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Word Soul: Eclectic & a little Electric
With 15 members and guest performers, it wasn’t hard for Tribe Sankofa to deliver an eclectic night, but there were moments when they also managed to be electric. Word-Soul: The Redbones Edition, was the group’s first official performance as a collective. It was largely a night of spoken word but the music brought in the main by guests Tanya Stephens, Michael Sean Harris and Mijanne Webster was good, damn good.
Stephens was the main guest performer of the night and delivered the penultimate set from classic pieces of her repertoire to newer works. Between songs her conversation with the audience was equally witty and entertaining.
“So you know we a go talk some foolishness tonight,” she laughingly told the audience when she arrived on the stage. It was a set of “foolishness” that they thoroughly enjoyed. Stephens pulled from her impressive repertoire of relationship songs starting with one of her latest, ‘Take Good Care (Of My Man) in which a “wife” give advice to her husband’s mistress to ensure that it does not reflect poorly on her. Stephens also showed her socially conscious side with ‘Still Alive’ and attempted to end her set with the cheater’s anthem ‘It’s a Pity’.
However, as she performed, one man at the pack of the venue kept yelling for her to “pull up!”. When his demands became too much, Stephens addressed him directly. “Pull-Up! Man mi look like no Go-Go to you,” she declared sending the audience into gales of laughter. Ss the audience demanded even more she added ‘What A Day’ and a touch of ‘Boom Wuk’ as her encore.
Michael Sean Harris and Mijanne Webster also delivered a sterling set. Harris sang and played the violin and Webster was also on violin. The result was a performance that is not often seen. They began with ‘Manuka’ before momentarily dipping into the spirits with a touch of Kumina. Webster also delivered a fantastic, rock influenced rendition of Junior Reid’s One Blood. They also performed ‘Take It Or Leave It’ and ‘Table Top’.
The spoken word segment was fueled by poetry from the members of Tribe Sankofa as well as iconic Jamaican poets such as Lorna Goodison and Mervyn Morris. The night opened with a pre-recorded rendition of ‘Words’ by Fabian Thomas, the collective’s founder and artistic director.
‘Words’ was followed by the first choral performance of the night Mel Cooke’s ‘Creation’ and Lorna Goodison’s ‘Road of the Dread’. In a tribute to Ska legend Don Drummond, they employed Lorna Goodison’s ‘For Don Drummond’ and Mervyn Morris’ ‘Valley Prince’. The latter was performed by Christopher Hutchinson who attempted to portray the Drummond as he laboured under schizophrenia. However, much of the softer nuances of the poem was lost to the attempts to be dramatic in delivery.
Tribe Sankofa also paid tribute to Haiti though art and poetry, employing a wonderful recording of Leonie Forbes reading Thomas’ ‘Yele’ while Natalie Barnes art depicting the resilience of Haitians after the massive 2010 earthquake.
The troupe seems to enjoy several multi-talented members. Along with Thomas whose poetry was a strong element of the night, Shanique Brown is also a talented dramatist and singer. Her dramatic skills particularly bouyed Patricia Smith’s ‘Map Rappin’, a uber-sensual poem which may have sent the temperature up a few degrees. She also delivered a good rendition of Tessanne’s ‘Messenger’, which she performed with Brian Johnson. Johnson is a talented actor, but his voice was stretched beyond its limits on the night, and even so the vocal strength of the group’s female members more than compensated for any shortcomings.
Alas, dance is not one of their strong points. The movement was at best uninspiring and at worst amateurish. Fortunately, it was not significant enough to dampen the night.