Profiles of Caribbean Artistry
The talkers are here. They are indeed Word
"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
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
"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
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
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.
Listen to the CD
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