Caribbean sounds and Pathé reels are signposts of soul
As we know only too well from 800 years-plus of Irish history, colonialism has produced many strange and unexpected side-effects. The influence of its Caribbean colonies on British culture and society is a long-running and never-ending source of fascination.
From the annual Notting Hill carnival to various musical strands which have found their way into British pop music over the years, the Caribbean has long cast a colourful, often complex shadow on the culture of a country many thousands of miles away.
Mirror to the Soul, Stuart Baker’s new documentary, dives into that experience. Consisting of 60 Pathé news pieces filmed in Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Guyana, Bermuda, Belize, Trinidad and elsewhere between 1920 and 1972, it provides a fascinating picture of how the Caribbean was presented to audiences back in Britain at the time.
The clips, broadcast in cinemas before the main film began, informed the audience about life, music and strife in those faraway lands. As well as big stories such as the Bay Of Pigs invasion in Cuba, there were lighter features (the “and finally . . .” pieces so beloved of TV news shows) on everything from basket-weaving and bananas to folk dances and the domestic coffee industry.
In many ways, those clips defined how British people view the Caribbean and it’s telling that the clips moved from hard news to tourism blurbs as the years went by.
Baker is the founder of the Soul Jazz record label and it’s no surprise that the documentary DVD release comes with two hefty compilations of Afro-Caribbean sounds including mambo, calypso, funk, reggae, Latin jazz and much more. You could argue that music has been more important than any other Caribbean product in amplifying the region’s soft power.
Mirror to The Soul