Trinidad and Tobago’s traditional art forms are centre stage at the five-day 2018 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, registering an intensified investment in local cultural arts.
Key partnerships with the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, and the Port of Spain City Corporation Downtown Carnival Committee, as well as the National Carnival Commission, have helped to foreground this cultural engagement.
Ole mas is one of the core components of the festival’s “Talk Yuh Talk” events that span several days of the festival [25-29 April], starting with Thursday 26th April’s extempo debate, “Island Life”. In that showdown extempo masters Black Sage and Myron B debate the pros and cons of life in a small island country, and the future we face.
“Talk Yuh Talk” culminates in the second annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest Ole Mas Competition, on Saturday 28 April. This year’s theme, “I-Land State of Mind”, draws on a major focus of the overall festival, “Island Futures” and channels the concerns of climate change, the world economy, migration, and small-island sustainability into their presentations.
Other “Talk Yuh Talk” events include April 26th’s “Robber Talk”, a celebration of the Midnight Robber; April 27th’s “Calypso and the World?”, a documentary screening and discussion; and April 27th’s “Pan, Present and Future”, a panel discussion on the state of our national instrument. “Talk Yuh Talk” is also incorporated into the #bocas2018 workshops: on April 28th, when Short Pants and Myron B lead an Extempo Masterclass.
NGC Bocas Lit Fest director Marina Salandy-Brown is clear about the link between Bocas’ work and the role of our cultural forms: “At its core Bocas is concerned with how we use language to reflect who we are. We recognise that our various traditional forms have always done that work and we want to help integrate these forms into cultural spaces and platforms beyond Carnival.”
Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, Attillah Springer expressed the vital importance of collaborations between State and NGO bodies in support of culture: “As we look forward to a clearer understanding of what culture means not just to our communities but also to our economy, collaborations like this become crucial to creating the reach and opportunity for all our stakeholders. Culture is everything about us, so working together, partnering with both public and private sector organizations is not just desirable, it is essential.”
Our traditional forms are a template, a foundation on which we can build so much.
Springer emphasised the nexus between our traditional art forms and contemporary popular culture in T&T, saying, “If for example we look at meme culture, we see the same foundations of word play, picong and extempo manifesting themselves in this very raw and immediate contemporary expression. Our traditional mas characters were the original memes: the Midnight Robber, the Pierrot, the Sailor—templates on which we create immediate responses to what is going on in the society right now. Our traditional forms are a template, a foundation on which we can build so much.”
While 2018 is the Ministry’s second year as a main sponsor of the annual literary festival, the NGO is delighted to add the Downtown Carnival Committee of the Port of Spain City Corporation as a key collaborator on the festival’s ole mas competition since downtown is the birthplace of Carnival and the traditional home of ole mas. Wendell Stephen, the Committee’s Chairman says, “Our vision is to forge and maintain relationships with the Ole Mas community and more so NGOs like Bocas Lit Fest to ensure the age-old art form maintains its rightful place in our carnival.”
Also supporting this year’s ole mas competition are Jimmy Aboud, the National Carnival Commission and VEMCO through their prize sponsorship.
Events take place at the National Library in downtown Port of Spain and adjoining Old Fire Station. With the exception of the Extempo Masterclass and ole mas competition fee of $100, all events free. Workshop participants must register in advance via the Bocas Lit Fest website where all the festival information can also be found.