London’s Calypso Dreams


Yesterday (September 1st) we were liming with some Trinbagonian friends and relatives at London’s Southbank Centre.  We all enjoyed  a screening of Geoffrey Dunn’s 2004 film - ‘Calypso Dreams’ at the British Film Institute.  The screening was part of the celebration of 50 years of independence for Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.  My wife, Saleema, and I had seen it before when it was screened at the National Library in Port of Spain back in January 2009 which was when the DVD was launched.  That 2009 screening was dedicated to the memory of the Mighty Duke who had just passed. 

Growing up in Trinidad, Lord Kitchener was always one of my favorite kaisonians.  So one of the highlights of the Calypso Dreams documentary for me, was the BBC clip of Lord Kitchener performing in London.  I am not too sure but I am guessing that it is from the 1950s, and he is singing ‘London is the place for me’ -
"London is the place for me,
London this lovely city,
You can go to France or America, India, Asia or Australia,
But you must come back to London city.
Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly,
I am glad to know my ‘Mother Country’,
I’ve been travelling to countries years ago,
But this is the place I wanted to know,
London that’s the place for me…”

The documentary Calypso Dreams, speaks to this magical musical artform as a cultural expression that evolved in the Caribbean amongst the descendants of the slaves brought to the ‘New World’ from West Africa.  It is an artform that is part of the pan-mas-calypso Trinity which has gone on to influence musical expression in North America and here in the UK.  So in a very important way, we are celebrating not just 50 years of independence but the contribution of Caribbean culture to the world at large.  More information on this film and the DVD can be found here - http://www.calypsodreams.com

After the screening, we were treated to live performances by De Alberto, Tobago Crusoe, Alexander D Great, Cleopatra and reigning London Calypso Monarch – Sheldon Skeete.  Sheldon Skeete’s winning song “A Sightless Nation” was a beautifully composed commentary on contemporary British politics which reminded all present that traditional calypso is alive and well amongst young people here in the UK.  Tobago Crusoe performed a new composition on Usain Bolt which was very much appreciated by the Jamaicans in the audience but also served as a timely reminder that while very much rooted in Trinidad, this music is a Caribbean vibration.

As we chatted over a good Mexican meal after viewing the film, we were fortunate enough to have had Michael La Rose with us that evening.  Michael is a Trini-born writer/cultural/political activist with a long history of leadership in, and involvement with, the Nottinghill carnival and the Caribbean music scene here in the UK. For me, it is always interesting to speak with the ‘older heads’.  Although there is still much work to be done, he pointed out that the recent London 2012 Olympics was an important moment for the UK.  The Opening Ceremony in particular, gave Great Britain a chance to look at itself.  There were some comments in the media by Brits who seemed surprised by the number of non-white faces in the ceremony so for these Brits, the Olympic Games were a learning opportunity.  An opportunity to recognize that the UK today is a multicultural melting pot of so many cultures which is why it seemed so appropriate that Heptathlon champion, Jessica Ennis, was the face of the Olympics here in the UK.  Her parents are Jamaican and British. 

Moving on from the London 2012 Olympics, for those of us of Trinidad and Tobago heritage living here in the UK (and even other parts of Europe), Nottinghill carnival remains an important reference point.  I know that there is much debate on the cultural relevance of this street celebration but it was started by emigrants from Trinidad and Tobago.  Today, it has its own distinct identity as Jamaican sound systems and Brazilian samba bands are now an accepted part of that carnival’s landscape.  It is part of what makes London the most multicultural city in Europe and some would argue, gives it more in common with other urban melting pots like New York City, than with other parts of the UK.USA Tax Singapore

So as the fiftieth anniversary of independence celebrations continue amongst diaspora scattered across the world, we have much about which we can feel proud.  We feel proud not just as peoples of West Indian origin but as citizens of the world.  Despite our challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope in a brighter tomorrow.  Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com

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