The djouba is a joyful dance of West Africa, said to have been brought by slaves and diffused throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. It also refers to certain musical rhythms executed on the tambour-djouba drum. It is strongly present in the culture of Martinique.
Caribbean dance—much, but not all of it—derived from the continents of Africa and India from which the ancestors of the majority of our population was forcibly or dishonestly taken, has always fascinated me. It is right up there with pan in my cultural interests.
It is useful to relate some recent experiences in the dance milieu to emphasise the case for putting arts and entertainment as the centrepiece of tourism policy. I do so because the significant potential for diversifying our economy through cultural tourism has again been starkly overlooked.
I refer to the Prime Minster’s two-part political broadcast last week. None of the projects, touted as choices to repair our damaged economy, has an arts and entertainment or cultural component.
Reference to tourism was the same limited reference to resort tourism of the sun, sand and sea variety, focused on Tobago. This limited frame of reference shuts out our unique cultural history, which has continuously produced brilliant exponents of equally unique cultural products—notwithstanding the lack of an enabling policy environment and the surrender of Carnival to dubious special interest groups.
This government, like all others before, does not intend to invest in arts and entertainment or innovate by means of a defined cultural investment policy. Simply giving away money to special interest groups is not investment. The giveaways undermined self reliance, propped up mediocrity and spawned scams.
We certainly can’t handle beaches. Hapless officials destroyed the environment of Maracas Bay and now have no idea how to restore it. Trinidad’s best known beach was put to play discordant musical chairs between the tourism authority and UDECOTT.
The miscellany of tourism authorities has an uninspiring record. These tourism authorities have had more name changes than bandits take aliases. UDECOTT was formed as an urban development company and its full name says so. Are these once notorious concrete pourers the right fit for Maracas Bay?
But I digress. We have some excellent dance companies. Through the late great Beryl Mc Burnie, Trinidad and Tobago had links with the world acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre located in Brooklyn, New York City, which trains dancers—who make careers at Ailey and worldwide—as performers, choreographers, directors and educators.
Sadly, I have had to look elsewhere, away from the Little Carib Theatre and Folkhouse, to serve dance because the vision of the directorate of the Little Carib was too narrow for my taste.
The nucleus of the Andre Largen-directed group, which has been driven away from rehearsing at the Little Carib, has moved on seamlessly under the continued direction of Largen—an Alvin Ailey alumnus and former performer. The leadership of the Group has secured scholarship funding for two nationals at Ailey.
As noticed in the media, the group now performs as Carib Dance and made successful visits to Martinique and Greece in 2018 where they performed and took part in workshops.
The event in Martinique was the annual Bélé festival entitled Bélé djouba. Greece was the venue for the 51st World Congress on Dance Research. The organisers of both events have renewed invitations to Carib Dance to return.
Let me put Trinidad and Tobago’s exposure through Carib Dance in Greece in perspective. The Congress is associated with the International Dance Council, an umbrella organisation for all forms of dance in 170 countries.
The Council is located in Paris within the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and is an official partner of UNESCO.
The short point is our artistes roam the world, Greece, Carnegie Hall, New York (St Margaret’s Boys), Japan (Pamberi Steel), Laventille Success Stars (Cuba)—all poorly aided. These accomplishments should be embraced into the economy, not ignored.
Thank you Israel Khan SC for your generosity to the pan movement in providing premises rent free to Pan Trinbago to see, unlikely as that may be, if it can find resurrection.