Sometime in the late 1930’s, the government in another of its persistent and futile attempts to suppress African cultural survivals, decided that the colony would more easily be governable if drums and other traditional musical instruments were outlawed. The colonials must have sensed, and correctly, the importance of music in the cultural independence and political resistance of the African masses. I would, of course, encounter this phenomenon again in the American South. But at least the George Wallaces and Ross Barnetts of that world never tried to outlaw our spirituals and freedom songs. Though I’m sure they must  have often wished they could have.

So in Trinidad by legislative fiat an African could be jailed for possession of drums and other musical instruments? Not a gun, not a grenade, or some dynamite, but a drum? I have often tried, and failed, to visualize the campaign to enforce that law. In implementation of this policy, did armed police and soldiers–the governor’s minions–surround African communities and conduct house-to-house searches? And for what, those threats to public order, drums, tambourines, maracas, and marimbas? Did they kick  down the doors to shacks with guns drawn: “Freeze. You’re under arrest. Seize that drum!”

So, suddenly deprived of their traditional instruments of musical expression, Africans resorted to their creativity and whatever materials lay to hand. In this case, the fifty-five-gallon steel drums used to store oil at the refinery.

These they took and cut to varying depths. Say nine inches down for an alto pan, two feet deep for a tenor pan, and twice that for a bass. Then on the top they would heat and pound out a number of raised areas, each of which when struck would produce a precise musical note of a certain pitch. Over the years the brothers experimented with ways to refine the basic instruments and to create others. The result is what is today known the world over as the Trinidad steel band: an ensemble of musical instruments of great range and flexibility, capable of playing not only calypso and other forms of local popular music, but the most complex and demanding of jazz compositions or any form from the European classical tradition you care to name. A sound immediately recognizable in the distinctive, liquid purity of tones and the fluency of its musical lines.

Hey, as you may have noticed, I can’t pretend to be an ethnomusicologist. I’m a revolutionary. But that description should give you a fairly accurate sense of the accomplishment represented by the creation of the steel bands.  And remember, this unique innovation and the musical tradition it evolved into came directly out of the determined and indomitable will of Trinidad’s African’s to resist colonization and to maintain their culture.

Excerpted from Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggle of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)

I’ve been flirting with this book on and off throughout the year. However, as the year nears its completion, I find the very first poem of the Nobel prize-winning book by Derek Walcott haunting me. Take a look.

Book 1: Chapter 1 – Section 1 (Excerpt)

"This is how, one sunrise, we cut down them canoes."
Philoctete smiles for the tourists, who try taking
his soul with their cameras. "Once wind bring the news

to the laurier-cannelles, their leaves start shaking
the minute the axe of sunlight hit the cedars,
they could see the axes in our own eyes.

Wind lift the ferns. They sound like the sea that feed us
fisherman all our life, and the ferns nodded ‘Yes,
the trees have to die.’ So, fists jam into our jacket,

cause the heights was cold and our breath making feathers
like the mist, we pass the rum. When it came back, it
give us the spirit to turn into murderers.

I lift up the axe and pray for strength in my hands
to wound the first cedar. Dew was filling my eyes,
but I fire one more white rum. The we advance."

For some extra silver, under a sea-almond,
he shows them a scar made by a rusted anchor,
rolling one trouser-leg up with the rising moan

of a conch. It has puckered like the corolla
of a sea-urchin. He does not explain its cure.
“It have some things" – he smiles – "worth more than a dollar."

He has left it to a garrulous waterfall
to pour out his secret down La Sorcière, since
the tall laurels fell, for the ground-dove’s mating call

to pass on its note to the blue, tacit mountains
whose talkative brooks, carrying it to the sea,
turn into idle pools where the clear minnows shoot

and an egret stalks the reeds with one rusted cry
as it stabs and stabs the mud with one lifting foot.
Then silence is sawn in half by a dragonfly

as eels sign their names along the clear bottom-sand,
when the sunrise brightens the river’s memory
and waves of huge ferns are nodding to the sea’s sound.

Although smoke forgets the earth from which it ascends
and nettles guard the holes where the laurels were killed,
an iguana hears the axes, clouding each lens

over its lost name, when the hunched island was called
"Iounalao," "Where the iguana is found."
But, taking its own time, the iguana will scale

the rigging of vines in a year, its dewlap fanned,
its elbows akimbo, its deliberate tail
moving with the island. The split pods of its eyes

ripened in a pause that lasted for centuries,
that rose with the Aruacs’ smoke till a new race
unknown to the lizard stood measuring the trees.

These were their pillars that fell, leaving a blue space
for a single God where the old gods stood before.
The first god was a gommier. The generator

began with a whine, and a shark, with sidewise jaw,
sent the chips flying like mackerel over water
into trembling weeds. Now they cut off the saw,

still hot and shaking, to examine the wound it
had made. They scraped off its gangrenous moss, then ripped
the wound clear of the net of vines that still bound it

to this earth, and nodded. The generator whipped
back to its work, and the chips flew much faster as
the shark’s teeth gnawed evenly. They covered their eyes

from the splintering nest. Now, over the pastures
of bananas, the island lifted its horns. Sunrise
trickled down its valleys, blood splashed on the cedars,

and the grove flooded with the light of sacrifice.
A gommier was cracking. Its leaves an enormous
tarpaulin with the ridgepole gone. The creaking sound

made the fishermen leap back as the angling mast
leant slowly towards the troughs of ferns; then the ground
shuddered under the feet in waves, then the waves passed.

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Voices from Haiti: Storm (English Version) by Kwame Dawes

English version of the visual poem Storm with poetry by Kwame Dawes, images by Andre Lambertson.

For Malia Jean

From here the mountains around
Port-au-Prince are green; too
far to see the denuded hillside,
too far to see the brown wounds,
too far to see the layered
city of sand bags, wooden
reinforcements, heavy plastic
tents, the gravel, the dust,
the narrow lanes, the gutters,
the stolen power lines,
the makeshift clubs, the cinema,
the internet café, the phalanx
of shower booths, the admonitions
to keep the place clean, as if
someone hopes to restore
this stripped down hillside
to its glory as a golf course
for expatriates, the moneyed,
the diplomats, too far
to see the constant cloud
from wood fires and coal
factories tucked into
this city of improvisation; too far
though from here you can smell
the rain gathering at dusk.
Tonight the deluge will heal
all sores, clear the air of dust
from the crushed stones;
tonight the alabaster ruins
will gleam through the tender
mist of rain; and this body
that has grown weary with living,
will hope for a flame of prophesy;
for even the smallest ember
must keep the heat from slipping
away. This is my world,
these days; this and the ritual
of pills, the cycle of nausea,
the relief at three in the afternoon,
that hour when I feel as normal
as I was before all of this.
The blackness at the edge
of my eyes returns by five o’clock;
and here is where my prayers
are stripped of all ostentation,
here faith is tasteless
as unleavened bread; here
hope is a whisper from a dried
mouth, and I know what
the presence of God is. The cool
silence of a cemetery at twilight
is my comfort; the resignation,
the calm presence of mountains,
like these dumb tombstones.
I long to make deals with God.
The transaction the weary
and heavy laden make: Take
this body, it is used up now,
let it rest, dear God, let it
rest. Take this body, it is
yours now, let it rest, Lord,
let it rest. The storm covers
the earth. I stand in the rain.
It comes like the sound of grace,
soaking me to the bone—first
the taste of salt, then the clean
flow of healing slipping in my mouth.

Reading may differ slightly from text

This video is part of a multi-media series "Voices from Haiti" (http://bit.ly/rdk0fp) exploring life after the quake, focusing on the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Reggae for me is very much associated with the ’70’s, with a time of a lot of self-questioning, nationally, individually. And not just self-questioning, because also I think it was very much a time when people were open to ideas about what I will just loosely call the spiritual world, you know, the inner world. And there was a sense that both things were important – that is, making things right in the world of the here and now, the social world, kind of building a New Jerusalem impulse; and also the other important thing was attending to what was going on inside of you and becoming right, becoming what the rastaman referred to as the higher man, or the Iya-man. So yes, I think reggae was important in terms of keeping the significance of those two strands of living very alive and real and accepted and normal for a lot of us.

Excerpted from Talk Yuh Talk: Interviews with Anglophone Caribbean Poets, editor: Kwame Dawes

Haiti earthquake: US stops deporting Haitians / The Christian Science Monitor – CSMonitor.com

It appears as if some Haitians, at least, will get a degree of relief. It’s just sad that it takes a natural disaster of devastating proportions for such humanity to manifest itself.