Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Artistic Direction - Reflection -

Artistic! Direction? A reflection.

I'm hearing images, I'm seeing songs
No poet has ever painted
Voices call out to me, straight to my heart
So strange yet we're so well acquainted
….my mind is like an open window
Where the high and healing winds blow
"I Let The Music Speak"

Two weeks ago I stood amazed, in a packed and smoky night club in Indonesia where the band on the stand was belting out Reggae tunes in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Language). My amazement was at the power of a country (Jamaica) with a population of 2.5 million people, creating music that so powerfully resonates half a world away in a country with a population of 250 million.

As the singer reached down into his guts and sang his soul-full reggae, his voice seemed to be scraping the bottom of his vocal chords and clawing its way back out as if in search of a land far-far away. And the sounds being liberated from his throat in the process, though clearly not Jamaican, were not incongruent with Jamaica. It was humbling to think that Jamaica might not have given him that voice, but most certainly the construct of the bass patterning and rhythmic chops of the guitar on which it danced. Although the music harks back to an earlier school of the genre, there was no denying its rock steady reggaeness –Jamaicanness – Caribbeanness.

A call to move
Much is expected from him who much is given and I’m sure that this is as true for countries and nation states as it is for individuals. Culturally and artistically, the Caribbean is a kaleidoscope, where complex social acculturation, shifting mirrors of identity and rotating class and colour patterns foster dynamic creative forms. One’s frame of mind determines how one sees this. For some, we are the hybrid flower. One of my friends says that we are a multicultural barbecue. Still another friend says -with sweet sacrilege- we are the mongrels. This is part one of a discussion of the value of this hybrid, multicultural creature, expressing as Caribbean Artistic Director on the world stage.

I am using a broad interpretation of Artistic Director/Direction here, to include: (1)The individual director, creating the specified performance art of his choice; (2) Collective vision for Caribbean performing arts; (3) The role of the Caribbean in shaping performing arts on the world stage.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and others contributed greatly to the Renaissance movement on behalf of what is now Italy. Jamaica and the Caribbean are possibly at the forefront of such a great arts and culture movement. But do we know it? Perhaps we are content with having exported Garveyism and Rastafarianism, (I crave your indulgence, here in using the latter term – as one of my students once told me that “Rasta don’t deal with ism”). Our contentment might also come from the recognition of Reggae-ism and what is perhaps even more recognizable worldwide, Bob-Marley-ism. And of course there is steel-pan-ism and Trini-carnival-ism among others.

This may be a presumption on my part to identify the movement of Caribbean performing arts with a movement such as the Renaissance. But what does it mean that a new dance springs up from the dancehall floor every two weeks? What is this boundless creativity and where does it hail from? And more importantly, where is it going and what are we doing with it? Still, in order for there to be greater justification for this word ‘movement’ other more pertinent questions need to be asked of ourselves as artists who are on the move.

One very important question is, ‘Has the performing arts culture of the Caribbean truly metamorphosed into something substantial, or is it drowning in it’s own vital fluids?’ There is that potential to drown one’s own creativity if one spends too much time righting wrongs and too little time creating new rights. At the risk of being socio-culturally ex-communicated, I ask us to consider if we spend too much time still seeking to break the back of classical European lines to re-insert circles or , to create shapes that are different but still pedigreed, instead of redefining the whole thing altogether? This is not to undercut the value of what has been done to balance out, but instead to point in the direction of benefiting from all that’s been garnered. (For those ready to run for the priest, please note it is just a question to stimulate thought) My thought on this is: acknowledge where it went wrong, address it and immediately move to recreation, accepting all that was, as part of the new creature that is to be.

Creative Molting
The caterpillar’s path to being a butterfly is very instructive in this. In order to go through complete metamorphosis, the butterfly is aware that it’s old skin can’t grow with it, and recreates new skin underneath the old one before shedding it. The process of exposing this newer, larger skin underneath is called molting. Within context, the ‘old skin’ was more about ‘knowing your history.’ The ‘new skin’ is about re-creating it now in a larger, more refined way. The design for this ‘new skin’ will already be there but the new one will be bigger and stronger. This process occurs numerous times (about five or six) until, wings are formed out of all the stuff already in the body of the butterfly.

So, the colourful new creature is born out of what already is. But you already know this. The Steel Pan, Reggae and Yanvalou are only a few highlights of that. My point is that I believe a more unified shift as a region is being called for – one that defines and/or refines what that creature is and the direction in which it takes itself and the world.

Certainly if there is any region of the world that can do it, the Caribbean is culturally equipped. Forget the politics of the region. In the Renaissance period there were numerous wars and religious upheavals that threatened, but did not stop the movement. It is no longer sufficient to sit back in our seats and give ourselves a nice pat on the back as we talk glowingly about our Garth Fagans, Peter Minshalls and Professor Nettlefords – our Louise Bennetts, Derek Walcotts and Henk Tjons. We need to get past whatever stands in the way and as a familiar Nike slogan says ‘just do it’ even if what is standing in the way is ourselves. And while we are at it, we must not confuse the swaying motion of a ship anchored to shore, with the forward movement of a ship pressing into the deep unknown.

So the movement I am calling for, is a collective responsibility, beginning with the process of re-defining, re-creating and re-presenting performing arts culture to ourselves and the world. First, we ‘Archive the processes of artistic directors in the Caribbean. Secondly, we re-present it to ourselves for polishing and thirdly, we export it. Already our performing art forms are a great unifier. There is integration in the Caribbean arts that goes beyond mere symbiosis of the art forms themselves. There is something that the Caribbean arts culture can teach about the connection between art and spirituality – and spirituality and community – and community and science, and science with ‘science again’ and how all of this ties in with the people and how the people are the art itself.

There is much to be said here and for those who can say something: Speak up! Say it with your heart and your art and let the movement move. The aesthetic possibilities of this integration are limitless.

Let us create and re-create dance films that are not documentaries but instead telling of stories through dance on film; musical theatre of the dancehall; Community Carnival shared household to household by internet or DVD; improvised contemporary dance experiences shared by the general public (on way to or from work); speaking dancers and dancing orators. All this and more, we should do and so move. Let us conquer the world by mastering our selves.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reggae Month Reggaelution - the reggae man story

The revolution began as heavy bass-filled music rising throughout shanty towns in Kingston Jamaica.- Music that flew across the airwaves into the night clubs and homes in England, Europe North America. The revolution stood firm, chanting down 'Babylon systems' on the continent of Africa and now it parades on world stages rising to prominence in places like Asia. The Reggaelution is upon us.

But where is it going now?

The story of Reggae's rise is as improbable as the likelihood of an unknown Jewish sect, rising to define the spirituality of the western world. But Christianity is here isn't it.

Reggae is here.

Reggae has already decided that it is a powerful sociocultural tool and that it will go around the world and 'civilize' the masses. Reggae's missionary position is not a lateral one awaiting arrival of another, but a vertical and 'upright' position.
If Reggae was a man, he would be a Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King. He would have grown up poor in the slums of Kingston and started a song. His father would have been called Mr. Ska, and his mother, with her 'rock-steady' virtues would have been an off-spring of the family tree of the Mento clan. When growing up, this man with the name of Reggae would have been educated at the school of Rastafari, where he would learn his philosophical ideals from the teachings of powerful Pan-Africanists. He would have learned a hatred of all oppression (and learned to call it down-pression, cause there's nothing up about it). This man called Reggae though, would have moved through the world and seen people of different races and persuasions and found common unity with them. And in this communion, he would come to a conclusion that in this life, we are really all the same under the skin.

He would have started a song, a beautiful song. And that one song would echo in many places all over the world, producing different sounds. In some places the people would hear the one song and know that the systems of injustice that they are exposed to must be 'toppled and totally destroyed.'

Some would hear the echoes of that song and feel the love pouring through their veins like a river and beating in their bodies with a steely pulse. When the echo crosses the oceans and reaches other lands, it becomes less of a moment of sound and more a movement of hearts and souls- where even those who don't sway with the bass rhythms of the man called Reggae, but instead rock arhythmically to the lyrics- can still feel connected. Then the man might write many more songs saying we are really all one race- the human race; One people - and One Love.

Monday, January 28, 2008

politics of change, transformation and manifestation

change = remove the tire and replace it with another one
transformation = caterpillar becoming a butterfly
manifestation = converting a drop of golden liquid from the centre of the sun's core into the very thing you desire here on earth.

change is good; transformation is great; manifestation is our power to create the world we want to live in. Some of us give away that power to liars who say that the world is coming to an end. And they say it in large numbers and in large groups so we tend to believe so many people can't be wrong? Right?

And they say it with conviction and we see the sincerity in their eyes and think, they must know what they are talking about cause they are willing to die for this death talk. And they convince us to so fear the coming end of the world with them, that we join in the game of fear and forget the life of love. And they win.

Here's how WE win for life and for love and for beauty, prosperity and health. Make your next thought (no matter what your circumstances) a thought of love and harmony. Then follow it up with another similar thought. Do this for five consecutive thoughts, then for five consecutive years. Make that five consecutive decades and let's see if ONE person thinking love and harmony for one billion people can make a difference. So if there are only two of us doing it (cause I will be one) - we're close to covering the whole world.

Michael Holgate

To Endorse Barak Obama for President

Kennedy, Kerry, Oprah and so many others have done it. Do I join in?

Yes I do. Why not? Perhaps the more important question is who cares? Who cares about my endorsement? I am not a citizen of the United States of America. I am a Jamaican citizen. I have nothing riding on this endorsement. I get nothing out of it. And maybe, neither does Obama. Some might argue that it's out of a desire to see a Black Man in the White house. (I wonder how I haven't seen anyone put it just that way so far A BLACK MAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE- perhaps others are more tactful than I claim to be.) - But truthfully, before Barak was in the race, I supported Hillary Clinton. I thought it a forgone conclusion. And then I met Barak (albeit on my TV screen with CNN).

There is nothing and no one who could have swayed me from Bill and Hillary Clinton, whether black, blue, green or purple - unless some great and powerful someone has come along. And he has. So, people are more impressed with Oprah's endorsement and the Kennedy endorsements. I'm most impressed with mine. It comes from a deep sense of conviction in the spirit of transformation and hope embodied by this man. So I say, Barak Obama for President.

Interestingly, I am now about five minutes walk away from that elementary school in Menteng, Indonesia where he went as a boy. I know there has been some controversy about this. I don't know why. people are not exclusively defined by where they went to school. With that said, I wonder where President Bush went to school. Anyway, I am pleased to know that the Presidency of Barak Obama will be one of multicultural awareness; faith; hope and change.
Michael Holgate

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Grow your Mind - Grow your brain

Yes, there are many ways to grow your mind and your brain.
Infinite ways in fact. As infinite as the mind itself.
Simple things...

- Learn a new language (just start. Let's face it, I'm sure you have fifteen minutes a day to spare on learning ten words. Do you know what ten new words in a foreign language adds up to in a year? Do you know what it means to your brain?

- Keep learning new languages

- learn a new skill (Play an instrument- even just go to work from a different route)

- Eat well. Yeah, real food. Your brain deserves it. If it's starved, you can't think well. A lot of us eat rubbish all day, then make up our faces at street people eating from garbage bins. At least they are honest.

-Eat well. Yeah, this time it's about what you put in your brain from books and conversations. Don't spend your time talking with negative people. It drags you down. And I'm sure you've heard the phrase narrow-minded - well, that comes from constantly narrowing your view of the world to fit into your limited concept of yourself. So, by all means expand your acceptance and awareness of yourself and the world will look so much more like a bright and beautiful place.
Michael Holgate

enuff for today... oops, I almost forgot the quote for the moment.

When I want to read a novel,
I write one.
Benjamin Disreali
in W. Monnypenny and G Buckle
Life of Benjamin Disreali (vol. 6)

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What words do

Tell someone to read today.

Denying yourself the experience of reading is like denying yourself the possibility of a truly joyous and powerful life. Maybe there ARE indeed leaders who have not been readers... but I don't know of any such who have greatly inspired me. Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, Marcus Garvey, - these are leaders who set the world on fire through the power of their words.

They never pretended that their words were created somewhere inside their bodies and pushed out into the world on demand. No - they were readers. They allowed themselves to be receptacles for ideas in the form of many books.

They allowed those ideas to so move and change and empower and embolden them that their 'receptacles' overflowed. The combination of ideas of so many brilliant men and women who have gone before them, with their own deep introspection, caused a chemical reaction that transformed them into living embodiments of 'the word' and they became 'lights' unto the world.

I believe in our own way, we are all lights unto the world. We all just need to plug in now. I believe that some ways to do this are: prayer, meditation and of course reading.
Michael Holgate

Today's quote:

"We were not created to be eaten by anxiety,
but to walk erect, free,
unafraid in a world where there is work to do,
truth to seek, love to give and win."
Joseph Ford NewtonAuthor