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Extracts From transcript of Interviews with Rex Nettleford

LOCATION: University of the West Indies

DATE: 1989 


TC 2.20 - Carnival


I think carnival has to be seen as a variant of what is universal to all human kind on the planet - Festivals. A means of periodic re-affirmation, self-assertion, even a kind of religious means of re-uniting with spiritual forces.


TC 4.42 - Johnkunnu


Johnkunnu has virtually died out in Jamaica but not all together. The thing about masking which is central to it and in fact to other parts of the Caribbean where it is very much alive as I said in the Bahamas and Leeward Islands at Christmas time. When slaves got time off to make fun of their masters - social comment, like calypso in Trinidad.


The form of Johnkunnu relies on traditional characters very similar to those of Trinidad carnival, House Johnkunnu, Pitchy Patchy like forest spirits very much as in West African festivals.


TC 6.30 - festivals (1)

discusses secular and religious festivals.


TC 8.00 - dance derived from festivals


We drew on traditional lore and the Johnkunnu is central for providing material but the processional is common to all festivals. People have noticed that the work of the company can be characterised by the use of the processional in choreographic designs. And the use of crowds in counterpoint one against the other.


The festival as performing art is very much a collective enterprise and the dance uses this. Also characters which have come out, Pitchy Patchy, Horse Head - just as in the old Little Carib Theatre of Beryl Mcburnie which also drew on carnival characters.


TC 9.36 - Hosay in Jamaica

There is no distinction between Muslim and Hindu. The interesting thing is that the Tassa drums are beaten by people of African ancestry and I understand the same thing happens in Trinidad as well. The Hosay festival has been a very important instrument of creolisation and cross-fertilisation between the blacks and there is very little hostility - and indeed none - between the estate indian and the poorer blacks. One person who is interested in cross-fertilisation insists that the Africans and Indians find each other through shared metaphysical expressions and orientations and Hosay provides a vehicle for much of that.



TC 11.44 - Role of festivals


The re-affirmation of collective identity even if they separate after three days. A sharing of common experiences and a celebration of life, of life together. For a people who were uprooted, whether we talk of Europeans who came as indentured labourers, Africans who came as slaves or Chinese and Indians who came as indentured labourers at the other end of the process, there is need for re-affirmation and you know all this took place over 500 years and half a millennium is a long time but not so long in human memory or human history and these things take on important dimensions. So that although some of the ancestral things have been lost, in contemporary life the challenge of independence which is saying 'you’re autonomous and now are the creators of your own destiny forces us to look at the way people kept alive and survived and kept together.



TC 13.30 - children’s games

Naturally I am interested in the choreography so I naturally look at the way children move. They are unfettered by education or learning. Pure movement. Hop scotch, balancing a stone on one's foot, hand clapping, making sounds.


The nonsense rhymes in competition. It is interesting to see how this has come out as D.J. and dance hall in Jamaica and rapping in USA. The use of alliteration, tongue twisters, freedom of movement give us wonderful ideas in the National Dance Theatre.



TC 14.52 - significance of children’s games

The ring games are interesting and would have been brought from Europe and Africa. I'm not sure what the Indian ones are. Many of us who have written about the social psychology of race ... the Brown Girl in the Ring Tralalalala - I'm not so sure this has not perpetuated a particular Caribbean aesthetic that beauty resides in brownness. these things transmit values by osmosis...The child is the adult writ small.



TC 16.52 - dance & games

One of the interesting things we did was Games at Arms though we were parodying the cold war we were utilising children’s ring games for that.



TC 17.54 - Caribbean music

One of the greatest things about the Caribbean is the tremendous influence it has had on world pop music since the turn of the century. With Cuban Son, Mambo, Rhumba, Cha Cha Cha, the meringue from Haiti and Dominican Republic. Afro rhythms have filtered through to Hollywood through the Caribbean. The influence is underestimated. So too that of calypso, Rum and Coca Cola brought new kinds of rhythms to American pop music which in turn went to the rest of the world.


It is only through reggae music we've been able to make the impact. So that Bob Marley has definitely emerged as an international figure in the world of pop music. This is a result of technology.


Calypso itself has become a generic term for an area of music.


Zouk, Cadance are making their own kind of influence. Soca is very popular in Jamaica and a major soca band is Byron Lee. Sparrow and Kitchener are well known. Cricket Lovely Cricket became a Caribbean thing because it was tied to an occasion.


Reggae because it is tied to a world view is very popular among the young all over the world. It is interesting that the originator of Soca is a Rastafarian.

Caribbean music's influence is something that ought to be celebrated, we ought to be proud of it. It is very important.




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