Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 9th 2014 Contents B3
Anthony Joseph s new spoken-word
album, Time, is a remarkable document from
the poet, a funky collection of wordscapes,
narratives and recollections of his youth in
T&T that s limned by a passion for detail
and clarity of purpose.
The album opens with a declaration of
intent, Time: Archeology, a rehistory of the
Caribbean s genesis seen from the eyes of a
man who sees influences, spirit stories and
the human narrative of the region as a swirling
miasma made up of geography, explorers,
faiths and beliefs existing in both harmony
"The struggle continues," he says, "to define
a space, to make this place our home...while
the diaspora unravels like a broken necklace."
In this potent sentence he brings together
his sentiments about the challenges of the
people and their broken geography, the scat-
tered archipelago of the Caribbean. There are,
to be clear, more words, thoughts and literary
richness on the first two songs in Joseph s
Time than there are on most contemporary
hit albums---and, yes, I m looking at you here,
Joseph pulled Time together with a financial
backbone raised on a European crowdfunding
Web site, KissKissBankBank (http://ow.ly
/tTAFZ), meeting and just surpassing the pro-
ject s €7,500 goal in April 2013.
That enabled a robust collaboration with
US neo-soul funkster Meshell Ndegeocello,
whose inventive and catchy bass playing
anchors the album, a sparse, tasteful musical
complement to Joseph s steady and insistent
reading of his poetry. Ndegeocello, listed as
composer, arranger and producer, assembles
her full band s worth of instrumentation
(Joseph normally performs with his own Spasm
band) but never seems to deploy all of it at
once, bringing strong melodies and riffs into
play in the spaces between Joseph s words but
backing away as his stories build, strong, wild,
and often fevered.
On Tamarind, a recollection of a beautiful
woman with a "dark seed glow," he writes:
Crossing the hard road in her
high thighed denim/and the bus drivers and
stared down from their canteens/to watch
her stroll past
in the deep white heat of midday like some
emissary of the sun
that couldn t be touched/or even whistled
It s the kind of writing that defies casual
analysis. It s poetry, strong and engaging, but
these are also songs and stories that demand
more than a moment s thought, and threaded
with uniquely Trinidadian perspectives, sub-
jects and inspiration they are a very special
experience on their return to these shores.
The centrepiece of the album is Michael X
(Narcissus), a tough and unsentimental retelling
of the shocking T&T murder story of Abdul
Malik. It s Joseph s longest work on the album,
clocking in at seven minutes and 45 seconds
but it seems compressed. The piece has an
almost cinematic feel to it, unreeling quickly
from the announcement of Malik s hanging
to an unswerving examination of the brutality
of the murders and the conflicting, swanky
allure of Malik himself.
Ndegeocello strips the band back to an insis-
tent percussion-driven bed for this work, all
drums, congas throbbing, driving the story
along with impatient cymbals shimmering
above it all like fearsome blades of menace.
An all-too-brief excerpt from this unwa-
vering account of the famous murders retelling
the role of Gale-Ann Benson:
She had been shown around the bamboo.
She had asked "What is this hole for?"/And
Abbot tell her, "This is a hole for decomposed"
A hole dug to quench mercy./--- Go from
here---run!/A hole dug to suffocate tears.
Time isn t only concerned with history,
though. On Kezi, he might well be singing
from the headlines in T&T.
He sings of Kezi: "Kezi is a woman have
nine children an she seven months pregnant
He sings of Mother Mavis: "A stray bullet
pass and enter one house and shoot Mother
The music is contemporary rapso. The words
and ruthless and insistent in their offended
The answers are not forthcoming, even for
"Lord, tell me why it have so much things
wrong/with this beautiful country.
Tell me why it have so much thing going
wrong/in this beautiful island."
Anthony Joseph s collaboration with Meshell
Ndegeocello has brought something quite star-
tling into the world. It s an album with a
lineage that s claimed equally by Lancelot
Layne and The Last Poets, a way of working
with music and dense spoken word poetry
that s both compelling and tastefully respectful
of the urgency of the power of the words
This is not a collection of works for easy
listening. You will probably need to have the
album s liner notes, 12 pages of which are
given over to transcripts of Joseph s unapolo-
getically dense and intricate poetry, to fully
appreciate what you re listening to. What you
get as a return on that investment is a chance
to immerse yourself in the world that the poet
has experienced, a world that is as much dis-
appointment and blood as wonder and tran-
In one of the few works that isn t rooted
in Joseph s life in the Caribbean, he celebrates
Malala Yousafzai, the determined girl child
who defied the Taliban.
On Girl with a Grenade he celebrates her
"It takes a child/to build a fire in the sky,/to
light a flame for generations to come./It takes
a heart, a lung full of breath/to carve a human
space in this madness."
Time tests, triumphs
MARK LYNDERSAY reviews the latest work of
T&T-born UK-based poet ANTHONY JOSEPH
• Here's a link to Joseph's Started off as
a Dancer, which name-drops T&T
performers like rain: http://ow.ly/tTB5r
• The new video for Tamarind:
• Anthony Joseph's Web site with links
to the album online: http://ow.ly/tTBof
"The struggle continues, to define a
space, to make this place our
home...while the diaspora unravels like
a broken necklace."
The album opens with a declaration of
intent, Time: Archeology, a rehistory of
the Caribbean's genesis seen from the eyes of a
man who sees influences, spirit stories, and the
human narrative of the region as a swirling miasma
made up of geography, explorers, faiths and beliefs
existing in both harmony and conflict.
Anthony Joseph, from the cover of his album Time.
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