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Profiles of Caribbean Artistry
The talkers are here. They are indeed Word Masters.

"You see, this communication thing is a very important element of life in the Caribbean Islands, because of they way we speak; what we say, is not necessarily what we are saying" says Paul Keens Douglas.

Some say it is easier to laugh than to cry. In the Islands of the Caribbean that seems to be true, with its beauty, relaxed atmosphere, happy people with stories to tell every day, people become not only storytellers but also comics. You take a word, caress it, play with it, deform it, reform it and come up with a language, new and all your own. It's all a part of the oral tradition.

We play with words on a daily basis. When we get together as a group, to hang out or 'lime' as we say in Trinidad, there is constant word play going on. Immediately anything happens in the society we have the word play aspect of it coming out.

This is what you will find as you listen to our Word Masters at the 12th Annual Caribbean Comedy Festival in Washington, DC at Cramton Auditorium in Howard University. It's an experience to remember, for we in the Caribbean are particularly attuned to words and their meanings. Double entendre is ever present and many a time we deliberately use words in their wrong context for comic effect, somewhat in the fashion of a Norm Crosby of the United States.

The old folks say it takes only four muscles to smile and twelve muscles to frown so its better to laugh. Back in the Islands, we make fun of ourselves all the time and every village or town has a clown. Most perform on the street corners making fun of people of all walks of life, providing entertainment as the local character. Some however, become nationally and internationally known comedians.

One such person who became famous a long time ago, and is ex-member of Parliament from the village Caratal, in Trinidad, is Ramdeen Ramjattan who calls himself John Agitation. Listen to this word master in the vernacular.

"A fella doing lifetime in jail want to talk to me. As the people's representative, I have to go. You think politician does have it easy. Ask the Prime Minister.

I gone in the prison to see this man who doing lifetime. When he see meh he start to cry. Ah say 'Wo yuh cryin' foh. When you do yuh crime, you do it as man, now make yuh jail as man.'

He say 'Agi boy, you know what ah crying foh, my only chance of coming outta jail, fail.'

Ah say 'what was dat.'

He say, 'Boy I readin' de Bible in my cell, and I turn to Luke 11 verse 10 which reads 'For they that seeketh, findeth. He that asketh, receiveth and to those that knocketh, it shall be opened on to him' I write the prison authority and tell them, under Luke 11 Verse 10, All yuh bound to let me outta jail.

Ah say 'an wha happen.'

He say 'yuh know what hurting meh, boy? They write meh back and they quote for meh too. 'Trouble me not for the door is already shut.' Luke 7.

In a live presentation, this story evokes hearty laughter. Being locked up in prison is no joke, but in the Islands we can even find humor in hard times. It is our word mastery at play or work, if you please. We try to put our view of the world, our life style, in a way that it is uniquely ours. The casual observer, looking at us in the Caribbean setting may think that we laugh at everything, that we never take things seriously, its not quite true. We do take things very seriously, but the seriousness is disguised by what we call the comic or the humor aspect in our keen observation of the world. Word masters in performance demonstrate this all the time.

Our Word Masters play with words for two reasons: first, because of the share joy in dazzling their listeners with their witty creations; and second, it is in their clever word usage that they can hide all their naughtiness we have come to expect from their saucy accounts. Double entendre tend to flow naturally.

The concept of the Caribbean Comedy Festival grew out of the tradition of the "Talk Tent" which was started in Trinidad and Tobago by Paul Keens Douglas. In 1983 he initiated the first appearance of "Talkers" on stage.  Paul wanted to create an independent platform for the Talk artist. He noted that the story tellers and comedians were always put in between "what they called the important acts" They, promoters, would tell the Talkers to entertain the crowd, keep them from becoming restless, while other artistes were preparing for their presentations. Paul said no. "We have our own Bill Cosbys, Eddie Murphys and comedians and professionals and there should be a place for them to perform the art-form as headliners, too. Thus the Talk Tent was formed.

What Paul has done was to show that you could move the art from the street corners, from the bars, from the taxi cabs where it is commonly found. It could be presented in a formal and professional setting; and by exporting it, take it beyond the Caribbean.

Thirteen years ago, in celebration of the anniversary of the 'CARIBBEANNA' radio show, the first American Talk Tent was presented as our Caribbean Comedy Festival in Washington, DC It shows people who we are, what makes us who we are, and that's our proud package.

Island Comedy - Word Masters LIVE!Listen to the CD Island Comedy Word Masters Live and enjoy these West Indians - Saluche (Lucien Small) - St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Amina Blackwood-Meeks - Jamaica, Ken Corsbie - Guyana, Tommy Joseph, Rachel Price, Sprangalang (Dennis Hall), John Agitation (Ramdeen Ramjattan), Relator (Willard Harris) - Trinidad and Tobago - as they manipulate the word, covering a wide range of subjects about every day life and in their individual styles. These entertainers are among the best exponents of this oral tradition. Those who truly master this art know how to lure us into their web of enchantment and present a comic mirror of society. They indeed are truly Word Masters of Island Comedy.

 2001, Von Martin & Ronald H. Lammy

 

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Last update: 03/19/12

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