Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 12th 2013 Contents B29
May 12, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
In January, actress and playwright Mar-
juan Canady took the warmth of the
islands to the Washington DC winter
when her play Callaloo: A Jazz Folk Tale opened
at the Ellington Theatre. Callaloo, which fea-
tures the music of Etienne Charles album,
Folklore (2009), is a jazz, dance play telling
the story of a young boy named Winston who
travels to Tobago to visit his grandmother. On
the trip Winston learns a lesson about balance
in life as he becomes entrapped by folkloric
figures such as Papa Bois, La Diablesse, the
soucouyant and the douen.
Canady was inspired to write the piece when
she saw Charles in concert in 2012.
In a recent e-mail to the T&T Guardian she
explained: "I immediately saw a story to his
music. He performed a song called Duenne
and the musicality and richness in story and
character inspired me to create the play to his
music. It was not very difficult to see the con-
nection between Etienne s music and dance
Within three months Canady began
researching the work and crafting Callaloo.
She read academic journals and books and
studied art, music, dance and documentaries
dealing with folklore. Canady also carried out
numerous interviews with her relatives and
other Trinidadians based both in the US and
T&T who "believed and knew personal expe-
riences of the folklore." These interviews were
a crucial part of her research. "This was very
important as these folkloric traditions have
survived because of our ancestors. They have
also taken on new forms and meanings with
the migration of Caribbean peoples throughout
the world. Callaloo is the story of how a first
generation Caribbean-American boy under-
stands the importance of these stories in his
contemporary life," she said.
As a Washington DC native with a Trinida-
dian mother and black American father,
Canady was closely tied to the subject matter
and saw herself as Winston (she also plays
Winston in Callaloo). "I am that Caribbean-
American kid who identifies with being
Caribbean in an American atmosphere. I grew
up in DC but practiced Caribbean customs,
and for most Caribbean-American kids grow-
ing up in the States, you develop a dual identity.
You belong and don t belong at the same
time," she added. This was an identity her
co-performer Vanessa Evans, who is Jamaican-
American, also understood. Evans plays the
grandmother while both she and Canady split
the roles of the folklore characters evenly. Also
on board were director Natalie Carter, cho-
reographer Maresa D Amore-Morrison and
costume designer Winston Black.
The story became even more important
when Canady realised that many of her Trini
family members did not know much about
T&T. "Through migration and assimilation
many of my Caribbean relatives forgot their
history or chose to not remember. I see this
to be detrimental to preserving our history
and culture. I think this is why telling the sto-
ries of T&T s folklore was so important to me.
There was power in the story. The story is
what got us through slavery, made sense out
of chaos and allowed us to be free and creative
in a constricted world."
This very important story will be performed
in July at the Performing Arts Marathon Festival
featuring Charles and his band live. Canady
is also working with an illustrator to produce
the Callaloo children s book to be published
later this year.
There s nothing like reading a juicy biog-
raphy---the perfect book club choice, because
they provide purposeful gossip about some-
one s life, oxymoronic as that is.
This week, the Sunday Arts Section (SAS)
Book Club features That Woman, The Life
of Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor,
by Anne Sebba. That Woman is the spell-
binding story of the British king, Edward
VIII, who abdicated his throne for a twice-
divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson.
Sebba, who earned a history degree at
King s College, London, before working as
a journalist for Reuters, presents a puzzling,
often incredible story of the king and Simp-
son s relationship.
Sebba argues that Simpson was not a
female, genetically speaking. She was some-
where between the two genders and this
made her assert her femininity in a com-
pulsive manner. There is no medical evidence
of Simpson s alleged sexual ambivalence.
Sebba attempts to build a case anecdotally
by quoting a litany of friends and acquain-
tances, who describe Simpson s oversized
hands, flat chest and masculine facial features
as proof for Sebba s case. She even argues
that Simpson s ambivalent sexuality prompt-
ed her to shorten her name from Bessie
Wallis to Wallis, a more androgynous name
that succeeded in creating an air of mystique
for a very ordinary person who passed herself
off as having an exciting life. Then there is
the fact that Wallis never had children.
In reality, Simpson struggled to survive
while growing up. Her mother seemed clue-
less after her father died. An uncle controlled
her education. Simpson s first marriage ended
in disaster because her husband was a ver-
bally and physically abusive alcoholic brute,
but her second husband exhibited an acute
case of too much trust and support. He
turned his back, for the most part, while
Simpson cavorted with Edward, who was
then the Prince of Wales, and suffered
through an embarrassing divorce when
Edward insisted on marrying his wife.
For any discerning reader, Sebba s far-
fetched speculations would be enough to
question the validity of the biography. There s
nothing much that can be relied on but the
facts and the personal letters the couple
shared during the course of their tumultuous
relationship, but the author uses fascinating,
titillating anecdotes to excite and even shock
the reader into sticking with the story.
One of my favourite anecdotes captures
Simpson in a tirade of self-pity. A grumbling
Simpson anxiously waits to join Edward in
the Viennese castle where he suffers silently
in self-imposed exile while knitting her a
None of the faults of this biography detract
from this mesmerising tale, which is difficult
to categorise as a "love story". Clearly Edward
suffered from an acute fascination with
Simpson. She kept him entertained; she kept
him on his toes. Simpson received expensive
jewels, but it s difficult to argue that she
ultimately received the security she craved.
She did not relish the thought of going down
in history as a villain. Their relationship was
a grand collision of emotions, and this is
why That Woman is a biography that is
impossible to put down.
Joins us on the SAS Book Club Facebook
group to discuss That Woman and what
you re reading.
An infamous woman
makes for a juicy bio
Wallis Simpson and the former King Edward VIII on
their wedding day in 1937.
DC playwright looks at T&T folklore
Marjuan Canady, author of
Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale.
PHOTO COURTESY MATT RAMIREZ
For more information about Callaloo:
A Jazz Folktale visit: www.marjuan-
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