Friday, 29 May 2015


By Brenda F. Berrian

It is a cool afternoon at the Place de la République in Paris, and, clad in black, several people of Caribbean descent are kneeling on the pavement to form Le Brick, or la fresque humaine (The Brick, or the Human Fresco), with their bodies flat on green mats to duplicate the way in which their departed ancestors had been packed onto the bottom of a slave ship.

People attending the commemoration.
Photo: Brian Cook / Golden Sky Media
This is May 23, 2015, and the participants who make up la fresque humaine are among more than 30,000 people of Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Réunion and various other ethnic origins at the 17th annual memorial commemoration of slave ancestors.

The free 13-hour Limyè bayo (Light for Them) program, with the themes of Acknowlegement and Reconciliation, also includes vendors, speakers, dancers and a free concert. 

This celebration is held under the auspices of Le Comité Marche du 23 mai 1998 (The Committee for the March of May 23, 1998, or CM98). This group lobbies the French government on issues related to Caribbean history, including the National Assembly’s passage of the 2001 Taubira Law and the inauguration of a holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery.

Serge Romana and Joycelyne Beroard
Photo: Brian Cook / Golden Sky Media
“We have come to honor our great-grandparents,” announced Serge Romana from the stage set up at the Place de la République.

Romana, who's a Guadeloupean professor of medicine and president of CM98, served as one of the evening’s hosts.  “The holiday erases the shame that people feel upon hearing the word slavery…The name I carry is my great-grandmother’s that was given to her in 1848, when slavery was abolished. It isn’t so long ago,” he said.

After her performance, Jocelyne Béroard, the Martinican singer of the band Kassav’, said: “In Martinique, everyone wanted to forget about slavery and its history. For them, slavery symbolized pain. They had to deconstruct what was constructed in their minds. When Guy Deslauriers’ 2003 movie The Middle Passage about the indignities and sufferings of slavery on a ship from Africa to the New World was shown, people walked out and demanded back their money whereas I cried. They and I must know our history in order to move forward.”

Spectators enjoying the concert.
Photo: Brian Cook / Golden Sky Media
CM98 was founded after the Paris march of May 23, 1998, in which 40,000 people including Caribbean nationals, Africans and Europeans protested  racial discrimination in complete silence from la Place de la République to la Place de la Nation. The CM98’s main purpose was the rehabilitation and defense of the memory of colonial slave ancestors who were based in French Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The march was unprecedented because not more than 1,000 or 2,000 Caribbean people usually showed up for other marches. This time, however, the Caribbean population chose to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery to ensure that the present and future generations would know their true history, which had not been taught in the French-oriented school system through the Caribbean islands.

Christiane Taubira
 (photo: SWAN)
In June 1983, the French Republic instituted the commemorations of the abolition of slavery throughout the overseas departments (DOM-TOM). The law of June 30, 1983, accorded a holiday to the departments. Then, on May 23, 2001, the Taubira Law was passed by the National Assembly to recognize that slavery was a crime against humanity. In 2008, after many debates, May 23 was chosen as the official date to honor the slave ancestors in France. Yet Martinique continues to celebrate the abolition of slavery on May 22; Guadeloupe on May 27; and French Guiana on June 10.

On Saturday, 17 years later, people of all walks of life were in attendance with V.I.P. guests such as George Pau-Langevin, the Minister of the Overseas Departments; Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice who lent her name for the 2001 law; and Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris. The free musical concert, with the Martinican journalist Marijosé Alie as the Mistress of Ceremony, included entertainers from Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti. The legendary Tabou Combo, the Haitian compas group, gave special tribute to Haiti. Live coverage of Limyè bayo was provided by a number of television networks.

It was a celebratory evening that gave voice to the fact that the ideas of liberty and freedom matter to all. La Place de la République, the largest pedestrian area in Paris, also symbolized a space where people meet to exchange various viewpoints.

Brenda F. Berrian is Professor Emerita of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh (USA).

Monday, 25 May 2015


The 2015 Cannes Film Festival awarded its top prize to a film about a trio of immigrants from Sri Lanka trying to adapt to a tough urban environment in Paris.

Jesuthasan Antonythasan in Dheepan
Dheepan, by French director Jacques Audiard, won the Palme d’Or for the story of a former Tamil Tiger fighter in the Sri Lankan civil war who immigrates to France with a fake family - a “wife” and “daughter” he hardly knows - and faces new challenges that require his old skills.

Many critics were surprised by the choice, but others said the Jury (headed by famed American filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen) had made a bold decision in awarding the prize to a film about such outsiders, not normally the stars of big-budget movies.

Britain's Independent newspaper called Dheepan  “a radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head, and takes a faceless immigrant coming from a war barely covered in the media and turns him into a [kind of] anti-hero”.

A scene from Dheepan (photo P. Arnaud)
The movie stars the France-based Sri Lankan writer Jesuthasan Antonythasan, who drew on elements in his own background for his screen portrayal, and Indian actress Kalieaswari Srinivasan, who plays his fake wife.

They arrive in Paris with their young “daughter” - a girl they have to travel with to give the semblance of a family - and end up in a bleak suburb of the capital, rife with crime. The film shows the unusual ways they find to cope with their new situation.

Some of the festival’s other prizes were more predictable. The Grand Prix (or second prize) went to the Hungarian Laszlo Nemes for his moving Holocaust drama Son of Saul while the Jury prize was given to Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos for his futuristic (and stomach-turning) story The Lobster, about people being forced to choose a mate or risk being turned into animals.

Hou Hsiao-Hsien (by Yao H-I)
Chinese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien was named best director for his martial-arts thriller The Assassin, and the best screenplay prize went to the young Mexican helmer Michel Franco for Chronic, about a nurse who works with terminally ill patients and who needs them as much as they need him.

Veteran French performer Vincent Lindon was named best actor for La Loi du Marché (The Measure of a Man), the story of a long-time unemployed worker who finally gets a job that turns out to be utterly soul-destroying. But in perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, Rooney Mara of female-love-story Carol, and Emmanuelle Bercot of destructive-relationship tale Mon Roi were jointly awarded the “best actress” prize.

Blanchett in Carol
Cate Blanchett, who probably gave the greatest performance of her career in Carol - an understated story about love between women in 1950s America - was inexplicably left out of the awards.

In the festival’s Un Certain Regard segment, comprising innovative and off-beat films, the top prize went to Grímur Hákonarson of Iceland for Rams, about two brothers reconciling to save their beloved animals, while Croatian director Dalibor Matanić won the Jury Prize for  Zvizdan (The High Sun), a literally heart-breaking and no-holds-barred look at the dangers of loving across ethnic lines in the Balkans.

Japan's Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to the iconic Akira Kurosawa) meanwhile won the best director award for Kishibe No Tabi, or Journey to the Shore, a mystical tale about a husband who returns home three years after drowning at sea. 

The Avenir prize was awarded jointly to two talents to watch out for: Indian director Neeraj Ghaywan, for Masaan, a story about  moral choices; and the Iranian filmmaker Ida Panahandeh, for Nahid - about a divorced mother’s struggle to keep her children. Panahandeh was one of the few women directors represented at Cannes, an on-going issue for the festival.

A film still from Masaan (photo: K. Mehta)
In addition, Colombia’s Cesar Augusto Acevedo received the Camera d’Or (best first feature) for La Tierra y la Sombra, or Land and Shade, a film about a man going back to his family some 17 years after abandoning them and shown in the Semaine de la Critique section of the Festival, a sidebar to the Official Selection.

But here again, missing from the awards was the critically acclaimed Lamb by Ethiopian first-feature director Yared Zeleke (see SWAN’s previous article).

Lamb was one of our favourite movies shown at the festival, along with Mia Madre by Italian director Nanni Moretti. The latter, which touchingly depicts the grief that comes with a mother’s last days, also went away prize-less, just like the superb Timbuktu last year. With films, though, one person's feast is always another person's flub. - A.M.

(The Cannes Film Festival ran from May 13 to 24. For more information:

Friday, 22 May 2015


A scene from Lamb: Ephraim and his pet sheep head home.
A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape. These are the three stars of Lamb, a poignant film directed by 36-year-old Yared Zeleke that is Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

The movie was added after the announcement of the official selection in April and was warmly received in Cannes at its premiere on May 20, with the director and cast receiving applause. It’s slated for general French release later this year, Zeleke said.

Ephraim and Chuni
Shot in the highlands and forests of both northern and central Ethiopia, Lamb tells the story of nine-year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare) and his beloved pet, a sheep named Chuni. The animal follows Ephraim around like a devoted dog, and plays the role of best friend, albeit one who can only say “ba-a”.

When the film begins, we learn that Ephraim has lost his mother in an on-going famine, and, to survive, his father has decided to take him to stay with relatives in a remote but greener region of their homeland, an area of intense beauty but increasing poverty. Ephraim will have to stay there while his father seeks work in the city, not knowing when he can return.

The relatives are an intriguing bunch. There’s the strict farmer uncle who thinks Ephraim is too girly (the boy likes to cook), his wife who’s overworked and worried about her small, sick child, a generous matriarchal great aunt who tries to keep the family in line with a whip, and an older girl-cousin - Tsion - who spends her time reading and with whom Ephraim eventually bonds.

Soon after arriving in their midst, Ephraim is told by his uncle that he will have to learn what boys do: he will have to slaughter his pet sheep for an upcoming traditional feast.

A poster for the film.
The news pushes Ephraim to start devising ways to save Chuni, and that forms the bulk of the storyline, while the film subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Throughout it all, the magnificent rolling hills are there, watching.

We learn in passing that Ephraim is half-Jewish through his mother, whom the relatives refer to as “Falasha people”, but Zeleke says that this is not at all meant to signal division, as Ethiopians don’t generally identify themselves according to religion. In fact, the Christian relatives all seem to have admired the mother.

They attribute Ephraim’s skill at cooking to her teaching, and some of the most moving moments are centred on food – feeding and being fed by a loved one.

The film is dedicated to the director’s grandmother, and another striking element is how sympathetically women are portrayed. Tsion, played by the smoldering Kidist Siyum, is shown as smart and knowledgeable, but her love of reading is considered useless by the family since it doesn’t get the back-breaking household chores done. Ephraim’s ability to cook and sell samosas on the market is seen as more helpful, drawing attention to some of the hardships children face in poor countries.

The title could even be taken as a reference to the treatment of the world's youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

Director Yared Zeleke
Lamb shows Tsion being pushed to make a sad choice, leaving Ephraim more alone than ever, but the film ends on an upbeat note, with the possibility of acceptance. A simple and unforeseen act of kindness towards Ephraim by Tsion’s rejected suitor might trigger most viewers’ tears.

As a first feature, Lamb is a glowing success for Zeleke, who grew up in central Adisa Ababa - an urban environment where he says he didn’t have a pet and never learned how to cook - and who went on to study film-making at New York University. With the credible story and the feel of authenticity, the director shows that he knows his culture and people.

The loving attention to the landscape and the tight focus on his characters also reveal confidence and vision, and members of the cast equally turn in a fine performance. As Ephraim, Amare Rediat is affecting and sincere, with his huge expressive eyes, and Siyum has a coiled energy that conveys the frustration of a bright girl expected to marry and “breed” quickly because that is her only fate.

Produced by Slum Kid Films, an Ethiopian production company that Zeleke co-founded with Ghanaian colleague Ama Ampadu, Lamb was shown in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard category. This section highlights daring, innovative, off-beat works, and Zeleke’s film certainly fits the bill. - A.M.

Photos are courtesy of the film's producers. For a more complete article, please go to:

Saturday, 9 May 2015


The recently opened north-coast branch of the National Gallery of Jamaica is hosting a new exhibition titled Xaymaca: Nature and the Landscape in Jamaican Art, scheduled to run until August 2015 in Montego Bay.

The show's poster, with a detail of Colin Garland's
"In the Beautiful Caribbean" (National Gallery).
“Xaymaca” was the Taino name for the Caribbean island, meaning “land of wood and water,” and the show celebrates the “spectacular natural beauty of Jamaica, seen through the eyes of Jamaican and visiting artists from the colonial period to the present,” according to the curators.

The exhibition features major works from the National Gallery's collection and comprises four sections: plantation era art; early and 20th-century photography; paintings and one sculpture from the nationalist school of the mid-twentieth century; and paintings and sculpture from the post-Independence generation.

The artists include well-known names such as Barrington Watson, Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Edna Manley, Albert Huie, and Hope Brooks, all of whom have created works that are now considered national treasures. The exhibition is curated by Dr Veerle Poupeye, executive director of the National Gallery, and O’Neil Lawrence, senior curator.

Established in 1974, the National Gallery is the oldest and largest public art museum in the Anglophone Caribbean. It has a comprehensive collection of early, modern and contemporary art from Jamaica along with smaller Caribbean and international collections. A major selection of the artworks is on permanent view.

The National Gallery West branch, launched in 2014, is located at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, Sam Sharpe Square.

Friday, 1 May 2015


PARIS - The fourth annual International Jazz Day was celebrated on April 30, with events around the world, amid appeals for peace, unity and dialogue.

"Each of us is equal. All of us inhabit this place we call home," said American jazz legend Herbie Hancock. "We must move mountains to find solutions to our incredible challenges."

Some of the artists participating. (Photo: UNESCO)
After Osaka, Japan, last year, the 2015 Global Host City was Paris, and jazz lovers got to enjoy a daylong series of performances and educational programs in different districts of the French capital. The presentations included workshops, master classes, jam sessions and panel discussions.

Coinciding with UNESCO’s 70th anniversary celebration, the day's main event was an “All-Star Global Concert” which took place in a packed auditorium at the UN cultural agency’s headquarters. It featured energetic and memorable performances from some 30 renowned artists.

Among them were pianists Hancock, John Beasley (the show's musical director), Antonio Faraò and A Bu; trumpeters Till Brönner, Ibrahim Maalouf, Hugh Masekela and Claudio Roditi; vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Al Jarreau, Annie Lennox, Rudy Pérez and Dianne Reeves; saxophonists Igor Butman, Ravi Coltrane, Femi Kuti, Guillaume Perret and Wayne Shorter; bassists James Genus and Marcus Miller; guitarist Lee Ritenour; drummer Terri Lyne Carrington; percussionist Mino Cinelu; harmonica player Grégoire Maret; and oud virtuoso Dhafer Youssef.

The concert was webcast live to viewers around the world, and has been made available for on-demand viewing, according to UNESCO.

Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater (left)
and daughter China Moses
at the first Int'l Jazz Day, 2012.
(Photo: McKenzie)
International Jazz Day is Hancock's brainchild, presented each year by UNESCO in partnership with the U.S.-based Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. The organisers say the Day is aimed at encouraging and highlighting the “power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity”. It is also meant to promote “intercultural dialogue through respect and understanding, uniting people from all corners of the globe”.

At the launch, UNESCO’s Director-General Irena Bokova said: “Jazz means dialogue, reaching out to others, bringing everyone on board. It means respecting the human rights and dignity of every woman and man, no matter their background. It means understanding others, letting them speak, listening in the spirit of respect.

"All this is why we join together to celebrate jazz; this music of freedom is a force for peace, and its messages have never been more vital than they are today, in times of turbulence,” she added.

Although speakers did not directly mention the civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland, that followed the funeral of an African-American man who died in police custody, the protests were clearly on everyone's mind, with the themes of human rights, justice and equality being reiterated.

At the end of the concert, Hancock announced that the next International Jazz Day would be hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, at the White House in Washington, D.C.

(For a more complete article by SWAN and Inter Press Service (IPS), please go to:

Annie Lennox rocked the house. (Photo: McKenzie)
Wayne Shorter (left) and bassist Ben Williams. (Photo: McKenzie)