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`New is not necessarily better; change is not always good. Sometimes you have to hold on to the things that really mean something to you and make you who you are. We have to learn in the Caribbean to hang on to those Caribbean things that make us Caribbean, and not rush after the rest of the world, changing mad, to say we’ve changed.’
REVERED regional raconteur, Paul Keens-Douglas was his usual ‘macocious’ self Friday night when he opened his 30th anniversary tour here at Le Meridien Pegasus, throwing ‘picong’ left, right, and centre as the notion took his fancy.
No-one escaped his waspish tongue, not even the politicians, many of whom were in the very audience, including the President, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo.
Speaking of traditions in the storytelling trade, like the habit of starting off each tale with the saying: ‘Once upon a time’, which he swears is particularly useful in these litigious times, he said:
“…. Spanish people say: ‘Habia una vez’.
Grenadians: ‘We sellin’ it as we buy it’.
Trinidadians: ‘Crick! Crack! Monkey break it back.
And, of course politicians say: ‘If elected’. This one had such a ring of truth to it, it took quite a while for the house to settle down.
He also seemed to have a thing about the regional body, CARICOM, as ever so often he would take a dig at them, like he did when he said they were in the habit these days of speaking in terms of negative growth.
He had something to say too, about his suspicions about organisations soliciting funds for ‘hole-in-the-heart’ causes.
“You see dat ‘hole-in-de-heart’ t’ing,” he said, voice dripping sarcasm.
“Now, I have nothing against people with hole in de heart,” he said. “I sympathise with them. But like they have some kinda hole-in-de-heart flu goin’ round de Caribbean. Every day dey callin’ you; dey want money; somebody have a hole in de heart.”
As he had done earlier in the day during a press briefing at the same Le Meridien Pegasus, Douglas started off by saying how happy he was to be here in Guyana once again, but not before he regaled his audience of the many accomplishments of his father, who was not only “the best, best, best, best daddy in the whole world,” but was so skilled at riding and ‘bouncing’ people, he once knocked a woman upside down, without her spilling a drop of the milk she was fetching on her head.
“When my daddy was a boy, he had a bicycle was the fastest bicycle in the whole worl’.
Handlebar ben’ an’ when you see my daddy coming down the road was speed fuh so, yuh know.
My daddy was no joke rider.
Once my daddy bounce a woman she had a bucket ah milk on she head she spin up in the air three times an she lan’ on she foot
not one drop ah milk fall.”
He then said he was particularly happy to be here at a time when the world was celebrating Father’s Day, which is being observed today, given the Caribbean’s propensity for “fathers never being theah.”
This one took a little time to register, as it was a play on the words ‘day’ and ‘there’, which, when spoken in true ‘Trini’ vernacular, can sound one and the same.
He spoke, too, of the positives he’s seen since his arrival here Thursday, after an absence of some two to three years.
“It’s nice to be here,” he said. “Every time you come to Guyana you see positive signs.” But then, he warned, “you have to know how to look at the positives.”
Take, for instance, the ‘fella’ he saw in town Thursday begging with just one hand outstretched. By Friday morning when he passed him again, he had both hands out.
Puzzled, he asked the man what happened.
His reply was: “Business good; ah open a branch.”
On the importance of beginnings, Douglas said it has always been a habit of his at such gatherings to treat his audience as family. “Any time we come together like this to share; to talk; to discuss; to have a good time; is not audience and artistes and organisers. Is one big Guyanese family come together to have a good evening.”
He also stressed the importance of acknowledging the presence of the ‘spirits’ on such occasions; those who went before us. “With all the success we have, is not by accident. It was built around the hard work of all those who went before us.” This is why we always acknowledge their presence by the ritual of pouring of a few drops of rum on the ground as was done in days gone by. These days, however, ‘fellas’ get so stingy, he said, they can only afford them a whiff from the cork.
True to his promise at his press briefing, the night’s performance comprised “a general mix of material” - a bit of poetry here, like the saga of pan-man, ‘Sugar George’ and the famous ‘The Water Boy’; a bit of narrative there, like his experience being asked to ‘stay’ God-father to “a dotish chile” named Theophilus Tobias Timultaneous Thomas, who just so happened to be the ugliest baby he has ever seen in his life.
“He head round like a football; you can’t tell whether is a boy or a girl; so you don’t know whether if is a uncle or a aunt,” was how he described this poor, hapless ‘God-chile’ of his, whose name was thankfully shortened to ‘Timmy’.
At Friday’s briefing, Douglas had indicated that his style has so changed over the 30-odd years he’s been in the storytelling business, it’s now more social commentary in flavour, meaning that it’s more about talk than it is about performance.
“So you have pieces where you perform and pieces where you talk. But the point is, it’s all story-telling in different forms; it’s all narrative. Everything is making a point; everything is about something, because, when I do work, my work is just not about making you laugh; it’s also about making a point; making you think after I leave. You know the joke; you know the story; but you remember what the story was connected to.”
Noting that he’s also into a lot of motivational speaking these days, he said: “I’m going to that now as a new level of my career, in that I do a lot more feature speaking,” at conferences and training programmes and such like, where you use what is called focused humour to get across your point.
“The same point you make on stage you make it now in terms of management; of training; of educating people and so on,” he said.
He made the point, too, that whereas a lot of people have had to change their work so that it could sell, this is one way of allowing one to use the art form in a different way without ever having to consider change, which is what is killing a lot of our Caribbean culture.
“A lot of our Caribbean culture is lost because people have changed it so they can sell it, so it can get a crowd. I don’t think you need to do that. You have to remain true to yourself; to your art form; to who you are, and say to people: This is me, like or not. But you’re not going to change it just to attract the crowd; you have to find ways of selling what you have.”
Noting that there is a lot of material going to waste in the Caribbean because of a tendency among our peoples to be what he calls ‘a throw-away society’; a society always craving after new things, he said: “New is not necessarily better; change is not always good. Sometimes you have to hold on to the things that really mean something to you and make you who you are. We have to learn in the Caribbean to hang on to those Caribbean things that make us Caribbean, and not rush after the rest of the world, changing mad, to say we’ve changed.”
This is why, he said, his shows these days are always a mix of motivational presentation and performance. “I’ve found that a good balance, where you can entertain and at the same time educate,” he said, adding that it’s nice to have shows like these, given today’s trend of having everything revolve around the new ‘jump ‘n wave’ fever that has taken over the Caribbean.
“Everything have to be a big crowd; sellin’ chicken; sellin’ beer; sellin’ rum; makin’ party, and at the end of it, nobody knows who learn anything from the situation but the fact that we had a good time. And we go home stupid and happy; but stupid still. So these kinds of shows where you can still sit and talk to people are very necessary to have today. That’s why I’m happy to see sponsors coming on board to sponsor this kind of show.”
Douglas’ sojourn here is courtesy of the alliance involving Gems Theatre Productions, the hotel, Le Meridien Pegasus, and regional carrier, British West Indies Airways (BWIA) which seems to be working out quite well given that it is the third such venture in which they have been involved, the last being the coming of ace American pianist, John Vanneste.
Le Meridien Pegasus, according to Poolside Manager, Mr Nitish Ummat, took advantage of the large turn-out they knew from experience a performer of Douglas’ caliber would bring by laying on not only a sumptuous Caribbean buffet-style dinner at its Browne’s Terrace, but also an a la carte menu poolside as well as in the El Dorado restaurant.
Because of the rate at which the tickets were going, Douglas also agreed to do a second show that night, which was billed to commence at 21h30. He was also scheduled for a performance with local actors at the Banks DIH Sports Club last evening.