Welcome to the Michael Herald Sutton AuditoriumWritten by Stevenson Manners
With the April 28 Grand Opening of the Nevis Performing Arts Center (NEPAC), and the naming of the auditorium in honour of the above-mentioned musical genius, the performing arts on Nevis now has a permanent home, and a brighter future - if Saturday’s cultural extravaganza is anything to go by.
The likes of late cultural icons Georgina “Annie” Mills, Ernest “Pappy” Rawlins and founder of NEDACS (the Nevis Dramatic and Cultural Society) Calvin “Cabo” Howell must have smiled down on the hundreds gathered, while living legends Joseph “Juggo” Brandy, supreme kettle drum player, and David Freeman, the wicked fifer, played sweet music to the heart’s content of all the patrons.
When the showpiece event was over, even the Gods smiled on us, opening the heavens and pouring bucketfuls of blessings on a proud and magnificent edifice, and gathering.
The performances were epic.
Young Javier Pemberton, with every performance is turning into a child prodigy. Dressed in a professional-looking and well-tailored dark suit, he enraptured all with his confident and stylized delivery of our national anthem, “Our Land of Beauty”, extending the vocal chords so widely for the final strain that jaws visibly dropped in admiration.
The long- standing Nevis Community Choir’s rendition of Herald’s favourite piece “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, one of the most well-known and oft’ rendered musical pieces from the baroque period, soared to the heavens to touch his soul, and acknowledge his greatness, while beckoning younger performers to follow in his footsteps.
It was in 1983 for our Nation’s Independence that a young, then wiry 17-year-old piano virtuoso burst onto the scene with a desire to “shock and awe” music lovers. At the then-new Cultural Complex, he provided accompaniment for the coming-out performance of the Nevis Mass Choir, an amalgam of Nevis’ best voices, which morphed into the Nevis Community Choir. Twenty-nine (29) years later, Herald’s father (Cecil) at age 71, provided musical accompaniment to the signature piece, soulfully delivered by the island’s leading chorale ensemble under the dynamic directorship of Ms. Joya Clarke.
Denise Gordon, an English songstress of Nevisian parentage showed why she has gained international acclaim and took the concept of “vocalizing” to dizzying heights. A class act, her lead vocals in the negro spiritual “I will fly away”, and in Clara Ward’s “How I got over”, showed off her amazing range and vocal elasticity and evoked memories of Mahalia’s (Jackson) contralto. Her rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”, considered one of the reggae icon’s most seminal works with lyrics derived from a speech by Pan Africanist orator Marcus Garvey, was at once inspiring and liberating. “
“Won’t you help to sing.
These songs of freedom”, she begged,
“It’s all I ever had
Redemption Song”, she proclaimed.
However, unlike Marley, she had the complement of a full band, the incomparable Friends, with strumming guitar and choir as she reverently messaged the solo ballad and spiritual acoustic.
Rising soca sensation Alison Dore (Ali Dee) teamed up with 2010 WinFest calypso king Shane Browne and duetted an up-tempo version of Konris Maynard’s “One Song”. There probably has not been a more stirring rendition, the five-times-crowned Federal calypso king own renditions apart. The blend of the two Gingerlanders’ voices was impeccable, and their youthful, sassy moves beautifully choreographed and tantalizingly eye-pleasing.
The young Oldain “Slim” Claxton of Brown Hill was less emotive, but his revised version and dual interpretation of Meeko’s “Nevis Nice”, the unofficial national anthem of Nevis, showed off his high-pitched voice, and was as refreshing as the April breeze which wafted across NEPAC’s parking lot.
The about 30-strong mass choir assembled for the occasion, and skillfully trained and directed by Antiguan, now Nevis resident, Kareem aka ‘LL’ Herbert lent strong vocal support and brought “a big Apollo sound” to the outdoor theatre.
Solo instrumentalist Lloyd Williams unearthed his vintage, more than 50-year-old alto saxophone to ooze out a spontaneously, unscored yet delightful “Oneness”, over the drum rhythms of the I-Afrikaner Drummers. The rhythms were Ghanaian, (where Lloyd was at the time of Herald’s passing Feb. 18, 2007), the Kenny G-like jazzy saxophone riffs John Coltrane-inspired, and showed off flawless technique, style, general musicianship and versatility in his self-confessed search for spirituality. The hope that: “Unity will spread throughout the world”.
And there was dance.
From another era, there was the Combined Schools with females in their multi-coloured, ankle-length layered outfits and males in dark slacks, spotless white shirts with red bow ties and straw hats, weaving the intricate steps of Cake Walk dancing in a manner that would make Darrell Dore and Eltruda Prentice sit up from their Bath grave.
And of course there was that most ubiquitous of Nevisian art forms, the masquerades, performed by the Rawlins and Cotton Ground grouping, with quivering feathered headdresses waving in the new era for the performing arts.
Mr. Kool 2011, Nadaski Percival and Jamal Jacques, and their ‘dancing girls’ took us in a reverse journey across the Atlantic, as they led a vibrant African-influenced, foot-stomping dance with painted bodies and skimpy loincloth, and complete with pounding tassa drums and pointed spears.
And there was steel pan…sweet, sweet Junior Paris steel pan.
There was even an impersonation of hobbling town-crier Walter Wallace (Jam Dem), and two female dramatists to introduce the various segments of the 30-minute drama, dance, song and music presentation.
The pot-pourri of talent, was skillfully woven into a rich cultural tapestry by Master of Ceremonies and Director of the Nevis Cultural and Development Foundation (NCDF) Mr. Halstead “Sooty” Byron.
From Newcastle in the north to Indian Castle in the south, from Charlestown in the west to Eden Brown in the east, Nevis rolled out its cultural best Saturday, and gave a nation hope for the future. Hope in the possible.
The Mission Statement of NEPAC trumpets: “The Nevis Performing Arts Center (NEPAC) will be the flagship of the performing arts sector in Nevis and will provide an enabling environment for the staging of a wide variety of national, regional and international world-class events and a diverse mix of theatre, music, dance and other performing arts discipline. NEPAC will also partner with all relevant agencies to establish national cultural organizations aimed at propelling the performing arts in Nevis to the pinnacle”.
In his message, Premier of Nevis, the Hon. Joseph Parry promised: “The Performing Arts Theatre will take us to another level. Today’s presentation will just be a precursor to what will happen here”.
He urged: “As we enjoy the presentation this afternoon I trust that we appreciate our culture and our evolving culture that have made us smile and cry, share and endure from our very earliest history through colonization and slavery, pre-independence and independence”.
I surely did
General Manager (NEPAC) Mrs. Deslyn Williams-Johnson and your organising committee, NCDF Chair Mr. Halstead Byron, Minister of Culture the Hon. Hensley Daniel and the entire Joseph Parry-led Nevis Island Administration - take a bow. You outdid yourselves.
Like Marcus (Garvey) and Bob (Marley)
“We forward in this generation
Triumphantly” (Redemption Song, 1980)
Let the Renaissance begin.
May the arts flower - poets, dramatists, writers, singers, musicians, dancers, calypsonians, technicians…all.
Welcome to the Michael Herald Sutton Auditorium.
He, and the other cultural greats are watching us from the ceiling.