Category Archives: music and dance

Back from USA… encore un ti bo!

I am back, and am writing, writing, writing!

So in the meantime, why don’t I share another interpretation of the song Ba Moin en ti Bo by La Compagnie Créole, which has a distinctly 1980s feel! It’s interesting to compare it with the version which my Martinican colleague shared with me (see my previous post!).

The song and video certainly brought a smile to my face after a long editing session! Now it’s back to writing my book…

Ba mwen un ti bo

I’m currently in Tallahassee for an international conference and to undertake research – more on that soon!

In the meantime, the night before I left, I had a lovely surprise when my colleague and collaborator in Martinique, Mme Raphaëlle Bouville, sent me a surprise link (thanks again, Raphaëlle!):

It’s the Guadeloupean folk song, ‘ba moin un ti bo’, being sung by school children in Seoul! So I’ll leave you with this for now!



End of 2015 Round-Up

The Joseph Zobel centenary year is drawing to a close.

Looking back on the past 12 months, it is incredible to think of all the different activities that have taken place all over the world to celebrate the life and work of Joseph Zobel!

If you scroll down and click through the month-by-month archives for this blog, you’ll see spring activities such as March’s Paris Book Fair talks on Zobel where Roland Monpierre’s new graphic novel adaptation of Diab’-là was launched thanks to a crowd-funding initiative, with Patricia Thiéry’s excellent organisational skills…

… then it was on to April’s centenary events in Zobel’s place of birth, Rivière-Salée, in Martinique, and even me popping up on the Martinican evening news in May, and on ZoukTV with Raphaëlle Bouville, Frantz Edouard and Rodolf Etienne…

…in June and July, there are a couple of reports, including one published with the Guardian Higher Education Network website, about the discovery of a watercolour with a mystery link to Zobel at the British Library in London…

…followed by autumn or, as the Americans say, Fall, when I made an extended visit to Emory University, Atlanta. This was a chance to reflect on some of the continuities between the American Deep South and the Caribbean, and to give research talks about the laghia combat dance, as well as having great fun teaching La Rue Cases-Nègres to Undergraduates…

…then in November, three generations of Zobels – including Joseph’s daughter, Jenny, and granddaughter, Emily, organised a sell-out special filming of Rue Cases-Nègres at Leeds Town Hall… And I reflected on the role of French Caribbean soldiers in WW1 in Zobel’s works, and an event held earlier in the year at the Library of Birmingham…

Alongside all these activities, the traditional academic research continues, as I’ve been drafting conference papers and a book on the work of Joseph Zobel…

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the fantastic work achieved by so many different groups who came together to celebrate the author’s legacy. And as my Martinican colleagues have commented, now it’s time to think about our next moves – or, as they say in French, l’après-centenaire!




Visiting Fellowship at Emory University, Atlanta

The Zobel project is on the move once again… special greetings to any new readers of this blog who are in Atlanta, Georgia! It is a privilege to be here. DSC02022

I am currently working in Atlanta as a Visiting Fellow at Emory University, where I am based in the Department of French and Italian. This is a wonderful chance for me to exchange more transatlantic perspectives on Zobel and his legacy, and was an activity I planned when I submitted my AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellowship application in 2013.

Zobel is widely taught across the US, through text and film, and my time in Atlanta gives me an invaluable opportunity to understand how he is taught, and to discuss possible new approaches to teaching his work based on my new research findings with my American colleagues.

Over the past few days, I’ve taught classes on Zobel and on Caribbean literature more generally with my colleague Prof. Valérie Loichot, an expert on Francophone Caribbean literature whose latest book The Tropics Bite Back: Culinary Coups in Caribbean Literature was awarded the Modern Language Association of America’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize earlier this year. It is a fascinating study and Valérie’s insights into food are particularly interesting to me in the light of my own recent work on ecocriticism and food security in Martinique.

I’ve been explaining my pDSC02161roject to faculty members and to students, and this helps me to think about how I present my research to different audiences.

It’s an excellent chance to discuss my past activities – from the Paris Salon du Livre to my work in April for the Zobel Centenary in Rivière-Salée in Martinique, to my ‘Indiana Jones moment’ at the British Library in London.

Next week, I’ll also be working with Prof. Michael Wiedorn at Georgia Institute of Technology, and I’m looking forward to meeting colleagues and students there!

I am also preparing to give research seminars and am really impressed at the quality of the poster produced by a graduate student at Emory – here it is!


Yarico: a New Musical about Slavery

flowerI’m working on a longer version of this blog post for a scholarly publication – more details to come!

A new musical which explores slavery and its legacy has just announced that its opening run in London will be extended. Yarico tells the story of a beautiful Amerindian woman whose English lover betrays her and sells her into slavery. But the tale is actually centuries old, and has undergone several transformations.

The original account of Yarico dates from 1657 and was recounted in The True and Exact History of Barbados by Richard Ligon. Despite the work’s title, it is impossible to ascertain whether Ligon’s story was indeed ‘true’, but it struck a chord in the popular imagination. The story was retold in 1711 by Richard Steele in issue number 11 of the Spectator, and Steele’s article reached a wide audience on both sides of the Atlantic.

The cultural significance of the story was such that it was turned into an 18th Century comic opera Inkle and Yarico, by George Colman, which was performed first at the Haymarket theatre in 1787. The foreword to Colman’s opera draws attention to its significance for the anti-slavery movement, suggesting that the drama “might remove from Mr Wilberforce his aversion to theatrical exhibitions […] it is one of those plays which is independent of time, of place, of circumstance, for its value.” Indeed, as the programme for the 2015 musical reminds us, the story was an important cultural tool in promoting the abolition of slavery.

Yarico has garnered several column inches focusing not only on the musical, but also on its producers, Jodie Kidd, and her father John. The model was raised in Barbados, and there is considerable Barbadian involvement in the project to rediscover Yarico.

Slavery and Resistance

Yarico explores the themes of love, sex, gender roles, money, enslavement and colonial exploitation. In the first act, Yarico saves Inkle’s life when her village votes to put him to death. The comedic potential of the relationships between the female Amerindians Yarico and Nono, and the male Europeans Inkle and Cicero, is fully developed, just as in Colman’s 1787 opera. In scenes straight out of a teen drama, the nascent couples flirt, blush and wonder how to communicate with each other, and turn to their best friends to vent their feelings of attraction, angst and frustration. This goes a long way to ‘de-exoticisng’ the plot, making the characters familiar and likeable, and underscoring the timelessness of love and attraction.

From the end of the first act, however, when Yarico is sold at a slave market, the musical explores more serious themes in an uncompromising manner. From this point onwards, it walks a tightrope between depicting the horror of slavery, and showing the flame of resistance. This recalls the Caribbean author Daniel Maximin’s famous comment that “the story of slavery is also the story of the resistance of slavery”. And resistance, and the hope that springs from it, provide a counterbalance to the tragic treatment of Yarico after Inkle’s betrayal. In her professional debut, newcomer Liberty Buckland’s assured and nuanced performance ensures that Yarico retains her dignity throughout her enslavement. Nonetheless, slavery’s violence and inhumanity become prominent as the musical develops.

True to the spirit of resistance running throughout, the musical’s climax is a slave revolt, which is a modern addition not present in previous versions. This ending offers Inkle a chance of redemption, as (spoiler alert) his final act of bravery allows Yarico to escape from Barbados with their son.

Some Thoughts on the 2015 Adaptation

dice yaricoIn Yarico, Inkle atones for his previous life of vice as a gambling addict: the addiction which, in the musical, leads to Yarico’s enslavement.

This is another nod to Colman, although his opera’s treatment of the addiction of humans to money contains a more blatant condemnation of the opportunities offered by colonialism for capitalists to accumulate wealth and climb the social ladder.

In Colman’s 1787 Inkle and Yarico, Inkle must choose between his love for Yarico and an arranged marriage with Narcissa, the daughter of Sir Christopher Curry, a union which will guarantee Inckle status and riches.

Colman satirizes Inkle’s relentless pursuit of wealth. When Inkle infoms Yarico that he is leaving her, he comments that the cultural differences between them are too great: rather than being born to hunt for wild animals and live off the land, Ickle tells a dismayed Yarico that “we Christians, girl, hunt money”. Coleman also engineers a redemptive moment for Inkle: at the opera’s climax, Sir Christopher, who has learned of Inckle’s cowardice and betrayal of Yarico, demands that Inckle explain himself. At this, Inckle repeats his father’s mantra that “men now lived for themselves”, and that the age of charity and compassion had given way to one of self-interest and profit. Under duress from Sir Christopher – Narcissa has fortunately found a more suitable match in the meantime – Inckle repents and agrees to commit to Yarico, and a happy ending ensues as the two are wed.

Although the 2015 musical does not grant Yarico this happy ending, the gambling sub-plot similarly underscores Inkle’s addiction to the pursuit of wealth. This does, however, mean that the theme of social mobility through colonial speculation is not highlighted in the way it was in 1787. In the musical, Inkle’s moment of gambling weakness is a personal, irresponsible flaw, rather than a cold, calculated decision to sell the woman he loves into slavery to get her out of the way because a woman with better social prospects is within his grasp. As such, the new adaptation loses some of the searing social commentary of Colman’s opera. Nonetheless, speculating on the colonies is likened to gambling at several points, and the wider point – on the immorality of the ruthless pursuit of profit – prevails.

Perhaps the most significant feature of the modernised Yarico is the female lead’s agency in her own survival. Previous Yaricos were the stereotypical beautiful, innocent victims of male deception and scheming – the rhyming potential of Yarico and woe was a gift to poets – but in 2015, Yarico is supported by the wider slave community and fights her way to freedom, a powerful message.

This is just the beginning of the Yarico adventure, and the project will be one to watch for all those with an interest in dramatic arts and the Caribbean.

I’m working on a longer version of this blog post for a scholarly publication – more details to come!

2015 – Zobel’s Centenary

Happy New Year! Bonne année!

2015 is the year of the centenary of Joseph Zobel’s birth, on 26th April  1915.

I’m really looking forward to taking part in events marking this centenary throughout the year.

To celebrate the beginning of his centenary year, I’m posting a text about my own ‘first meeting’ with Zobel.

During Martinican fieldwork in 2013, I was lucky enough to meet Mme Raphaëlle Bouville at the Médiathèque in Rivière-Salée. She had produced a wonderful display on Zobel, bringing his literature to life for local readers of all ages. Raphaëlle asked me to contribute a text on Zobel so that school children in the Rivière-Salée area would understand my perspective on his literature… and how much his work is appreciated by readers all over the world. Bonne lecture! Happy reading!

Ma rencontre avec Joseph Zobel

Ma rencontre avec Joseph Zobel est une rencontre littéraire. Elle m’a transportée de ma vie quotidienne en Angleterre pour me projeter dans un nouveau monde: la Martinique. Le premier de ses livres que j’ai lu, c’était Laghia de la mort. Grâce à ce texte, j’ai découvert ce que c’est, un « laghia », cette lutte entre deux hommes, rythmée par le tambour. Et le conte ‘Le Syllabaire’, qui parle de l’importance de l’école, institution qui peut nous ouvrir de meilleurs lendemains. Institution qui reste, hélas, hors de portée pour beaucoup d’enfants à travers le monde. C’est cette même thématique que j’ai retrouvée chez La Rue Cases-Nègres, son magnifique récit d’enfance.

L’importanchardwick-childhood-caribbean161x240e de l’enfance chez Zobel et d’autres auteurs antillais m’a inspirée à écrire une thèse doctorale à l’Université d’Oxford, thèse récemment transformée en livre, Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean (2013).

Avec mes étudiants à l’Université de Birmingham, nous faisons la connaissance des Antilles françaises à travers les très beaux textes de Joseph Zobel. C’est une lecture qui nous sensibilise aux grands problèmes de l’humanité: l’exploitation de l’homme par l’homme, la nécessité de respecter son environnement et l’importance de la famille. Comme l’a dit l’écrivain guadeloupéen, Maryse Condé, ‘la lecture de Joseph Zobel, plus que des discours théoriques, m’a ouvert les yeux.’[1]

Malheureusement, je n’ai jamais pu rencontrer M. Zobel en personne, mais je prends plaisir à le retrouver à chaque fois que j’ouvre un de ses livres.


[1] Maryse Condé, Le Coeur à rire et à pleurer (1999)

African and Caribbean Dance

Last week, I attended a wonderful event on campus at the University of Birmingham called ‘Dancing Maps’. The event formed part of a project led by my colleague Dr Pat Noxolo, which she explains at her own blog:

I really enjoyed the talks on the historical and cultural aspects of African and Caribbean dance. An added bonus were the dance performances by local Birmingham ACE Dance and Music Youth Company, which were absolutely stunning.

Afterwards, I chatted to the young dancers and the ACE company leaders about Caribbean dance, and explained that one of the reasons I became interested in Zobel was because I was fascinated by how he writes about music and dance in his work. How can we capture dance and rhythm on the printed page? The challenge cannot be underestimated, and Zobel is one of the most skillful authors I’ve encountered when it comes to writing about French Caribbean music. Hopefully our conversations about different dance traditions in the Caribbean will be continued… watch this space!