Dominica's lukewarm reception to excellence in arts and culture
On a daily basis when I look at television, I marvel when I see how people are recognized for their work in other countries. The USA is one of those countries who have the greatest respect for servicemen, marines, fire officers, police, sporting personalities, those involved in sports and culture, just to name a few areas.
They celebrate their icons, dead or alive, past or present and when cultural performances meet a certain level of excellence, in American Idol or other talent-based competitions, performers are greeted with standing ovations.
Well, I thought our reluctance in showing appreciation was just a black thing until I witnessed BET awards for a number of years and how the black American show appreciation and honour not just by giving awards but by honouring the artistes with standing ovations.
I can already hearing some readers saying this is not part of our culture but this is not true for as far as I can remember we had to stand for the Queen , President or Prime minister acknowledging their honorable offices; a brief moment albeit, of respect. To counter this cultural argument one may also say that 'happy hour' at funerals were not part of our culture some decades ago. It was all about solemnity, nine nights and wakes.
We have also adopted the American values, mannerisms, mode of dress when meting out correction to our children. Now for every wrong or misdemeanor we use psychology and scientific 'evidence' to rationalize behavior, sparing the biblical rod as much as possible and spoiling the child.
Hence, we know how and when to adapt and how to adopt, so why is it we hardly see the need to demonstrate gratitude for cultural excellence?
A few weeks ago Dominicans experienced one of the most formidable and professional execution of a theatrical production "Once on this Island" and on nights two and three when which I was present – no standing ovation acknowledging theatrical excellence. On night two I stood up and felt alone for a few seconds, then two joined and another two, then almost the entire house stood.
I take it that we are not moved or emotionally attached to our art and culture to feel so enthused about it, and rise in affirmation of what we feel inside. We look at everyone first to make our move and so it all feels manufactured.
Last weekend a number of cultural stalwarts were recognized through the Golden Drum Awards by the Division of Culture for their contributions ranging from 20 to 50 years of unwavering commitment to the performing arts. It was a free show as usual and one would have anticipated a sold-out crowd but no, sadly it has never been.
The great cultural stalwarts who have preserved Dominica's unique art for decades are most times given a lukewarm reception year after year. Could you imagine if a fee was charged? There would probably be only a handful of patrons, family members or just members, supporters and the African Stilt walkers who received special recognition that night.
Someone tried their best to convince me that the Golden Drum Awards show needs to be enhanced to attract the desired patrons. This is a flawed argument as there are always brilliant performances on that night although the major emphasis is on the awardees so one should not come and expect to be treated to a full $40 concert but rather to pay homage to these cultural icons.
Anyway, isn't Dominica's Michele Henderson performance, one of the greatest international acts on island, a worthy addition to the awards? What about the presence of Bouyon pioneer Derek Rah Peters, who was honored side-by-side with the indomitable Dennis Joseph of Gaylord's fame, the father of songwriting excellence and creole preservation in Dominica? Isn't their presence worthy of us taking some time off our 'busy schedule' to recognize their sterling contributions?
Where were the bus loads who should have attended in honour of traditional drummer Carlton Abio Merrifield or for the special recipient awardee the popular Mighty Acre, who also herald from the south of the island, or for dancer Maurice Guiste, and Theresa Mondesire, who has preserved our cultural over decades in the diaspora? Where were the hundreds of 1st Serenade fans from Pointe Michel who should have come to witness the First Serenade receiving this once-in-a-lifetime Golden Drum award?
If we cannot be motivated by the professional red carpet décor in the forecourt and on stage, the performances over the years by the best, the untiring efforts of the awardees themselves, what then can move us to rousing applause, a standing ovation or just registering our attendance and showing appreciation for those we 'balance batty on', 'do the wiper with'; all those who labour and continue to labour in Dominica's cultural landscape…then nothing will!