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Freedom or wha?

by Shawn Cumberbatch and Donna Sealy

The only individuals whose emancipation would have caused visible disappointment on the night were the several ticket holders who were free to return home after being confronted with a full Queen’s Park Steel Shed.

For the next few hours those fortunate to get a seat to experience the National Cultural Foundation’s Crop-Over Folk Heritage Concert entitled Emancipation Or Wha?, and appropriately held on Emancipation Day, were expertly entertained by a mainly familiar cast of singers, dancers, and actors.

This production was no banal hodgepodge of folk songs and dance routines, but a themed presentation on either side of intermission, which traced the journey of the Africans who came here against their will and transformed this little rock into a place to be envied.

From the thought-provoking opening scene, portraying the arrival of the slave ship and including the sounds of the ocean, screams, shouts and whippings, to the vibrant and celebratory curtain closer when freedom was attained, it was a story well told.

The cast included Dancin’ Africa, Pit Chorale, Michael Director Forde, Pinelands Creative Workshop, Simon Alleyne, Sing Out Barbados, Israel Lovell Foundation, Danse Nationale Afrique, John Koeiman, Lianne Hinds, Myrna Squires and Angela Weithers.

It all began with the arrival, where the individuals portraying the enslaved moved through the Steel Shed’s aisles on to the stage, accompanied by the music of the Pit Chorale and folk band.

This was followed by the Africans brought here against their will being displayed in the “market place” for purchase, and subsequently in the plantation yard pondering their hitherto unexpected fate. It was also made clear that even after the enslaved were emancipated the struggle continued, as evidenced by the 1937 civil disturbances.

All of this was exhibited in song, dance, and music before the appreciative audience, which also enjoyed the session before intermission in which the Pit Chorale entertained by playing a variety of songs, some from this year’s Crop-Over Festival.

So entertaining was the second half of the concert that it seemingly lasted mere minutes, focussing largely on the long way we the descendants of slaves have travelled since the post Emancipation days, but still to such modern challenges as crop theft, child abuse, and littering.

One of the highlights of this second half of the show was a dramatic piece called By the Sweat Of Yuh Brow performed by Squires and Weithers, in which a “recycled teenager”, boasting of her “emancipation” from washing clothes by hand, traveling by bus, and forking the ground, was confronted with someone stealing her crops. This was complemented in song by Koeiman’s rendition of Praedial Larceny.

The dancing of the various groups, voices of Sing Out Barbados’ adult and youth arms, and Lianne Hinds lament about child abuse also impressed, as did the finale featuring the full cast, which received deserved applause from its audience.

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