Sunday 16th July, 2006

Simon Lee
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Dirty Jim’s offers golden egg for culture

Two weeks gone already? I cyar believe that. If I was a quipper I’d roll out something about time flying whilst having fun, but since I’m a serious-minded cronkuero and a Jewish Creole to boot, I’ll put the ever hastening passage of time down to a typically overloaded Big Fug schedule. Let’s try to start at the beginning at least, as I’ve no idea how far we’ll get.

I’m going to raise the curtain at the Barbican, that morgue-like monstrosity that passes as one of London’s major cultural centres. Anyway, on the night in question, all the usual zombies had been run out by Dirty Jim’s Swizzle Club. The T&T Tourism department should really consider this showcase of classic calypso and entirely impromptu extempo as a permanent Trini roadshow, if it is at all serious about developing a cultural export industry.

Despite the limitations (the more senior performers including Bomber, Terror and Syl Dopson are now past the rigours of touring) the combined efforts of Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Lord Superior and Relator afforded a packed house one of the best Barbican concerts I’ve attended over the past four years.

Of course the madam and I arrived late; this was only to be expected as the madam, being a true Trini, wanted to look her Yummy Mummy best. Rushing through the vault of the Barbican mausoleum, I caught a glimpse of Relator on an overhead screen. I was happy to note he was mid-way through the Kitch classic Nora Nora (Why don’t you leave Lord Kitchener/I want to go back to Trinidad and see me grandmother).

By the time the ushers waved us in, he was into Matilda and then delighted the crowd when he digressed from the set list to sing Gavaskar, in response to a request yelled from the upper gallery. Without missing a beat Relator demonstrated both his consummate professionalism and extempo talent, calling out the chord progression for Tony Voisin, guitar stalwart of Charlie’s Roots fame, and delivering the lyrics with all the swagger of a victorious cricketer.

Having segued into extempo mode Relator took the challenge to the audience—calling out for topics (the World Cup, Ghana’s defeat of the USA, Jack Warner, George Bush) that he and Superior (in London bowler hat) traded verses on.

By intermission time Dirty Jim’s had the crowd in their pocket and opening the second set Calypso Rose had the house on its feet in carnival style for We’re Going Down San Fernando. Rose played it jammette style, giving front row Brits fatigue (“Is this yuh husban?”

“Sort of.”

“How yuh mean ‘sort of,’ he’s a sort of man? Hmmm.”) and then raising up she dan dan at the sort of man before launching herself into the audience for Fire In Me Wire.

I can’t recall the staid Barbican cooking with such gas, and Rose knew exactly how to raise the pressure for Sparrow’s introduction. Birdie was at his inflammatory, bawdy best. He began deceptively with the innocuous Memories, before trying out a risqué joke about a conversation with Tiger Woods (“I thought you put the club in the hole not the ball. I en playin wit no white balls.”) and then went for pure subversion by singing Congo Man, which elicited a sharp intake of respectable breath from those who felt the Birdie might be offending the politically correct. All too quickly the show was done with Sa Sa Yey, but what a perfect cameo of Trini culture it had been.

Lord Superior, sartorially correct in his London bowler.

Some reviewers have noted that the excellent DVD made of Dirty Jim’s Swizzle Club, is the Trini answer to Cuba’s phenomenally successful Buena Vista Social Club (a venture that has produced a steady stream of World music classics, launched solo careers for artistes in their 80s and 90s and brought Cuban music and culture to the world).

My suggestion that the Tourism department utilise Dirty Jim’s is based on the recognition that Dirty Jim’s achieves what a whole library of cultural history can’t match: a live nostalgic vision of Trinidad, cut with some rampant raunchy anti-colonialism; creating a virtual island reality, enshrining songs of the past that will live on and have already entered popular mythology, regardless of the current political, social or any other reality.

Barbican audiences are connoisseurs of global culture.They are not easily impressed. The audience at Dirty Jim’s was totally captivated, amused, provoked, engaged and queued after the show to buy CDs. There is always much ol’ talk about we culture and we ting.

Dirty Jim’s is all of that and is out there already.

This is an opportunity to put T&T on a map, which outstrips all development plans and talk of the Singapore paradigm. Let’s hope the Ministries of Tourism, Culture, Development and Finance realise the golden egg they don’t even have to hatch.

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