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Daly Bread: We dance to survive; Rosa Guy’s score and our Police Service’s fail

At the end of this column I will adopt the words of a recent editorial in the Trinidad Express newspaper on violent crime even as the murderers, whom we have undoubtedly empowered, laugh in our faces.

Meanwhile, I have been dwelling on the richness of our culture and its potential for economic diversification and social peace because of the urgency of investing in these riches.

In New York City last week, I again experienced the rapture with which Caribbean dance music and rhythms are received in metropolitan centres when intelligently packaged and produced.

Photo: A scene from the Rosa Guy play, Once On This Island.

Once on This Island is a Broadway musical adapted from a book by—surprise, surprise—a Trinidad-born author, Rosa Guy. The musical, reportedly first performed in 1990, recently won the top award for excellence in Broadway theatre for 2018 in the category Best Revival of a Musical.

It is the story of a black girl, Ti Moune, who saves the life of the son of a white landowner after a car accident on an island in the French Antilles—think Haiti—and her star-crossed love for him.

Ti Moune’s heart is torn by someone who would not be permitted to marry her, even if he wished to do so, because of race and class divisions.  One of the older persons in Ti Moune’s community, acknowledging the limitations which the socio- economic structure of the island places on their lives, says: “We dance to survive.”

This line reminded me of a column I had written years ago, linking Caribbean music and dance to conditions of disadvantage. That column provoked a regional Prime Minister to phone me.  He said he was a regular reader of my column and a lively discussion ensued.

Throughout the performance of Once on This Island, the audience reacted with much gusto, at no time more so than in response to an item of dance which contrasted the upper-class ballroom dancing with the rhythmic beat and expressions of dance from the roots of the island.

Photo: A scene from the Rosa Guy play, Once On This Island.

At the curtain call of Once on This Island, there were also rousing cheers for the small live ensemble that produced the rhythms of the Caribbean that captivated them. I could only imagine how they would react to the traditional pieces in Carib Dance’s repertoire. The similarities in costuming used on the Broadway stage and traditional Caribbean dress were striking.

To my satisfaction when I trawled through the reviews of the show, after I had seen it, I found a description in New York Theatre Guide, which tied together the factors of socio-economic disadvantage, over the barriers of which music and dance are created and prevail—the culture of making music, kaiso and dancing to survive.

Through the eyes of the metropolitan reviewer: “The antidote to tragedy is to dance, to make music, to tell stories, to live in brilliant colour, which these islanders do with abandon. Performing complex choreography, as if the dance were the inspiration of the moment, with authentic gesture and of dazzling originality the cast infuses every moment with spirit, emotion and music.”

Of course, in our theatre of the streets, panyards, the Big Black Box and other places of entertainment, ordinary people are the cast performing with the self-same “dazzling originality.”

By contrast, originality is what we gravely lack in political thought and action. One disastrous result is the steadfast refusal to refashion the constitutional arrangements relating to law enforcement at which the failed Service Commission constitutional infrastructure sits.

Photo: Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams (left) shakes hands with US Embassy Security Policy and Assistance Coordinator, Juanita Aguirre, at the handing over ceremony of 18 forensic photography kits to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service by the US in 2015.
(Courtesy US Embassy)

The current Government says glibly it is not the police as though that frees them from any responsibility to propose fixes to a system that is failing us to death; our deaths.

In the words of the editorial echoing assertions in this column long ago made: “Thanks to political deal-making and police corruption, the petty criminals who started off extorting money from the State’s various make-work programmes have grown into fearsome gang leaders, well-connected to the power system and with legions of gun-toting foot soldiers under their command.”

It continued that the current Government “does not even appear to be trying, unless it is confusing bluster with strategy.”

This is a fatal form of “we like it so.”

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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