Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall is one of the most memorable laugh tracks of our lives. He only had to walk on stage, settle the ever-present towel on his shoulder and open his eyes wide to send audiences into gales of laughter. He was an original and yet another artiste who, on the scales of life, gave us more than we gave him.
His gift for comedy came from a perceptive intelligence and cutting insight into the Trinbagonian personality, in particular, and Caribbean life in general. His act was built on unvarnished truths delivered with a deadpan humour, self-deprecating understatement, a lashing picong and a comic timing supplemented by eyes with a vocabulary of their own. His language of invented words and phrases constituted a unique dictionary with terms like “starvishment” and “watch yuh contents” that we understood instinctively.
He first burst into our living rooms in 1985 on Banyan’s television show, Gayelle, in the Cultural Sprangalang segment playing Draxi the quizmaster, testing our knowledge about our culture. He had gone to Gayelle with his older brother, the playwright Tony Hall, who passed away quite suddenly five months ago. Even before that, however, the Hall brothers from San Fernando were already on the path that would define the rest of their lives as artistes committed to the development of the arts grounded in indigenous expression.
Dennis Hall explored every performance avenue available to him as comedian, calypsonian, composer, actor, MC, producer and cultural historian. His career horizon broadened when he was cast in the Canadian TV series Lord Have Mercy, co-created and directed by Frances-Anne Solomon, a film-maker with Trinidadian roots. The two worked again in Solomon’s A Winter Tale, a feature film set in Canada.
Like his brother and so many others, Dennis Hall lived for the arts even if he didn’t always make a living from it. He was part of a community of Caribbean performers who trekked through the diaspora, searching out opportunity, establishing links and creating markets for their work to break through the limitations at home.
The passing of every talented artiste feels like a deep loss not only because of their absence, but because they leave us with the hollow feeling of a debt unpaid. It is a story repeated over and over as we watch some of our greatest talents die in penury and without due honour. Others simply crash and burn for lack of financial viability in a system that places minimal value on the creative imagination.
It is a sad irony that as Hall was breathing his last hours on Thursday, Gayelle, the TV station born out of the TV show, and its owner Errol Fabien, Hall’s long-time colleague, were being evicted from their building in St Joseph. We can only hope that somehow he departed yesterday knowing that, against the usual odds, the spirit of our people had rallied to the cause and saved it. For all that he meant to us, we thank Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall.
Our deepest condolences to his wife, Natasha, and family.