The tribute started with a ceremonial dance by Yanique Hume, Olivia Hall and Carol Brathwaite who, in many moments of ritual supplication, bent and twisted their bodies in demonstrations of human bonelessness, and glided on to performing a libation gently pouring the brew over the balcony that holds a wide view to the sea.
Then came a loud intervening voice of Winston Farrell as he read, amidst the drumming and encircled by the dancers, Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s Negus: “It is not enough to be free of the red white and blue, of the drive of the dragon… it is not enough to be free of the whips, principalities and powers… It is not enough to be free of malaria fevers, fear of the Hurricane, fear of invasion, crops, droughts, fires, blisters upon the cane… It is not enough to be pause, to be whole, to be void, to be silent, to be semi-colon, to be semicolony.”
The occasion, yesterday, was one for honouring Kamau’s life and work appropriately held in the Walcott Warner Theatre of the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI), University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
There, a number of performing artistes gathered to pay tribute to this giant of a Barbadian and man of the entire Caribbean. Using some of the art forms he detailed, our lives expressed how much more we should do from the entire Caribbean, across the Middle Passage to Ghana and re-cross back to the region.
That is why Farrell’s reading of Negus was appropriate because in it, this icon who passed on February 4, told us that despite our indications of political independence and so-called development, we live with the vestiges of colonialism. Collectively we are a ‘semicolony’.
EBCCI manager Carol Springer Hunte told Barbados TODAY that there was no programme for the evening, “it will just flow”.
And flow it did, beginning with the smooth movements of the dancers to the balcony for libation, the silky interjection of Negus, then the dancers effortlessly moving up the stairs to greet the scores of persons entering the theatre.
Dancin’ Africa opened theatre performances, beginning offstage with music and entering the stage show accompanied by drumming by Salief and David. There were performances, interspersed with on-screen recordings of Kamau. Some of the performers are very familiar faces on Barbados’ arts scene and others not so well-known, but all appeared to please the grateful audience that cheered and whistled throughout the evening.
They all made up for a thrilling evening, though the master Kamau himself might have made some adjustments. For us lesser mortals, it was simply a perfect time and fitting tribute to an internationally celebrated poet, performer and cultural theorist who has given us so much to think about.
Born in 1930, Kamau was a holder of a PhD from the University of Sussex; he was co-founder of the Caribbean Arts Movement; served on the board of directors of UNESCO’s History of Mankind project; was cultural advisor to the Government of Barbados; worked in Ghana’s Ministry of Education; taught at UWI and many other institutions of higher learning across the world.
He also authored more than 60 books, including an autobiography, and publications on covering the gamut of the art form.
An evening of two-and-a-half hours of dance, poetry, play acting and music must be remembered as being among the proper tributes to be given to this giant of a man. (GA)