A kind of déjà vu, a kind of renaissance, a new normal – Jab Molassie

jab world premiere. © Calabash Foundation for the Arts.
Tonight, 6 November 2014, was a kind of déjà vu for a person attending theatre since he was a child. I am old enough to remember when Derek Walcott had people eating bake and salt fish in this same Little Carib Theatre during the performance of The Joker of Seville, “…a West Indian theatrical experience, a local happening.” That was then, this is now. Maria Nunes and her team in the Calabash Foundation for the Arts commissioned the creation of a new “local happening,” the reinvention of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale to absorb the DNA of Trinidad speech, music and rhythm: Jab Molassie. We did not simply cross this path before just by re-imagining older European classical works for Trinidad sensibilities, we engaged today in a new kind of presence. A modern, dare I say, upscale smart local audience engaged with art and made sense of it. The New Orleans librettist and the Trinidad composer aren’t that far removed from shared native influences. Our histories are intermingled. Gumbo and Callaloo, Jazz and Calypso. This was inevitable.

jab pic 1
Roger Roberts as Jab and Nickolai Salcedo as Starboy in Jab Molassie. © 2014, David Wears. Photo by David Wears. All rights reserved by David Wears.

Renaissance is defined as “a revival of intellectual or artistic achievement and vigour.” Jab Molassie is a catalyst for this revival. We have for too long engaged with a kind of mediocrity that passes for entertainment here in these isles, deified it even, according to Gordon Rohlehr. Tonight, on a wet Thursday when local films are dominating our cinema screens—Pan! Our Music Odyssey and A Story About Wendy 2—and on a weekend when a Broadway musical, The Wiz, is just another theatre option, and UTT begins a series of concerts featuring traditional, old and new music from Trinidad, this world première sets a new standard, a new normal for the optimistic among us.

In the hands of the right people, we won’t be left wanting or disappointed by lost opportunities. Maria Nunes has shown above all else that high production value is something that is not rationed. Chinksing on quality can’t be the status quo. She got the job done of producing world class entertainment right here in Trinidad without the usual funding options. She is a star, and I will shout that from the mountain top. In this time, in this place, what she and her team have produced is an example of how it supposed to be done if ANYBODY—private or public funding agencies, theatre cognoscenti or the general public—is supposed to take you seriously. Nothing less than that. Simple!

Maria Nunes and the creative team behind Jab Molassie: Kathryn Chan, Dave Williams, Benny Gomes, Patricia Cumper, Dominique Le Gendre and Caitlyn Kamminga.© David Wears. Photo by David Wears. All rights reserved by David Wears.
Maria Nunes and the creative team behind Jab Molassie: Kathryn Chan, Dave Williams, Benny Gomes, Patricia Cumper, Dominique Le Gendre and Caitlyn Kamminga. © 2014, David Wears. Photo by David Wears. All rights reserved by David Wears.

I am thrilled by the juxtaposition of the operatic voice and the 3Canalist bacchanalist vocalization. The duality of the characters and the sound made for new possibilities where recognised models would say otherwise. I am thrilled by the clarinet and violin as tandem instruments for another take on “our” music. George “Lovey” Baillie’s and Lionel Belasco’s bands from up to a century ago used that instrumentation. We are not re-inventing the wheel. We are establishing a new normal. The steelpan would not be invented for another generation, so the transition into the national instrument from what is our “normal” instrumentation would be gradual but obvious.

I saw the movement from rehearsal to première performance. Excellence shouldn’t become a hackneyed noun, but subjective recognition can become objective. The Gyazette man good. The 3Canal man and dem good. The divas good. The dancer good. I good. I “normel.”

All bullshit aside, tonight, we as a nation, or readers of this note at least, must recognise the responsibility that we have to provide accolade to excellence, and at the same time objectively be critical of mediocrity or simple adequacy. A new nation not a century old should strive for a new normal. “What will come out of there is like nothing one has ever seen before,” Derek Walcott said of West Indian creativity so much better than I can ever in one night. A cast that should be proud. An orchestra that should be proud. A producer who should be proud and rewarded by validation and accolade from all. These are the things that define our new normal. Bravo!

© 2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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