TRIB­UTE TO CLIFTON “DOU DOU” JOSEPH

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Shane Felix

Grow­ing up as a child in Pi­aye, one of the most prom­i­nent fea­tures about the com­mu­nity was its rich her­itage of ku­tumba or what was also called day­bot. This is a set of tra­di­tional dances per­formed to tra­di­tional songs by a vo­cal­ist ( chanteur) with dancers who would re­spond ( way­pon­deur) with sim­i­lar chants, all backed up by a sin­gle drum­mer.

Un­like drum­ming groups like Lapo Kab­wit, Tam­bou Mélé and Déza­g­wéyab, which con­sisted pri­mar­ily of just drum­ming and singing, the ku­tumba cul­ture in­volves spe­cific dances matched by songs which tell of hard­ship, life and death, trav­els, fam­ily life and a host of other sub­jects hing­ing on ev­ery­day com­mu­nity life.

At that time the ku­tumba was a cul­ture deeply em­bed­ded in ev­ery Pi­aye res­i­dent. If you were born and raised in Pi­aye, it was au­to­matic that you could per­form the dances, sing the songs and beat the drum in the unique way that suited each dance.

The ku­tumba is Pi­aye’s heart and soul, and has served as a means of drawing the com­mu­nity to­gether both in times of joy and sor­row, the most popular be­ing dur­ing nightly wakes held on the death of an in­di­vid­ual in the com­mu­nity. I have a vivid mem­ory of the ku­tumba as a cel­e­bra­tion of life dur­ing those wakes. The au­di­ence was huge. The per­form­ers were adults. A cir­cle was formed around the drum­mer and chanteur. That cir­cle would have lay­ers, in the man­ner of the growth rings which tell a tree’s age, ex­cept that the cen­tre was kept clear for the per­for­mances. Chil­dren like me would perch any and ev­ery­where, whether a tree, a ve­ran­dah, shoul­ders of an ac­com­mo­dat­ing adult or any other view­ing point which would al­low us to wit­ness the cel­e­bra­tion. The at­mos­phere was noisy and some­times rowdy be­cause of ev­ery­one ei­ther want­ing to be a part of the per­for­mance or have a good enough view of those per­form­ing. The battle for a chance to be a per­former was al­ways in­tense.

Even on a nor­mal day with­out an oc­ca­sion, the sound­ing of the drum would draw a crowd of ea­ger chil­dren long­ing to show off their danc­ing skills. The adults would even­tu­ally show up, in­trigued by the tal­ent on dis­play by ku­tumba’s fu­ture. That is how pow­er­ful and deeply en­grained the ku­tumba was in us. How­ever, over time that pas­sion dis­ap­peared; ku­tumba’s heart rate de­creased and its soul was no more pas­sion­ate.

The story be­gins with slaves from the nearby Balen­bouche Es­tate who chose to set­tle in Pi­aye and raise their fam­i­lies. The old folk tell us that those slaves were from Guinea Africa and were re­ferred to as Nèg Djiné ( G-nay in our lo­cal cre­ole lan­guage). As a child grow­ing up, one Nèg Djiné stood out among the rest: his name was Clifton Joseph, more af­fec­tion­ately known among res­i­dents as Pa Dou Dou.

He was usu­ally softly spo­ken but his voice would in­crease grad­u­ally when shar­ing a joke and would cul­mi­nate in a loud sig­na­ture laugh. Pa Dou Dou and my grand­fa­ther Pa Ti Boy would chat, shar­ing their views on the young gen­er­a­tion and how time and things had changed. Com­ing home from school, I would meet them in the ve­ran­dah, and hav­ing to com­plete my chores and school as­sign­ments gave me an op­por­tu­nity to lis­ten in on some of their con­ver­sa­tions.

On the sub­ject of ku­tumba, Pa Dou Dou was the main and only chanteur that I knew of grow­ing up. Ev­ery­one knew the songs but no one pos­sessed a voice as unique as his.

The chil­dren were im­por­tant to him and he would make time on a week­end to en­sure that they were given the op­por­tu­nity to show­case their danc­ing skills, away from the adult no­tion that “Ti-ma­may paka dansé koté gwuh moun yé.” Pa Dou Dou’s sac­ri­fice for the chil­dren en­sured that the tra­di­tion and cul­ture was car­ried on by giv­ing chil­dren the chance to en­joy what the adults claimed as theirs.

My fond­est mem­o­ries of Pa Dou Dou at Pi­aye in­clude him stand­ing next to Kay­nar, a drum­mer, co­or­di­nat­ing the songs and dances. He made sure that ev­ery song had an intro be­fore the first drum roll. The intro was de­lib­er­ately slow as if to cause one to learn the words of the songs. No mat­ter the oc­ca­sion, that per­for­mance would not start if we did not re­spond to his chant­ing. He would take a pause and with a re­frain he would go: “Ma­may la way­pon uh, way­pon uh … epi way­ponse nou tay tou­jour la”. Dur­ing the dances “Ma­may la ouveh wohn uh, ouveh wohn uh” was a fre­quent re­quest from him en­sur­ing that the dance cir­cle re­mained open for all to dance.

When this man stepped into the ring, one just ad­mired in awe. He was the only per­son I ever saw per­form in slow mo­tion and, rather than the usual feet move­ments, he would glide with pre­ci­sion to the drum beat and do all of this with­out leav­ing his po­si­tion next to the drum­mer. Then a sud­den burst of en­ergy into the ring to dis­play his unique move­ments and even­tu­ally the “por-tay” (hand­ing over the dance to some­one else who would con­tinue the per­for­mance around the ring).

Pa Dou Dou’s por-tay was also unique. The por­tay re­sem­bles what is done in break-danc­ing, when a per­former passes on the dance to an­other through a hand or foot move­ment. Ku­tumba’s por-tay was mostly done with the feet but some per­form­ers in­cluded hand ges­tures to con­firm the in­di­vid­ual to whom they were hand­ing over. That per­son would then step into the ring, com­plete his dance and hand over ( por-tay) to some­one else and the cy­cle con­tin­ued un­til ev­ery­one had an op­por­tu­nity to per­form that par­tic­u­lar dance. It would then end with Pa Dou Dou’s unique­ness: he danced around the cir­cle, like no one else could, go­ing back to the drum­mer. He would ex­e­cute that sig­na­ture move of rais­ing and glid­ing one leg over the drum­mer’s hands while beat­ing the drum and end the per­for­mance with an em­phatic ex­pres­sion of the words “Ah Boo Boo”.

Dur­ing com­mu­nity per­for­mances, he al­ways used a fa­mous phrase to en­cour­age on­look­ers to join in. One which stuck with me is “Vini, vini sé moun nuh, la pani gros boudehn eh tam­bou” (Come join us folks, no-one gets preg­nant while danc­ing).

Pa Dou Dou trav­elled the length and breadth of the is­land with a group, the Pi­aye Dancers, show­cas­ing the her­itage passed on from the first slave set­tlers. He was a cul­tural icon for ku­tumba, Pi­aye and by ex­ten­sion Saint Lu­cia. He loved his cul­ture; he lived it and made ev­ery at­tempt to keep it pre­served.

His le­gacy is etched in the heart of ev­ery child who was given an op­por­tu­nity to per­form at Pi­aye and who car­ried that ex­pe­ri­ence be­yond the com­mu­nity in­clud­ing to neigh­bour­ing is­lands. I am one of those who will be for­ever touched by Clifton “Dou Dou” Joseph for his pas­sion ex­pressed for such a unique art form.

His le­gacy con­tin­ues through his sis­ter Ms. An­gella Eti­enne, also an avid per­former, who took on man­ag­ing the group af­ter he fell ill, and through drum­mers Gibbs Pierre and Hens­ley Paul.

The younger gen­er­a­tion has also taken re­newed in­ter­est in the tra­di­tions, dances and cul­ture by get­ting en­gaged in for­mal per­for­mances with the adult group. The daugh­ter of drum­mer Gibbs Pierre, Yandee Pierre, who re­cently com­pleted her de­gree at the Uni­ver­sity of the West Indies, fo­cused her the­sis on ku­tumba and its le­gacy at Pi­aye. Of course, Pa Dou Dou was the ma­jor source of her in­for­ma­tion. She is also spear­head­ing a group called “Twadisyon O Pyay” which, ac­cord­ing to her, “seeks to pro­mote the preser­va­tion of the ku­tumba dances and im­prove­ment of com­mu­nity life in Pi­aye”.

The le­gacy con­tin­ues! Edi­tor’s Note: Shane Felix is a fire­man by pro­fes­sion but also a young cul­tural ac­tivist from the Pi­aye com­mu­nity. His trib­ute was writ­ten a few days af­ter the pass­ing of Clifton Joseph on Jan­uary 11, 2015 at the age of 96.

takes place this evening Satur­day Jan­uary 31 at the Pi­aye Junc­tion and will be in trib­ute to the man res­i­dents call the King of Cul­ture, Clifton “Dou Dou” Joseph.

Twadisyon O Pyay

Clifton “Dou Dou” Joseph: An­other Saint Lu­cian

Cul­tural Icon gone, but not forgotten.

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