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‘Last lap’ in London

Thursday, October 4, 2007
  • A trip to Leeds.
  • Pearl Connor-Mogotsi memorial.
  • T&T PM in magazine quiz.

I am among those who miss BWIA flights to Heathrow Airport, London. It’s such a chore to get to Gat-wick Airport.

On the way back home the voice of Ronald Samm singing “I know my Redeemer liveth” echoed in my head. In Handel’s aria this song is sung by a soprano. But, as Ann Chadwick notes, “in Carnival Messiah it is sung by a male voice backed by an African Islamic instrument (the kora) in a setting of magical carnivalesque beauty.”

Recently, I drove to Leeds with some friends to experience Geraldine Connor’s Carnival Messiah once more. Wilma Primus, who left T&T to give Geraldine some moral support, greeted us at Geraldine’s home with hot West Indian soup and chicken pelau. After the four-hour drive this was much appreciated.

Geraldine arrived later on with more sweet potatoes for the soup. When she enters a room the atmosphere changes. What a warm, dynamic, talented woman—an amazing legacy of her mother, Pearl Connor-Mogotsi. “Leels, girl, how yuh going?” she boomed. We talked and laughed for hours. Like most productions, there have been hitches during the two-week production—nothing that Geraldine and her team could not overcome.

When Ella Andall fell ill, Geraldine stepped in to act her part as Mother Earth. My sister-in-law, Clary Salandy, had half an hour to create a costume for her. While we were chatting, Geraldine received a call. Good news! Ella was in form again and would be performing that night.

In the afternoon some members of the cast, including Anne Fridal, Ram John Holder, Christopher Sheppard and Marvin Smith, joined the “lime” at Geraldine’s. Later we joined them at the 1,000-seat Big Top tent in the grounds of Harewood House to participate in what many rightly described as a “community show.”

Executive producer David Lascelles, owner of the Harewood estate, says: “There is a very special resonance to this incarnation of Carnival Messiah. (This year) 2007 is the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and at Harewood, built with money made from the sugar trade, we wanted to acknowledge that history but at the same time to celebrate the present.

“And I don’t know of any more exuberant, more spectacular, more inclusive expression of contemporary Caribbean culture than Carnival Messiah. It’s not just an awe-inspiring show, it’s also a profound and uplifting cross-cultural experience that has literally changed the lives of many of its participants.”

Geraldine says: “Carnival Messiah is inclusive. It’s about renewal, liberation and freedom, an explosion of life awakening the senses. The key of Carnival Messiah is to see it as a family—bringing together different races, creeds, religions, different cultures in one space, and everyone finding they can live and share it very happily.”

That is my wish also for us in T&T. As the election approaches, let us find a way to live together in harmony and share the resources of this blessed land of ours—remembering to leave some for those who will come after us.

Geraldine and I spoke about the upcoming memorial on October 13 for her mother. The late John la Rose said: “Pearl Connor-Mogotsi was pivotal in the effort to remake the landscape for innovation and for the inclusion of African, Caribbean and Asian artists in shaping a new vision of consciousness for art and society.”

Special tribute was paid to Pearl at the Bafta celebrations in London (September 28-30). Those attending the gala acknowledged British African Caribbean people’s contribution/achievement in film and TV over the past 70 years.

Geraldine told me that when the organisers were in the process of identifying senior black actors and actresses whom they wished to honour at this event, they discovered that her mother, Pearl, had had a “hand” in the careers of most of them.

In a BBC documentary, Black and White in Colour, Guyanese actress Carmen Munroe said: “Pearl made things happen for us. She took chances. She took risks. She pushed, and we learnt a lot from her, and from the way she handled situations. She stuck her neck out. Pearl was the mother of us all.”

Inter alia, the 2005 obituary in The Independent newspaper, UK, read: “Pearl Connor-Mogotsi was a force to be reckoned with. For nearly half a century this dynamic, outspoken trailblazer campaigned for the recognition and promotion of African Caribbean arts. In the 1950s she was the first agent to represent black and other minority ethnic actors, writers and film-makers in Britain, and in the early 1960s was instrumental in setting up the Negro Theatre Workshop, one of Britain’s first black theatre companies.”

Another daughter of the soil who is currently being remembered is Claudia Jones whose contribution to Notting Hill Carnival is acknowledged in an exhibition entitled Midnight Robbers at City Hall, London. The exhibition, organised by the Carnival Exhibition Group (Ruth Tompsett and Lesley Ferris), focuses on Notting Hill carnival artists in a range of ways, eg photographs, costumes, videos projection, a catalogue and a Carnival Interactive (multi-media computer programme)—produced by Ohio State University.

Before I left London, Albert Bailey and his production team, Claire Sheppard and Phillip Chavanes, filmed an interview with me as I recalled the struggle of the black community in Britain for equality/equity in education for their children since the 1960s. Bailey’s documentary will tap into the “memories” of a number of others who have been/are still involved in that struggle.

On a lighter note, I am sure that when PM Patrick Manning expressed his secret desire at a public meeting some weeks ago, he never dreamt that it would be the basis of a quiz in a British magazine. If my British readers want a chance to win £300, then run out and purchase the September 27 edition of Chat magazine. The quiz states: “What does Patrick Manning, the Prime Minister of T&T, secretly want to do?

“The words in the list below form a chain through the grid moving from one square to the next, either horizontally or vertically and starting at the shaded square in the top left. The unused letters spell out the three-word answer to our question.” The words the reader must find in the grid are: big cheese, chancellor, governor general, grand vizier, head honcho, president, prime minister, prince regent, sovereign, superintendent.

After my motivational speech at a school in London, a few fifth formers approached me asking if I knew the answer to the quiz. They then showed me the magazine. Of course, I told them they had to discover the answer for themselves. I added that we all have secret desires during our lifetime and often these bear no relation to what we eventually “do.” The main thing is that we should identify goals and be motivated to achieve rather than just sit around waiting for life to “happen.”

n Leela Ramdeen is a lawyer

and education consultant


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