Holi – a Springtime festival of Colour

The clocks may have gone forward to signify the beginning of Summertime, but there are other colourful signs of Spring and Summertime that are bursting from nature in this part of the northern hemisphere. It is also festival time for Holi – the ancient Hindu festival celebrated to mark the coming of spring as a time of renewal, regeneration and reconciliation.  It is celebrated with colour to represent vibrancy, fertility and togetherness associated with family and friends who have gathered to have fun. There are other significant stories of the festival such as the story of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha, as well as the story of Holika and Prahlad. It is a time of vibrant celebration when people run around covering each other with the rainbow of Gulal powders or coloured liquid, the latter known as abeer. Drums known as dhol and other musical instruments are played whilst people laugh, sing and dance in the streets or fields. The festival is celebrated in India and various parts of Asia – including the Indian diaspora in the West Indies, North America and even the UK. All in all, the festival represents love and the victory of good over evil.

 

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I was happy to see and learn more about the spring celebrations from past centuries in the Mughal Empire Exhibition at the British Library. The manuscripts and paintings were brilliant and capture the period in time by recording images of people, music, fashion, Holi-playing equipment, the entertainment and fun they obviously had during the celebrations. It was heart-warming to see the extravagance, elegance and details of the Mughal celebrations in the past in their regal settings. I am sure they got dirty too! I was compelled to buy a Holi celebration post card as a souvenir as the festival will always be special to me.

 

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These are some well-documented past celebrations in books with beautiful illustrations and online that show how it was celebrated by all classes in a society – from the Mughals to the people in the streets.

 

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Playing Holi / Phagwa in my village in Trinidad late 1980s.

 

Celebrating the festival of Holi is one of my best childhood memories, and it still makes me happy to see it celebrated from afar. It is a time for peaceful fun with the family, neighbours, friends and other villagers. It certainly is still very much a festival of togetherness which showcases the physical activity like a special rainbow – full of vibrant colour, music, dance and love.

 

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Phagwa, as we call it in the West Indies, is an integral part of the cultural calendar and is still very much alive considering it was brought from India to the West Indies by the indentured labourers in the 1840’s. Holi goes according to the lunar calendar which means it is usually celebrated in March. It is a national holiday in India but in Trinidad it is celebrated on the closest Sunday to the Indian date. Our local temple (mandir) is still the hub for organising and congregating for the celebration in the village, with persons wearing mainly white clothes prior to the start of the coloured festivities. With dholak drums carried around the neck and other musical instruments – the procession starts at the temple and goes along street after street, where people are invited in homes for some drinks, sweets or refreshments. This can last a few hours.

 

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It is exciting, thrilling and fun to play Holi. According to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s website – ‘A Carnival-like atmosphere pervades as willing participants are sprayed with a variety of coloured dyes.  You can hear the strains of special folk songs called Chowtal being sung, accompanied by two instruments – the Dholak, a small hand drum and Majeera, percussive instruments.  The music is fast-paced and extremely infectious, making you want to take part in the joy-filled revelry’.

It has gained popularity over the years by other non-Hindus and ethnicities. In the chapter ‘A rich blend of cultural influences’ in the book ‘Trinidad and Tobago: Terrific and Tranquil’, the island is described: “…but then in Trinidad and Tobago, always expect the unexpected, for this is a nation of two separate territories, many different ethnic groups and religions, and discrete and common cultures. You’d be hard pressed to find a population as ethically or culturally mixed as Trinidad’s, in such a small place, anywhere in the world”. The chapter also goes on to say: “Holi is an integral part of the cultural calendar”. Phagwa, March’s Hindu spring festival is celebrated on savannahs throughout the island to the singing of chowtal or pichakaaree songs and the drenching of all with colourful abeer”.

 

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Abeer is the purple liquid that my father would make in a bucket early on the Sunday morning of Holi. It used to be still warm from the water used to infuse the dye when we used to fill our saved and recycle bottles for the purple liquid. The buzz of getting that first spray with colour is truly joyous, fun and bonding! You certainly would not wear your ‘Sunday best clothes’ because by the end of the day your clothes will be soaked, and even ruined. In the 1980’s the coloured Gulal powder was introduced but prior to that we would use mainly the abeer liquid for spraying or drenching each other. My father would try to find some of the elders, such as Mama and Argee, in the neighbourhood to spray with abeer as a sign of respect, and to join in the fun. Throughout the day, we would look to spray our neighbours, family and the temple group as we go street to street through our special village. Phagwa is still celebrated with much fervour through Trinidad – now in schools and has been adopted by some as a national celebration and part of our identity.

 

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My Roman Catholic School – Holi Greetings on Facebook

 

My mother, family and villagers still welcome the local temple groups to our home for Holi, as do many homes along the parade in the village. I am grateful for the persons who are committed and still carry on these traditions after many years. It will always be our heritage and a true celebration of our past journeys across the seas. The message of good over evil, and the joy of life are always relevant. I am thankful to feel part of the great festivities, and the contagious happiness when I witnessed them on social media.

 

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Holi has influenced our multi-cultural society, such as when carnival band designer Peter Minshall used the spraying off colour on his masqueraders for his band Callaloo in 1984. Chutney music, which is the fusion of Caribbean and Asian beats and melodies, has been successful in creating mixed and modern music for the festivities. There is still a religious festival so there is no alcohol consumed on the day. So it is pure fun and happiness with the colours, music, dance and interaction with people.

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Callaloo – Carnival Band by designer Peter Minshall.   Source: Tumblr – http://carnival2014-blog.tumblr.com/post/46371316750/peter-minshall-callaloo-1984-photo-roy-boyke

I also can’t help thinking of Holi when I see the music video for the calypso by Machel Montano, better known as the Soca king, called ‘Fog up de Place’ with the lyrics: ‘you can’t play mas if you fraid powder’. J’ouvert and the Carnival sailor masqueraders share powder for different reasons (US sailors stationed in Trinidad used talc powder to cool themselves from the tropical heat), but the visual effects of the powder in the air is still amazing and similar. We have these festive traits in common.

 

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A few years ago, I saw that there was a globetrotting event based on Holi called Holi One Festival at Battersea Power Station in London. I also recall seeing some people on the London Underground with the powder on their once white clothes. There is a brilliant article ‘Holi One Colour Festival – Battersea Unites in an Explosion of Colour’ which explained the festival’s aimed to bring together people from all walks of life to share music, arts, fun and vitality. It was reported that: “14000 expectant revellers dressed from head to toe in white – three quarters of them women – streamed along the pavements like angelic ants, moving collectively towards one of London’s most recognised landmarks. They would leave an entirely different colour!” At the end of the event – the organisers found it promoted the ideas of togetherness and vitality that did not disappoint – “they were multi-coloured and it’s fair to say – unrecognisable mess”. A jet-wash was used for the clean up the next day. I can relate to this, as it is absolutely true too that you can still see some of the colour stains and evidence of Holi for a few days after the event. Your hair and fingernails will also bear the colours of Holi as a gentle…and sweet reminder afterwards. I don’t mind that.

 

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The Indian Bollywood film industry has helped us to appreciate the festival for its connection with the East Indies and West Indies. In the 1980s, we had neither Internet nor social media, so film such as Silsila was brilliant for us to see the visual expression and art of Holi as it is celebrated in India. We also know some of the songs, and they remain classics to this day.

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Film – Silsila 1981. Source: Wikipedia.

Holi is celebrated and popular throughout other West Indian countries such as Guyana and Suriname, where there are large Indo-Caribbean communities. I have also seen celebrations on social media in New York, Houston, Paris, Canada etc. The event in Queens, New York seems to be a merger of West Indians and East Indians, and there are Tassa drums used in the parade. The New York Police Department also participated in one of the Holi celebrations and used the opportunity to showcase their LGBT+ community. The rainbow symbol is very apt. It is a festival of time for everyone regardless of religion, colour, class, gender and age from my personal experience.

 

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A few years ago I went to the Caribbean Hindu Temple in North London to celebrate the festival and it was nice to be welcomed by the community and to play Holi again after so many years. I was going to play it this year but was busy on the day. I saw on social media that Indian students were also celebrating Holi at Middlesex University recently, and a couple of primary schools in the UK.   It was nice to see the celebrations in secular environments for the happiness and fun that playing Holi brings.

 

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Holi has been given a lot of exposure (rightly so!) by Google. Google’s logo is colourful and has evolved over the years.  In the last few years they have commissioned colourful and animated ‘Goggle Doodles’ for Holi with clearly explanatory details of the festival. In 2018, it depicted the traditional dhol drummers amongst a cloud of colour, who move from house to house, adding a musical touch to the day’s festivities. In 2019, it states that the visual excitement marks the start of spring but also offers: “a time for renewal, and a reversal of the social hierarchies among ages, classes, and castes. Holi’s also known as the festival of colors or the festival of love because it marks a time for coming together and releasing old grudges”. 

At Holi, the story of Holika is depicted with bonfires.  The bonfire signifies the demoness Holika, who tried to destroy her nephew Prahlad in a fire, but burnt herself to death in the end. Its’ meaning at springtime reminds us about the true victory of good over evil.

 

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The colourful festival of Holi is a diverse and inclusive celebration of dance, music and other rituals, which is a common thread amongst most cultures. The vibrancy, warmth and togetherness by people taking to the streets or in their community spaces, is something we all should try to experience at least once. The rainbow colours of the festival are played to the beating of songs of joy and happiness. It heralds a warm welcome to the new spring season with its’ stories, merriment, song and dance. In some form or another in human life, we can learn and admire this rich ancient celebration as we dance along to the beat of drums.

 

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Let the good times roll – taking the leads in New Orleans and Houston

Laissez les bon temps rouler – Let the good times roll

– New Orleans Cajun French

I can officially now say that I am the President-Elect 2019 for SLA Europe, and one of the recommendations from the Board of Directors was that I should attend the SLA Leadership Summit in New Orleans, USA. Therefore, I started the year with much anticipation with this trip to New Orleans – the Crescent City. These learning and collaboration opportunities don’t come by often, and as a destination, New Orleans has always been on my bucket list. I flew into Louis Armstrong Airport with Geraldine, a Swiss-British SLAer, and it was very nice to be given the pep talk by someone who has been through the role and who had some practical tips with stepping up to share with me. I have mentioned before in this blog that I have been a member of SLA since the early 2000s and still find the organisation beneficial and relevant to my work and profession. I have been able to take on tasks and responsibilities that have developed me personally, and this was an opportunity to hone in on my leadership skills and style. I also was able to fit in some great fun!

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The Leadership Symposium was three days of full-on meetings, presentations, table topical discussions, group exercises, networking, sharing best practices, knowledge, wisdom and general chat with a wide international network of information professionals. The facilitator Jon Hockman was excellent at enlightening, coercing, motivating, as well as helping us to focus our attention on our leadership missions, professional objectives, and personal goals.

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I have had some training in the past in my previous full-time and volunteering roles, but this was extra special as I was able to understand SLA better by being engaged at the symposium, participate in meetings, presentations and discussions I had witnessed – but most importantly, I was able to meet fellow professionals face to face. These all made the trip worthwhile and valuable to me.

To reach others, we first have to know ourselves. And to contact the deeper truth of who we are, we must engage in some activity or practice that questions what we assume to be true about ourselves.

– Adapted from A. H. Almaas

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I am one of those persons who actually does enjoy team building away-days and socialising, so the exercises and meeting new people are tasks that I relished. Most of the attendees were friendly and really pleased to know that I was representing the SLA Europe Chapter, and indirectly, my employers The British Library. They were excited to hear of our forthcoming autumn SLA Europe European Conference in the UK. Also, they were very complimentary and curious to know more after my short talk about our Continuous Professional Development (CPD) events and programmes that we had conducted here over the pond.

Everyone has influence in their association or organisation –

Slide provided by Jon Hockman

 

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One of the best aspects of the symposium was an opportunity to see historic and charming New Orleans! I went out on my own on Saturday to soak up the pre-Mardi Gras preparations and mood, especially as the New Orleans Saints were playing that day. For those of you who are not aware – Mardi Gras is the same day as Shrove Tuesday and Carnival Tuesday in Caribbean Carnivals (yeah – party time!). I loved the architecture, street music, art shops, galleries, musically theme bars, restaurants with Cajun and Creole foods, etc.

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I really was very contented to walk around in awe, from the modern convention district, hotels and commercial centres to the historic colonial building in the French Quarter better know as Vieux Carre (Old Square). Historic signs of indigenous names, colonialism and slavery are very apparent around the Louisiana landscape and buildings, from the shores of the Mississippi straight to the St Louis Cathedral and the Voodoo Cultural Centre. I made sure that I visited the Mississippi River for its significance and impact on American immigrant history. New Orleans is not dissimilar to parts of the Caribbean where I am from, and some of the buildings look like those you may find in colonial Port of Spain. I felt quite at home with the Mardi Gras costumes culture, music, street activity, food, and ethnic make-up in a mixed society.

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My friends and family were sending me recommendations to try various delicacies such as fried chicken in Treme, Beignets at Café Du Monde, Po’ Boy sandwiches and the lush….King Cake. Luckily the SLA Leadership Symposium had a high-quality King Cake that was ever so light and appealing to the eyes with the three Mardi Gras coloured sugars represented – Purple as Justice, Green as Hope and Gold as Power. I hope to make a King Cake for Mardi Gras this year. This will be a vintage epiphany year as I have eaten King Cake in London with my French friend Veronique, in New Orleans with SLAers, and in Houston with friends. The sweet perfume of the cakes in the local patisseries is something special too!

New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz and as a final treat, I went along with SLAers Ruth from Sacramento and retiree Janet from New Jersey to the Preservation Jazz Hall Band in the museum-like setting for an authentic live New Orleans Jazz show. It was an awesome, quaint, intimate and once-in-a-lifetime type of gig that I won’t forget. The musicians and singers were of a high calibre and I couldn’t help myself humming along and tapping my toes.

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New Orleans will have a lasting impact on me for the leadership training and work we carried out over the two days but also for the magical and creative influences it also has on me in terms of its’ culture, identity, and energy. No wonder the saying is appropriate…let the good times roll!

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Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt

Houston was my next stop. It was easy to get an internal flight to a city I had heard a lot about from a neighbour who lived there since the 1980s. I have always been curious as it is not far away from Dallas, which is famous for the well-known 1980s soap opera. On arrival at the airport, it is clean and noticeably very high tech, where I was able to get free Wi-Fi – which is always a bonus when travelling abroad. I also saw only one cowgirl, but apparently, there aren’t many about in the city. It is not Rodeo season too when it is certainly an attraction for music, food, and entertainment from photos I have seen in the past.

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Although I saw some cows, there were certainly a lot of freeways, shopping malls, restaurants and fields of oilrigs and tanks. Houston is a wealthy city with a steady economy and ‘old money’ from the oil industry. It is also a financial centre, university city and at the cutting edge of medical research with the Texas Medical Center complex hosting 60 medical institutions. I also liked the downtown skyline, the gorgeous architecture, and homes. There were newer neighbourhoods in suburbia, where there are large and expensive homes in gated communities near lakes. My friends told me that your money goes a long way in Houston compared to other cities. It is seventh in the best largest cities in the USA.

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Houston is famous for NASA’s Mission Control Centre. We have all heard the saying “Houston – we have a problem!” from an astronaut’s message to Houston’s NASA mission control popularised in the film Apollo 13. This is synonymous with problem-solving and working in remote teams. I was really pleased to know that my friend lives close by and we were able to visit the NASA Johnson Space Center. The exhibition areas were curated with mock-ups, film, and simulations that were informative and entertaining for children and adults. I even liked hearing about the mission control problems, such as with Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano – it was a gripping real-life story of the challenges faced by astronauts and space exploration. It was an informal leadership lesson as it reminded me of the need to have strong individuals but also strong teams to help with problem-solving. One of the clips extols about the need and the steps in failure that NASA has taken so far to get that far in outer space. Their failures have enabled learning and progress.

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Like magic, that very morning the news in Houston showed a clip of entrepreneur Richard Branson speaking about his Virgin Galactic space tourism programme, and what it is likely to be when it is launched. I thought of this in the real mission control training rooms for astronauts after seeing the various space equipment and components that they must learn to use and get familiar with before they set out for discoveries in a life-challenging, harsh and dangerous space and environment. In a presentation, we were told about the Boeing and Space X programme, the latter by entrepreneur Elon Musk. We were still able to see the actual Mission Control room that is currently used for training but soon it will be used for the MARS space programme by mid-2020. We also saw engineers working on innovative robots and space equipment.

“People actually make sense by thinking about the past,
not about the future….constructing explanations about
past performance often yields new strategies, insights or innovations.”

– Jon Hockman course slide on Leadership.

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The other remarkable aspect of the tour was seeing the large equipment that has been in outer space but they were now located next to a field of cattle and cows on a heritage farm on the NASA site. There are signs for deer crossing and other wild animals that roam the site – this is ironic for keeping space explorers grounded in the countryside and natural environment in Texas. There are trees planted to honour and show appreciation to astronauts who have passed away. NASA also apparently has a local outreach and competitions programme for schools. Unite, Create and Explore is their mission motto displayed on site to encourage space exploration…and that is a good problem to have!

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Like New Orleans, I spent some lovely time socialising with my friends and it was amazing checking out the local homes, shopping and leisure areas. There were some cows in a field but also a lot of large shopping areas with the likes of JC Penny, Guillards, Wal-Mart, Costco and very nice entertainment and restaurant areas. The food was amazing and my friends made sure that I tried some of the local dishes!

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We also took a drive to Galveston, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. I was aware of it by a couple of pop songs, and by looking at the maps of the south of the USA. It is a really nice seaside town with influences from the immigrants who came there – so you can still see French and Spanish architecture, British telephone boxes, and they were also getting ready for Mardi Gras.

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Both New Orleans and Houston have the crossroads and waterways with the past and present, the wild and the unknown – a coming together with the old and new USA and Europe. I am truly grateful for the learning opportunities and insight this trip gave me and see it as an honour and privilege to continue to serve SLA Europe, its’ board, members, and stakeholders. I hope to see some new contacts, and familiar faces I met on this trip another time at the USA annual conference in 2020.

Calendar Love – focus on time throughout the year

‘Calendar Love’ is a term I have been using for about 7 years on Twitter whereby I willingly only shared small information bites about my calendar in my home.  In the early days of Twitter, this was the only personal detail I was willing to share with persons I don’t know, haven’t met, plus I knew this information would be in the public domain. As the social media platform developed, I have since shared many photos of food, cakes, vegetables, flowers etc. I still share ‘Calendar Love’ on the 1st of each month – it has actually helped me appreciate and explore what I might know about the image, motivates me to learn more about the subject, place and artist who created it. I will elaborate below on my favourite calendars over the last few years that I can remember,  and those that I have shared monthly on Twitter. I will continue to share about Calendars like this in the New Year too…and as long as Twitter is still in existence. But seriously, modern calendars are very popular for business, fundraising, promoting the arts, artists and raising awareness.  They also are popular items to purchase in shops and online which stay with you throughout the year.

 

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After researching calendars (Romans called the first day of the month Calends) recently,  it is clear that the topic is a big deal in all ancient and modern civilisations throughout history for time management, as well as for understanding the world in terms of scientific evidence for the cycle of life. There are many reasons for us to note the importance of calendars for keeping track of time, organising one’s own life, business appointments, time management, prioritising and planning, maintaining religious and political order, festivals, navigation, travel etc.  In addition to the bigger picture universal dance of the planets on where we live.

Time has been recorded and organised by humanity over time itself and in tune with the order (at times disorder) with nature and science – be it by the sun and the moon, day and night and other environmental and cosmic energies. Early farmers and travellers would be governed by the daylight and moonlight, obviously they would have noticed the changing of the seasons and the position of the sun and moon (especially without modern electricity). This is engagingly explained in this video ‘The brief history of the Calendar and Time Keeping’ by lecturer Donna Caroll of Maastricht University. It is brilliant and has more details than I can possibly tell you! It is also excellent for nature, history, astronomy, maths and physics fans.

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Pope Gregory. Source Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar

So from sundials, using human hands and other earlier timekeeping tools, eventually the Gregorian calendar, as we know calendars now, was made popular across the world. The adoption of calendars and timekeeping systems were accelerated with developments and inventions, such as clocks and compasses, which were used in navigation across the seas, and throughout the introduction and development of rail travel. The rest is history and time was standardised. We still have to rely on official international dates to keep track of time and special days from non-fixed religious to secular days such as: Easter, Mardi Gras (Christian calendar), Diwali (Hindu calendar), Eid (Arabic Calendar), Chunnak/Hanukkah (Jewish Calendar), sporting fixtures, festivals events, celebrations, anniversaries etc.

 

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Right up to date, Calendars are used digitally and/or in paper materials by most of us. There is a large market for printing and digital programming calendars for personal and business use. This brings a paper versus digital debate, but I think both formats for personal and business use have their place, purpose and time. No pun intended!

 

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I was able to find market research for the calendar industry published by William & Marshall Strategy for the UK and other global markets. It was actually difficult to pinpoint the retail sale of printed calendars in the current research sources I have access to in the library.  This is because calendars are produced under a niche market for paper products, and usually are categorised within the stationery or cards market. Nowadays, calendars can be purchased as popular presents in shops and online, especially this time of year. Some companies have actually jumped on the ‘Advent’ Calendar bandwagon to promote products. Mintel reports pre-Christmas ‘Adult Adventing’ is a thing: For brands there is also a strategic element that can come from offering advent calendars, which is exposure to various products. Sampling is a great way to drive interest and how a consumer discovers new products”.

You can also personalise calendars with your own designs, images and photos to meet new digital trends in the need for stylish and personalised alternatives. Shops in Trinidad & Tobago tend to give you calendars as gifts during the festive season, and the same with the Italian shops in Bedford, England. They mainly have religious images on them the last time I received one.

 

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Ironically, not all of us want to be controlled by calendars and time. I can’t possibly be that free of ‘time schedules’ at present due to work and other commitments, but ironically the watchmakers Quartz have blogged about ‘Improving your social life by changing the way you schedule it’. The piece explains the term Chronemics – “which studies time and our relationship to it, and how it affects communication—would call this (sic) living on ‘event time’- letting your actions be dictated by the flow of your day, or by natural events, like the sun’s rise or slow disappearance, rather than the clock’s ticking”. This lack of clock-watching or time keeping would be such a luxury…but for now, we need calendars!

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Calendar Girls

Calendars are also very good for creative businesses and we buy a design that really resonates with us.  We love creating and buying them for fundraising appeals. When I was fundraising for a local charity, our joint-chair was a graphic designer who thought of producing a calendar with major relevant celebrations and to create awareness on topics during the year. There was a lot of research work involved with all the factual information to incorporate into a calendar’s design, as well as making it aesthetically pleasing to the eye. No wonder that I look forward to receiving a new calendar at home each year.  We’ve heard about the film ‘Calendar Girl’ (which I haven’t seen as yet). Calendars are still a fab fundraising idea and a good revenue generator. As this Australian story of spunky firemen fundraising for local youths from the sale of their calendars. Calendars are also used effectively for raising awareness on social and politics issues, for example, the Macedonian Twitter Calendar combines nude art with information and fundraising. Now in its’ fifth edition, the Macedonian calendar has been donating the money from calendar sales to support various humanitarian causes over the years. You can also donate online without purchasing the calendar.

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Source: Macedonia Twitter Calendar http://goli.n.ie.mk/2019/gallery.html

So now you know why I love calendars! Here are some of my favourite calendars at home over the last few years that I can remember, especially since starting my ‘Calendar Love’ tweets at the beginning of each month in the last few years:

Robert Doisneau – Year 2001 was a curated black and white photographic calendar entitled ‘Playground’ with photos of children that captured the humour, irony and emotion of their everyday lives mainly around Paris. Coincidently, I went to Paris for the first time that year and was inspired to take my own black and white photos there too.

 

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Beryl Cook – Beryl was one of the first calendars I tweeted about each month and her images were funny and naughty. I frequently discovered digital artwork in online shops to link to my tweets, and also discovered a lot of art museums and online shops would have more details on the paintings about her and other artists.

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Beryl Cook’s painting. Source: Wikipedia.

Alias – This German Street Artist was very edgy and used to thrill me each month as his images were very thought provoking on social and political issues. He frequently had images of children in very dangerous situations, which made me nervous but also concerned.

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Alias – Berlin Street Artist. Source – https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/alias/

L.S. Lowry – Lowry was an artist I didn’t know much about prior to receiving the calendar, and he pictures were so representative of Manchester. I saw the landscape from his viewpoint as they showed the city’s industrial setting. I found out that year that he has a museum in Manchester and still hope to visit it one day. I also discovered that his mother suffered from depression and he painted in the evening after caring for her. He also suffered depression after her death. It was great he was successful despite his struggles.

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L.S. Lowry – ‘Going to Work’ 1943. Source: Wikipedia.

Claude Monet – Monet’s calendar was very nice to have, but sorry to say – it was underwhelming sometimes as I unable to distinguish his various water lily ponds (such a philistine I hear you say). However, I know now that he had a whole series of ‘Water Lilies’, and he painted them in the later part of his life when he had cataracts. The same year there was also a major exhibition in town and it felt good to know we had his calendar that same year. I was privileged enough to see one of his paints in the William Morris Gallery recently.

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Origin Claude Monet painting now in The William Morris Gallery for the ‘Enchanted Garden’ exhibition.

Emma Scutt – A local artist from Walthamstow, Emma paints a lot of local landmarks and her attention to detail is amazing! She can be found in arts and crafts pop-up markets and her work is also stocked in local shops. I like that Emma shares her Calendar picture each month. I wasn’t even aware of her and her work before I started tweeting about Calendars but it is nice when I can rely in her timely shares, or the British Library tweeters to share information on the first of each month in true ‘Calends’ style!

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Miroslav Sasek – Sasek is a Czech artist who apparently travel the world.  His New York City illustrations calendar 2017 was a souvenir we bought from the New York Public Library shop. As usually, I didn’t know much about Sasek before obtaining the calendar but I soon realised more about his work on global cities. It was such a pleasure to discover some of his wider international work and humour. Guess what too!? …We also have his London 2019 calendar but it will not be for tweeting as there is apparently another I will be sharing information about.

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Japanese Woodblock – This was my calendar for 2018 and again it introduced me to a new style of art and the calendar actually had a short poem, which was a bonus! It contained images from masterful Japanese artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. The artworks feature elegant irises, cascading waterfalls and snowy landscapes, all created in a mesmerizing style and displayed with vibrant colours. Sometimes I think of Hokusai and how he started painting late in life – maybe one day I can too! He work is also popular and I can recognise replicates of his work better.

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The next few days I will be getting use to new calendars at home and in the office.  I will also have digital versions at hand on my smartphone as well as my office computer. There is no way I can avoid using a calendar – I need them to keep me in check, organised and plan ahead. We all do! It is a joy to see a new image every month in my arty calendars and to know that it is a fresh start, a new season or even a new year. There are so many personal and business benefits for our timekeeping systems to work. With time ticking and the 2020s on the horizon, we can only take each day at a time. But do remember to say “Pinch Punch!” or “White Rabbit” on the first of each Calendar month.

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The Bigger Picture – challenges, benefits and celebrating positivity with Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice and equity is a goal –

Dereca Blackmon, Stanford

What do diversity, inclusion and equity really mean? …This is the question we might want to ask ourselves, especially in a diverse digitally connected world in the 21st century. It can be unclear why we even need to discuss this topic but it has been on my radar particularly since I was asked to take part in a SLA Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion in 2016. I was an honour to be asked, and I was unsure if I had anything insightful to contribute but to be honest, I realised that I was already championing the features of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. We don’t usually need to disclose attributes of people, but for the purpose of this blog post, I have mentioned information on myself and gave a couple of real examples.

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SLA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force Participation in 2017

I am a little ahead of the game for some obvious reasons – I am female, an ethnic minority, working mother with a powerful diverse background of being a Trinidadian (other Trinidadians will understand what I mean with regards to diversity), married to a European, living in multicultural London…and I worked in world class libraries. I am heterosexual with no obvious disabilities. However we must remember that there are other areas of diversity and inclusion that is deeper than the physical and obvious. The point of this blog post is to discuss some of the challenging issues we face, but also to find examples of good practices and stress how important it is for information professionals to advocate, champion and stand up for diversity and inclusion for the communities and customers we serve. In this context, I am mainly discussing the business workplace and libraries with some principles for the wider society.

I need to do some more research on an official definition for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity as it tends to cover Equality rights and anti-discrimination policies. However there are some good pointers on this Wikipedia page, and the SLA Caucus page has a good example of the motive behind the topics. The term Equity is used more in the US, where I saw a good example on this voluntary sector site Independent Sector.

Freedom is Indivisible –Nelson Mandela

 

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Found in a Venue in Tottenham

My research also came across a motivating quote on Diversity and Inclusion at the closing keynote at the National Diversity in Libraries Conference, Los Angeles – Bourg, as a white, butch, lesbian, Army veteran, library director, and Hathcock, as a black, straight, cisgender, Christian, Southern, non-director, sat on stage and talked from the heart about the ways in which they are attempting to learn from and with each other along their varying intersections. Their work, said Bourg and Hathcock, begins first and foremost with an acknowledgement that “libraries have never been, are not now, and will never be neutral,” that whiteness sits at the heart of our society and therefore our institutions”.

This puts the topic in context and shows the library and information professional position on Diversity and Inclusion.   There is a quest of best practice by information professionals in being pragmatic with neutrality versus social justice for the communities who we serve in providing facts, unbiased and trusted information. For example, I remember being ‘as nice as apple pie’ serving members of the British National Party in a working library where impartiality and neutrality were the guiding principles. However at the same time, on balance I would advocate for libraries that were cut by mainstream Politicians and government policies. As I am aware, I still try in my own way to reach marginalised library users by stretching out.   There is a need to try to reach as many as possible, regardless of biases and background. This world should be a level playing field where everyone has a voice. We certainly should also stand up if something or if someone was harmful or threatening to others.

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Looking at ‘The Bigger Picture’ shows that Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are progressive hot topics. It is important for us to think about these terms in the workplace as well as in society. There are a few events that I kept a close eye on social media recently, where there were online events advocating and discussing the topics. The UK Lib Chat Twitter talk on ‘Celebrating Diversity: supporting clients and broadening the profession in libraries’ held some great nuggets of thoughts on how we should implement this in this sector. It was also fabulous to see the tweets (Twitter @StemGameChange) shared for the Gender Diversity in STEM event at the Alan Turing Institute a couple of weeks ago. It was nice for the speakers to invite me in too but I was busy in my normal work, so could not attend. I also refer to CILIP and SLA Connect online community caucus on Diversity and Inclusion for best practices and information.

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Gender Equality in STEM at the Alan Turing Institute

So what is the problem? Why do we need to be reminded about Diversity & Inclusion? Harvard Business Review’s ‘Research: People share more information with colleagues of similar backgrounds’ states: “in the workplace, people tend to trust and attribute a higher status to colleagues whose cultural background are similar to their own. As a result, members of the majority national group – and minorities who share cultural similarities with the majority – also share the most information with one another. Whereas minorities with the most cultural differences are often attributed a lower status and information is withheld from them. This withholding can cause those from ‘low status’ minority groups to underperform and never reach their full potential”.

This is just one of the problems. There are other issues around privilege, recruitment, team dynamics, talent development, gender pay-gap, cronyism, cliques, tribes and exclusivity, which act as barriers to diversity and inclusion. There have been some progress and positive steps to have better talent and support systems, but this also requires diversity and inclusion to be fluid enough to filter to the top of teams and even executive boards. There is a lot of research that a more diverse board or top management around the table will have broader viewpoints and experiences, which will heed better business decisions that are best for an organisation.

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Words in this blog…Diversity and Inclusion

Most of the research I read says that it is not always easy to achieve the right balance. “True equality is not taking away for one to give to another. It means having an equal voice, opportunities and rights”. There is a lot written on the ‘privileged’ White Alpha Male – a group that has long been overdone and it can be monotonous for the rest of us in the shadows. It is possible to seek more balance where anyone can get an opportunity to contribute and to harness talent. There is richness in diversity, inclusion and equity in all of this…if we are in it together. The demography, scope and locations of the global consumers are also more diverse in a digital world – and top management have to reflect and understand their audience, staff, customers, clients and stakeholders. We are not forgetting the White Alpha Male – we are simply including him in the mixture with a balanced and broader talent pool. We just have to make room for more diversity and inclusion.

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In the article ‘While automation eats jobs, it doesn’t eat work’ on Equity: “companies are committed to a diverse work force for varying motivations. Some believe that diverse teams are just smarter and more creative… Other firms, especially technology companies believe that they are disproportionally responsible for designing the future and therefore it’s simply wrong to leave entire communities out of their teams”. There is also a positive outcome when people feel they belong – they perform better.

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The other aspect of Diversity and Inclusion practices is that there are strategies for a supportive culture, with advocacy to maintain and sustain positive levels. It is recommended that organisations examine themselves and their policies for: “without them, diversity cannot be achieved because people will leave before they are given the opportunity to make a difference”.

Another piece of research by Culture Amp states: “Creating a workplaces that make people feel they belong. Without this, no matter how much diversity you might achieve by the numbers. You may find people feel disconnected, disengaged and prone to leaving your organisation”.

There is another issue of unconscious and conscious bias. There may be physical attributes to humans that make us compassionate and conscious to inclusiveness. At a Public Library Conference in the USA this year, keynote speaker Steve Pemberton (Chief Diversity Officer at GloboForce) explains: “the first picture you see of someone is not the full picture”. We come into this world with visible characteristics and diversity traits… but the real story is below the line: “This things you can’t see would be stunned to see how much commonality there really is, but it requires conversation and willingness to be open and to learn”. So with this in mind – an inclusive environment means providing everyone, no matter who they are with equal access. The richness of inclusion and diversity is below this invisible line: “Top of the waterline are people’s visible traits but below the water line many other invisible traits emerge, such as sexual orientation, beliefs and background”. Pemberton went on to say: “that we need to depend on each other and celebrate our myriad experiences because we all have something new to learn about the world”.

I may be thinking of a Utopian idea…but we can dream, and hopefully we can forget the hostile and divisive hot air that is currently blowing in parts of this world.

In reality, there is still some work to do. Libraries still play a large part in diversity and inclusion, and operate in one of the most open physical and digital areas you would expect to encounter. But we are still a profession in the English-speaking world that has mainly white professionals. It is heart-warming and motivating when I see social media shares from libraries in Trinidad and Tobago for their good work on diversity and inclusion programmes.

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This way – Library sign in  Trinidad & Tobago

There are still vast issues, levels of poverty and access for customers in a ‘first world’ country like the United Kingdom. A multi-cultural and diverse content coverage should be programmed, but there are pressures on public funds. Socio-economic barriers prevent diversity in developing professionals and the communities they serve. Most of these issues are in disadvantaged urban environments where there are discourse for crime, low income families struggles, poverty, underprivileged persons and other societal disparities – therefore librarians act as a haven for promoting diversity and inclusion in their communities. There are other barriers like the digital divide, dyslexia, the elderly, literacy, languages, and physical disabilities. Some will be visible and some below the line. This may be a good point to acknowledge too that there are some people who may never come into the library, but there are still a large proportion of people who do see its’ worth and will continue to use them.

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Therefore we must continue to be diverse, inclusive and equitable. Outreach and marketing work helps to reach marginalised communities which will foster positive inclusion for developing diverse professionals and customer bases. CILIP has a great page on the work they are doing in their diversity and inclusion programmes. It is motivating as an information professional that we are doing our little bit on the front line to help disadvantaged communities and individuals. It leads to better social cohesion, improve economic prosperity and the possibilities in a more level playing field in a diverse and inclusive society.

There are a lot of best practices out there for professionals and organisations to champion the business and corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity programming. These types of programmes are leading the way and act as a benchmark to adopt and ‘anchor’ in our businesses and mission. Some of these admirable organisations are Channel Four, Touchstone and Halebury. There are some tips on the CIPD factsheet, and the Gov.UK website as an employer.

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So what does this all mean to us now? …There are a lot of positive policy, narrative changes, game-changers and professionals working to create more diverse and inclusive work environments. There are also inclusiveness programmes that are trying to balance representation, content, coverage and highlight diverse stories for personnel and patrons for all types of businesses. Some cynics may even be ‘fatigued’ by the words ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ and much more so by an inclusive agenda! However, if we don’t continue to encourage positive policy and action – we will end up with an echo chamber and miss out on the richness of celebrating our differences and similarities.

In the bigger picture – diversity, inclusion and equity have a lot of benefits and are the best ingredients for shared collaboration and empowerment of individuals and organisations. Embedded inclusion with a whirlpool of diverse talent makes life more interesting, and exposes us to fresh perspectives, bringing better understanding and with it respect, compassion and hopefully, greater all-round success.

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Welcome.

 

Shake, Rattle and Roll – Dance until you drop

Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, as if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the Middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.

– Rumi

I have now come to the point in life where wisdom makes me see and appreciate the more important and finer things in humanity and life – Dance is one of them. Those of you who have known me since a child would recall that I have always loved dancing. We have danced together in our homes, schools, at parties, clubs, on the street and even in our kitchens. My parents were keen dancers and even my mother showed us the steps to calypso and meringue dancing. Apparently, my paternal grandmother was a dancer, which explains a lot of my family’s enjoyment in dancing – it must be in our DNA. My only regret is that when asked by parents on whether I wanted to take classical Indian Dance lessons…I said no. Recently my mother reminded me of this to my horror and deep regret. However, it seems like every week this month I have been to a musical event or dance show at the theatre. That is exactly the way I like my social life – with some form of dance or music.

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In this post I would like to cover some of my thoughts and activities on dancing. As an art form, we should support the performing arts, venues and persons who facilitate and teach dancing for its real cultural, financial and emotional value. Dancing also helps us lead healthy lives, feel happy, keep us entertained and improve our general well-being regardless of age, background, geographic locations, ethnicity etc.

Dance is like time itself. Just like our solar system – dancing has been around for as long as humanity as an art form of performance, expression, social interaction, connection, rituals, entertainment, spirituality and a reflection of life. According to Dancefacts, the oldest evidence of dancing comes from the UNESCO listed 9000 year old cave painting that are found in Bhimbetka, India. The rock painting depicts scenes from hunting, childbirth, religious rites, burials and most importantly, communal drinking and dancing.

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Bhimbetka Cave Drawing, India

Fast forward to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks also showed proof of the development of dance in their culture – most notably at the start if the ancient Olympic Games. Dance integrated with drama in theatre, music and other celebrations through to the western world with ballet in the 18th century. Other 20th century two-person classic dances such as the waltz, foxtrot, tango, Charleston, swing, hip hop, breakdancing etc may be more familiar to us. Dance is ever evolving with new trends, moves, beats and influences. There is a 21st century fascination with popular viewing of dance competitions in our living rooms with the television programmes like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in the UK and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in the USA. We still go to see dance in theatres that tell us stories, showcase professional talent, or simply, we participate in dance to celebrate life.

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My parents would take me to see dance live shows in Trinidad such as the ‘Mastana Bahar Pageant’ and touring Indian dancers. African dance traditions are also celebrated in the ‘Best Village’ competitions that I saw on Fridays on television and inspire Carnival moves like the Moko Jumbies. There was also a Latin dance tutorial television series on Monday nights, but I can’t remember the title of the show. Dance is still very much part of the social life in Trinidad and integral to the Trinidadian psyche. There are few people there who cannot move in time to the beat regardless of background or age.

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Let us read, and let us dance.

These two amusements will never do any harm to the world.

– Voltaire

Currently, Dance is an important part of our both our everyday sports and culture without us noticing it. It makes up a large amount of a theatre repertoire with music, acting and other stage production. According to Statista, 22% of the UK population went to a ballet, a dance performance or an opera annually. In 2016, 7.9% of adults participated in a form of dance other than for fitness. Dance has also evolved and morphed into some major fitness exercises such as Zumba, Body Step, Street Dance, Soca dance etc. According to Statista, “the most common reasons to choose a style of dance fitness is the music, of which Fitsteps and Zumba appear to be on the rise in popularity among dance fitness professionals”.

In terms of my own fitness goals – I should try to make time for dance fitness lessons and will try to be more proactive about this as a new Salsa class has started in my neighbourhood. I am certainly a freestyle dancer as I have little professional experience. However, I have immense admiration for professional dancers who have followed that dream and trained long and hard.

I took salsa lessons locally between 2001-2003 every week, and even went to some central London dance venue as I got to a fairly good level. However, I haven’t taken dance lessons since then…but may take up salsa lessons locally again with ‘The Salsaman’ dance trainer. There are also a few local community dance groups in my neighbourhood that use social media to effectively promote their classes. Zumba is another fitness-dance form that has taken over the world in the last decade.

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Big business also uses dance for capturing our attention with engaging adverts. Multivitamin brand Berocca introduced a new brand character, Roccy the Chameleon, in March 2017. Their effective use of the eye-catching Chameleon dancing and body popping moves to Punjabi music, communicated how the brands supplements can help to combat tiredness and fatigue, and ended with the tagline ‘Be more Berocca’. They also ran a marketing campaign that was supported with social media activity, and ran advertisements on the London Underground to target commuters who are a key audience, according to Mintel (Vitamin & Supplements 2017). There are other fabulous creative uses of dance in advertising, such as some of my favourites like Guinness, Adidas, Pepsi.

In my work-life, I have taken part in line dancing, loved the Big Dance initiative and attended a Georgian Dance talk and demonstration. Dance is serious stuff too!

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If you are in contact with me via social media, you would see that I am frequently out ‘socially’ at local events and Caribbean parties. All good for the the nighttime economy. In the last few weeks, I have attend the following events where I was able to have a little dance:

3 March – YSBD (You should be Dancing title inspired by Saturday Night Fever) which occurs regularly at the Walthamstow Trades Hall. It is usually for adults with cheap entry fee and drinks. I also don’t have very far to go for a fabulous little boogie.

10 March – Chutney in London at Funky Brown in North London was an opportunity to catch up with my West Indian friends and to enjoy some Chutney Indian Caribbean fusion music and dance.

16 March – Rose and Crown for a birthday party where the DJ were playing Northern Soul Music and general British Pop music. I can always judge a fab party when I stay later than I intended.

4 & 23 March – Mirth Marvel Maud theatre for live band Dennis Rollins and Funky Funk, which eventually got us all to our feet. And Jazzy B’s DJ set, the entrepreneur and musician behind Soul II Soul, who played some fabulous soul and neo-soul music. There was one track (I wasn’t aware off) which had the crowd buzzing.

17 March – ‘Tango after Dark’ show by Sadler’s Well at the Peacock Theatre. This was an Argentinian touring group with sizzling dance choreography accompanied by a live band and singers. It was a treat to see, and reminded me of other gorgeous Latin dance troupes ‘Brasil Basiliero’ and ‘Havana Rakathan’. I also have been to see Swan Lake by Walthamstow’s Sir Matthew Bourne a couple of years ago. So do keep an eye out for Sadler’s Well shows.

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And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. – Friedrich Nietzsche

These are just simple ways I can still enjoy my passion for dance with music, and it certainly won’t be the last I mention it. Again, I find that there is so much on dance that I can write about. I am sure to return to the topic again. Dance will continue to fulfil us with joy, entertainment, inspiration, enlightenment, togetherness and connectivity with other cultures, humans and music. We should seek to support dance companies, professionals and the art form itself. If like me, you just like to have a little boogie when you can – just do it! And be sure to dance until you drop.

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Ring out the Old, Ring in with the New

“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”

Alfred Tennyson

I am writing this at a restful festive time after Christmas when most people tend to wind down with family and friends during the season’s celebrations. It is also a time when I mentally close off the year in my mind. I sort of remember things and memories by the year it occurred (be it by association by music, smells or other unconscious triggers). It is also a great time for shopping, spending money on presents, which is great news for the retail industry. I was considering a more serious topic such as what consumer and economic trends to look out for in 2018 as forecasted in some of our business information sources in the library. However, I decided to reflect on a light-hearted look back at an average, but at times, exceptional year for me. I will leave the traditional media and magazines to tell you about the official world review of the year. I am going to cover some of the little things that mattered a lot to me – my iPhone photos are like a visual journal of the year. So, I am ready to say goodbye to 2017.

January – I started with a blog post about ‘Beating the January Blues’, on reflection it seemed that I actually managed to do just that! I saw some amazing Ceilidh dancing at the Southbank on 1st Jan, made my first Gallette Du Rois, celebrated Burns Night with friends, and also had fun at the SLA Europe Quiz. I will be celebrating the Gallette due Rois again, and I am looking forward to the next SLA Europe quiz at a new venue in a few weeks time. You too can join us if you really want to.

February – I seemed to have baked a lot this year going by the photos I’ve taken. I made pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, and a lemon drizzle sponge during a break in February. I attended a Guardian Newspaper supper club at the Geffrye Museum, hosted by the amazing and beautiful Eleanora Galasso, who was also launching her cookbook. Her menu for the evening was interesting and the supper club dining company was friendly. I also went to see Mario Biondi at the Union Chapel. He was great live and used the LIVE feature on Facebook, which also prompted me to use it for the first time to the pleasure of a few of my friends who interacted with me.

March – Spring was in the air and it seems I was getting ready with my neighbours for some neighbourhood spring cleaning, E17 Art Trail plans, and more baking (must do a blog post just on baking!). I also went to Cardiff for the first time for a two-day training course at the Intellectual Property Office. I have now visited three capital cities in the UK, except Belfast. I still want to visit the countryside in Wales again after visiting Monmouthshire over a decade ago.

April – The days got lighter and the spring blooms were out. There were lots of places to see beautiful daffodils and blossoms. I was already beginning to channel the ‘Tree of Life’ submission for the E17 Art Trail by our neighbourhood. We organised a group of volunteers to clean, prepare and source plants for the garden with the advice from the local councillor. I attended Jonathan and Theresa’s fabulous wedding party with the John Ongom Big Band. I went to see the E17 Puppet Show ‘Vikings and Valkyries’ at the William Morris Gallery as they would be performing a street theatre in June for us. I also had a girly R&R (Rest and Relaxation) day with friends in Essex with cream tea as a treat.

May – I prepared a lot for the E17 Art Trail garden and it seemed to go according to plan. It is amazing when you depend on people to work with you voluntary…and you do actually pull off something out of nothing! My neighbours were brilliant and created fabulous designs on terracotta pots and donated plants for our garden. That was heart-warming. It’s December now, and the last time I looked at the garden, there were only about three plant pots that were missing or damaged. The space is used more than before and we have since received further funding to redevelopment and redesign the space. Luckily we have an expert resident architect to help and advise us with the redesign.

I also went to Dublin in May and it was an amazing experience! I was warmly welcomed by my friend Lina, and also the Irish library and information professional community as an SLA Europe representative. I blogged about my trip here.  I still think of the Irish green fields I saw on my trip to and from Dublin to Galway.

June – The launch of the much anticipated E17 Art Trail and we were pleased with our participation in Poets’ Corner E17. Walthamstow went wild for the 1000 Swifts and other collaborative and community creative activities and events. We had lovely weather for the ‘Vikings and Valkyries’ street puppet show on our newly pedestrianised street in the neighbourhood. We also held a fabulous street party.

July – One of the major highlights of my year! I went home to Trinidad and Tobago for my 30th School Reunion. My schoolmates chatted, praised, danced and re-acquainted ourselves, as well as made new memories. After 18 months of planning by a small group, it was amazing and much appreciated. It was also a special time to spend with family and friends. Regardless of all the problems in the country and this world – I see the beauty in this small Caribbean island and know that it is a place I can always proudly call home.

August – It is normally depressing coming back after a summer holiday but I had the Notting Hill Carnival to look forward to. After the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy – it was a devastating and shameful reminder of the disparity in one of the richest part of London in the 21st century. Notting Hill Carnival itself was good fun on a very sunny day and I loved our costumes to the ‘First People’ theme. Two annoying factors were the real threat of an acid attack, and the false reporting of an acid attack. You can never win here.

September – It was back to school, back to work and back to routine. I baked my first Coffee and Walnut cake for the library’s fundraising Macmillan Coffee and Cakes afternoon. As I wasn’t in the office – I still don’t know how it tasted! I also went to Derby for the first time to settle my son into university. It seems like a nice city, if a little quieter than other major cities. I hope to explore more of Derbyshire next year.

October – The darker months were here again and there were Halloween celebrations in town. I went to see the Basquait ‘Boom for Real’ exhibition and Banksy’s Basquait tribute graffiti, which were brilliant. Also at the Barbican, I saw Annoshka Shankar’s live accompaniment to the digitally restored 1920s silent film ‘Shiraz’. It was an unforgettable experience. I also had luck on my side at the SLA Europe gin tasting event, as I won a raffle for three flavours of gin, which I am hoping to try soon.

November – I was lucky and happy to return to Trinidad again for a family wedding and reception. I don’t usually go often and it was worth going to see a modern Indian-Trinidadian wedding and reception. The merging of the east and west cultural influences is special. It was nice to spend time with loved ones again and I had a mini reunion with some school friends. I witnessed some fabulous wedding business ideas and event planners for our unique Trini wedding. It was nice again to dress-up, have my hair and make-up done by professionals. I received nice comments on my outfits. The bride and groom looked utterly beautiful in all the wedding celebrations.

December – Back to work and lots of activities in the library. It was also a reality check to come back from the tropics to very snowy weather. I went to the newly opened Walthamstow Wetlands for a Christmas Carols concert. I had fun at the YSBD Christmas Party theme disco, and so I danced to the end of the year. I have not taken part or planned much in my community this month as I was away, and we are taking a break. Personally and honestly, I feel that something is amiss.

So this sums up an average year for me and I am grateful for the good health and happiness we have. As the days slowly wind up in December, I looked to see what would be the serious United Nations theme for 2018, but apparently there is no theme. We can make it up as we go along! But I am looking forward to their theme for 2019, which will be the year of indigenous languages (hopefully I am still alive!). We do still have high levels of poverty, inequality, prejudices, environmental causes, Brexit, ever-present troubles in the Middle East and parts of the world to keep us preoccupied.

However, we can bring in some new perspectives, peace and control with our personal New Year’s resolutions and hopes. I always try a few new things. For example, I had always hoped to read more each year…and out of the blue recently – one of my neighbours created a book club, which I am a part of. I now make time to read leisurely and have read three books. This blog was also my resolution for 2016, and thankfully I have been able to carry it on for almost two years. The feedback received is motivating and makes it all worthwhile.

‘Old year’s night’ as we say in the Caribbean, is one way to say a fond farewell to another year. I understand in Italy they literally practice ‘out with the old, in with the new’ by throwing out rubbish on New Year’s Eve to be collected. I hope to do some of that! I still hope to exercise more, learn new skills, and visit parts of the United Kingdom in 2018 that I haven’t been before. I usually spend New Year’s Eve in a house party with close family and friends. In a Princely way…we will be partying like it is 2017 as we say hello to 2018! Soon, all across the world, we’ll watch images of the skies lit up with fireworks to ring in 2018 with a bang. There is nothing left for me to do but to wish you a happy and healthy new year.

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Notting Hill Carnival – free to dance on the streets

Notting Hill Carnival is the largest street theatre of its kind in Europe having been developed since the late 1950s in London. It is a great participation celebration for Caribbean heritage, culture and identity that has gradually been adopted and inclusive of other similar cultures in the city. I have blogged about Trinidad Carnival here, and the two carnivals are similar but have their own idiosyncrasies and dynamics. The background and roots of this Carnival is European. Europeans celebrated Carnival before lent for Mardi Gras in the Caribbean colonies, this was eventually practised by the African slaves who brought their own rich African traditions, dance, music and song to the party.  Trinidad carnival is the inspiration for the Notting Hill Carnival but it certainly is a different story.

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Calypso and Caribbean culture came with immigrants in the Windrush years from the Caribbean, and it is even noted that Lord Kitchener wrote the words to ‘London is the place for me whilst on his journey on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean. There was a high number of Trinidadian immigrants who settled in Notting Hill in the 1950s, which was a relatively run down and cheap area to live at the time. These black communities were intimidated by white youths from ‘Teddy Boy’ gangs in 1958, which caused the Race Riots of 1958. The first ‘Caribbean Carnival’ was organised in 1959 for the black community to help with the legal costs of the arrests made that year. The ‘Caribbean Carnival’ was the brainchild of Claudia Jones, a social activist and writer, who arranged the first carnival indoors in cold January 1959 at the St Pancras Hall in King’s Cross, London. I saw notes that it was in a cabaret style, with a Carnival beauty queen competition, steel pans and a dance hall as the grand finale. This carried on for a few years but did not last as Claudia Jones passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 1964. Eventually the Carnival moved to Notting Hill where most of the Trinidadians immigrants lived, and then was held in the summer. Fifty years on – it has become a part of the social and cultural calendar for Caribbean, Latin American and African descendants and communities. It has also been laced with race and police tensions throughout this time, which I will mention later.

This year is the 51st year of the carnival, and I will be celebrating it in Notting Hill with family and friends. It is a time of year when you will get messages asking if you are taking part in ‘Mas’ as we fondly call it. Our key community leaders chose a band theme when costumes are prepared, materials sourced, created, and then put it all together in the three months leading up to the bank holiday weekend for Notting Hill carnival. There is a lot more that goes on behind the scene, such as the registering of the band with the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprises, security passes, vehicle hire, food, drinks, DJs, sound systems, etc. We have intentionally kept our band low-key, affordable and non-commercial with a more close-knit group of volunteers and Mas players. This year we are calling our band theme ‘Mas liberation’, with our costumes designs based on Native American Indians attire. I love digging deeper – I will therefore be channelling my inner Pocahontas as we celebrate the 400th death anniversary in the United Kingdom. We have been dressed as  Cleopatras, Sun Goddesses, Sailors, Queen of Hearts, Aliens, for example in past Carnivals. There certainly is community spirit as you volunteer to help in the creation of the costumes in a team effort, and we tend to meet regularly before and during Carnival.   Generally it is good, happy fun in surprisingly…a Carnival atmosphere.

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I have honestly witnessed both the good and bad side of Carnival. It has always been a ‘resistance festival and art form’. There are times when you see scenes, and can be in a scary situation, usually later in the evening when the tension and pressure builds with youths and the police. There are some carnivals when the tension is more apparent than others – I distinctly remember the 2011 Carnival being a bit tenser as it was just after the London Riots. Our sound system truck was directed to an alternative route and it took a long time getting home with several helicopters circulating overhead – it felt like a war zone, but I was there with people who were close to me so I kept safe. With a large crowd of one million plus people, there are sometimes scuffles by youths, firm control by the police, body searches, and therefore you really should go with friends to enjoy it and to be safe. It is not all cautionary, we do dance and be merry with spectators…and the police too.

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Our Carnival Band photo used in British Transport Police Poster for 2017.

Notting Hill is great for signifying creativity, social cohesion, cultural identity and race relations in the capital. It was reported by the LDA that it brings in approximately £93Million to the UK economy. In ‘The Midnight Robber – the artist of Notting Hill’ published in 2007 for City Hall by Lesley Ferris and Adela Ruth Tompsett, the ex-mayor of London Ken Livingstone states that “London is the home to some of the world’s finest Carnival artists who are now in demand across the world serving as cultural ambassadors for London, the UK and the African diaspora”.

This Carnival has grown organically into a successful and important celebration of the UK’s history with its former colonies, and these new London communities. It should be supported, celebrated and evolve into something that has a lasting legacy rather than just the negative rhetoric that is perpetuated by an ignorant media and some politicians. The Carnival doesn’t look like it will stop in the near future, and frankly…it shouldn’t for the thousands of people who go to this part of London to enjoy it. As quoted on the Black Cultural Archives“Carnival is now part of our English heritage, it is about freedom of expression on the streets. Britain would be a very gloomy place without it.” Winston Findlay, Source: Carnival: a photographic and testimonial history of the Notting Hill Carnival by Ismail Blagrove Jr.

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Calypso, soca, reggae, steel pan, dance and now samba too are some of the other art forms that I look forward to at Notting Hill Carnival, and you get to see and be part of the crowd engagement on this grand scale. As my research reveals, Trinidadians started the Notting Hill Carnival but other West Indian countries joined in the celebrations, such as the Jamaicans with their sound systems in 1975. The Brazilians, Africans and other communities also add some spices over the years. I remember observing this difference in my first carnival here in 1990. As we know now, Carnival is celebrated all across the world such as in Canada for Caribana, Labor Day in New York, Miami, Japan and my British-Trinidadian friends have been on cultural exchange trips to China too. Rihanna has in recent years been ‘breaking the internet’ (like Kim Kardashian) with her Carnival costumes at Barbados’s Crop Over festival. Have a look at the Carnevale Network social media site too, as they are great for sharing news and longer pieces on the global Carnival scene.

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It is also a time for Caribbean artists to collaborate with their UK counterparts. I just came back from a soca music gig in London and it certainly put us in the mood for Carnival. It is amazing to see so many people dancing to soca and some dancehall, the crowd may be young British…but they knew all the words and moves to the dance tunes. This is scaled up a thousand times for the masqueraders on the road in Notting Hill.

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“Carnival is always telling you something. It is a language, if you can understand the language then you can read Carnival” – Clary Salandy, Artist and Theatre Designer.

Carnival also means art, creativity and business. Trinidadian-born Clary Salandy is one of many artists and theatre designers who has worked and showcased her costumes in the UK and internationally for various Carnivals, parades, festivals and community art projects. She engages with the local community to pass on her craft but also believes in this as an art form that includes the community as mention in ‘Incremental Art: Negotiating the route to London’s Notting Hill Carnival’ by Lesley Ferris. I only just discovered her too when I saw her featured in the British Airways in-flight magazine this summer. Clary Salandy has a great way to describe her costumes – “A costume is like a visual poem, whether you are 2 or 88”.

The current political mood and devastating situation with the fire at Grenfell in close proximity has highlighted the Notting Hill Carnival this year, and some parts of the population want the carnival to fail. However, Carnival is a symbol and beacon of hope, unity, brotherhood and Britain at its’ multicultural best. All the critics should remember that, and hope it heals rather than it hurts.

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“Notting Hill as a Place held a special symbolic significance for the West Indians who regarded it as, in the words of one leader, the nearest thing they had to a liberated territory – implicit references to battles they had fought there against white racists in 1958, and against the police in 1970 and 1976. The carnival continued to exist, its greatest political achievement being that it survived at all, in the face of formidable opposition and pressures operating to subvert it all the time.” Abner Cohen

Regardless of the negative media coverage – Carnival is in healthy hands with young designers and masquerade bands. The Internet and social media have also given traction to the positive benefits for Carnival as an art form, empowerment, freedom and cultural identity. The most difficult part is the obvious media bias, misinformation and tension created by the police and delinquents. Sadly, we know that there is some crime and anti-social behaviour – it has always been a tradition of resistance. However, I have been going to the Notting Hill Carnival and would like to advocate that it is mainly a great, peaceful and happy experience where you can feel connected to that rich heritage, and forget the past troubles. There is no better way to share the Carnival’s brilliance but in a cosmopolitan and tolerant city.

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I clearly recall that Carnival was used as a positive showcase of multicultural and tolerant Britain in the run up to London 2012. It seems to have changed since then. Ferris states, “Many felt that London’s successful bid for the London 2012 Olympics was enhanced by the Carnival art, which demonstrated a vibrant artistic diversity in the nation’s capital. But there is still a long way to go.”

Understanding, acceptance versus bias and other cultural differences means that it will continue to be controversial in this country (have a look at the news and hashtag #NottingHill on Twitter!). Carnival is not mainstream in this country (as it comes out of European Roman Catholic traditions), but Carnival is still celebrated by various communities across the UK, such as in Leeds, Birmingham and other cities holding annual Caribbean Carnivals. We know that we lack funding and support, but for those who understand and want to be part of this special festival and celebration – we ask that you join us in making a new happier and diverse history for generations to come. It is our time to be free and identify with what is ours too. What better way than with everybody dancing on the street!

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Trinidad Carnival is Colour

Well, I have finally done it! I have my very own blog after many years of suggestions from friends and acquaintances that I should have my own online space.  I am a fairly prolific social media user, have blogged for work, guest blogged and used collaborative technologies since the 1990’s as work in libraries and information centres.

In the past I am too busy with other things to have time to blog, but I feel the time has come to merge my stories as they become interwoven into one space.  It may be easier for me to do this here due to the info centric, rich connections and experiences I encounter in my simple life, community, work and profession.  Let’s face it … this online space is for everyone to use for good and I also want to use this as an archive for future reference.

For my first post, I wanted to write briefly about Trinidad Carnival which occurs every year two days before Mardi Gras, directly followed by Ash Wednesday and Lent.  It is a time of year where I instinctively feel excited, and try to tune in from wintery cold England to the heat, energy, bursting creativity and vibrant colours or as wef4ffd61ffe17e19013e28c4547029b39 say… bacchanal (derived from bacchus) that is Trinidad Carnival.

The history of Trinidad Carnival is long and goes back to the 18th Century when the European plantations owners celebrated masquerades before lent.  Their African slaves were not allow to take part but formed their own caboulay celebrations. Here they developed mas’ (abbreviated from masquerade) as we know it now – whereby African musical and dance traditions fused with European masks and costumes into an eclectic and exotic mix.

 

And so I am writing this in London, but my heart strays away to the land of my birth this time of year. From as early as I can remember, I can remember Carnival! Carnival is part of the Trinidadian (Trini for short) psyche, mindset and makeup (no pun intended). Children would take part in schools by making masks and costumes. Usually schools arrange a bit of a “jump up” dance for the parading of these creations on the Friday before the Carnival weekend. There would be an extra tinge of excitement in the air as it is the start of four days of holidays for the Carnival celebrations. The actual big and commercial celebrations usually start the previous year with the launch of Carnival bands, parties or ‘fete’ as we say, being once a French colony. This is big business now, for when one Carnival finishes, the planning for the next year starts immediately after a short break.

I found some gems of carnival video clips from the 1950s when British Pathe digitised their archive.  The effort that went into the costumes are stunning with wonderful results.  I wondered if they were funded centrally or whether the costumes were made out of their own pockets! Anyway, I love the themes such as American Native Indians, Egyptians and all the other finer details in the mas. In the 1970s and 1980s, I had noticed even then that cameras and broadcasters transmitting the parades to people’s homes and possibly abroad.

As a child, I used to be excited waking up on Carnival weekend as the whole weekend would be a visual and rhythmical treat. Saturdays during the day would be filled watching on television the ‘Kiddies Carnival’ and later that night, some of the steel pan ‘Panorama’ competitions. The show usually finishes late, so I sometimes never saw all of the steel bands. What people don’t realise – the steel bands themselves in Trinidad are massive and consist of scores of musicians and organisers.  The orchestras fill a large part of the epicentre of the competitions at the Queen’s Park Savannah stage. The flag bearers were generally women who danced away to the steel drums on stage and were a treat to watch too – they waved it and shaked it!

On Sunday there would be the Dimanche Gras competition showcasing the large Kings and Queens Carnival costumes and the Calypso competition.  This is no longer the competiton format but it was exciting to see it then over the weekend.  The televised shows always made exciting live viewing and that was very special about Trinidad (this year I listened to live radio via the web in London and have seen live streaming on the web too in the recent years!).   

I remember the costumes being very elaborate and colourful in the late 70s and 80s. Now the costumes are still beautiful but a bit monotonous, as they are mainly bejewelled bikinis with feathers.  Don’t get me wrong – I guess this has made mas more accessible and now everyone can afford to participate in a piece of the action in an all-inclusive Carnival band.  A relative told me that most of the big bands mas are currently manufactured in China. However, I saw a few years ago that some top designers such as Brian Macfarlane still make theatrical theme-based mas, and also there are still organically handmade costumes in some communities across Trinidad.

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Jab Jab – Brian MacFarlane.

On Carnival Mondays, we would wake up to young children in my hometown Dow Village wearing their homemade masks.  They will go door to door chanting slogans and making noisy music with a pan and stick expecting small money for their efforts.  Pocket money  was given as an appreciation for their efforts.  Sadly, I understand this tradition doesn’t happen now in my village. From early morning on Carnival Monday when it is still dark, there would be live television broadcasting of J’ouvert – the official start of the adult Carnival on the streets of the cities.  I only attended J’ouvert once in Port-of-Spain circa 1985 with relatives and we got there for about 3am in the dark.  It was amazing to witness and participate in a celebration with people dancing on the streets at that time in the early hours of the morning.  The debauchery, dancing and parading would continue into the daylight of mid-morning. This is broadcasted on live television too, if you can’t go out to the streets. In recent years in London, I love seeing dawn tweets of Trinidad J’ouvert on Twitter.

J’ouvert leads on to the official parades of bands. Historically there is no wasting of time on the start of Carnival and revellers make the most of time before the Ash Wednesdays cool-down.  The rest of the day would be spent watching the Monday parades of bands on the Television.  My village had traditional celebrations such as Jab Jabs (derived from Spanish for diablo) dressed as devils with whips.  Unique to my village, some East Indians in the community would also have a parade to the beat of East Indian tassa drums to the next main town Couva.

On the final day that is Carnival Tuesday, our parents would always take us to Port-of-Spain (my mother’s hometown) to see the mas meeting up with our large family with homemade picnics and snacks for the day including delicacies like our own Trinidadian pilau (mixed rice dish with meat, pigeon peas and vegetables).  There we would be based all day to see the great and traditional masqueraders displayed on the Queen’s Park Savannah stage.  We would see traditional masqueraders such as the Sailor Bands, Midnight Robbers, American Indians, Minstrels, Moko Jumbies on stilts and blue devils covered with blue powder to name a few characters. There too, we saw the great bands of 3000 plus masquerade members by designers such as Raoul Garib, Wayne Berkeley, Stephen Lee Heung and my all time favourite designer – the world renown Peter Minshall.

Peter Minshall not only created beautiful exquisitely designed costumes for Kings, Queens and his band members – he retained the theatrical themes and origins of the mas with performances on the main Queen’s Park Savannah stage. Frequently his costume designs were provocative for social and political commentary with theatre and drama.  For example, I remember vividly on television the King of Carnival performance and showcasing of Mancrab for his band theme ‘The River’ – it was pure drama!  This was aired live on television to the movement and sound of calypso music.  I still think of the year he created the band Rat Race and the vision of hundreds of people dressed as Rats in the ‘savannah’ and on the streets of Port-of-Spain.  It is hard to cover all the beauty, vibrancy and growing up with Trinidad Carnival but they are cherished memories of the creativity and the celebration of our people.

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Rat Race by Peter Minshall.

On the business side of Carnival, Minshall is renowned for exporting his talent and creations at major global events such as the Barcelona and Atlanta Georgia Olympic Games Opening ceremonies.  He is also credited for designing the Tall Boy which he patented and invented with Doron Gazit.  It was great to see him also back from a haitus from Carnival in 2016 with his design of ‘The Dying Swan’.

There would be no Carnival without music.  Kaiso and the oral traditions came over with African Slaves and evolved into calypso and eventually to the modern day soca (soul and calypso).  The development of this music genre is innovative and laced with fusion beats and can be social and political commentary but generally is more upbeat, rhythmic with innuendos for having a good time.  Nothing can beat a good calypso to get a fete going or everybody on a dance floor or street. I still actively look forward to the new music releases and social media is a great tool for that hobby.  I remember when I first came to London, I had no clue what the latest releases were as I tend to listen to mainstream British radio and not the UK soca radio stations.  I used to receive cassettes sent over with relatives who went to holiday to Trinidad. Thankfully now I can find music on online radio stations, You Tube and via my own social network.  Forbes recently published a list of Carnival Entrepreneurs with the Trinidad Carnival Powerlist and there is much talk that soca music is finally going mainstream. I hope so, with so many Caribbean Carnivals being celebrated across the globe.

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At the British Library where I currently work, this is the final week for the dazzling exhibition ‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song’. I am extremely grateful to the curators of the exhibition for helping me understand the world and for my own self-discovery as an Indian-Trinidadian. I learnt so much about West African culture and its oral traditions, ancient manuscripts, symbols, fabric, musical instruments, musical history and art forms. It was also an immense pleasure to see the ‘Carnival Queen’ designed by fellow Trinidadian Ray Mahabir on the speaker-box with a nucleus of calypso and soca music curated to visuals of Nottinghill Carnival inside the speaker-box. Being in there, it was one of the moments when you can see all the dots joining up – a world connected. Old with the new.

Being in there, it was one of the moments when you can see all the dots joining up – a world connected. Old with the new.

I feel I can write a book on my experiences on Carnival, which has been dubbed a long time ago as the greatest show on Earth. I borrowed a few books to research from the British Library before my visit last year for Trinidad Carnival, and it has been documented for its social, cultural and delightful impact.

Today in London,  I wanted to remind those who know me that it is Carnival Tuesday and I can’t help my thoughts straying to Trinidad and that infectious energy, freedom, rhythms, empowerment and colour of my country and the people.   Later this year, I look forward to a little bit of that enjoyment at the Notting Hill Carnival in August.

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