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SEEN UP NORTH – Bajan works of art aired again

Tony Best

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Theirs are not household names and news of their works has not attracted the attention of literary critics of major publications.Yet, they are considered appealing enough to get the attention of scores of Bajans and other West Indians in New York, especially those who are interested in the value of the written or spoken word as articulated by aspiring writers whose common bond is the fact that their navel strings were buried in the Caribbean.That link was underscored by a simple fact: most of their work revolved around the country of their birth and its way of life.“It was a very enjoyable experience to see and hear these up-and-coming poets, short storytellers, authors and others with an interest in writing and public speaking present some of their work to a live audience,” said Marston Gibson, president of the Council of Barbadian Organisations in New York, an umbrella body of more than a dozen Bajan groups. The annual event was entitled Evening With The Griots, which was launched about six years ago by former Consul General, Jessica Odle, and continued by her successor Lennox Price.“It is an interesting exercise and people thoroughly enjoy themselves,” Price said afterwards. “It allows creative people to present their works and to express themselves before an appreciative audience. “This year’s [event] may have been the largest we have had so far. It was quite successful. It’s part of our mission to promote the arts of Barbados.”The event is held outdoors at the Consul General’s residence in Forest Hills, a bedroom community of tree-lined streets in Queens and it featured several aspiring writers, some of whom wouldn’t have had an opportunity to read some of their material. The storytellers were Yvonne Forde, a high school teacher in Brooklyn; Beverly Clarke, who has written three novels, the first of which was Am I My Brother’s Keeper? and the second, Black Pears; Walter Edey, author of Sweet Dumplings And Saltfish Stew. James Stuart, a former member of the Royal Barbados Police Band, who has been living in the City for several decades but who has a passion for writing short stories;. The poets were Arlene White, a registered nurse; Lennox Patmore, some of whose work was published in the book Collected Whispers.Wendy Small- Pereira, who enjoys writing poems and plays for young people; and Malcolm Best who like Stuart was a member of the Royal Barbados Police Band Band but whose I Can won an International Poets Association award.Then, there was Grenville Phillips, a structural engineer, who travelled to New York to launch his new book Solving The Arab – Israeli Conflict, which he described to the audience as a “practical Way forward” that if followed could bring peace to the Middle East, specifically end the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.“If there is a Third World War, it’s going to be in the Middle East,” he warned. “And it would begin because of the conflict over essential aspects of Islamic and Jewish religions. “I have spent considerable time reading the Bible and the Qur’an and it’s clear that the two sides are being kept apart because of seemingly irreconcilable differences that exist between the Bible and the Qur’an.”The new book is his second completed in about a year. The first, Brothers Kept Apart, was introduced last year at the Evening With The Griots. It too dealt with Christian and Islamic religious barriers that have divided Christians and Muslims for 1 300 years.The griots have written important chapters in the cultural life and history of Africa. They can be found in Nigeria, the Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Western Sahara and they underscore the oral tradition of African life, the process of passing on African heritage through song and poetry from one generation to another.They are the historians, musicians, composers, teachers, translators and witnesses to the events they spek or sing about.In a real sense, the Mighty Gabby, Red Plastic Bag, the Mighty Sparrow, David Rudder and a host of Caribbean entertainers are among the Caribbean’s griots. They do in music what the African griots contribute in the spoken word at weddings, concerts and even funerals on the continent.“It was an exciting evening and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Irving Burgie, composer of some of the world’s best known calypsos of yesteryear as sung by Harry Belafonte.“It is very important that we give creative persons and opportunity to present their work in the way that the evening gives them a venue, a stage on which to perform.”Burgie, who lives in New York City, wrote the words of the Barbados National Anthem.Of course, the level of enjoyment was heightened with availability of Bajan refreshments, fish cakes, sweetbread, pudding ’n’ souse and mauby.Among those present were Lance Ogiste, counsel to the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes; Helen Walker; Dr Eddie Alleyne, president of the Caribbean-American Medical and Scientific Association, and Cecilia Pilgrim.