Post 427.

Minshall mas meeting Brother Resistance
on the Road. Carnival 2018.

THIS week couldn’t pass without honouring Lutalo Masimba, better known as Brother Resistance. Although there is much that can be said about his life history and his involvement in the calypso community, I’m writing today from my own memories.

When a giant passes on, each of us remembers him or her in deeply personal ways; these are not just icons of nation-building, but individuals who enter hearts and give voice.

It’s also important for us to challenge over-determining representations of our society as divided by race, whether in how we vote or how we fete, with stories of when we connect across ethnic and other differences.

There won’t be many Indian women writing about the impact that Brother Resistance, with his radical decolonial and African consciousness, had on them in the late 1990s and early 2000s, decades after the 1970s Black Power slogan, “Indians and Africans Unite” was declared.

It speaks to a legacy born in those earlier decades that still vibrates today.

In 1998, I was in a fete somewhere, having just returned from university, and first saw Ataklan perform his hit tune Flambeau. How to become part of his community of lyricists and what I understood then as spoken-word or poetry performers? He sent me to Brother Resistance.

Resistance was generous and welcoming.

He had a gentle, affable humility that made you feel all that mattered was your interest in words and riddim and Trinbago. I think the man could make anyone feel there was something in him or her that deserved kindness and respect.

You would see his broad smile beam down from his easy height, so sweet to picture now, whenever anyone was interested in rapso. He encouraged anyone he saw with passion, talent or just love for our culture, regardless of age, race, class or experience.

He invited me to join a six-week training, called Breaking New Ground, organised by the Rapso Co-ordinating Committee, which introduced us to Lancelot Layne, Cheryl Byron, Karega Mandela, Wendell Manwarren, Sheldon Blackman, Brother Book, the Network Rapso Riddum Band, Sister Ava, drummer Wayne “Lion” Osuna and so many others.

Rapso was ascendent then, having been amplified by the success of the artistes from Kiskadee Karavan, by Rituals Music recordings, by the beginning years of 3canal and the youthful sounds of Ras Shorty I’s children’s Jamoo music.

Town was alive with words and rhymes, sounds of drumming and chanting, and another generation’s sense of this home-grown genre’s power.

Breaking New Ground was history, theatre, poetry, respect for the arts, mentorship and belief in being the embrace from which young blood emerged.

We’d stand in a circle in the old Fire Station or in Little Carib Theatre, holding hands, and there would be an invocation, ending with, “Jah! Rastafari!” In this African space, I was aware of my race and class, as there were no other young Indian women there. Yet it was a community where I was always welcomed.

Brother Resistance and others were centring the young people who came to them in their own distinctive philosophy of belonging to a self-determining Caribbean and nation. There was always a parallel poetry and spoken word scene, but it wasn’t deliberately grassroots, streetwise, for the people and against the dread exploitation and dehumanisation of Babylon system.

Those who were mimicking dancehall or rap were encouraged to sound as we speak and to wordplay in the way of mas characters. At the end of those weeks, we were sent up on a stage, and entrusted to continue the politics of rapso warriors.

Post 331.


THIS EVENING, Bocas Lit Festival and Commonwealth Writers will be launching the collection, We Mark Your Memory: Writings from the Descendants of Indenture, at the Writers’ Centre on Alcazar Street, Port of Spain, from 6.30 o’clock.

The collection commemorates the centenary of the end of indentureship and includes writing from South Africa, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Mauritius and Samoa. It’s powerful to be included in a space with those from other places where indentured workers turned exploitation into opportunities, making new lives and birthing new lineages and stories.
Indian indentureship has transformed our landscape in the Caribbean, and these voices evoke its afterlife 100 years on. Writers in the collection from TT include Patti-Ann Ali, Kevin Jared Hosein, Suzanne Bhagan, Stella Chong Sing, Fawzia Muradali Kane, and Jennifer Rahim, diverse voices marking different kinds of memories.

My own piece, titled “Chutney Love,” was written in 1996 and I used to perform it in my younger days in the rapso movement. The year 1995 was a richly complex moment in our recent political history. The rise of the UNC evoked the dashed hopes of 1986. For some, “it was Indian time now” as chorused by graffiti on the bus route, seen every time a maxi passed by.

It was also the year of chutney music continuing to “douglarise” Carnival, following the boundary-breaking entry of Drupatee Ragoonai in the 1980s and then others, from Chris Garcia to Sonny Mann, to Brother Marvin who continued the mixing of Indian and African rhythms and music started by those like Ras Shorty I.

Finally, Indo-Caribbean women’s writing and scholarship blossomed in these years. Theirs was a turn to words that at the same time turned away from ideals of purity as, in both bodies and in lyrics, women began to play up feminist politics of power and pleasure.

The poem’s lines, written when I was inspired by these developments at just 22 years old, bring together rapso’s commitment to performing poetry in the language we speak everyday with my own negotiations with Indianness, femininity, sexuality, political consciousness, and cross-race and anti-imperialist solidarities for “we both cross water for empire/ And ever since we lan up here together/ Is with only one history that we grow.”

“I ent nobody bowjie/ No promised dulahin” are the opening lines in the second verse, “But when de tassa start to roll up/ Beta, dem lyrics yuh have, I done write myself in.”
This tradition of Indian women writing themselves into Indo-Caribbean culture and history can be traced at least as far back as Indian women’s arrival, but was brought with them from India, through the depots and onto the ships.

These women’s voices can be heard in everything from letters to court documents to ship records, all leaving an echo in our own contemporary pressing against imposed roles and rules, and in our continued aspirations for self-determined lives.

As one example, just this Saturday, rolling through Plum Road with Prof Brinsley Samaroo, pre-eminent historian of Indo-Caribbean experience, Ziya and I ended up at St Isadore Estate, and stood in the very places where Bheeknee once stood. Born 1869, Bheeknee came to Trinidad on July 31, 1874, on the ship the Golden Fleece, with her mother and her baby brother. Her father had died aboard. She was just five years old.

When she was 13, George Kernahan, a sailor on the Golden Fleece, who had later begun working as an estate manager, found and took her to live with him, fathering several children. He was a spendthrift and alcoholic who eventually became blind. Meanwhile Bheeknee went on to frugally manage their money and to eventually purchase 500 acres of land – what became the estate we were now standing on.

She was so astute that she had ponds dug from natural springs, installing huge pipes and ensuring a fresh water supply while running a successful cocoa estate. Later, when Kernahan lost the estate to debtors, Bheeknee moved the family a few miles away where she had bought more than 30 acres without him knowing. Her house still stands there today. A jahaji bahen with no education who accomplished brilliant achievements through will to survive before her death in 1934. I’ll be remembering her today, and how history lives in words as much as in our landscape.

As we mark memories, whether from 1917, 1934 or 1995, come hear pieces read by their authors, all descendants of indenture, writing ourselves in. Like most Bocas’ events, the launch is free and all are welcome.