Come! Gather round. It’s story time!”
‘Talk Tent’ takes town by storm
by Linda Rutherford
June 20, 2004
`My name is ‘Ma Story’ because I am the keeper of the stories. The ancestors gave me the stories…. an’ ah does keep dem right heah in me belly.’ Samantha Pierre
BY NOW, everyone is accustomed to Paul Keens-Douglas and his ‘tupidness’.
But no-one, it seems, was quite prepared for the riveting effect it would have when he and his ‘Talk Tent’ buddies shared the same stage with some of the finest in local theatre as happened last Sunday night at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel.
There was not a dry eye left when ‘Short Pants’ finished explaining why Trinidad and Tobago didn’t make it to the World Cup back in 1998, in spite of having talented players like Dwight Yorke and Russel Latapy on the team. Or why, for that matter, he “want to dead.”
And, who would have thought that the word `philanthropist’ had so much history behind it, and that Jamaica and Connecticut were that easy to spell, as only the Pierrot Grenade could.
The evening got off to a promising and colourful start with storyteller, Samantha Pierre, the lone female in the ‘Trini’ posse, looking the part of a present-day griot in her white peasant-style outfit, and doing her thing as ‘Ma Story’.
“My name is ‘Ma Story’ because I am the keeper of the stories. The ancestors gave me the stories…. an’ ah does keep dem right heah in me belly…that’s why ah have de fan,” she said, bursting into a peal of mischievous laughter. The fan of which she spoke, an oversized raffia creation, was neatly tucked in the colourful, ruched, apron-like apparel around her ample waist. Completing the ensemble was a matching headdress.
An educator by profession in her native Trinidad and Tobago with a slew of accomplishments under her belt, her act comprised a trip down memory lane with a medley of folk games, in which she gamely invited the audience to join.
Her piece de resistance was a story that had the ring of an old African folk tale, in which the primary characters are a gaggle of roguish monkeys, an industrious old fellow who makes his living selling hats, and a grand-daughter who would eventually follow in his footsteps.
“But before we do that….before we start to tell stories,” she said, “we have to go into the story-telling mode. And in my island, when you start to tell stories, you have to call everybody.” At which point she encouraged the audience to join her in a spirited call to those latecomers to “Come! Gather round….it’s story time!”
Hardly had she made her exit than ‘Mighty Rebel’, in his role as singing MC, was introducing Felix Edinborough, whose signature portrayal of the Carnival character, the ‘Pierrot Grenade’ is said to be a main attraction at the annual ‘Talk Tent’ which, according to its founder, Paul Keens-Douglas, celebrated its 23rd anniversary this year.
Looking nothing like the retired headmaster he is, his ruddy face and ‘Big-Bird’-like getup more reminiscent of a clown, he introduced himself, saying:
“I am the Pierrot Grenade by name, and spelling is my favourite game. But I do not spell words letter for letter. No! That so is for A-B-C teacha! My method is a thousand times betta. You see, every word for me is a story…and sometimes I use an allegory. And according to the situation from time top time, I will shorten it into pleasant rhyme.”
Warming to the topic, he then challenged the audience to a spelling quiz. Chicago was relatively easy. So too was New York and Japan. This prompted him to remark: “Aieee! All’yuh good a’ready. Ah better go home!” Philosopher proved much more difficult, as did constabulary, and so many of the other words he threw out that evening.
Well! That had to do with a guy named Phil who had the misfortune of being doused with a particularly obnoxious bodily fluid.
As the ‘Pierrot’ made his way off-stage, a pair of suspicious-looking characters could be seen furtively making their way into the auditorium from backstage. It was Mabel and Joe (Mignon Lowe and Henry Rodney), `stones dressed’ (he in a shine ‘shut’ and she in she Sunday-best), and doing their best to ‘pope’ the show.
Not only did they succeed in their ploy, but had the temerity to take turns at airing each other’s dirty laundry and manage to look coy and scandalised at the same time.
Miguel Browne, who came next, brought a rare kind of energy to the programme, in that there was a certain rhythm to his presentation, reflective perhaps not only of his Latin roots but the parandero in him, a character synonymous with Christmas and ‘Parang’ in his native Trinidad and Tobago.
A young man that clearly has his finger on the region’s pulse, he used dialect, witticism and humour in little vignettes, not just to celebrate the colour of language and show how, in spite of its incongruity at times, it unifies the Caribbean as a people, but to foster as well, a wider appreciation and respect for the vernacular; to say, unequivocally, that contrary to popular opinion, it does have syntax; it does have structure.
Using ‘Calaloo’, a song made popular by David Rudder many years ago while with ‘Charlie’s Roots’, not only to add spice to his routine but also lend it form, he declared early into his performance:
“Yes! We’re all part of one big calaloo; all the same people; with the same heritage and so many things that link us. One of the important things that link and unite us is the way we speak the language. Because, you see, the creole tongue, or the way we speak, is something that Caribbean people from Jamaica right down to Guyana could understand. But you see you have to understand language; if you don’t understand the language, you’ll obviously have problems.”
A history teacher by profession and a member of the group, Los Paranderos de UWI, to which he belongs since his student days at St Augustine, he rounded off his act with a hilarious piece from his collection, ‘Talk that Talk’.
A real humdinger, it centred on an argument that broke out in a neighbourhood grocery store and involved the shopkeeper, Chin; a cantankerous, ‘sore-foot’ old cuss named Olga, who wanted ‘pig-tail’ to put in she ‘pelau’; another named Boysie; and an ‘English-duck’ named Taffy who, instead of biscuit and sweetie, had the grace to call for crackers and candy.
‘Rebel’, who had been piping up every little now and then in between acts, saw his window of opportunity and took it soon after intercession. By the time he was done, the poor audience was in stitches.
Former Commissioner of Police, Mr Laurie Lewis, seemed particularly partial to the little anecdote about the father who strongly objected to his daughter going steady with a guy named Chuck, all because he didn’t like the way it rhymed.
He could be heard repeatedly asking of friends…
“You mus’e name Chuck, nuh?”
And what can we say of ‘Short Pants’, who answers to the name Llewellyn MacIntosh and who, to this day, still believes that Trinidad would have made it to the World Cup in ’98, if only management had taken his advice and chosen players whose names rhymed.
The piece he did was ‘Paris in ‘98’, which traces the history of Trinidad football from 1998 to as far back as 1974, when, according to him, rumour had it that voodoo may have been responsible for the team not making the World Cup.
They say it was voodoo in ‘74
Bad luck in ‘90 when ‘Strike Squad’ didn’t score
They blame management for the team’s failure to go to Mexico, Spain, and Argentina But, USA ‘94 show me that the players names really is de key Ah watch Italy play Mexico
Ah see some things deah de coaches don’t know Simari pass to Berti…. Berti to Cassilagi….Cassilagi to Madrini…Maldini to Albertini He loss the ball
An’ was Alvarez to Rodriguez…Rodriguez to Ramirez…Ramirez give to Suarez Suarez lace one to Sanchez
Among other pieces he did that evening were two vintage blasts from the past, namely ‘De People Will Talk’ and ‘Ah Vex’ by the late ‘King Fighter’ and ‘Mighty Unknown’, respectively. He also rendered ‘Ah Want to Dead’, which saw him take the Talkalypso title at this year’s carnival.
And why does he want “to dead”?
Well! He said is the only sure way he could get the radio station `fuh give he air-play’.
In opening remarks, Paul Keens-Douglas, who was the last artiste to take to the stage, had said that the whole purpose to having an event such as Talk Tent was to highlight the different styles there are in the oral traditions. At the time, he said, which was around 1974, there were no talk shows as such. “There was no place you could go to hear the talk artistes.”
He said that just as there are different styles of calypsonians, like Sparrow, Melody and Crazy, so too it is with the oral tradition where you have different styles of talkers, among which are the comics, comedians, humourists, satirists, story-tellers, dub artists, rapso artists; the carnival characters like the Pierrot Grenade; the Wild, Red and Black Indian; and the Midnight Robber.
“So, it’s not everybody that makes you laugh is a comedian. They make you laugh, but when you look at them, you see that there are different styles in presentation. And that is why I founded Talk Tent, as a place where you go to see the artistes perform in their own right as artistes and not just people you put on in between acts to entertain while you bring on the important acts.”
Today, 23 years later, he said, “Talk Tent is still here.”