Friday, September 22, 2006

Out in public

Can A Really Innovative Festival Ever S______ Trinbagonian Artforms? (can't think of an 'S' word to go there).

Driving around the Savannah yesterday with a friend, we saw the CARIFESTA banners hanging on the poles, announcing the festival. "What festival?" Apart from traffic, there was no sign that anything of a major creative nature was going on in the city ... apart from some men setting up booths in Queen's Hall and at the Stadium. When we stopped at a traffic light opposite the US Embassy, my friend, who has a dance company in NY and is no doubt accustomed to a different kind of public creative landscape, commented: "There should be people standing at the roadside doing poetry, artists, booths, street theatre ..." etc etc etc etc etc. "This is supposed to be CARIFESTA, the biggest Caribbean festival!" We started talking about the different kinds of things that could be going on around the Savannah at least to bring 'CARIFESTA' alive and to bring it, in whatever small ways, to a public who may not necessarily take the time to go and see it wherever it is happening.

At one point we stopped off in HiLo, St. Anns and there was a man playing a clarinet, with a guitar strapped to his back. Elsewhere, his performance would be seen as busking, but here it's probably considered to be a creative form of begging. We agreed that his performance was what 'CARIFESTA' should be ... or at least a semblance of what it could feel like. He was free, open, out on the street performing, bringing the HiLo carpark alive for the people who were there, whether they took him on or not. Imagine the nooks and crannies of the nation filled with artists and musicians doing all kinds of interesting things ... (not just the traditional pan).

People stuck in traffic are a great captive audience. Imagine musicians, poets and dancers along the route, on traffic islands, roundabouts, performing in shifts - and perhaps under umbrellas so they don't get barbecued in the hot sun. (That's where advertisers could get their piece of the pie - emblazoned on an artist's umbrella). Things like that ...

And why wait for CARIFESTA for that to happen anyway?

I remember when I used to have my "Busk at Dusk", to promote my INFINITE CD. I would advertise it in a simple 'underground' kind of way, but most people did not understand what 'busk' meant. On about three consecutive Saturday evenings (at dusk) I would take a blanket or Indian wrap and lay it on the grass around the Savannah, light some incense, put out my black fishing hat (for public contributions), display a CD on a little stand, pull out my guitar and start singing. I didn't attract eager throngs, but it was fun and interesting to say the least. Some people would just walk past, looking from the side of their eyes with curiosity but never stopping; some people would stop and spend a while, listening, sometimes commenting, sometimes giving donations. One or two would stop by and start talking ... and keep talking and philosophising. Some would ask me what spiritual organisation or yoga group I belonged to (I guess because of how I was sitting crosslegged on the blanket). Once, what appeared to be an entire family (parents, children, grandparents) stayed and listened to quite a few pieces and put a $20 bill in my fishing hat before leaving. That $20 felt like a million.

But ... let's say 'outdoor performance' things like that were happening for CARIFESTA. Would people take the time to stop and experience them? Or would there be deterrents keeping them from being out in public experiencing the artforms? The unbearable heat, the traffic, the noise and dust from nearby construction sites, the fear of stray bullets, the thought that someone could run out of nowehere and steal your bag?

We should let the creative things, not the destructive ones, take over our streets.

*
Elspeth

5 Comments:

Anonymous Guanaguanare: the laughing gull said...

Some S words (some phrasal verbs included):

Showcase
Stimulate
Support
Sell
Strut
Serve
Solidify
Salute
Show off
Sign on
Spur on
Stick up for

E, Returning after long absence due to travel. Hope all is well with you, Blessings, Guanaguanare

8:34 AM  
Blogger Elspeth said...

Great S words. And great to have you back!

8:39 AM  
Blogger Webgrl said...

yay! the gull is back! We missed you and yes! great words!
E i think its so awesome about ur savannah performances for your infinite cd
man i wish more people did that! I live for street performances when i'm trvelling.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Elspeth said...

Webgrl, just wrote a long response to your comment and when I went to post it there was an error and it disappeared. Oh well. Basically I was saying that there is busking going on here, even if it is seen as 'begging' more than 'busking'. Why do we love seeing it when we go away and not love seeing it here? Granted, I've encountered some very haunting sounds from buskers in tunnels, underground stations, etc. abroad. You can be going in one direction and hear it in the distance and change your tracks just to follow the sound. I have not been drawn by that haunting feel here, had not had that "Pied Piper" experience other than an old man in Arima who plays the violin on the sidewalk. I have more to say on this, but perhaps tomorrow in a post.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Guanaguanare: the laughing gull said...

Thanks for the welcome, Elspeth and Webgrl. Yes, I am familiar with that gentleman from Arima who plays the violin. He sometimes used to come into POS and would play in front of Royal Bank on Park Street opposite TSTT.

For me, there is something of a blessing about an artist enriching the cityscape with his/her talents. Pied Piper effect is so true, I found myself recently like a moth to a lamp, following a troupe of drummers down a street in a cool northern city, keeping the dingolay under wraps and wishing with all my heart that a good Trinidadian tassa side could have been there to complement and delight.

Apart from the fear of criminals, isn't it also true that Trinidadian artists are shy about performing outside of exhibition galleries, theatres, concert halls? Elspeth, I don't think that your public appearances are the norm in Trinidad. Apart from my interest in the uniqueness of the content and delivery of your street demonstrations, I am also always impressed by the courage/love that it takes to put yourself out there like that.

Judging by what street performers have done for me, I can only assume that others also walk on with a smile, if not on the face, then in the heart. At least for a while, you feel much, much better about other human beings and the space which you share with them.

1:37 PM  

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