Saturday, February 27, 2010

Caribbean English

Just a last reflection specific to Black History month. The Artword Artbar brought Rhoma Spencer back after her successful appearance last December. This time, rather than a musician, she brought Blakka Ellis, a well-respected Jamaican stand up comic. The whole evening, then, was dedicated to language – especially the language of the Caribbean.

Among all her other accomplishments – actor, director, producer, etc. – she is an excellent storyteller. Now based in Toronto, the anecdotes she shapes and delivers have much of the ambiance of her native Trinidad. I expected a little more patois but I think she read her audience and only used phrasings that could be comprehended in context. The evening’s consistent theme was one of comparison/contrast between the Caribbean and Canadian cultures. All of the stories seemed to be still in development; there was no repeat of her previous performance.

Rhoma, of course, had thrilled me when she appeared here last fall. The other part of the program was introduced as Blakka Ellis, a comedian from Jamaica. His part of the show dovetailed nicely with Rhoma’s presentation: the same exploration of cultural differences and often similar stories, with his aimed slightly different, to elicit the laughter. (In fact Rhoma apologized for presenting material so similar; they hadn’t discussed material beforehand.) Blakka’s language too, dipped occasionally into patois but not enough to lose his audience. His comedy had the same laid-back character as Rhoma’s stories rather than the more frantic, hard edged stuff we are used to in North America.

It was not until after the show when I was speaking with the man that I discovered that he was much more than a comic. He had performed as a musician, but also had some reputation as a poet. Part of his reason for moving here from Jamaica, he said, was that he felt he was being pigeonholed as a comic and wasn’t offered the chances to broaden himself.

So, even though the audience was diminished by reason of a snowstorm outside and the Olympics on TV inside, I had a rewarding evening among the lilt and rhythms of Caribbean English.

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