An insider guide to Port of Spain, Trinidad | The Guardian (UK)

This guide was written as an assignment for The Guardian (UK), and published as An insider’s cultural guide to Port of Spain: steel, sass and sweat

1) Your city’s culture in five words

Steel, seascapes, sass, and sweat.

2) What sound defines your city?

The hills and valleys of Port of Spain’s residential communities is a strange combination of urban and rural. At dawn, there’s a distinct soundtrack of chirping crickets and frogs, barking dogs, crowing roosters, and cars hitting the road as the city’s diverse inhabitants get moving. Listen here.

3) Everyone’s tuned into…

When the din from the broadcast media din gets too noisy, the Global Voices T&T portal has proven to be one of the quickest ways to take a read of what the islands’ blogosphere has to say about the biggest national issues.

4) Favourite venue of the moment?

In an unpretentious back yard behind a house on Roberts Street, Woodbrook (west Port of Spain), the Alice Yard space hosts talks, exhibitions, workshops, performances, and artists-in-residence — serving as a place to experiment, to interface, to build networks, and foster creativity across the visual, literary and performing arts.

5) Favourite local band/musical performer of the moment?

Machel Montano seems to have taken up residence at the top of the national playlist. His Soca Monarch and Road March winning song from Carnival 2015, “Like a Boss”, became an instant classic. Meanwhile, mixing Trinidad’s calypso and soca with regional and international sounds, his collaboration with Trinidadian-American Grammy winner Angela Hunte, “Party Done”, has proven to be a party staple, a feminist anthem, and the ultimate punch line. The video, shot in Port of Spain, also gives fresh (and controversial) looks at the capital city.

6) Favourite local artist

Born in Port of Spain, raised in San Fernando, educated in Canada, and based in Tobago, Tony Hall is a Trinbagonian Renaissance man — a writer and playwright, actor, director, producer, teacher, public speaker, journalist, cultural theorist, commentator, and historian (among other things). His call for us to know who we are as Trinbagonians and as citizens of the planet is inherent in all of his vast body of work. One of his seminal theatrical works, Jean & Dinah (in part inspired by a classic Sparrow calypso of the same name, and the women about whom he sang) celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. His most recent and widely acclaimed one-woman tour de force, Miss Miles, tells the tragic but inspiring story of Trinidadian trailblazer, Gene Miles. Both shows tour internationally.

7) Street style – what’s the look on the street?

Breezy, flowing dresses with bold colours and patterns are a hit with ladies, while the gents are getting bolder in their use of colour, with their blazers and skinny jeans. “Caribbean chic” and “elegantly casual” are the phrases often used to describe this popular mid-way point between black-tie and jeans-n-t-shirt.

8) Best cultural Instagram account

In the hills just north of Port of Spain, the Santa Cruz Green Market is leading a movement to promote social and environmental consciousness, connectivity, and well being among our urban (and national) community. In between the weekend markets, their Instagram page deftly blends public education with compelling images of the Market’s beautiful natural environment and people.

9) The big talking point right now

With oil prices falling, a global economic crisis threatening, corruption and crime rampant, and a recent change of government at the last general election (September 2015), everyone is discussing the state and future of the country. Among the topics generating the most debate are the proposed rapid rail project, aimed at easing the chronic traffic woes in Trinidad; and the phasing out of the country’s very generous fuel subsidies.

10) What Port of Spain does better than anyone…

Fete. In Trinidad, fete (party) is both a noun and a verb — an all-inclusive impulse to honour every conceivable occasion for a lime (Trini slang for hanging/chilling out), or a party, or a holiday, or a festival, or a street parade. Every day of the week, city residents and commuters (delaying their trips home) spill out of bars, lounges and eateries — especially on Ariapita Avenue. And in the lead-up to Carnival, fetes big and small pump everywhere from gritty downtown clubs to the National Stadium and high-end all-inclusive bashes in lavish locales. With 14 national holidays and two unofficial national holidays (Carnival Monday and Tuesday), few cities could claim to fete better.

11) The comedy hit of the moment

There’s been a surprising dearth of political satire and comedy in the recent election season. Perhaps times were — are — too serious. But after the budget announcement in early October, which offered an increase in benefits for retirees, this piece of comedy gold from Ro’Dey began making the rounds on social media to lighten the mood.

12) Five to follow?

13) Your city’s greatest performance/cultural moment

In the Laventille hills of east Port of Spain, drumming was a necessary part of cultural and spiritual observances for the Afro-Trinidadian communities that moved there after Emancipation (1838). Colonial bans on drums called for greater (surreptitious) experimentation, birthing steel pans from the discarded oil drums of the nascent energy industry. On VE Day (8 May 1945), the British colonial government permitted citizens to celebrate with a “Victory Carnival” in the streets (Carnival had been banned 1942-45), marking the first ever public emergence of steel bands. The steel pan is the only acoustic instrument to be invented in the 20th century.

14) Best piece of recent street art

In 2008, the local Art Society and the Queen’s Park Oval (the country’s premier cricket venue in north Port of Spain) collaborated to use the walls of the Oval as a canvas for some of the country’s finest emerging and established artists. Called the People’s Canvas Project, it has survived (too many) attempts to vandalise and deface it, and remains the most arresting site of public art in the country.

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