IN 1970, Trinidad was set alight with the February Revolution. That Carnival, the band Pinetoppers’ The Truth About Africa showed portrayals of black and brown socialist heroes. More than a thousand people played in the band. One of the masqueraders was trade unionist Joe Young, wearing chains to comment on the draconian Industrial Stabilisation Act.
On the 50th anniversary of that incendiary action, and the mass protests and social upheaval that changed the country forever, Joe Young’s son Robert will lead another band, hoping to feed the flames of a climate revolution.
His Carnival Tuesday band Vulgar Fraction will observe 1970s 50th anniversary with the presentation 70/50: Fifty After Seventy. On February 11, the band will launch with a panel discussion and drumming procession at the mas camp in Belmont.
Fifty After Seventy will seek to memorialise the sacrifices made during the revolution, and to elevate Beverly Jones and Basil Davis, two of the young people who were killed by police in the revolution.
When police shot Davis, on April 6, 1970, at a protest in Woodford Square, Port of Spain, it was a turning point in the revolution. Davis’ funeral procession was so vast that its head was miles from its tail as mourners made their way from his public funeral in Woodford Square to his San Juan burial. By April 21, the city was burning.
Three years later, a bank robbery announced the existence of the National Union of Freedom Fighters (NUFF). The group of anti-imperialist armed revolutionaries retreated to a base in the hills of the Northern Range. One of the NUFF soldiers was 17-year-old Beverly Jones, who was killed by police in a gunfight in 1973.
Young said, “Seventy was a pivot that somehow got the middle class and working class black and brown people to get up and say, ‘We are not taking this disrespect anymore. We are human. We deserve more.’
“People marched and they lost their jobs, they lost their homes, they lost their families, they lost their liberty. But they stood up. Just like Haiti stood up in 1791, and Cuba in 1953 and Grenada in 1979.
“Access to power still does not reside in the hands of people like Beverly Jones and Basil Davis. They have been erased. Did they dream of the society we have now? What society will we have in 50 years?”
Previous Vulgar Fraction presentations looked at the environmental crisis. This year, the bandleader draws a connection between the craving for liberation that led to the February Revolution and NUFF and the relentless exploitation of global natural resources resulting in climate destruction.
“How can you ask us to think about the environment when we still have to face racism, and a growing disconnection from other life forms? Class exploitation resides in the exploitation of the environment. Black Power said, ‘We are not nature; we are human beings,’ but we are all nature. What capitalists/owning class people consider nature – black and brown people, women, children, oil – they exploit and extract from. We vandalise the earth. We scrape out every last resource and mash up everything in the environment to do it.
“Even when we want to do better, we don’t know how and there aren’t enough systems set up to show us how. Let’s talk about that helplessness and what we can do to move past it right now, because we humans have no time. The earth has no time.”
Talking it out
The panel discussion on the band’s theme will be moderated by journalist Dr Sheila Rampersad, a literature and cultural studies scholar and the author of Douglarisation and the Politics of Indian/ African Relations in Trinidad Writing. Prof Winston Suite, the panel’s featured speaker, is an engineer and one of the revolution’s leaders detained in 1970 after the government declared a State of Emergency to quash the protests. Suite will read excerpts from his as-yet-unpublished memoir of the time. Caroline Mair-Toby, an attorney specialising in public international environmental law and founder and director of the Institute for Small Islands, will speak on the panel about the connections between racism, capitalism, poverty and environmental destruction. David Millette, attorney and former journalist, will read from his essay on NUFF from the influential collection The Black Power Revolution of 1970: A Retrospective (eds Selwyn Ryan and Taimool Stewart).
As part of the launch, the Egbe Omo Oni Isese Traditional African Drummers will lead a procession with costumed masqueraders from Vulgar Fraction and two other bands which will launch at the same event, Belmont Baby Dolls and Moko Somokow.
Belmont Baby Dolls, a project of New Waves! MAS from choreographer Makeda Thomas, portrays Spirit Dolls this year. The presentation is a collaboration with artist Brianna McCarthy; as in Vulgar Fraction, masqueraders participate in the making of their own costumes. Moko jumbies Moko Somokow, led by Alan Vaughn, won the title of Mini-Band of the Year in 2019; this year the band presents Resurrection at Sorrow Hill.
“70/50: Fifty After Seventy”, a panel discussion and the launch of the 2020 presentations by the bands Vulgar Fraction, Belmont Baby Dolls and Moko Somoko, starts at 6.30 pm on February 11, 2020, at the mas camp, Propaganda Space, 24 Erthig Road, Belmont.
For further information and to register for Vulgar Fraction: email firstname.lastname@example.org, WhatsApp 868-774-9368, Facebook @carnivaltt, or Instagram @vulgar_fraction.