If there are two things I hate to miss during our Crop Over festival, it’s the NCF’s Visual Arts and Photography Exhibition at the Central Bank and the Literary Arts Read-In.
Don’t get me wrong. The calypso music, colourful mas, requisite round of soca fêtes and concerts that take centre stage are fine but the other artistic elements ensure that Crop Over stands apart from other Caribbean carnivals.
Aside from the heritage tour, lectures and traditional delivery of the last canes ritual, this literary event offers something different from the usual street fair and wuk-up-and-wine. Based on the packed audience (standing room only if you arrived late) at Harrison’s Cave for the LIME Crop Over Read-In, people are definitely seeking just that.
The next thing that was noteworthy, was the St. Thomas countryside location. In the dark, patrons silently glided by tram down to the stage area past dramatically lit trees and buildings. There were plenty of people under the tent by start time just after 7 p.m.
Writer, actor and self-professed “devout cynic” Nala ($2 Philosopher) was masterful as the host. He deftly seasoned the space between acts with his acerbic wit and interviews with the performers.
#barewords was expressed in stand-up comedy, spoken-word, drama, rap, readings, dub poetry, song, and infused with a mix of movement, dance and music. The offerings were generally sweet, thought-provoking and even salty. Overall, there was no lack for layered lyrics and the evening had fairly strong performances.
Starting the ‘Bare Sport’ segment was rising stand-up comedian Damien ‘Snappah’ Gibson, an award-winning actor of Payday and Next Payday movie fame. The audience expressed approval for an encore and cracked up to his relatable stories about growing up “so poor he had to cut a bar of soap in half”. They seemed to connect to the sobering message about struggle beneath too.
The inclusion of a research analyst and blogger with movement by dancers was innovative. Corey Sandiford’s well-written commentary on poor customer service from his Bluntness For Breakfast blog certainly rang true but the choice of post was not necessarily ideal for performance.
The Bare Feelings segment opened with a sensual and frank exploration of Caribbean women’s sexuality in excerpts from the Senseisha: Memoirs of the Caribbean Woman anthology. A spotlight on editors Juliette Maughan and Shakirah Bourne was all that was needed for their reading of some of the true-life essays with subject matter not often discussed. It revealed mainly spicy and sometimes painful slices of women’s sexual lives, with many of the submissions anonymous.
This was followed by performer Corey Springer, who offered a tender love poem which he interspersed with verses of
well-crooned reggae love tunes. Popular AzMan trio of Levi Levitance King, Devon Dee Clinton and Dwayne GibbyzDan Gibbs energized the crowd with both light and serious messages with fresh similes. They used the emerging genre of “fling” – “a fusion of flowing and singing in Bajan dialect over unique blends of contemporary, traditional and abstract beats” — with even our indigenous spouge.
In the second half for Bare Drama, Shakirah Bourne put on her playwright hat, as the audience was treated to an entertaining, staged reading from her play Grey Matters, directed by Russell Watson. Cause and effect was played out when a young woman named Diamond sought help for her love life from a new obeah man and his Machiavellian female partner.
The final Bare Vibes segment of the three-hour show was the hugely popular Iron Sharpen Iron duo of Adrian Green and DJ Simmons. This time, their spoken-word act became a musical collaboration as they joined with vocalist Simon Pipe, creating Iron Pipe. They performed Wup ‘N Hera (Fyah Fyah), their 2015 Crop Over tune, with soca, spoken-word and choruses sung by the trio. The live version was peppered with sounds reminiscent of Spiritual Baptist chants, more evident when heard and seen live.
Other than an overwhelmed staff at the concession stand for refreshments at intermission, only one thing slightly marred this greatly anticipated annual event for me. In some instances, the performances could have been a bit shorter, making the production tighter.
Certainly Read-In’s evolution and growth over the years – noticeably endorsed by corporate Barbados – is commendable. Cultural Officer Literary Arts and Read-In producer, Ayesha Gibson-Gill, even reported a sold-out book fair at the event. Some savvy corporate entity could even sponsor a junior version, making a perfect segue into NIFCA a few months later. With the dearth of well-written material, calypsonians and producers should seriously consider working with literary artists for fresh material.
By endeavours like Read-In, embracing social media and technology as well as blending artistic disciplines, it’s evident that the writers and the producer, Cultural Officer, Literary Arts Ayesha Gibson-Gill, will keep the growth of our literary arts moving forward and relevant.
Sandra Sealy is a freelancer copywriter,communications consultant and literary artist with a
passion for the Arts. Email: email@example.com