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February 26 2014

February 25 2014

February 19 2014

February 17 2014

February 14 2014

Carnival Love Songs From the Caribbean

The celebration of Valentine's Day in many Caribbean territories is usually overshadowed by Carnival, so the Global Voices Caribbean team thought it might be fun to marry the two concepts – pun intended. A few of us have chosen our favourite soca love songs, along with a few lines as to why we think they're appropriate for V-Day…

Our new author Jason Nathu‘s pick is “Flirt” by Farmer Nappy:

The lyrics perfectly capture the unspoken Carnival rule that it's okay to “‘tief a wine” – parlance that means all dancing in the spirit of the festival is fair game…because it's only for a moment and all in good fun:

There's no reason to take off the wedding ring
This is the season for the wining
The only thing you could make me take off tonight is meh shirt
‘Cause all I wanna do is flirt…with no strings attached
When ah hold on, ah go wine like dat
That sweet wok nah bother me
It doh make me guilty…

Jason explains:

In Trinidad and Tobago, there is a popular song that says ‘A little wine (dance) never hurt nobody'. To me that's something that's uniquely Trinidadian, that we can enjoy each other's company and flirt good-naturedly.

Author Matthew Hunte, who hails from St. Lucia and is known for his dry wit, says:

I think Valentine's Day is treacly and saccharine so this is the obvious choice…

Baron‘s This Soca is for You epitomizes the poetic Valentine's Day sentiment, which is made even richer – or more predictable, depending on where you stand on the sentimentality tolerance scale – by the singer's melodic vocals, which slip off his tongue as slowly and as sweetly as molasses:

From the moment I saw you I know we were meant to be
From then on to this day there's no regrets
There's no-one else in this world to spend this life with me
So to you, I pay all my respects
God bless the day that I found you, baby
With you by my side and your love to guide me
Honey, baby, doux doux…this soca is for you

Of course, I had to put in my two cents’ worth – and because Jason already covered flirtation and Matt made his case for romantic love – I thought I'd go for love of Carnival – and nothing says that for me like David Rudder's ode to Calypso music:

Can you hear a distant drum bouncing on the laughter of a melody?
And does the rhythm tell you ‘come, come, come, come'?
Does your spirit do a dance to this symphony?
Does it tell you that your heart is afire?
And does it tell you that your pain is a liar?
Does it wash away all your unlovely?
Well, are you ready for a brand new discovery?
Calypso, calypso, calypso music…

Isn't that what love – at least the highest form of it – is supposed to do? It's meant to be transformative, to make you better, more joyous, to bring you closer to who you really are. In the Caribbean, our love of Carnival gets us pretty close. Happy St. Valentine's Day!

February 13 2014

The Iconic Trinidadian Film You've Never Seen

An image from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions; used with permission.

An image from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions; used with permission.

The 1970s saw the release of two important indigenous Caribbean films: Jamaica’s iconic The Harder They Come, starring musician Jimmy Cliff, which still takes some measure of credit for introducing reggae music to the world, and Bim, which explores race, politics and working class challenges in colonial Trinidad.

If you’ve never heard of Bim, far less seen it, that’s all about to change, thanks to the power of social media.

Pat Ganase, who has had a long career in journalism, publishing and communications in Trinidad and Tobago, has started a Facebook page called “BIM the movie” in an attempt to ignite online discussion about the film and the issues it deals with.

“I decided it was time for the first all-Trinidad film to have a Facebook fan page,” Ganase says. “It was the first film that didn’t just use our environment as a location and our people as exotic natives or extras. It is a film with a story that is authentic…and ours.”

Fellow journalist and writer Raoul Pantin collaborated on the script. The actors were all local. So was the majority of the film crew. The early fusion soundtrack was composed by Andre Tanker and performed by some of the country’s most outstanding musicians, including Mungal Patasar. But most importantly, it was a Trinidadian story.

Ganase is friends with Suzanne Robertson (who co-produced the film with her late husband Hugh, an American who edited the Oscar-winning film Midnight Cowboy) and says that even back then, the couple saw a bright future for the film industry in Trinidad and Tobago.

“The first Trinidadian film company was SHARC,” she explains, “named for Suzanne, Hugh and their children (Antonio and Anna) Robertson. Bim—and SHARC—probably failed then, for the same reasons that film, as a viable industry, is not succeeding today. There is a failure to appreciate it as a productive industry that can employ many, many people and bring returns on investment through distribution.”

As Ganase notes, the challenges for young filmmakers today are the same: “Funding, institutional support, distribution and marketing. The film industry is not a solitary art, which is why it is an Industry with a Capital I.” But the sense of déjà vu does not stop there—it extends itself to societal challenges as well. While the film marked a particular time in Trinidad and Tobago's history, addressing attitudes towards issues such as racial identity, Ganase believes  its lessons are still relevant. “Maybe it can tell us something about ‘crime’ in our society,” she offers. “It certainly has something to say about young men who grow themselves up, without father or family.”

The plot follows the main character Bhim (initially pronounced Beem) Singh, whose father, a union leader for workers in the sugar cane fields, is killed on the day of his sister’s wedding. Bhim leaves the only life he knows in rural Trinidad to live with his aunt and her ne’er-do-well husband in Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital city. From the get-go he's an outcast, and is soon drawn into a life of petty crime, working for an underworld type who re-christens him Bim. Meanwhile, the winds of political change are blowing. Bim seizes the opportunity, crushes the son of the man who killed his father and gets himself elected as head of the sugar cane workers’ union. His victory is short-lived, however, and his demise comes rather quickly, as a result of alcoholism.

Upon its release, the film was not panned by critics, but it didn’t quite get rave reviews either. The New York Times critique in 1974, for instance, opened by saying, “By no conventional standards is ‘Bim’ very good, but it’s still vastly more interesting than lots of other movies you’re likely to stumble on.” ‘Interesting’ may have been an understatement; it certainly struck a note with local audiences, presumably even before anyone had even seen it. Trinidad and Tobago had an active Censors Board at the time and the film’s planned debut in December 1974 never happened thanks to a ban. A month later, after legal action was taken against the Censors Board, the film was finally screened—uncut—at the landmark Roxy cinema in St. James.

“The language is harsh; it had plenty cusswords [obscene language],” Ganase recalls, “but not unwarranted. People who have seen the film are the ones who perceive it as seminal and important. There is a ring of truth in Bim the movie.”

There's certainly a timeless quality to Bim. Ganase says that “viewers of all ages and in every decade respond [to the film] the same way…as if it is something that they were deprived of.” She thinks this is because the story is as relevant now as it was then. “It’s not that I want people to know the film,” she says. “It is that people have a hunger for it.”

In just three days, the Facebook page has received over 130 “Likes” and a substantial amount of commentary, both from people who have already seen the film and from those who would like to. Ganase says the page will develop according to the discussion it generates: “It will point us in a direction that comes from the collective.”

One idea that came out of user comments was the suggestion by Trinidadian visual artist Christopher Cozier to work towards having Bim listed in Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, which restores and distributes films from countries that are underrepresented in global film culture. “It is a worthwhile idea that might be an avenue for new distribution,” Ganase explains. “There will be a showing in the future. But that will happen when the time is right.”

Janine Mendes-Franco is a communications consultant, media producer and writer. When she's not blogging about the Caribbean for Global Voices, you can find her blogging here and tweeting here.

The image used in this post is from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions, used with permission. A version of this article first appeared in the Sunday Guardian Arts section.

February 12 2014

Drug Bust Holds Lessons for Caribbean Distribution Chains

Of the recent drug bust originating out of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados Underground says:

The fundamentals are clear. Supply chain security in the Caribbean is weak, and known local and regional solutions need to be applied and strengthened.

February 11 2014

Trinidad & Tobago: A Deeper Carnival

Mas is beauty and horror. Mas as a whole can’t and shouldn’t be a version of reality that edits out the blood and pain.

Tillah Willah explains why she is so excited about the character she is portraying in this year's Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.

February 08 2014

Station's Rights to Sochi Games Leaves Caribbean Viewers in the Dark

Six Caribbean teams are competing in this year's winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: Bermudathe Cayman Islands, Dominica, Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands. Naturally, sports fans throughout the region want to watch – but there's a problem. SportsMax, a premium subscription-based television station, has been awarded exclusive rights to the 2014 Sochi games in the Caribbean. “Inside The Games” reported on the details:

The deal, announced between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and  International Media Content Ltd (IMC), the parent company of SportsMax, is applicable for 21 nations and territories ranging from Anguilla to Trinidad and Tobago.

It consists of exclusive English language broadcast rights on all media platforms, with live coverage to be provided on both SportsMax and SportsMax2 for the duration of the Games when they get underway in Sochi.

Columbus Communications, owners of the Flow cable network which operates in several Caribbean territories, took to its social media outlets to address the issue:

Flow Fans, please be advised that SportsMax holds the exclusive broadcast rights to the '2014 Winter Olympics’ in the Caribbean for the period February 7th to 23rd 2014. Olympic programming will be broadcast mainly on Sportsmax 1 with some content on Sportsmax 2. Consequently, we are legally required to blackout the coverage of the games on all channels including but not limited to NBC & CBC who will be carrying portions of the SOCHI games. During the blackout periods the affected channels will carry a notice to our customers advising of the blackout requirement and directing you to SportsMax. 

We understand the inconvenience that this issue poses and are aware and acknowledge that blocked content is disruptive for our viewers, however we MUST comply. Once the broadcast rights to air a program is (sic) purchased we are obligated to block out that program (when requested) as both a legal and regulatory (TATT) obligation. Failing to comply could lead to legal actions against Columbus Communications Trinidad Limited. This arrangement is not unique to Trinidad, all video service providers worldwide will be required to take similar action based on the Network which has purchased the rights in that country. 

Irate Jamaicans posted on Flow Jamaica's Facebook page about having to pay to watch their team parading in the opening ceremony and competing in the games. Diego Armando Thomas had this to say

So because i don't have the #SportsMax package on #Flow I am not allowed to watch the #Olympics? This is BULL. You block the channels am paying for? Really!!!

Another viewer, David Valentine, urged Jamaicans to take action by writing to the Jamaican Broadcast Commission:

This is a sheg up situation, taking advantage of the people who no have no options. The blasted Olympics should not be held ransom, by forcing people to pay for some purely subscriber based channel. Imagine if Showtime did have the exclusive rights to the Olympics? Something wrong with this blow wow picture man. Them really corrupted. PEOPLE WRITE TO THE BROADCAST COMMISION!!

Others expressed their disgust on Twitter:

One viewer who subscribed to the SportsMax service was dissatisfied with the coverage of the opening ceremony:

Competitor cable provider Lime has been offering viewers in some of the countries in which it operates, a free trial of SportsMax for the duration of the games:

The issue of broadcast rights for local television stations versus those of the cable company was discussed in this post:

Television programmes generate advertising revenue for broadcasters such as TV6 and CNC3. While customers pay cable providers for premium channels, it should be noted that  the programmes which occupy the schedules on these channels are governed by separate contracts.

While SportsMax is indigenous to the region, it is a pay-per-view service, and some netizens have complained about the failure of free-to-air broadcasters to obtain rights to the games. Yvon Tripper commented on an article in the Bermuda Royal Gazette:

IOC simply gives rights to the highest bidder. Nothing is stopping a Bermuda-based broadcaster from asking the IOC for Bermuda-only rights, and then just using the American and Canadian feeds. If no one in Bermuda pays for broadcast rights for the island's Olympic coverage rights, then there's no point in complaining when someone else does. The IOC would be happy to exclude Bermuda from the Caribbean region if it mean that they got more money — it's all about the Redbirds, baby.

While Trinidad and Tobago is not competing in the games, none of the terrestrial broadcasters have purchased rights to the games, forcing interested viewers to subscribe to SportsMax for live coverage. Annoyed cable subscribers vented their feelings on Twitter:

The Sochi Games run until February 23, 2014.

February 07 2014

Caribbean: Discrimination is Discrimination

Groundation Grenada has partnered with Trinidad-based artist Joshua Lu “to create a visual campaign to draw analogies between sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination and other forms of discrimination.” Check out the first few installations in the campaign, here.

February 06 2014

Trinidad & Tobago: Strategizing Social Media

ICT Pulse recommends 5 critical building blocks upon which organizations can develop an effective social media strategy.

February 05 2014

Caribbean Diaspora Blogger Makes Meatless Monday Meaningful

Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella usually blogs about all things glamourous – fashion, beauty, fitness – but occasionally, she will wax poetic about food, which, of course, has a glamour of its own. Her culinary interests lie Caribbean food, usually, and the challenges she faces finding the right West Indian ingredients while living in a North American metropolis. She manages, though, and today she shares her recipe for a Rainbow Pizza recipe that does something extraordinary, at least in Caribbean menu terms: It offers a tasty meal – without meat – which is perhaps the most loved staple of West Indian diets.

Her post begins by acknowledging the genesis of the Meatless Monday concept:

[It] dates back to conservation efforts during World War 1, but regained popularity in the last decade as a public health awareness initiative. The idea behind it is to improve public health by going meatless once a week, to reduce risks of cancer, heart disease and diabetes while reducing your carbon footprint and improving the environment.

She continues:

I love the idea, and have been wanting to eat less meat and more veggies for a while. My husband is totally not cool with it and wants to eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. It makes things challenging for me. It means that I have to try that much harder to create something delicious and healthy that we’ll both enjoy.

Afrobella succeeds, though – after checking out a few recipes on Pininterest, she gives the pizza dish her own special flair by “up[ping] the ante and add[ing] some roasted veggies”:

When I shared the photo on my Instagram and Facebook pages, the response was huge! Everyone’s asking me for the recipe. And it’s SO EASY. Like, stupid easy. Let me share it with you!

Rainbow Pizza, a la Afrobella.

Rainbow Pizza, a la Afrobella.

You can check out the recipe and follow the method here. Then, add the veggie ingredients in the sequence of rainbow colours:

Decorate in rainbow stripes! Like I said, I used the following, in order from right to left – mushrooms, broccoli, yellow bell pepper, red bell pepper, roasted tomatoes, and red onion. Some of my veggies were roasted veggie leftovers…so effortless and delicious every single time!

Then you taste the rainbow (sorry, I couldn’t help it)!

There was one challenge with the pizza, though:

Because it’s in veggie based stripes, depending on how you arrange your veggies, your slices probably won’t include all of them. The next time I make this pizza, I’m making it on a circular crust so I can get all my veggies on one slice.

It was yummy, easy, and if you have kids, they’ll probably love it.

Here's hoping that meat-lovers, or as they're called in the Caribbean “meat-mouths” will agree. Enjoy!

The image used in this post is by Afrobella, used with permission.

February 04 2014

Trinidad & Tobago: Put Bullying in its Place

Why not teach kids that bullies are real, that assholes exist, and the proper way to deal with them, i.e. IGNORE THEM. Rob them of their power. Or, and here’s an even better one: STAND UP FOR YOURSELF.

Rants of a Redman recommends taking the bully by the horns.

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

January 31 2014

Don't Stop the Party: Copyright Issues Threaten Trinidad Carnival Fete

The Carnival season is in full swing in Trinidad and Tobago – and for many, that signals constant partying or “feteing” – right up until the pre-lenten parade of bands is over and Ash Wednesday arrives.

One of the most anticipated fetes for the season is Soaka Till Sunrise which has been scheduled for this coming Sunday, February 2. Since January 14, the organizers of the fete, Wow Events, have been saying that the party was already sold out. Soaka was catapulted into popularity last year, when soca artiste Machel Montano filmed the video for his hit song “The Fog” at the party.

This has seemingly led to the increased demand for tickets to this year's event.

Fete-goers took to social media early, commenting jokingly on the demand for tickets:

Amidst the ticket frenzy, news broke yesterday that the Copyright Music Organization of Trinidad and Tobago (“COTT”) was threatening to shut down the fete, due to a dispute over a copyright license:

An excerpt of the pre-action protocol letter sent by COTT's attorneys was leaked to the media and posted on Twitter.

 This news sent potential party-goers into a panic, with many of them going online to vent:

One of the fete's organizers, Adrian Scoon, quickly responded to the news on his Facebook page:

Arite. So there are two copyright organizations in this country. COTT and TTCO. For many years COTT has had a monopoly on the market and has taken advantage of the promoter. Any promoter will tell you that when you go to COTT they charge you copyright fees based on ticket sales which is ludicrous and unlawful. 

This year we decided to go with TTCO and we have secured a copyright license for our event. We were actually recommended to them by other credible promoters. 

On hearing this COTT contacted us and threatened to shut down our event as they realized that yet another promoter has defected to their competitors. 

1. COTT is a private company and has no affiliation with the government. Therefore they cannot shut down any event. 

2. TTCO is an authorized copyright organization under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. 

3. We have a copyright license 

4. We are going to sue COTT for wasting our time with this shit. 

5. I'm at the venue right now and SOAKA is gonna be off the chain.

The central issue in this matter is the recognition of competing copyright collection agencies in Trinidad and Tobago. The Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organization (TTCO) maintains on its Facebook page that it is a legitimate entity, and enjoys the same rights as COTT to offer licenses:

A Brief background on Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organization (TTCO):

  1. TTCO is a Non Profit Organization 
  2. TTCO is a Copyright Licensing Body Protects the unique area of copyright Works of Mas, Live Performances under Neighboring rights and Author Composer
  3. TTCO protects the rights of artistes and mas bands by licensing and paying royalties for their copyrighted works.

The debate generated discussion on the popular Trinidad Carnival Diary Facebook page. One commenter, Jenny Lin, noted:

COTT takes advantage of many small businesses as well for having a simple cd playing on computer speakers. They claim it goes back to the artistes. Yeah right. They charge us like 3xx a year

Whether COTT initiates an action in the Supreme Court of Trinidad & Tobago remains to be seen. The penalty for offences relating to unlawful public performances of any copyrighted work or sound recording is TT$250,000.00 (about $40,000 US) or 10 years imprisonment. Aggrieved parties may also be entitled to civil remedies, separate and apart form the penalties for the offense of infringement. 

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