers. These people had been hanging around England, many of them in London and they knew each other and each other’s work. Yet they had never identified themselves as a part of a body. The Caribbean Artists Movement brought them all together for the very first time. I think that the Caribbean Artists Movement was powerful in making that sort of identification happen
JL: Tell me a bit more about the Caribbean Artists Movement. How did you become involved?
GR: In the very first meetings of the Caribbean Artists Movement, they were asking if there was a Caribbean aesthetic and if so what was it? They were trying to figure this thing out and that’s how I got involved with them because I told them I thought they were going about it in the wrong way. I assumed there was a Caribbean aesthetic and that there were a number of things that were characteristically Caribbean. I felt that all we needed to was to look more closely at the work that our writers, our musicians, our singers, our performers had been doing for years and we would be able to say what the common features were and our notion of what was the Caribbean aesthetic would emerge from there.
JL: From your recollection of that period and in particular the Caribbean Artists Movement was it able to wrap its head around this question of a Caribbean aesthetic? Did it become more clearly defined and was everyone comfortable?
GR: Well I don’t know for sure. What it did was infuse in its members a very strong sense of community. It published a number of newsletters for example so one had a sense of what it was doing. Also, it moved away from being strictly London-centric so people were doing things under the banner of the Caribbean Artists Movement in other cities all over England. So in that sense I would say yes. A lot of things became possible. ‘The Arrivance’ by Kamau Braithwaite was published by Oxford in 1967 and he had a big reading which was recorded by Argos so we had the beginnings of an oral documentation of our poetry that hadn’t existed before. Powerful things began to happen through the Caribbean Artists Movement. There was Aubrey Williams, the famous Guyanese painter whose half- Amerindian ancestry inspired his paintings and brought to life that aspect of Caribbean identity that many of us had not really thought about but was very central to his work. Althea Mc Nish, a Trinidadian fabric designer came down for Carnival, made slides and used the colour mix of carnival in her fabric designs. In the Caribbean Artists Movement we were talking too about Jamaican music that was emerging. So I would say that the Caribbean Artists Movement helped inspire a stronger sense of Caribbean identity. Eventually two things happened to the movement. Firstly, a number of people who were central to it returned to the Caribbean and elsewhere and secondly the politics of the place, the politics of the Caribbean encounter with England, took over. In the West Indian Students Union we were talking to a lot of people who might not have previously been interested in culture, literature or painting but they were interested in politics and the politics of Black Power took over. Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) visited England in 1967 and that energized a lot of people. The discourse about culture was replaced by a discourse on politics and the politicians were not really interested in culture. So the movement morphed and eventually petered out because a lot of the people who were talking politics were not prepared to bring out newsletters, organise monthly meetings and all the hard work it took to keep up the business of self-identification. They were not involved in that, they were involved in finding a venue for expressing their feelings.
JL: Did anything of the Caribbean Artists Movement survive?
GR: Well as I said people started moving out of England around the late sixties. So the centre could not hold. Braithwaite went back to Jamaica where he had been teaching. He finished his historical research which came out as the Development of Creole Society. Andrew Salkey migrated to the US, Sam Selvon to Canada and I ended up here. The late John La Rose remained in England and did what he could through New Beacon and the Book Fair that ran from the 70’s into the late 80’s or maybe even the early 90’s. I would say the Book fair became the big thing that took over and became the successor of the Caribbean Artists Movement. I know they brought out a big publication on it and Ann Wongsley did her book on the Caribbean Artists Movement which became her PhD thesis so it’s documented. I guess the Caribbean Artists Movement served its purpose for that period of time and then things moved on.
JL: Beside the Caribbean Artists Movement, was there a wider community of Caribbean people where you were in Birmingham?
GR: Actually, a group of us there….Trinidadians and Guyanese mainly were making our steel pans, playing them and touring too! We got invitations to play in various places as far north as Edinburgh, as far south as Plymouth and Dartmouth on the southern coast. This enabled me to see a lot England learn something about the pan. So that was a nice sort of cultural experience for me. The other thing was I played cricket on the vacation team mainly to keep fit in my case. With all the potatoes, I had gained a lot of weight moving from one hundred and sixty five pounds when I was at Mona to nearly two hundred and twenty pounds when I came back from England.
JL: Thanks so much Gordon for sharing your time with me and I look forward to continuing this conversation with you as we journey back home to the Caribbean next time.
GR: It was my pleasure and can I please have a copy of the tape.
In the next installment, Gordon Rohlehr reflects on how this fervour to define self,
create discourse and generate conversation and quarrel continued in the various
venues of the Caribbean home in what he describes as a tributary of what had begun
to happen in the Caribbean Artists Movement in England.