On the wings of Caribana
By Ramabai Espinet
Toronto — Summer in this city is, at its best, hot, lethargic and slow. Lingering backyard barbecues, corn chips and beer on decks and patios, hot little downtown flats with windows flung open, the whirring of fans, the zoom-zoom of none-too-quiet air-conditioners, Harbourfront world music nights, altogether a different pace from the monotonous efficiency and speed of the winter months.
It takes the cussedness of the Trini personality, then, to devise a season in which everything is speed and frenzy, long hours, hard work, immense physical effort, noise to deafen the ears, and dancing, wining and gyrating non-stop for days on end, all in the middle of the heat of summer.
Such is Caribana time in Toronto, a period in the year when time and space are suspended and the play of illusion convinces the participants that this is the real McCoy, that this is the closest thing to Carnival in Trinidad in the heat of February, insane, insomniac, stretching out one’s physicality for as many days and nights as it takes to find a release like no other, something which keeps the person astride the mount of ordinary reality for the rest of the year.
In Toronto, there is no possibility of duplicating the spontaneity, the unanimity with which the whole society enters into the production of the reign of the “Merry Monarch” as it is realized in Trinidad and Tobago, but what has been thrown up by migrants domiciled in this city will pass muster and do even better than that, often. Some years are richer than others, and for my money, this year was one of the glaringly ordinary ones. Yet, the level of need evidenced by the monumental crowds at every gathering, indicated that whatever the offering, it would be hungrily lapped up.
The what-to-do questions raised and raised again about this festival have not gone away. Strange, that a segment of the population consisting of so many professional and well-heeled folk, cannot take possession of the wily beast that is Caribana, smooth it into an administratively sleek and accountable entity, and produce a flawless festival with a dazzling array of events that capture the Carnivalesque in a Toronto mode - uniquely different from any other in North America and the Caribbean.
But more than three decades after its inception, this has not happened and there is no imminent sign of its ever happening. The ad hoc nature of its administrative assemblage year after year, the deeply colonial thinking that surely informs its decision-making in key quarters such as media, programming, and even in such mundane enterprises as the handing out of concession and other service contracts, gives the attentive onlooker pause.
Is this inevitable? What has happened to the small army of young journalists, publicists, media and film folk, people that our institutions in this city turn out year after year, who perhaps might have a better “feel” for the intangibles of this strangely protean festival, and who can possibly take possession of the event and move it into a different incarnation?
There was a tiredness at its core this year and my own random sampling convinces me that this assessment was shared by many. The religious roots of the spirit Carnival have little valency in idle August; the point of cohesion, therefore, cannot be taken for granted. The glu-on that might hold this event together and give it new life must surely lie in the sheer innovative artistry of its performance, in the same way that other art forms have to meet this crucial test.
Repetition, mindless ritualized turnouts of the same, the same, in endless small variations year after year is tedious in the extreme. How is innovation achieved? This is the discussion that is not taking place in the Caribbean sector of Toronto society. Those who are doers, decision-makers, intellectuals, artists, the concerned Caribbean citizenry, have distanced themselves from the running of the event because of the unsavoury odour around the issue of accountability in recent years. This problem seems to have been put to rest, for the moment, but the distance remains.
The question of who owns Caribana is at the bottom of this, of course. This is an unanswerable question to the average participant and onlooker as well as to me. It would seem logical and desirable to make sure that there is a participatory sense at the core of the event, so that the engagement would be experienced with a communal sense of pride in its production, instead of a somewhat macocious interest in observing what “they” are putting on this year. Who is the “they,” though? Is it not we ourselves?
What would be lost by blowing this event wide open to the larger community and having it blossom into a globalized event which reflects the strength and true character of Toronto - its amazing diversity and its unique manner of accommodating the variety of cultural forms now finding expression here? The youth in this city- Caribbean and other - are inventing their own mechanisms for dealing with each other. What can they, our youth who have grow up within a multicultural ambience foreign to most of us, contribute to Caribana? Where are they? As mas players, they are present in small numbers, but their stamp is not at all visible in the conception and running of the tired old lady that the Toronto Caribana is fast retiring into.
A signature festival, representative of this city, is a utopian possibility for Caribana. Yes, it will mean change and a departure from the nostalgia trip, but not completely, and there is no good reason to fear that change. What can possibly arise is something “rich and strange/which hath endur’d a sea-change” and it is one that we should be willing to embrace in the spirit of the new paths that we are forging in our own lives and that of our generations to come by the very act of migration.
Migration to the Caribbean was not, by and large, a voluntary exercise. By contrast, there was a large degree of voluntarism, in the decision to settle on Canadian soil - the illusion of temporariness, until..., notwithstanding. It is time that we wake up and admit that we have moved into a new space and that life here is different. However strong our links are, this is not (and will never be) a miniature West Indian state. We need an enlargement of our horizons if this festival (which can be our marvellous gift to Canadian society) is ever to achieve its full potential. And what a mighty rushing of wings that would be, if it ever does, if we ever unclench our fists and allow it to fly.
Petite and Pretty: These adoring little dancers are part of the large collective from the Tarana Dance Centre who thrilled the 500+ audience at the Markham Theatre last month. The occasion was the 15th anniversary of the Tarana Dance School initiated by the two sisters, Deviekha Chetram and Geeta Leo. The students are taught both Kathak and Bharatnatyam dance forms. The main studio of the Dance Centre is in Scarborough but lessons are also given in Brampton. Registration for classes start this month. Deviekha may be contacted at 416-299-6993.
L-R: Roger Sookraj, Devin Latchmana and Sagar Sookraj Pix by Manshad Mohamed
Clash of old and new TT veterans
By Manshad Mohamed
T&T's champion classical singing champion, Ustad Haniff Mohammed headlined a number of stars at an exhibition of their talent on July 24, at the Gujrati Cultural Centre, 6875 Professional Crt. in Mississauga.
Haniff has a number of recordings to his credit and has traveled extensively to Surinam, Guyana, the USA and Canada.
Ustad Haniff Mohammed
A victim of diabetes, Haniff had a leg amputated. Traditionally, singers would sit on the floor when singing but Haniff carries on sitting on a chair while resting his harmonium on a table. The quality of his voice has not changed from his recording days. If anything, he has matured even more and is as dynamic as ever.
On this occasion, Haniff was accompanied on the dholak by young Devin Latchmana, son of local singer Denis Latchmana.
The ever popular Sagar Sookraj, another recording artiste and brother of Polly and Rajdaye Sookraj of Caroni, was another featured artiste. Sagar is an all rounder and plays the dholak and tabla. He has a superb touch when singing Qawalis. Sagar is used to accompanying himself on Dholak while singing which is a feat that few people are able to do.
Dino Boodram, a most sought after singer from New York with a wonderful repertoire of songs, was another of the stars on the show. Born in T&T but now residing in the Big Apple, Dino, the brother of veteran singer Sam Boodram, is a superb singer. At one point, Dino introduced the idea of writing music for the lyrics of classical songs to encourage the youngsters to pursue this field of music.
Roger Sookraj, also of New York, showed what a fine player of the dholak he is as he accompanied his uncle Ashuk Yankarran.
This show was billed as a contest between Ashuk Yankarran and Ustad Haniff Mohammed in a Trinidad style classical singing exhibition. It was arranged and produced by Ashuk Yankarran as ASHTA Promotions.
Mas players: From left, Darise Crevelle, Sharlene Seemungal and Aneesa Oumarally from the band, Callaloo led by Marlon Singh.
Pix by Martin Latchana
Crime hitting TT hard
Business owners, capital taking flight
By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo Caribbean World
Port-of-Spain - Even as Prime Minister Patrick Manning was on television to declare that the government will not compromise on its anti-crime drive, more murders were taking place and a business couple decided to flee to the United States to escape the crime situation.
In Manning's televised address, he said the government will step up vigilance of sea ports and airports and will be targeting money laundering and white-collar crime.
"We are determined to make the police stronger than the criminals," Manning said. Manning said, too, that the government was going to provide the legislative support in this war and that bills to deny bail for kidnappers and strengthen the country's forensic capacity, will be introduced in Parliament.
In relation to the drug trade, Manning said that Scotland Yard in 1994 told the Trinidad and Tobago government that because of the small size of this nation, it is possible to completely eradicate this trade.
"We have decided to do just that," Manning said. "In order to achieve this, we must stem the flow of illegal guns and drugs entering the country. The Government
has acquired a radar system that will give us 360 degree coverage of our entire coastline on a 24-hour basis. This system is now being installed and will be fully operational by the end of this year."
Additonally, the government will deploy interdiction equipment, including fast interceptor patrol boats and armed helicopters equipped with sophisticated electronic capability, Manning said.
Anthony Aboud, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers' Association, said on July 29 that all citizens must join in the war against the criminals.
The proliferation of guns has been a concern given that the murder rate stood at 153 last weekend, compared to 135 for the same period last year.
While Manning's address to the nation was still fresh in the minds of nationals, the murders of Kerwyn Cryus, 20, and Nigel Hinds, also known as Kerwyn Hinds, from Block 252, Mt Pleasant Road, Carolina Village, Couva were committed. Police said their deaths stemmed from an ongoing gang war which began with the reprisal attacks for the murder of Roger 'One Arm' Alexander, 35, of Upper Eighth Avenue, Barataria.
Police believe Cyrus, Hinds and another man went to the area to kill Garvin "Bean" Sookram. He and four others, were freed of Alexander's murder on June 25 by a High Court judge.
While Manning spoke of new legislation and increased surveillance at air and sea ports, a prominent business couple left the country on July 28 to escape their fear of crime.
"It is indeed regrettable that one of our most loyal, hard-working Rotarians has been forced to leave the country because of the constant threat of criminal activity that has developed in society," said Garvin Nicholas, president of the Port-of-Spain West Rotary. He was referring to the departure of Rawlins and Vindra Amar, who owned Splendid Foods Company at O'Meara Industrial Estate, Arima. A source close to the Amar family said the couple resisted leaving for a long time, but they were getting many midnight calls and threats and eventually gave in.
"They did not go willingly - they left in tears," Nicholas said.
The Amars are not the only ones to leave. Gail Merhair, president of the San Juan Businessmen's Association, said on July 28 that businesspeople were silently leaving the country.
"I am aware of a number of companies whose owners have left and their business is still being run, but the issue here is that of capital flight out of Trinidad and Tobago and the fact that it is still not being reinvested in the economy," Merhair said. "Not only are we seeing an exodus of entrepreneurial skills, but inevitably, the entrepreneurial spirit in Trinidad and Tobago is being eroded also because of the crime situation."
Harry Harnarine, president of the Hindu Credit Union (HCU), referred to capital flight when members of the HCU staged an anti-crime march to Piarco airport on July 11. Harnarine was charged with heading an illegal march and resisting arrest after leading an anti-crime march to the precincts of Piarco. His security guards, Ronald Malchan, Elvis Sookoo and Norbert Ramdeen, were also charged with resisting arrest and obstructing police officers in the course of their duty. The four men were each granted (Can) $2,500 bail with a surety on their first appearance before Magistrate Deborah Quintyne.
A spiralling crime rate has not been lost on newly-appointed Police Commissioner Trevor Paul. He assumed office only three weeks ago, and on July 29 called on all police officers to reduce crime and improve community relations. Paul said he sent out a memo to each member of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service calling on them to do their bit to reduce crime, increase traffic safety and improve community relations. He said that 75 cars, 25 jeeps and 25 motorcycles will be made available to the Police Service shortly and that these vehicles will be used mainly in crime hot spots.
Keeping the pot boiling
That’s what Wazir Shariff of Remax 2000 and his wife Sharon were doing at their annual summer picnic on July 25 at the Rowntree Mills Park where they said thanks to their many clients, friends and families for supporting them.
It was a day of fun for both adults and kids with lots to eat and drink and many prizes handed out.