National Arts Festival Launch

National Arts Festival launchI tuned in to RCI on Wednesday afternoon for for some reason that now escapes me. You see lately my love relationship I once had with radio or “the radio” is no more. Listening to any one of our local radio stations these days is more like a chore or something I do if someone calls or messages me to say “you eh listening to what mate saying,” or “hear what dey playing on radio.”

These days more often than not, radio talk and music is like bad food to my stomach and at my age I really cannot have too much of that, even with VAT. So why did I press the power button on the radio at the STAR’s editorial room on Wednesday shortly after 2pm? As I said before, I cannot recall for certain, but what I do know is that it was not to listen to “Lette la.” But what I heard a few minutes into my tuning in could have been good enough to write a letter of my own. That is, once I got over those stomach pains that doses of local radio have been instigating in me lately.

Truth be told, the first few sound bites that afternoon brought feelings of pleasure as I listened to Emrand Henry’s “Blue, white, black & yellow.” A good song and one which is a few years old. But once a year radio announcers here need to be reminded to at least give such songs a spin leading up to the island’s Independence, February 22. But no prompting is needed I dare say, by local radio stations when it comes to playing the Shoc Wave’s “Dominica Independence Fever,” Eric Donaldson’s ‘Land of my birth (Jamaica)” or even Jay Z’s “New York, New York.”

Anyway, after a short spin on that song the announcer welcomed his guest from Digicel as they introduced a sponsored program where callers were asked to call-in to say what Independence meant to them. The song chosen by the announcer to go along with that program was Lady Saw’s “Let me f*** you with my heels on.” No readers I am not making this up. It actually happened. I immediately called on a few people to explain to me what was happening to the national and social consciousness of our people, our psyche even, as this scenario I felt was a microcosm of a bigger malaise. And after all the questions I had heard asked by Darryl Montrope (the Cabinet secretary and also chair of the Independence committee) about our lack of nationalism and sensitization towards our independence, more questions were staring me in the face.

I might add, that the lack of creativity when it came to decorating public places even with a theme like “unlocking our creativity, transforming our world,” for independence was mediocre at best and really did not help the cause. And so, I was left with more questions than answers on Wednesday afternoon and not even venting on Facebook helped. A few hours later on into the evening on that same day I made my way to the National Cultural Centre for the launch of the National Arts Festival. And contrary to the myopic thinking of some, I am a true supporter of the arts and the creativity and talent of our people. And my criticisms and observations seldom if ever, come without offering solutions and recommendations for making things better. Ah but to express your informed opinion and professional criticism on anything of national importance paints you red or yellow. What the heck, I’ll risk that happening one more time even at the expense of the Minister of Creative Industries using me as the yardstick by which he will silence all critics.

As I was saying, I attended the event which will run from February 20- April 14. Present at the opening ceremony of the National Arts Festival were a number of Government officials and dignitaries in the president of the senate Claudius Francis, Speaker of the house Peter Foster, Minister of Tourism and Creative Industries Lorne Theophilus, Alvina Reynolds Minister of Health, the Mayor of Gros Islet Felix Finistere, the Taiwanese ambassador James Chang and the Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy. In attendance also were other supporters, lovers and contributors to the arts like Hon Derek Walcott, Robert Lee, Christine Samuels and Charles Cadet among many other specially invited guests.

Following the arrival of the Governor General the audience remained standing for a rendition of the national anthem ahead of the start of the night’s proceedings. The performer was a violinist who offered an instrumental version of the first stanza of the anthem much like is customary these days at many national events and as was the case at the launch of the St. Lucia Jazz and Arts festival a few weeks ago. But this seems to be the norm here and begs the questions; are we too lazy to stand for the singing of the three stanzas of the national anthem or is it that we do not stand for what the words and meaning of the lyrics of the anthem? I am willing to stick my neck out to say that anywhere else in the world this is done, if at all, would be a country morally, socially, creatively and culturally in a comatose state. But maybe Gospel Rap artiste AJ has what it takes for some spiritual wisdom, as he was up next showering some blessings on the event. But it would take more than that to lift my spirits, even though host (radio personality and singer) Shayne Ross did a pretty good job keeping the program together and Kendal Hippolyte came across strong with a poem.

Alas the first forty five minutes of the program was a real downer for me and bore no semblance of the National Arts Festival, “Artreach” which was declared earlier by CDF Chairman Petrus Compton. The first performance was by the Ave Maria Primary School Choir doing Machel Montano’s “Too young to Soca.” Oh really”, I thought as Steve Etienne of ECCO moved across to whisper in my ear. “Don’t say it,” I said, before he could get a word in. I knew we are on the same page on this.

At which point he smiled and reclined in his seat. But maybe we were the only ones, who felt cheated by the program advertising the launch of a “National” Arts Festival because the likes of Darrel Montrope seemed pleased as he broke into singing Machel’s “Mr. Fete” along with the choir when they incorporated that one in their set. My heart wrenched. “Oh so that’s how we teach our youth to begin to appreciate what is ours and instill national pride and so on,” I thought. Great! And it got worse.

Next up was a group of talented young dancers, Studio 51. Their dance performance was to RDX’s (Jamaica) “Go hard or go home.” I should have gone home at that point. But I stayed, only to be entertained by the Miracle dancers who came on with Annie Lennox’s “Why.” To make matters worse the British singer’s pale face was emblazoned on a screen in the background as they performed. At that point, if someone had come on to wish Rihanna happy birthday in song I would not have been surprised. In between these performances we were introduced to a number of crafters via video presentations as well as supporters of the National Arts Festival throughout the island. And then a group from the south Art and Soul restored some faith in the raison d’etre for the night when they performed some up-beat folk pieces, followed by Ishyne with a brilliant spoken word delivery on a vicious cycle of teenage pregnancy.

Then there was Michael Robinson doing his original number “My love,” all great Saint Lucian stuff. But I swear the Christian in me would not allow me not to be dismissive of the Bethel Church mime group who performed to a Kirk Franklyn piece. A Creole comedy piece by Charlie of Mamai Lacaye was good for some genuine laughs, making me feel a tad bit better in the stomach.

Then the presentation of Ted Sandiford’s animation “Pass mi dollar” and his short film “The 5 dollar movie,” secured some band aids over my earlier inflicted wounds, with Shayne Ross sounding off with a song from Davina Lee’s film “Coming of org.” It was all good now a bit of national pride restored, but for how long. But I was also left feeling that A National Arts Festival launch should showcase your best alongside upcoming talent. It would have been good to see national event winners like TJ and Pringles make an appearance at such an event as well as a few of our musical stalwarts putting down some notes alongside the likes of AJ, Shayne Ross and Michael Robinson. But what do I know? A high paying consultant to CDF, the Creative Industries, GIS or RSL I’m simply not.

So maybe the night was really about sixty degrees of separation much like the after-cocktail which quickly separated the VVIP’s from the other invited guests or plebs maybe? I guess I could still dream on the words of the anthem which says “may the good Lord bless our island, guard her sons from woe and harm/may our people live united/strong in soul and strong in arm/justice truth and charity/our ideal forever be! And how was your independence celebration dear reader?

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