Dominica’s Calypso Fever: It’s Contagious!

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Showdown Mas Camp is one of two popular weekly ‘tents’, where enthusiastic audiences watch and hear member calypsonians in the run up to the formal competitions during the Carnival season in Dominica.

I’ll never forget the first calypso show I

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King Dice did it again!  He won the 2016 Calypso Monarch competition last night – that’s his 8th crown! (Photo taken in 2012).

attended in Dominica. It was Carnival season 1998 and I walked in to the Stardom Monarch of the Tent competition at the Sisserou Hotel with a young Dominican lady that I had only recently met.  The place was packed – with hardly a space to move, but somehow this attractive young woman was able to charm bystanders so that we could step in front of them to stand directly below the stage.  I looked up at a handsome man, known in calypso circles as ‘De Hunter’ who was dressed in traditional Kalinago attire.  He was singing a composition called  ‘Carib Bacchanal‘.  I was so caught up in the  powerful refrain, the throbbing beat and the sweet repetitive melody that I instantly fell in love with this special genre of music. And that year, ‘Hunter’ went on the win the big Carnival Calypso Monarch  competition with that enduring song.

Since then, I don’t attend as many shows as I once did:  too many late nights for me in the damp, chilly air (relatively speaking) that prevails in January and February.  But that doesn’t stop me from continuing with my deep affection for this art form.  I listen to all the songs each year, the detailed professional commentaries and  also contribute to lively discussions with friends and strangers alike.

So, what makes calypso so ‘hot’ on the Nature Island?  “Let me tell you something…” to use a Dominican expression.  It’s true, it didn’t originate on the Nature Isle.  That honour belongs to Trinidad, where Carnival, in which calypso plays a huge part, is a  VERY big deal. But that being said, Dominica’s brand is not to be underestimated. Part of the fun is the intimacy of the performances, the familiarity of the political and social issues and the overall popularity of the songs amongst a small population that gives tremendous support to its calypsonians.

The concept of calypso evolved from a fusion of West African and Latin rhythms, with the idea of a lead singer with crowd responses about social injustices during the periods of slavery and colonialism.  A more detailed description of its background can be found on the web site of local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, right here. In Dominica, calypso competitions became formalized in the 1950’s, where one singer discreetly performed/presented a certain social or political issue to a listening audience. More details are available in a previous piece on Ti Domnik Tales right here.

The Dominica Calypso Association is a formal organization that ensures that standards

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Daryl “De Bobb” Bobb is a gifted and  longstanding calypsonian who also writes his own lyrics.  He placed second runner up in the Calypso Monarch 2016 competition.

are met in terms of the art form and the calysonians’ performances.  If you think that writing a calypso or performing it is just a simple matter of venting one’s concerns in any old way, then think again!  Specific guidelines exist that outline the way in which this genre of song must be written, composed and performed. A detailed breakdown of the components required in a calypso song can be found  here on the avirtualdominica.com web site.  Lyricists must cleverly disguise the outstanding theme in the literary guise of double-entendres, puns, metaphors, similes, and parodies, with plenty of satire, allusions and sometimes parables.  The point is that the message is not supposed to be glaringly obvious, but it can be deciphered by the listeners as a result of the careful crafting of the composition: the obvious subject often alludes to an entirely different matter.

When I taught students  English Literature at Orion Academy, I derived tremendous pleasure from using examples of literary devices from the calypso songs of the day to illustrate their meaning and usage.  The kids really enjoyed it too.  On one occasion, we were graced with the presence of prolific veteran calypso songwriter Pat Aaron, who writes exclusively for 8-time (2016) Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph.  He had written lyrics for a calypso entitled ‘Animal Farm’, which was performed by ‘Dice’.  It was based on themes presented in the allegorical novel, ‘Animal Farm‘ by George Orwell, which I was teaching to second formers at that time.  He carefully explained to the class  about his methods for incorporating some of the ideas from the novel into the calypso song, making it relevant to various political, social and topical issues of the day in

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Tasha ‘Tasha P’ Peltier was the first woman to ever win the Calypso Monarch Competition in 2011.

Dominica.

There is one caveat, however.  If one is not familiar with the issues of the day in Dominica, then it is more difficult to interpret the message that is being relayed by the calypsonian.  I found this out in my early days here. Apart from being entertained by the spectacle of the staged show, and being caught up in the excitement of the crowd, I often did not understand the disguised message in the songs.  But after almost 20 years on the Nature Isle, I can assure you that I am well versed in the issues of the day, as I follow current events very closely and frequently discuss them with my Dominican friends!

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Janae Jackson is a very talented 17 year old girl who went all the way to the Calypso Finals this year.  While she did not place, she did win the Calypso Queen 2016 award. She is definitely one to watch!

So last night was THE big night for the Calypso Finals.  This enormously popular show is traditionally held on the Saturday before Carnival Monday. While I didn’t attend this year, I was able to listen to part of the show on the radio. But it went well into the early morning hours, and I fell asleep before it was over. When I woke up sometime later, I immediately went to my computer to find out the results.

Calypso fever finally spiked and King Dice did it again – the eighth time in fact! He’s now tied with Trinidad’s  ‘Mighty Sparrow‘, renowned all over the world – who previously captured the crown in his country that many times.  Congratulations to ‘Dice’ for a superb performance and to his songwriter, Pat Aaron, who has an uncanny gift for creating the best in calypso lyrics.  What a team!

I am also delighted for Webster ‘De Webb’ Marie, who was awarded the first runner up position.  I have had the pleasure of singing with this young man in the RiverSong choir many years ago.  He has a wonderful tenor voice and is a natural on stage.  He was a longstanding member of the well-known Sisserou Singers and was the first winner of Dominca’s annual Cadence-lypso competition in 2012.

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I have to update my photo with King Dice, now 8-times a Calypso Monarch.  Wendy Walsh took this photo of me with the talented calypsonian a couple of Carnival Mondays ago.

Now that this year’s calypso fever has broken, I’ll prepare myself for tomorrow’s early morning J’ouvert and all the fun that follows in the next two days (Carnival Monday and Tuesday).  I’ll be on the lookout for the amazing Calypsonians on the Carnival route and will certainly offer my heartfelt congratulations for keeping Calypso music very ‘HOT’ in Dominica!

 

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Daring to DREAM: Miss Dominica 2013 and Friends Dance for Holistic Education on the Nature Isle*

Leslassa organized a Dance Showcase as one of her DREAM Foundation initiatives to help children realize their holistic education goals.

Leslassa organized a Dance Showcase as one of her DREAM Foundation initiatives to help children realize their holistic education goals.

Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour-Shillingford  has always loved to dance. According to her mother Yvonne, her daughter just had to  move to music even when she was a tiny child. As one of her innate talents, Leslassa  has made a serious study of this highly disciplined performance art during her young life.  And at the age of 20,  this multi-talented beauty queen is definitely pursuing everything that she has

In this selection, entitled 'Sorento', Leslassa 'returns to innocence'.

In this dreamy selection, entitled ‘Sorento’, Leslassa ‘returned to innocence’ of childhood with swift, playful moves.

dared to DREAM!  This was clearly evident at the  Dance Showcase that was held at the Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Center on November 27,2013. There, she and like-minded dance colleagues definitely “used [their] talents to inspire others,” according to Leslassa’s credo.

The lovely young lady organized this fundraiser for her charity entitled the DREAM Foundation     in partnership with the Dominica Institute for the Arts and renowned choreographer Monsieur Christian Gernet of Martinique.Leslassa firmly believes that every child should have the chance to pursue a well-rounded education and she is determined to help!  Proceeds from this unique event were to benefit the Enrichment Programme at the Pioneer Preparatory School     and the Newtown Primary School DREAM Dance Project.   But most importantly,   the Old Mill Cultural Centre’s dance space (Dominica Institute for the Arts)  was the first priority as it is an empty room and the DREAM Foundation is ‎furnishing it with the needed bars, mirrors and other necessities that will make it a proper dance studio.  As she does instruct students there in her capacity as a dance teacher, she felt very strongly about how these enhancements could add to the overall  experience of the young dance students.

When I took my front row seat before the show began,

The surreal backdrop pf the stage perfectly complemented the dances in this unique showcase, choreographed by Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet.

The surreal Dominican backdrop on the stage perfectly complemented the dances in this unique showcase, choreographed by Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet.

I admired the dreamy backdrop at the back of the makeshift stage, which was positioned above the back of the swimming pool.  In front,  little boats with lighted  candles drifted on gentle ripples and rose petals floated

placidly on the water’s  serene surface.  The surreal mood was captured right from the start – I was already transported to dream-like place.Then Leslassa’s brother Dafar warmly welcomed the audience and  clearly explained the impetus of the Dream Foundation. And, as if by magic,  the dance began.

The Martinican Biguigne Haute was the first piece of  several choreographed by a son of the soil - choreographer Christian Gernet.

The Martinican Biguigne Haute was the first piece of several choreographed by a son of Martinique – choreographer Christian Gernet.

The first  piece certainly set the tempo for this sensational performance.  The traditional Biguigne Haute from Martinique filled the space with energy and vibrancy.  It was hard not to mark time with my feet as the dancers swirled around to  the sexy beat.

Then came the three guys  of BFree who showed us what strength and agility is all about in their contemporary hip-hop/break-dance selection.  Talk about athletic prowess and rhythmical gymnastics – need I say any more?  Those young men were fantastic!Unfortunately, my camera could not capture their bold moves in black outfits, but I can assure you their performance was awe-inspiring!

Then Leslassa and Ghandi Robin  of BFree came out to show us their (and M. Gernet’s) interpretation of Enfants de la Rue. Flowing movements, strong poses

The innocence of being cildren at play was easily captured by Leslassa and Ghandi.

The innocence of being children at play was easily captured by Leslassa and Ghandi.

Leslassa presents a peaceful childhood moment in repose in Sorento: Enfants de la Rue: A return to Innocence.

Leslassa presented a peaceful childhood moment in repose in Sorento: Enfants de la Rue: A return to Innocence.

Leslassa and Ghandi express a playful pose in 'Enfants de la rue'.

Leslassa and Ghandi expressed a playful pose in ‘Sorento: Enfants de la rue’.

both individually and as a couple and some static postures captivated the audience.

I enjoyed the energy of the Mazurka and the precision of Leslassa and her colleagues as they presented this folkloric dance of Polish origin. I could see how it resembles the more commonly known polka.  They were moving so quickly I couldn’t get a proper shot!

Then came Ghandi again with a hip-hop/break-dance piece inspired by Martinique’s BBoy veterans.  It is a shame that I could not photograph his powerfully impressive moves.  Well, it is too bad for you.  As for me, I couldn’t have taken my eyes off him anyway!

Leslassa demonstrates teh challenge of being in balance with her own strength in 'Promenade'.

Leslassa demonstrated the challenge of being in balance with her own strength in ‘Promenade’.

When Leslassa performed a modern piece called ‘Promenade’, her interpretation of the challenge to be “in balance” with her own strength was clearly evident.

Leslassa's introsepctive pose in 'Promenade' also demonstrates her strength and flexibility and her innate ability to express the idea behind the dance.

Leslassa’s introspective pose in ‘Promenade’ also showed her strength, flexibility and an innate ability to express the idea behind the dance.

In 'Promenade', Leslassa gracefully presents some very strong poses.

In ‘Promenade’, Leslassa gracefully presented some very strong poses.

Her natural grace, flexibility and strength complemented each expressive pose.

This dance piece, entitled 'Caco' is called an amalgamation of light and love.

This dance piece, entitled ‘Caco’ is called” an amalgamation of light and love.”

While I did enjoy every  piece in the Dance Showcase, I was especially moved by Claire and Colette’s performance of ‘Caco’. In this modern dance, the symmetry of the moves and poses of the two dancers was spellbinding.

I loved teh mirro-like reflective movements of Claire and Colette in 'Caco'.

I loved the mirror-like reflective movements of Claire and Colette in ‘Caco’.

I felt again transported to a dream-like state and I meditated on their precise movements, which perfectly mirrored each other.

I was awakened from my surreal suspension by the playful ‘Folie Chaise‘, wherein the ladies Leslassa, Clair, Colette, Anne and Claudine engaged in a game of musical chairs.  It looked like so much fun that I wanted to play too!

Leslassa and her dance friends revelled in a game of musical chairs.

Leslassa and her dance friends reveled in a game of musical chairs.

Although the  entire programme was less than an hour, the audience was enthralled with the well performed selections.  As a finale, they were treated to a hot ‘Salsa Exhibition’ and actually invited to join in. Choreographer, Monsieur Christian Gernet directed the dance from front and center stage, as he instructed the dancers and participants en francais  as to which way they should turn next, while moving to the Latin beat.  Those on-stage in were certainly glowing along with the dancers when they finished this set!

Leslassa partners with M. Gernet in some fast and furious Latin moves.

Leslassa partners with M. Gernet in some fast and furious Latin moves.

Martinican chorepgrapher Christian Gernet leads the dancers and audience members in hot Salsa moves.

Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet leads the dancers and audience members in hot Salsa moves.

I waited for a short while afterwards to congratulate Leslassa on her  superb organization of this wonderful Showcase of Contemporary and Folkloric Dances, which was produced and performed at a very high standard. The hours of preparation, rehearsal and dedication of all the participants was not lost on me.

Then I left the Anchorage Hotel on a  high note, knowing that the proceeds from this exceptional evening would be helping other young students to realize their dreams.

The audience also got carried away with the spirit of the Salsa dance.

Audience  members also got carried away with the spirit of the Salsa dance.

Thank you Leslassa for this gift to help  holistic education on the Nature Isle.  I hope you’ll do another event like this one very soon.  You certainly know how to make many people smile. : )

*And with extra appreciation to you, Miss Dominica 2013 for taking time from your busy schedule to  review this piece so promptly before publication. Best wishes for your continued success in whatever you do!


English Immersion on the Nature Island: French Students Learn about Dominica’s Cuisine and Culture*

I love a Creole lunch! Watercress and a slice of avocado make up the greens, fried plantains and dasheen puffs and farine balls make up the starches, and grilled local tuna in a mild Creole sauce gives the protne that makes a hearty, wholesome and healthy meal!

I love a Creole lunch! Watercress and a slice of avocado make up the greens, fried plantains, dasheen puffs and farine  (from cassava flour and avocado) balls make up the starches, and grilled local tuna in a mildly seasoned Creole sauce gives the protein for a hearty, wholesome and healthy meal!

After the English immersion students from Ludicademi in Martinique spent a busy June weekend touring major sites in Dominica: Indian River; Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley; Emerald Pool; The Carib Territory and its Kalinago Barana Aute ( Carib Model Village), they dragged themselves into the classroom on Monday morning looking collectively exhausted! We were concentrating on Creole foods that day.  Fortunately, there are many of the same and similar recipes  in the ‘French Islands’, so the vocabulary lesson was not especially difficult!

Because we were not in a cooking class, I offered the students the following video clips about Dominican cooking:

Pepper sauce (r) is a prolific product on the Nature Island.  Sorrel juice (l) is a spiced drink made from the red sepals of the hibiscus flower.  It is delicious and is a Yule-tide favourite beverage.

Pepper sauce (r) is a prolific product on the Nature Island. Sorrel juice (l) is a spiced drink made from the red sepals of the hibiscus flower. It is delicious and is a Yule-tide favourite beverage.

1. How to Cook – Dominica Style

2. Tropical Vegetable and Fruit Garden Dominica

3. Cassava Bread Making in Dominica

4. Dominica Food for the Soul

I could not emphasize enough the proliferation of crops that thrive in Dominica’s fertile volcanic soil.  Some people say that you can plant practically anything on the Nature Island; You just have to stick it in the soil and watch it grow! Some farmers may disagree with me, but I suspect there are numerous places to till the soil!  There is no need to artificially season one’s recipe when cooking on Dominica:  celery, chives, green onions, peppers, parsley and thyme are a few of the herbs that thrive here.  There are also many starchy root vegetables which are traditionally called provisions : tannias, dasheen, cassava, cush-cush, sweet potatoes, yams.  There are others that grow on trees and are considered essential staples: green bananas, plantains, breadfruits, to name a few.,

We went through all the standard cooking terminology, but the class was definitely more drawn to the similarities in meals with their own country, Martinique.  We talked about callaloo soup, which is made from the leaves of the dasheen plant. It’s a popular dish around the Independence season in October and November. Some people like to add crab to their soup when they can be hunted at that time of year.  Sancoche is another tasty dish, if you like  the smoked flavour of codfish or chicken.  It is sometimes available at Cartwheel Cafe  on the Bayfront in Roseau during the year .Souse (pickled pig, cow or chicken)  delights many Dominicans.  There is also black (blood) pudding (like sausage) which can be found in Roseau and villages, largely  on weekends. On Friday nights, many little snackettes and little shops offer customers goat, fish or chattoo (octopus) water, which is a tasty seasoned broth containing these meats. Titiri are little river fish that are seasoned and fried in a batter for a filling snack called accras.  They can be found in various smaller establishments, such as Marvo’s Snackette on Independence Street (near King George V Street intersection).  There is so much more: fig pie is actually a small banana which is cooked, mashed and then baked with a fish such as tuna in a cheesy or creamy sauce.  I love it! Everyone has their own version of Creole sauce, which frequently adorns fish and chicken plates.  It contains many of the above-mentioned seasonings and usually has a tomato base.

And there are so many fruits. I wonder if anyone has an exact count of the different types.  Some of the more exotic/unfamiliar (to my hearing and/or taste) are; sapadilla; apricot (it’s huge!); carambola; pommerac; pomme citaine (golden apple); gooseberry; fwaise ( like a strawberry); canip;  tamarind;guava; papaya; cherry; passionfruit; pineapple; banana; all the citrus varieties; and that’s only naming a few! (Please excuse any incorrect Creole spellings!)

I didn’t get a chance to talk about sweets in the class – but I’ll save that fort another post!  The students made it through that day and were rewarded with a soothing soak at the Soufriere Sulphur Springs that afternoon to regain their vitality!

Dominica and Martinique share a number of cultural customs, including this type of Creole wear. The hat (tete mawe) and the jupe (overskirt) are made from madras cloth. The underskirt (jupon) and blouse (chemise decollotee) are created from white cloth, often with lace adornments.

Dominica and Martinique share a number of cultural customs, including this type of Creole wear. The hat (tete mawe) and the jupe (overskirt) are made from madras cloth. The underskirt (jupon) and blouse (chemise decollotee) are created from white cloth, often with lace adornments.

On the last morning of class, the students looked much more refreshed, and as this was the day we would cover vocabulary about Dominica’s culture, I offered them a surprise when I asked them to stand  up straight away.  Their eyes opened wide when I sang the first verse of Dominica’s National Anthem for them.  Then they performed a few songs for me, such as Frère Jacques, which we sang as a traditional round.  What a great way to start this day!

We then jumped into having a look at Dominica’s motto, Apres bondie, c’est la ter (After God, it’s the land).  The students were most intrigued that Dominica’s endangered Sisserou Parrot is a national symbol which features prominently on both the Flag and the Coat of Arms.  They were further awed when they observed that Dominica’s critically endangered Crapaud (mountain chicken) frog has a place of honour on the Coat of Arms as well.  They had just been learning about these creatures in the previous class on Flora and Fauna.

Again,  as with foods, there were many similarities in terms of traditional dress and language, as the mix of European and West African cultural practises are also evident on the French islands.   As well,  Dominica is home to the Kalinago people, who paddled up to Dominica over 1,000 years ago from South America and called the  mountainous island ‘Waitukubuli’, which means “tall is her body.”  It was Christopher Columbus who named her Dominica, as he sighted her on a Sunday  on his second voyage in 1493.

The Creole language does reflect the influence of English, French and Kalinago words, mixed with African grammatical speech syntax.  The Martiniquais students could easily understand Dominican Creole, so they were cautioned by me to only speak English when out and about on the Nature Island, as that was the point of their visit.  They assured me that they stuck to their immersion experience except when they were really confused.  I hope that wasn’t too often!

Creole wear is sometimes worn in the French islands too.  I have seen ladies at the produce markets in both Guadeloupe and Martinique sporting the colourful

Contemporary desingers such as Dora (l) create modern versions of Creole wear. She is also wearing a 'chapeau paix' (straw hat) which is a traditional head wear in Dominica.

Contemporary designers such as Dora (l) create modern versions of Creole wear. She is also wearing a ‘chapeau de paille’ (straw hat) which is a traditional head wear on Dominica.

madras cloth in traditional styles as such as the Wob Douillette, which is fashioned after French styles of the 17 and 18th centuries.  Heavy gold jewelry frequently complements the outfit, and is said to

A type of "Wob' (dress) which is worn by Madame Wob during the Independence season in 2012.

A type of “Wob’ (dress) which was worn by the ‘Madame Wob’ competition winner during Dominica’s Independence season in 2012.

have  been inspired by African traditions. The same thing can be said for dance styles of old on the Nature Island.  There are competitions all over the country that acknowledge this art form during the Independence season. As examples, the French inspired Mazouk looks like this.  A very African type of dance, called the Bélé, looks like this.  And there were English types of dance too, such as the ‘heel and toe’!

Beauty Pageants and Calypso Shows are  big part of Carnival celebrations. Miss Dominica 2012 Nadira Lando and now 6 time Calypso Monarch Dennison 'Dice' Joseph lead the Opening Parade for Carnival 2013.

Beauty Pageants and Calypso Shows are big parts of Carnival celebrations. Miss Dominica 2012 Nadira Lando and now 6 time Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph lead the Opening Parade for Carnival 2013.

Carnival is another area of Dominica’s culture with strong ties to African and European traditions.  The students said that while they do celebrate Carnival in Martinique, it didn’t seem to be anything like what Dominica has to offer.  I hope they will come back to find out during the next one! I have always described Mas Domnik as being original, traditional and fun!   I am certain that most Dominicans will agree with me.  It is celebrated in Dominica and the French Islands on the two days preceding Lent in the Catholic faith.

We also talked about the other festivities that draw large crowds from near and far –  around the time of Independence in November and the World Creole Music Festival in October.  It seems to me that there are always celebrations on the Nature Island – be

Dominica's friendly, informal Carnival means that it is possible to have photos taken with popular participants, such as Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour-Shillingford. She is also a repeat regional winner now too.  You go, girl! XO

Dominica’s friendly, informal Carnival means that it is possible to have photos taken with popular participants wearing their traditional costumes, such as Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour-Shillingford. This exceptionally talented young lady is a repeat regional winner now too. You go, girl!

Sensay costumes, seen during Carnival are rooted in African traditions.

Sensay costumes, seen during Carnival parades are rooted in African traditions.

it Hike Fest, Nature Island Literary Festival, DOMFESTA, Dive Fest, Emancipation and more.  Further details about these events can be found here.

Internationally-renowned Dominican divas Michele Henderson (l) and Ophelia Marie performed at the 16th annual World Creole Music Festival in 2012.

Internationally renowned Dominican divas Michele Henderson (l) and Ophelia Marie performed at the 16th annual World Creole Music Festival in 2012.

The last hour of the  class was given over to a special guest, who knows culture through and through.  The Cultural

The French students were very attentive to Gregory Rabess's instruction about culture in Dominica

The French students were very attentive to Gregory Rabess’s instruction about culture in Dominica.

Division’s Gregory Rabess   is a Creole specialist, poet and musician.  He elaborated dramatically on the bits and pieces of cultural history and subsequent  vocabulary that I had offered the group.  They hung on to his every word!

Cultural Division Officer Gregory Rabess emphatically demonstrates a point to the class.

Cultural Division Officer Gregory Rabess emphatically demonstrates a point to the class.

We were all especially delighted when he closed the session with one of his own Creole compositions that required active class participation in the refrain.  It was in Creole language of course, so the only person who perhaps missed some of its meaning was me!

Although I was extremely tired after the four English immersion classes, I did thoroughly enjoy my short and sweet teaching stint.  I wish the students of Ludicademi in Martinique the best of luck with their continuing studies of the English language and their English-speaking neighbour , Dominica.  I hope I will see them again sometime on the Nature Island.

Reference: Africa and Dominica by Lennox Honychurch, PhD.

*This mini English immersion course was organized by Tina Alexander of Lifeline Ministries, Roseau Dominica.  Thanks for having me along, Tina!

Theatre Director Alwin Bully Stages ‘A Tempest’ in Roseau Dominica

The Dominican production of Aime Cesaire's 'A Tempest' was directed by Alwin Bully and starred J. Grimner and Prospero and Haxey Emmanuel Salamant as Caliban.

The Dominican production of Aime Cesaire’s ‘A Tempest’ was directed by Alwin Bully and starred J. Grimner (l) as Prospero and  Emanuel Haxey Salamat as Caliban.

As DOMFESTA  2013 arts activities concluded on the Nature Island, I attended its final theatrical  production, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It consisted  of  the late Martinican  playwright Aimé Césaire‘s ‘A Tempest‘ (1969), which was held at the Alliance Française de la Dominique   from June 14 -16. Renowned Caribbean cultural icon and son-of-the-soil Dr. Alwin Bully directed this ambitious representation with a seasoned cast of actors from locally based theatre troupe La Cour Des Arts de la Dominique.  This play’s familiar title, characters’ names and plot-line do intentionally resemble Shakespeare’s well-known work called ‘The Tempest, with some unique twists.

As I had not previously studied or taught this Shakespearian play, I was glad that I had a chance to read the synopsis before going to the production. I also  looked up Césaire’s adaptation to get a feel for  his dramatic style and what could possibly happen on the stage. In March, I did have the privilege of seeing famous French actor Jacques Martial portray the sentiments of  Césaire’s  poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939) at the Arawak house of Culture in Roseau.   Also,  Gildas Lefèvre, my French conversation instructor at Alliance Franςaise gave me a bit of background about Césaire’s  exceptional life (1913-2008) and recurrent themes in his artistic and political endeavors.

Césaire was a contemporary poet, playwright and a political and social activist.  He  cleverly adapted Shakespeare’s timeless dramatic work so that it incorporated themes such as colonialism, slavery, loss of identity and racism. According to the performance’s playbill, “He was the first activist to claim the rights of Black People in the French colonies, calling on them to recognize and be proud of their history, culture and values.”  He even created a concept called “Negritude“, which refers to  taking pride in one’s African origins and rejecting assimilation into European or colonial culture.

Even before the play formally began, the actors mulled about on or near the simple stage, chatted among themselves and even talked to

Before the play began, the actors came onto or around the stage, which created an intimate  andinformal rapport with the audience.

Before the play began, the actors came onto or around the stage, which created an intimate and casual rapport with the audience.

members of the audience.  At first, I was surprised by this activity, but then I realised that it enhanced the intimacy of this intense presentation.  The almost “theatre-in-the-round’ arrangement of the seats on either side and in front of the stage also enabled the onlookers to feel as if they were a part of the action.  I could sense the energy emanating from all the

Caliban portrayed his role as the rebellious slave very convincingly. Stephano is in the background..  Stephano is

Caliban portrayed his powerful role as the rebellious slave very convincingly. Stephano is in the background.

characters in the Prologue, when they were  ‘given their masks’ (parts) by Ashworth Simon, who acted as the Master of Ceremonies.

From the first scene,  where a fierce storm shipwrecks a group of people on an island, the audience was spellbound.  The little boy sitting behind me  was so drawn in that he grabbed the back of my chair (and sometimes me!) in suspense.  From that point, the lines between the characters with the colonial ‘attitude’ and the resistant slaves were well articulated through powerful dialogue and precise movements from on the stage, in front or near it and occasionally in the aisles directly beside  members of the audience!

Caliban (l) faces Prospero his oppressor  with courage, if not results!

Caliban (l) faces Prospero, his oppressor with courage and conviction.

The two protagonists were absolutely outstanding in the portrayal of their roles: Prospero, the typical colonial stereotype played by J. Grimner and Caliban, the angry and  rebellious slave played by  Emanuel Haxey Salamat were completely believable in  words and actions.  They certainly created considerable dramatic tension as they railed at each other with their divergent opinions on slavery and human rights. At the same time, Grimner’s part permitted comic relief through his deployment of ‘magic’ and acerbic wit.  With superb diction and powerful voices, these  two well-known Dominican performers

\J. Grimner as Prospero was completely in character as a conniving colonial in this demanding role.

J. Grimner as Prospero was always in character as an European colonialist in this demanding lead role.

The engagement and  marriage of Prospero's daughter Miranda, played by Justina Worrell to Prince Ferdinand, played by Cornell Linton was a delightful sub-plot.

The engagement  of Prospero’s daughter Miranda, played by Justina Worrell to Prince Ferdinand, played by Cornell Linton was a delightful sub-plot.

presented the issues that concerned playwright Césaire  through the point-of-view of Caliban.

The subservient slave Ariel (r) always did as Prospero commanded.  His character, played by Lester Guye, was in complete contrat to the rebellious Caliban.

The subservient slave Ariel (r) always did as Prospero commanded. His character, played by Lester Guye, was in complete contrast to the rebellious Caliban.

Additionally,  I understand that Director Bully also ensured that the actors had a  firm grasp of the above-mentioned complex themes that arise in A Tempest.  Throughout the play, this sombre subject was  often seasoned with humor.  While the title alone was suggestive of the mood that permeated the play, there were a number of comic scenes that kept the audience laughing while “reading between the lines’.

It was obvious that many hours of rehearsal and preparation time were devoted to bringing this play to life.  All 21 actors appeared to be DLP (dead-letter-perfect) in the execution of their lines.  They seemed to assume their roles very naturally, which I know only comes with extensive preparation and practise. I also appreciated the extra artistic touches:  dramatic and colourful stage make-up; graceful dances and other  smoothly choreographed movements; wonderful musical accompaniment from guitarist Tyson Johnson and African drummer Ras Algie; lighting which accentuated the action on stage; and songs that reinforced the themes  with repeated melodies.

Sonia Riviere (l)played a trouser-role as the sensible Gonzalo. The drunken French colonialist Stephano played by Steve Williams delighted the audience with his comical character.

Sonia Riviere (l)played a trouser-role as the sensible Gonzalo. The drunken French colonialist Stephano played by Curtis Clarendon delighted the audience with his comical character.

The final scene of 'A Tempest' had the complete cast on stage.

The complete cast was on stage  to take their bows at the play’s conclusion.

When the show ended about three hours after it began, it was obvious that the audience was well entertained and instructed by this high-calibre production.  Congratulations to Director Alwin Bully, as well as the entire cast and crew of  A Tempest for a superb performance of this challenging play.  Aimé Césaire (RIP) would be proud.

Master of Ceremonies Ashworth Simon also played the role of Esha, who made some fearful pronouncements.

Master of Ceremonies Ashworth Simon (front) also played the role of Esha, who made some notable pronouncements.