Battle Dress and Fancy Dress by Irwin Ottley

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger


Published in 2012, in commemoration of Trinidad and Tobago’s 50th Independence anniversary, Battle Dress and Fancy Dress is described by Bridget Brereton, in a Trinidad Express review, as both “well researched and strikingly illustrated”. Carnival scholars will relish the addition of another scholarly, informative work on the origins of T & T’s mas traditions, which Ottley convincingly argues have the bulwark of their roots in pre-colonisation practices of West and Central African rituals. While not refuting the European influence on some aspects of Trinbagonian mas foundations, Ottley presents a clearly-demarcated series of positions that support a West African bedrock. He credits African Christmas Carnival festivities with bearing the blueprint emblems of creativity that endured in local modern mas.

The author also gives credence to the presence of T & T’s militia, along with the troops of the British army, on aiding in the cultivation of carnival traditions. The “battle dress” half of the book’s title derives principally from this influence, which Ottley describes as significant in the style of dress and weaponry displays enacted by these militiamen and soldiers.

Battle Dress and Fancy Dress‘s back cover, featuring a collage design of numerous illustrations referenced in the book.

The meticulously researched text enjoys frequent punctuations from a plethora of detail-captioned black and white images, predominantly sourced from online slavery archives that have been curated by tertiary institutions, as well as the Michael Goldberg Postcard Collection, housed at UWI St. Augustine’s Alma Jordan library.


The Sky’s Wild Noise by Rupert Roopnaraine

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

We’re rounding out our coverage of the exceptional 2013 OCM Bocas Prize shortlist with a tribute to the non-fiction winner: The Sky’s Wild Noise, a collection of essays from veteran politician and social commentator, Rupert Roopnaraine. This title is also the second on the shortlist to have been published by Peepal Tree Press – the other being poetry winner, Kendel Hippolyte’s Fault Lines.

A formidable chronicle of essays marking a lifetime of political service and social activism, Roopnaraine’s entries range from satirical treatments to eyewitness accounts, from critiques of visual arts to testimonies on the lives of great departed comrades and Guyanese luminaries. The Sky’s Wild Noise is a rare, meticulously plotted gift to Caribbean letters, revealing as much about the resilient, doughty composer of these ruminations as it does decades of sociopolitical history. The compendium provides a narrative that is dually relevant to Guyana’s society, as well as to the broader Caribbean spectrum.

Thus concludes our 2013 OCM Bocas Prize shortlist – but stay tuned! As the festival draws ever closer (less than a full week to go now!) we’ll be paying attention to other talented writers on the official festival programme by spotlighting their books. If a particular selection catches your fancy, and you’ll be in Trinidad from the 25th to the 28th of April, don’t hesitate to check the festival out in person! Remember, all the events (with the exception of workshops, for which there is a nominal fee) are free to attend, and who knows? The 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest might well be your favourite bookish event to grace your calendar this year.

The Illustrated Story of Pan by Kim Johnson

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger


There seems no prevarication to be made about it: The Illustrated Story of Pan is a thing of spectacular beauty, the crown jewel in a Carnival music lover’s catalogue of  visual literature. In this remarkable, necessary tome, it is the photographs — from the rare, to the previously unseen, to the iconic — that guide the arc of the narrative, and never before have you been so eager to be led by images for the sake of art and cultural history.

As Kim Johnson himself remarks, in a Caribbean Beat feature (March/April 2011), “It began with a single photograph”. Speaking on the hundreds of photos he painstakingly curated, Johnson said, “Every photograph had been lovingly preserved for decades, which spoke of their importance to their owners, and as such every owner had stories surrounding each photo, stories of adventure and discovery, of love and danger.”

The Illustrated Story of Pan is, like the best type of books tend to be, many things in one: cultural artefact; photographic panorama (pun probably intended!); labour of love, storybook for the ages. In the tradition of the best books, too, it must be beheld, and absorbed, to be believed. All roads to essential Carnival reading and viewing should lead here, to work of this calibre and sentiment.

The Political Calypso by Louis Regis

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Long regarded as one of the region’s foremost experts on calypso, Dr. Louis Regis presents what might well be the definitive scholarly work on this art form. Keith Q. Warner, author of Kaiso! The Trinidad Calypso, salutes the work as “a significant contribution to the field of calypso studies”, adding that “few published works have taken this extensive a look at the political calypsoes and what informs them.”

Mining the political terrain of Trinidad and Tobago can be, to put it delicately, a messy business. Dr. Regis posits that in calypso, the tools for decoding, analyzing and appreciating political resistance are readily available, a matter of public record — accessible to anyone who will listen, and perhaps sing along.

The Revue at 50 by Rudolph Ottley

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

If we liken the entirety of Carnival to an otherworldly event, you could say that beneath the auspices of the Calypso tent is where some of the most enduring, vital magic is made. In 2012, the Kalypso Revue toasted fifty years of existence, and carnival studies scholar Rudolph Ottley charts its growth between these hardbound covers. Beginning with Leslie Samaroo’s very germination of the idea for a carnival calyso tent in 1963, Ottley expertly ushers the calypso enthusiast and dilettante alike through the Revue’s years of history, development (and occasional bacchanal!)

Guided through chapters entitled “The Pulsating Seventies: Calypso versus Soca”; “The Grand Master’s Last Stand”; and “The Revue in the 21st Century”, among others, the reader is treated to the full sense of a cultivated history of our calypso, of how it has flourished and evolved within the tent, and in all our public spaces. In his December 2012 review, featured in the Trinidad Guardian, Peter Ray Blood attests to the combined beauty and power of The Revue at 50, describing it as a “must have” archival book.

From the first songs of Lord Melody and The Mighty Bomber, to the powerful reign of Lord Kitchener and Sugar Aloes, the Kalypso Revue’s major and minor players are here enshrined, guaranteed to live on in images and ink, making this publication a fine addition to sounds of their music and the memories of their performances.

Carnival: Culture in Action – The Trinidad Experience

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger


According to traditional carnival theory, carnival can be either inversive or subversive: it can mix up the previously-accepted order of things, or bear pitchforks of revolt against the system, pushing change to the forefront. In Carnival: Culture in Action – The Trinidad Experience, a collection of essays and perspectives edited by Milla Cozart Riggio, the beliefs run less concretely than this. Carnival, these scholars and masmen alike proclaim, need not be centred on the institutions that are (supposedly) at the top of  a societal food chain. Carnival is everyone’s, in Trinidad… and if it isn’t, then it should be.

Sectioned into four parts that map the birth, growth and exportation of Trinidad Carnival, the collection features Kim Johnson’s “Notes on Pan”, side by side an essay on the reinvention of calypso by Gordon Rohlehr. Earl Lovelace writes on “The emancipation jouvay tradition and the almost loss of pan” — and yes, this is all in one section, titled “Pan and Calypso – Carnival Beats”.

If you’re of the opinion that books on Carnival can be made (or broken!) by their photosets, this publication will pass that particular test. It features a panoply of black and white photographs of Trinidad Carnival, including two photo essays by veteran photographers Jeffrey Chock and Pablo Delano. A valuable title to add to your collection on Carnival scholarship, this anthology is likely to prompt several reconsiderations, and maybe a spirited debate or two while you’re chipping down the road in a couple weeks’ time.

The Built Heritage of Trinidad and Tobago

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Buildings may not, on their own, make us who we are, but they can provide some of the best signposts and symbols for us to understand our history and ourselves. This is one of the core messages that resounds in The Built Heritage of Trinidad and Tobago, a publication timed to coincide with our nation’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations.

Photo by Wyatt Gallery, for The New York Times.

Boissiere House, one of the 50 heritage sites. Photo by Wyatt Gallery, for The New York Times.

Presided over by editor Geoffrey MacLean, one of the region’s leading conservationists and a National Trust member himself (as well as premier historian on Michel-Jean Cazabon) the book highlights fifty important landmarks of local architecture. These include structures that those who work in Port of Spain and its environs see on a daily basis: Woodbrook’s Lapeyrouse Cemetery; the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Independence Square; Queen’s Royal College on Maraval Road. Also highlighted amongst the fifty edifices are structures and their sites that are less commonly glimpsed, unless one ventures off the beaten path: the Shiva Mandir in Reform Village; Our Lady of Montserrat R. C. Church in Tortuga, Caroni; the entirety of Nelson Island, off Trinidad’s northwestern coast. (Worth noting: this architectural anthology also features ten Tobagonian heritage sites, such as Fort King George, the Providence Aqueduct and the Mystery Tombstone.)

The Lion House in Chaguanas, another of the 50 historical sites highlighted in the book. Photo by Howard Tarbox.

The Lion House in Chaguanas, another of the 50 historical sites highlighted in the book. Photo by Howard Tarbox.

Its cover proudly bearing the image of the Siewdass Sadhu Hindu Temple-in-the-Sea at Waterloo, The Built Heritage of Trinidad and Tobago stands solidly by the national pride that Sadhu’s pioneering feat of architecture represents. Impeccably researched, with detailed information accompanying each historical setting, this is a collector’s item in the vein of the Azrieli School’s books on Trinidadian architecture, discussed earlier on the blog. It marries our earliest recorded efforts at constructing our legacy, combined with the conservationist zeal necessary to ensure that this legacy is safeguarded from wrecking balls that herald glass and chrome facades.

Two Tales of Trinidadian Architecture

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

A Tale Of Two Cities

Volume 1: An Historical Record of the Boissière & Piccadilly Houses, 2011 ¦ 68 pp

Produced and edited by Yvan-pièr Cazabon and André Ottley.

It may be difficult to appreciate, or even remember, as we Trinis rush about on our busy schedules, but we are surrounded by the structures of yesteryear. Their dusty halls, unlit chandeliers and still-beautiful wooden fretwork hold complete generations of memory, if we but paused to consider them.

The twin volumes, A Tale Of Two Houses and its companion title, A Tale From the Old Library, are simultaneous works of reportage and remembrance. The books were researched and documented by students of Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism, beneath the tutelage of Professor Yvan-pièr Cazabon. Access to the historical buildings was facilitated by Trinidad and Tobago’s Citizens for Conservation Society.

Simply put, these books are gems: of conservation ethics; of careful archiving; of attention to detail and respect for history. They represent that curious, satisfying marriage of science and art, allowing us to see each of these three edifices — the Gingerbread House; the private Piccadilly Street dwelling, and the Old Public Library — through the grateful eyes of a renewed perspective. If you haven’t perused the books themselves, it’s difficult to conceptualize just how much information is lovingly stuffed into these slender, elegant volumes: photographs; line drawings, digital model images; building plans and other detailed diagrams all serve to highlight both past and present incarnations of their subject matter.

As historical records go, one might be hard-pressed to find any more exquisitely rendered and faithfully presented than these.

A Tale From The Old Library

Volume 2: An Historical Record of The Public Library on Knox Street, 2012 ¦ 68 pp

Produced and edited by Yvan-pièr Cazabon, Dalma J. French and André Ottley.

As a paired set, Volumes 1 and 2 would make splendid Christmas presents for:

  • Admirers of Trinbagonian architecture, and those deeply interested in its preservation;
  • Art, architecture, landscape and design students;
  • Historical buffs and photographers with a keen eye for heritage-rich scenery.