Come With It, Black Man

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Come With It, Black Man …“I always have my ears on the ground-level…I just take it from you and bring it back to you…” An independent feature-length documentary film, digging deep into the consciousness of the Bla...

Quiet Desperation

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Quiet Desperation is the story of 58-year-old Heathcliff Defour, a man fast approaching retirement with a lot of “luggage.” His life is dull and his marriage unfulfilling. For the past 35 years he has been married to ...

Calypso Dreams

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Calypso Dreams is an intimate portrait of some of the true calypsonians in Trinidad & Tobago, in performance and in conversation. Shot over three years in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the documentary includes such leg...

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Today's #AWAD commemorates one of the most vociferous Afrocentric activists in the history of Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean. She is Elma Constance François. In the study of the struggle of African people on the Continent and in the Diaspora to free themselves of European and Arab domination and redefine their existence the women who were the standard bearers of those struggles are often given less attention than their male counterparts. Even when they are acknowledged, the names of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis are the names spoken. Elma and her contemporaries gave the lie to the myths about meek acceptance of colonialism by the colonised and to the lack of political and social consciousness among women.

WOMANTRA encourages all of you to read and share the experiences of these incredible women. These are our women, we should know their names!

Special thanks to Womantra and Support for Change's very own Corey Gks for writing an incredible bio on Elma. The majority of today's piece was taken from his very insightful work. Read more of his work at
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#AWAD #March11 – Elma François October 14th marked the birth of one of the most vociferous Afrocentric activists in the history of Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean. She is Elma Constance François. In the study of the struggle of African people on the Continent and in the Diaspora to free themselves of European and Arab domination and redefine their existence the women who were the standard bearers of those struggles are often given less attention than their male counterparts. Even when they are acknowledged, the names of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis are the names spoken. Elma and her contemporaries gave the lie to the myths about meek acceptance of colonialism by the colonised and to the lack of political and social consciousness among women. ____________________________________________________ Elma François was born in Overland, St Vincent. Life was gloomy: her father, a labourer, died when she was still little, the family lost all their belongings in the volcanic eruption that devastated the island in 1902, and there weren’t any prospects for young women other than working as a domestic servant, picking cotton or finding some sort of employment in the sugar factory at Mount Bentick. In her youth she received primary education up to 5th Standard and she worked alongside her mother picking cotton. From an early age she struggled for the betterment of her people since life in St Vincent was very hard for labourers, especially women. Some could work picking up cotton chaff and separate the seeds for which they would receive 12-14 cents a day. Others worked as domestic servants while others worked at the Mt. Bentick sugar factory producing syrup or 'sweetening'. The outspoken Elma quickly set about trying to organise the labourers of Mt Bentick sugar factory where she worked - of course, she was fired. In 1917 her son Conrad was born; in 1919 however, she was forced to leave him in the care of his grandmother for she was migrating to Trinidad where there were better opportunities. There she first found work as a domestic servant. The Stollmeyers employed her as a servant in their ‘castle’ on the Savannah. Little did they know that they were housing a future labour leader! Not surprisingly she joined the Trinidad Workingman's Association under Captain A. A. Cipriani. Cipriani, a former West India Regiment soldier, served in WWI and in spite of his ancestry was aware of the racism and squalid conditions of the working class of Trinidad. He sympathised with their plight and came to call himself the 'champion of the "barefoot" man'. He continued this after the war and in 1923 was asked to assume leadership of the TWA, which functioned as a trade union. Cipriani reorganised the TWA into a political party, a wise move since two rights conferred upon trade unions in Britain by the Act of 1906 - the right of peaceful picketing and protection against actions in tort - were not extended to unions in the Caribbean and Africa. Unlike other women members, François did not restrict herself to political activity as defined by the TWA. The outspoken and confrontational Elma certainly did not fit the mould of the Western or "Afro-Saxon" woman and her personality inevitably clashed with that of Cipriani. Cipriani, though a supporter of worker's rights, favoured non-confrontational action. His outlook was also coloured by the fact that his class position as a landowner from the propertied Catholic French Creole class often presented a serious conflict of interest. Also he almost completely accepted the British labour party's brand of 'Labour and Socialism' and his adherence to their policies and priorities as a yardstick by which he measured progress in Trinidad and Tobago. On the other hand François preferred direct action through the workers, not employers. She clashed with him on the question of May Day which she felt should be declared a public holiday. François saw beyond the exclusivity of socialist-style leadership of the labour movement and sought to be closer to the workers. She is credited with promoting a grassroots approach to the mobilization of the working class. Elma François’ social conscience was as well developed as that of Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler and Captain A. A. Cipriani, but she struggled for social justice in a different way. Butler and Cipriani strove for the improvement of the lives of workers by strengthening also those who could employ them. Elma François, however, was strongly influenced by radical communists, and her visions did not include the mercantile and industrial middle class in the process of reforming the society. She was an avid reader, very conscious about her African heritage and loved nothing better than to engage people in debates. She was also one of the few people with the courage to challenge the Church and the authority of the bible. Reading books late into the night, Elma educated herself and proceeded to ‘preach’ labour and political matters to the people. At ‘La Cou Harpe’ in Observatory Street, on street corners in east Port-of-Spain, anywhere where she could reach the poor working class, Elma raised her voice and tried (doubtlessly with a heavy ‘Vincie’ accent) to talk the people out of their lethargy. Elma spoke in Woodford Square (an open-air park in Port-of-Spain where to this day people gather to argue social, religious and political views), on street corners and in various towns. This is how she met Jim Headley who, together with François, became a founding member of the National Unemployed Movement (NUM), which was formed in 1934. In those years, the world was in the grips of the Great Depression, which manifested itself in Trinidad with increasing unemployment and destitution especially among the rural Indian population and female workers. The NUM started to register unemployed people, a thing that never had been done before, and organised regular ‘Hunger Marches’, demonstrations of the unemployed. Their "hunger marches" provided the impetus for the sugar workers' Hunger March of 1934 and the 1935 Hunger March of another radical thinking leader, TUB Butler. At one time in July 1934, police stopped in Laventille a hunger march of Indian sugar workers from Caroni, preventing the demonstrators to join the black NUM-protesters in Port-of-Spain. Interestingly, in spite being so open to the cause of women workers, Elma François’ organisation never integrated Indians fully. From being ‘national’ the NUM went to being ‘negro’, and one year later, in 1935, the NUM was renamed and restructured into the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association (NWCSA). The NWCSA was highly influenced by Rupert Gittens, a ‘Belmont boy’ who had been deported from Marseilles back to Trinidad due to his involvement with the French communist party. Gittens put some socialist backbone into the NWCSA, and the eloquent Elma became ‘Comrade François’ and chief ideologue of the organisation. Enlarging upon the issue of unemployment, the NWSCA went on the attack and took on imperialism and colonialism at large. In sympathising with the Ethiopians during Mussolini’s invasion of that country in 1935, they held a mass meeting in October of that year. This rally won the communist group support from other levels in the society, e.g. from Roman Catholics and many middle-class Afro-Trinidadians. The NWCSA was responsible for galvanising national response against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 - the outcry was so great that many dockworkers refused to unload Italian ships. The NWCSA was responsible for the formation of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union and the Federated Workers Trade Union. The NWSCA also started to attack Captain Arthur Cipriani, who in their view was not radical enough as a labour leader. Cipriani, who had meanwhile become Mayor of Port-of-Spain, had always had his own ideas concerning the manner in which the authorities could work towards the improvement of the situation of workers. He eyed the communist NWSCA suspiciously and banned them from assembling in Woodford Square. The Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association [NWCSA] sought the empowerment of black people and particularly black women whose voices were continually silenced in the political sphere. Here, François can also be credited for forming the first notable gender-neutral space for political activism, where men and women worked jointly against colonial oppression. The Marxist oriented NWCSA, though it was committed to the empowerment of people of African descent, also had Indian and Chinese members. Also, from its inception it set out to attract women, hence the inclusion of the words 'cultural and 'social' as these were the areas of work in which, it was felt, women could initially be most easily incorporated. The organisation took the position that women and men should cooperate in the development of their collective political consciousness. There was no separation of women into 'women's arms/auxiliaries' and within the organisation executive positions changed regularly so that these responsibilities were shared equally. Elma usually, however, retained the position of Organising Secretary. While the organisation worked closely together with Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler, Elma François was always in an ideological tug-o-war with him. In contrast to Butler, François denounced the British colonists, and as a communist she also denounced religion as a political means. Trinidadians being the spiritual people that they are, the latter didn’t always work in her fervour, and the NWSCA was never to exude the mass appeal that Butler possessed. On June 19th, 1937, riots took place in Fyzabad and police officer Charlie King had been burned alive by the mob. François immediately went to Fyzabad and informed herself. Only three days later, the NWSCA had instigated the first strike in Port-of-Spain. Demonstrations and ‘strike fever’ spread throughout the whole country, to San Fernando and Arima. Out of that, the inevitable charges of unlawful assembly (of which Elma were eventually acquitted) and more importantly seditition resulted. She became the first woman in Trinidad's history to be tried for sedition. She defended herself and was found not guilty. During these famous "Butler Riots" of 1937, the NWCSA mobilised support for the striking oil workers, held meetings in the north and the turbulent south Trinidad, partly under the auspices of Butler's party the British Empire Workers and Citizens Home Rule Party. All this was done in spite of harassment by the police and their attempts to infiltrate the party's meetings. The NWCSA also circulated false reports regarding Butler's whereabouts when he was in hiding. The sedition trials of Elma François were held between October 1937 and February 1938 and were a very trying time for François, who undertook to defend herself and not leave it up to a lawyer. Fortunately for her, she was able to convince the all-male jury and the judge with her intelligence and eloquence, and she was finally acquitted. Her speech was well-prepared and clear, and in the cross-examination she kept a straight face. Rhoda Reddock, in her book about Elma François, reports her as answering to the prosecutor C.T.W.E. Worrell, who asked her why she persisted in making speeches which were ‘causing disaffection among his Majesty’s subjects’: “I don’t know that my speeches create disaffection, I know that my speeches create a fire in the minds of the people so as to change the conditions which now exist, and it isn’t for me here to tell you what is existing because I believe that you are a son of some working-class family despite your lofty position as you stand before me as a prosecutor.” Her companion Jim Barrette, however, was put in jail for nine months for sedition, and Elma, who started to work hard to appeal the sentence, grew thin and gaunt in the struggle to free Jim. In the following years, the NWSCA worked towards the formation of trade unions in northern Trinidad. The group started to publish a newsletter called ‘The New Emancipator’, reflecting the new and dynamic feeling of being emancipated now experienced by the black working class, just a century after the emancipation from slavery had taken place. Butler, who was detained in prison for the duration of the Second World War, was nevertheless present in spirit in the early meetings, in which Comrade François, in spite of her personal differences with ‘Buzz’, spoke of the close contact her organisation had with him. Elma François developed a goitre in her forties, a growth which she left untreated. Her son, who had joined her in Trinidad at the age of 16, enlisted to fight in Europe. This made her worried and very unhappy. In 1944 Elma François died; the result, some say of a broken heart after her son Conrad joined the army to fight in a war in which she bitterly opposed the black involvement. She died shortly after the farewell dance given for the Trinidadian contingent which left for the front. She, along with fellow party members Jim Barrette, Clement Payne had publicly disagreed with the showing of solidarity to the British Crown on the grounds that the Western allies had allowed the rise of Hitler as a counter to Stalin in the Soviet Union. They noted that it was only when Hitler turned on them that they mobilised militarily to defend themselves and in the process drew in colonials, whom they otherwise discriminated against racially, to fight and die with them in their war. There certainly was a strong thread of anti-British sentiment at first; several leading calypsonians sang against the war. Through a maze of Colour Albert Gomes noted that cinema crowds cheered when film clips showed the British being defeated by Nazi forces. However, by 1940, colonial propaganda, plus the withholding of the Report of the Moyne Commission, which investigated the causes of labour riots in the Caribbean, had intensified to the point where loyalty to the Crown became the dominant outlook on the war. François was understandably crushed when she learned about Conrad's decision to enlist. She regarded his decision to enlist as a personal failure on her part. Elma François’ death was a great loss to the NWSCA, and without her as their ‘heartbeat’, the organisation never became as active again as it once was. On September 25 1987, Elma François was declared a national heroine of Trinidad and Tobago. Elma François has been immortalised in the character of ‘Cassie’ in Ralph de Boissière’s book ‘Crown Jewel’. This biography was taken largely by a piece prepared by WOMANTRA’s very own Corey Gks of as well as The Caribbean History archive’s feature on Elma François –çois.html. Many thanks Corey for taking the time to immortalise these stories for future generations. Read this piece and other provocative and informative pieces at ____________________________________________________ We learned a lot today. Let us know what you learned about this amazing Caribbean woman in the comments. #AWomanADay #WomensHistoryMonth #WOMANTRA #herstory #sheroe #CariFem #ThirdWorldFem

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How to with Callaloo is a new children's web-series created by Marjuan Canady Check out the 1st episode, "How to Tap Dance" with the Chloe Arnold's Syncopated Ladies Callaloo the book
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Today WOMANTRA pays tribute to the one and only Calypse Rose. This bio is a long one but trust me it was worth the read, I learned a lot I didn't know about this exceptional lady today.

Please take it een and share the LOVE! #AWAD #Womantra #CariFem #thirdworldfem #sheroe #herstory #WomensHistoryMonth

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#AWAD presents #March6 Calypso Rose (27 April, 1940 - ) raising de tempo! Dr. McArtha Lewis, popularly known by her sobriquet, Calypso Rose, was born on April 27, 1940 in Bethel, a small, relatively in-land village on the tiny island of Tobago. Her family was musical: her grandfather was a violinist who performed at weddings and celebrations, and her grandmother sang. Her father was an ardent Spiritual Shouter Baptist. She reflects that if her father, the strict Spiritual Baptist who had his own church and her uncle, the strict Seventh Day Adventist were alive today they would be amazed at how far calypso has taken her. Her family was very traditional and opposed her singing in Carnival Tents. At the age of 11 she decided on her own that she wished to be baptised in the Spiritual Baptist Faith and she says she has never regretted the decision. "It keeps me sane." Lewis lived with her parents and her ten siblings in a two-bedroom house until she was nine years old, at which point she went to live with an aunt and uncle on the neighboring island of Trinidad. Her aunt had only elderly friends. In San Juan Government where her aunt enrolled her, with all the natural callousness of small children and inbred Trini arrogance, her schoolmates called her "small island." But as Rose talks, you can see what her aunt saw and why her heart must have gone out to the skinny little girl, picky head (her words), sucking the middle finger and with an endearing nervous stammer. But after a while things got better. The Beginnings of a Musical Career: At the age of fifteen, Lewis boldly began singing calypso music in the calypso contests that would happen during Carnival season. She composed her first Calypso in 1955 after seeing a man steal the spectacles off of a lady's face in the Croisée, San Juan. In the song, she advises Tobagonians to stay at home, because Trinidad was no place for them. She comes from the era in which a calypsonian had to come up with 12 original songs every season and being a talented writer Rose has sung and composed over 800 songs, most of which she can remember and sing verses from on demand. Lady Iere was her predecessor but by the time she came into it in the 1950s, singing in a tent was still definitely not the thing for a female. But she says the men in the tent respected her, except for one famous calypsonian who in an effort to frighten or unnerve her, "shook his thing" at her. Spoiler, who led the cast in 1957, at the Original Young Brigade she remembers as being a "fine guy". "He was light skinned and he used to wear his hat cock on the side." He had long fingers and when he sang, he would curl them into his hands. Originally she used Crusoe Kid as her stage name, the name Calypso Rose was given to her by the Spoiler, and tent members Piggy and Spike. Travelling outside of Trinidad and Tobago for the first time in 1963, Rose covered the islands from Grenada to St. Thomas. She won the Calypso King contest and the Roadmarch in St. Thomas with her first recording, Cooperation. Though she was not the first woman to ever do so, calypso was by and large a man's genre at the time (and, indeed, to this day it remains heavily male-dominated), but she quickly gained the respect of many of her fellow calypsonians. Gaining Recognition: Though Calypso Rose had garnered a number of regional hits throughout the years, including her most famous song, "Fire in me Wire," which she wrote in 1966, she did not win any of the major calypso contests until 1977. That year, she was the first woman ever to win the Trinidad Road March competition, which she won with her song "Tempo." She won the title again in 1978 with the song ‘Come Leh We Jam.’ In the same year she won the ‘Calypso King Competition’ with her songs "I Thank Thee" and "Her Majesty." The title of Calypso King was previously held only by men and following her victory the title was changed from ‘Calypso King’ to ‘Calypso Monarch’ to reflect the changing tides. This was very important as it testified to the insidious nature of patriarchy as there was not any forethought to consider a woman holder of the title. Calypso Rose paved the way for other women performers. Though she was not the first woman calysonian, she was the first of such renown. In 1978, she won the National Calypso King competition (which prompted a name change -- it's now the National Calypso Monarch competition) Also in 1978, she won the Trinidad Road March competition for the second year in a row with "Gimme More Tempo." Further Awards and Honors: Winning the prestigious awards in the late 1970s really put Calypso Rose on the map as the undisputed queen of the genre, and she has gone on to make internationally popular records ever since. She's also headlined at major venues and festivals throughout the US, Europe, and Australia. As of 2011, she is the most decorated Calypsonian in Trinidad's history, and was awarded the Trinidad and Tobago Gold Humming Bird Medal, an award given to Trinidadians "for loyal and devoted service beneficial to the state in any field, or acts of gallantry." So influential on the world music scene is Calypso Rose that she has shared the stage with other such musical legends like Miriam Makeba, Tito Puente, Mahalia Jackson, Michael Jackson, Roberta Flack, Bob Marley and many others. Rose's career has taken her to many parts of the world, including Belize, Chile, and many of the Scandinavian and African countries. Undoubtedly one of the most recognisable faces in the world music scene her success can be attributed to her unstoppable stage persona, where her charisma acts as a beacon to the crowd, and her unrelenting pushing of boundaries. Calypso’s music manages to fuse the rhythms and melodies of Africa and Central America into something that is uniquely Caribbean in spirit. Current Status: Performing and Recording: Calypso Rose moved to Jamaica, Queens in 1983, though returns to Trinidad for Carnival season each year. In 1996, she battled and beat breast cancer. She continues to tour regularly on multiple continents and record music -- at this point, she estimates that she has written well over 800 songs. 'Lioness of the Jungle' - A Documentary Feature Film: In 2011, a feature-length documentary called 'Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle' was released at Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Pascale Obolo, it tells Calypso Rose's story through interviews, live concert footage, and more. At a tribute held in her honour in Brooklyn in 2014, though she was barely able to walk, Calypso Rose was still able to woo her audience, as Brooklyn paid tribute to the Tobago-born singer who “broke the glass ceiling” in the calypso genre. “Last week, I couldn’t walk. Thank God for bush medicine,” said Calypso Rose before belching out hits from her diverse repertoire, as well as contemporary gospel and Christmas songs, referring to the medicine that helped her recover from a bout of gout. “Every woman you see singing calypso today is because of Calypso Rose,” added Pysadee at the event. “Calypso Rose has set the pace,” said Pysadee making reference to Rose’s attainment of an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies (UWI). Noting that the Caribbean community, the single largest population of Caribbean people outside of the islands, is “critical to every sector of our city’s life”, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the tribute was “a wonderful opportunity to celebrate one of its most creative and trailblazing artists.” “By sharing the transcendent spirit, rich sounds and contagious rhythms of Trinidad and Tobago, Calypso Rose has given the world a great gift,” said deBlasio in his message. “I applaud her extraordinary talent and distinguished legacy, which enriches lives throughout the five boroughs and well beyond. On behalf of the City of New York, Chirlane (his wife) and I offer our congratulations to Calypso Rose for receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies, and extend our best wishes for a joyful celebration and continued success uniting the world through song,” the mayor added. Rose is still intensely proud of her Tobago heritage and she still expresses hurt over an incident that happened in the 1980s, that led to her decision to take up residence abroad. She was a passionate supporter of the NAR and ANR Robinson. She felt that Tobago was neglected by Trinidad. Today, she resides in Queen’s, New York but every year she returns to her island “to come back to herself” and as she explains “to find in Tobago her African Roots”. Home includes her stepdaughter and her five grandchildren and the three brothers who live in New York. Her daily regime includes a lot of exercise. Her diet is also chosen with a view to fitness. It includes a lot of fish. "I use more olive oil and water for cooking. I use pumpkin and cats claw which is good for cancer. I use a lot of water cress and I take a lot of herbal treatments from my brother Lloyd Sandy, 1,000 milligrammes of Vitamin C daily. I hardly eat red meat." Today she's glad to see how women have prospered in the art form and two of the women calysonians she admires are Denyse Plummer and Singing Sandra. Among our Calypso's Rose long list of awards and honours are: 1978: Award for Unprecedented Achievement by a Calypsonian from the Trinidad and Tobago Alliance of the USA. 1978: Distinguished Achievement Award for the First Triple Crown Calypso Monarch of the World by The Tobago Benevolent Society. 1979: Award for Magnanimous Contribution to the Culture by the Caribbean Arts and Culture Council. 1982: Rose was named an honorary citizen of Belize in recognition of her work to raise the country's international awareness on the cultural front. 1983: Top Female Calypsonian by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 1984: Queen of Soca and Calypso Award by Super Jocks Records. 1985: Best Female Recording Artist Award by C.E.I. 1986: Recognition for Achievement in Human Progress from the Concerned Citizens of Liberia Organization. 1988: Gratitude and Commendation for the Development of Arts and Culture in Belize by the National Arts Council of Belize. 1988: Appointment as Foremost Ambassador of Culture by the West Indian Day Association. 1989: Humanitarian Award by Sunshine Music Awards. 1989: Recognition for contribution to the steelpan by the Calypso and Steelband Music Awards. 1989: Best Party Song by the Sunshine Music Awards. 1989: Best Female Vocalist by the Sunshine Music Awards. 1990: Nafeita Lifetime Achievement Awards. 1991: Outstanding Female in the Field of Music Award by the National Woman’s Action Committee. 1991: Most Outstanding Woman in Trinidad and Tobago by the National Women’s Action Committee. 1993: Inducted into the Tobago Walk of Fame as a charter member. 1993: Honored by the mayor of St. Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada with the keys to the City. 1999: Tobago House of Assembly decreed that the new hospital to be built in Tobago would be named the McCartha Lewis Memorial Hospital, in honor of Calypso Rose. 1999: International Caribbean Music Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 2011: Africa Festival Lifetime Achievement Award ______________________________________________________________________ Enjoy this popular Calypso Rose classic and let us know what you learned about this Caribbean icon in the comments below! Bonus track, "All Dem Tobago Gyul" by the Mighty Sparrow: Calypso Rose Lionness of the Jungle trailer: #AWomanADay #WomensHistoryMonth #WOMANTRA #herstory #sheroe #CariFem #ThirdWorldFem

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