Corporate Ladder vs Fire Pole

You know that daunting task of climbing the corporate ladder? Well, I’ve changed my perspective on that for quite some time now. These days I just take the winding stairs up, enjoy the view while I’m up there and then slide down the fire pole, all the way back down. I go for a nice walk around the block and when I’m refreshed, I do it all over again. Why? Because you learn a lot when you’re out on the street with both feet on the ground. And besides that… it’s fun! 🙂

Ironing

 

There are certain things in life that in the bigger scheme are really not that important. Ironing is one of them.

– Jairo Lobo –

My Newfound Nothingness

So I deactivated my Facebook account today. Note: deactivated, not deleted. I guess that was just one step to far to take at this time. Despite the serious withdrawal symptoms that my body and mind are displaying right now, I do think this newfound vast nothingness will be good for me… perhaps I’ll get used to it sooner than I think. And who knows, I may even set a trend. After all, I did have 1,250 friends who might come looking for me offline now. 😉

‘De Ballade van Pluisje’ van Teatro KadaKen dit weekend in première

PERSBERICHT – namens Teatro KadaKen.

Vanaf dit nieuwe schooljaar brengt Teatro KadaKen haar nieuwe productie De Ballade van Pluisje naar de scholen voor middelbaar onderwijs. Het stuk van Albert Schoobaar is een indringende klassenvoorstelling geworden die vergezeld gaat van een educatief traject. De première is op 9 en 10 augustus 2013. Voor beide voorstellingen zijn nog kaarten beschikbaar.

De Ballade van Pluisje gaat over de 15-jarige jongen Newton – bijnaam Pluisje – met wie iets ergs is gebeurd. Zijn ouders Enid en Orlando willen hun verhaal kwijt en besluiten in gesprek te gaan met alle jongeren van Curaçao. Ze weten heel goed wat ze willen overbrengen aan de klassen die ze bezoeken. Maar wanneer ze eenmaal in het klaslokaal staan, gebeuren er onverwachte dingen.

Door het stuk wil Teatro KadaKen in gesprek komen met jongeren, zoals ze dat in de afgelopen jaren ook deden met Tisha (2012) en De deconstructie van Edsel K. (2009). Theater blijkt een zeer geschikte vorm om dat te doen, omdat het de jongeren in staat stelt zich te identificeren met de zeer herkenbare dilemma’s die in het spel worden gepresenteerd. In dit stuk zijn belangrijke thema’s aandacht voor elkaar hebben, de keuzes die je maakt om gelukkig te zijn en de consequenties van de keuzes van ouders voor hun gezin. Enid en Orlando zijn Newton/Pluisje ergens in hun drukke leven kwijtgeraakt. Hoe heeft dat kunnen gebeuren? Hoe had het voorkomen kunnen worden? Wat had Newton zelf anders kunnen doen?

De Ballade van Pluisje wordt gespeeld door Meliza Garmes, Verlon Donker en Benjamin Martis. Tekst en regie zijn in handen van Albert Schoobaar. De productie is mogelijk gemaakt dankzij een bijdrage van Het Fonds Podiumkunsten, Stichting Doen, Mondriaan Fonds en het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Caribisch Gebied.

Aanstaande vrijdag en zaterdag 9 en 10 augustus gaat De Ballade van Pluisje in première in Skol Avasá Amador Nita. Begintijd op beide avonden is 20.00 uur. De voorstelling is geschikt voor volwassenen en jongeren vanaf 12 jaar. Kaarten kosten Nafl. 20,00 en zijn verkrijgbaar bij Mensing’s Caminada.

Teatro KadaKen ta estrená ‘E Balada di Pluisje’ e wikènt aki

KOMUNIKADO NA PRENSA – di parti di Teatro KadaKen.

Manera ya ta kustumber, e aña aki atrobe Teatro KadaKen lo presentá un obra teatral edukativo pa skolnan sekundario na Kòrsou. E biaha aki ta trata di e obra ‘E Balada di Pluisje’, skibi i dirigí pa Albert Schoobaar. E ta un historia intrigante pa studiantenan adolesente, akompañá pa un trayekto edukativo. E estreno ta riba 9 i 10 di ougùstùs 2013 i pa e dos funshonnan aki ahinda tin karchi disponibel.

E Balada di Pluisje ta konta e historia di un mucha hòmber di 15 aña ku yama Newton – mihó konosí komo Pluisje – ku a eksperenshá algu horibel. Su mayornan Enid i Orlando ke kompartí nan historia i ta disidí di drenta den diálogo ku tur hoben di Kòrsou. Nan sa masha bon ta kiko nan ta bin konta e hobennan den e klasnan ku nan ta bishitá. Pero unabes ku nan ta pará den e klas dilanti di e studiantenan, kosnan inesperá ta kuminsa pasa.

Ku e obra aki, Teatro KadaKen ke konektá i kòmbersá ku hobennan, manera nan a hasi anteriormente ku nan dos otro obranan Tisha (2012) i E dekonstrukshon di Edsel K. (2009). Teatro ta un forma hopi adekuá pa hasi esaki, pasobra e ta pèrmití e hobennan di identifiká nan mes ku e dilemanan rekonosibel, presentá den e aktuashon. Temanan importante den e obra aki ta: atenshon pa otro, eskohonan ku un hende ta hasi pa ta felis, i e konsekuenshanan di e eskohonan ku mayornan ta hasi pa nan famia. Na un sierto momentu den nan bida drùk, Enid i Orlando a bai pèrdè nan yu Newton/Pluisje. Kon esaki por a pasa? I kiko nan por a hasi pa evitá esaki? Kiko Newton mes por a hasi otro?

E Balada di Pluisje ta aktuá dor di Meliza Garmes, Verlon Donker i Benjamin Martis. Teksto i direkshon ta den man di Albert Schoobaar. E instanshanan ku entre otro a hasi e produkshon aki posibel ta: Fonds Podiumkunsten, Stichting Doen, Mondriaan Fonds i Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Caribisch Gebied.

Djabièrnè 9 i djasabra 10 di ougùstùs E Balada di Pluisje ta estrená na Skol Avansá Amador Nita. Riba tur dos e anochinan e presentashon ta kuminsá 8or. E obra ta adekuá pa adulto i hobennan for di 12 aña di edat. Karchinan ta kosta 20 florin i ta disponibel na Mensing’s Caminada.

‘Fortunately we don’t have that problem here…’

Today, my friend Marlon Reina drew my attention to a Huffington Post interview with anti-racism scholar and activist Tim Wise, creator of a documentary film entitled ‘White like me’. Marlon posted a link to the interview on Facebook, with the question ‘Can we talk about this in the Netherlands?’ One of the comments on Marlon’s post was: ‘We don’t have that problem here… so why talk about it…’ Not realizing the commenter was being sarcastic, I wrote a reaction illustrating the way in which the same problem exists in the Netherlands. Sarcastic or not, the comment triggered me to write down the first things that came to mind, which lead to a 450-word post in under five minutes. So I decided to dedicate a more elaborate blog post to it as well.

The sheer fact that people sincerely believe that ‘we don’t have that problem here’, means that we definitely should talk about it in the Netherlands. It may not manifest itself in the same manner as it does in the USA, but that doesn’t make the issue less serious. When I first moved to Holland – as the Netherlands are generally referred to in the exterior, but which is factually incorrect, as ‘Holland’ officially only includes 2 of the 12 provinces of the European mainland part of the Netherlands, namely North Holland and South Holland (but that is a whole other story to which I may or may not dedicate a blog post in the future) – in 1998, I was astonished at how little my Dutch fellow students knew about our shared history and diaspora and how much stereotypical unwitting racism there was. I was one of the three ‘allochtonen’ in my semester, and therefore by definition I was a novelty.

For all my non-Dutch followers, the word ‘allochtoon’ needs some clarification. According to the dictionary, officially the word ‘allochtoon’ means ‘immigrant’, so anyone who moves from one country to another. However, in Holland it is largely (and again, often unwittingly) used to identify an immigrant of color, a non-white immigrant, often of lesser means. The white European and American immigrants with academic jobs are mostly referred to as ‘expats’. Furthermore, the word is also used to indicate anyone who looks and/or acts differently from the general white Dutch population, even when they are third or sometimes even fourth or fifth generations, born and raised in the Netherlands.

Having clarified that, I go back to my first days at the Hotel School in The Hague. I think it is easiest to use an actual example to illustrate the baffling reality in which I suddenly found myself. One time, while we were waiting in the hallway for our next Marketing lecture, I got into a hefty discussion with six (yes 6!!) fellow students. All of me, against six poor ignorant souls; I know… it wasn’t fair to them, but I had little choice ;). It was July 2nd, ‘Day of the National Anthem and Flag’ in Curaçao, of which I proudly informed them. A 30-minute discussion followed – now before you ask how we could have a 30-minute discussion, waiting in the hallway for our next class… the teacher didn’t show up. The discussion got to its climax when one of the guys told me: ‘Autonomous or not, Curaçao belongs to Holland and you should hang the ‘Red, White and Blue’ in front of your house and sing the Wilhelmus (the Dutch national anthem).’ After I tried for another minute or two to explain the political relations between the countries of the Dutch Kingdom, I realized I was wasting my breath, for they lacked sufficient knowledge of their own history to even begin to understand what I was talking about. I walked away, leaving them thinking they had won the argument… a Dutch person never loses an argument; it simply isn’t a conceivable concept to us. (and yes, for the purpose of making my point, I am generalizing here). When I got to the end of the hallway I suddenly had an epiphany. I turned around and walked back to my classmates. I said: ‘Just now you were telling me I should hang the Dutch flag in front of my house and sing the Wilhelmus, right? Well, why don’t you sing it for me? I would love to hear it.’ They all looked at me ‘alsof ze het in Keulen hoorden donderen’ (as though they heard the thunder in Cologne – a Dutch expression used for someone who is completely clueless). I then said: ‘There are several possibilities here. Either you don’t know how to sing – in which case it is best if you don’t, because I have a very fine auditory ability – or you simply don’t want to sing right now, OR you don’t actually know your own anthem.’ One of them replied: ‘Well who does!?’. That was the answer I was expecting. I gave him a blissful grin of victory and said: I do! When I was a boy scout in Curaçao, we repeatedly sang the Wilhelmus as part of our basic education.’

Another example I would like to discuss, are the Dutch government subsidies for so-called ‘allochtone projecten’ (immigrant projects). When I became more active in artistic and cultural projects during my second college course in Theatre Studies, I was surprised to find out that immigrants from the former Dutch colonies, as well as Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, African and other nonwhite groups in our community were not part of the regular government culture funding plan, which was reserved solely for elitist white culture (or leftist screamers, who are only leftwing for the sheer purpose of being leftwing). In order to give ‘allochtonen’ a ‘fair and equal’ chance (how ironic), separate special funds existed (and to this day still exist) for the promotion of ‘black culture’. I found that I could get much more funding and easier access to public lobbying, if I submitted a project underlining my underprivileged position as an immigrant in society. If I wrote a project brief solely based on my skills and artistic premise, without a ‘black twist’, my chances suddenly got a lot smaller. That fact in itself is discriminatory and just as harmful to the black communities, as it is to the white population, as Tim Wise points out in his documentary.

Then there is the insidious racist concept of ‘zwarte scholen’ (black schools), which many Dutch policy makers will tell you ‘was never intended that way; it was a natural result of the socio-economic composition of the neighborhoods.’ I believe that is beside the point. Whether the name ‘black schools’ was intentional or not, it is the name most commonly used to refer to these school and as such they are a racist reality in our society. Another ironic fact here is that at many of these black schools the largest part of the student population is actually of Moroccan or Turkish descent, and the majority of Moroccan and Turkish people in Holland do not have particularly ‘black’ physical features. So why call the school a ‘black’ school?

I shall limit myself to one last example, which should make my point of today complete: A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine came up to me to share a fact she had just found out, which was utterly flabbergasting to her. Now before I tell you what that fact was, I want to clarify the picture here: she is white, well educated – obviously, as she has finished 6 years of VWO (pre-scholarly secondary education of the highest kind) and 4 years of med school, followed by a 4-year specialization in pediatrics. Now here is what she said to me: ‘Jairo, I visited this exhibition about slavery last weekend. Amazing! Did you know that Holland also participated in the slave trade and slavery!!?? I never knew.’

So if you ask me, yes, there are definitely things we should talk about in the Netherlands and I invite everyone to do so. I should warn you though; it may take a while. For we the Dutch have long been very adept at making ourselves and others believe that ‘we don’t have that problem here…’

 

For those interested, here is the link to the interview with Tim Wise:

http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/provocative-documentary-explores-white-privilege-/51c476e0fe34444db000049b

“Where are the whales?”

Two days ago I reposted a funny blog about a topic frighteningly familiar to me: the unfathomable secrets of the life below the main deck of a cruise ship, in a sinister little cave called the Officers Bar, which – like most things on a cruise ship – always goes by its abbreviation: the OB. Reading this blog took me right back to my cruise ship days and all of its shenanigans. I do really miss it sometimes. Although I must admit that this happens mostly when my European land life with its eternal self-induced pseudo-crisis finds yet another way to irritate me. It makes me want to call the head office in Seattle, ask for a new assignment at the earliest possible time and be on the first flight out to embark my next vessel. But over the years I’ve come to realize that on the long run, that won’t get me any further on the road to what I’m supposed to be doing on this earth. Even though a cruise ship may not suffer from imaginary pseudo-crisis symptoms, it doesn’t make it any more ‘real’ than land life. A cruise ship may very well be the most unreal place I’ve ever been. It is almost impossible to explain to a ‘land person’ what life at sea is like. People who have worked on a cruise ship will surely agree with me. So I have ultimately given up trying to explain it. Instead, from time to time I will delight my landlubber friends with a baffling anecdote; a true story so insane that I couldn’t possibly have invented it myself. The ‘whale story’ is one those…

On a gorgeous summer day, on our way to Alaska, we were sailing through the passage between Vancouver Island and the west coast of Canada. I was sitting at my desk, where I usually spent close to ten hours of my fourteen-hour workday, enjoying the view through my window – mind you, my window, not my porthole; again, ship people will understand what the privilege of having an actual window does for your morale. Anyway, I was sitting there, when I got a call from the bridge: “Hello Jai, this is Paddy from the bridge. How’s your day going mate? Listen, we’ve spotted a pod of orcas in the distance. Not sure how many, but I’m guessing there are at least six of em. We’ve slightly altered our course and will be passing them on our starboard side in a couple of minutes.”

Are you kidding me? A pod of six killer whales, in the middle of the day, on a sea day, when all of the activities you had so thoughtfully programmed no longer seem to entice the ever growing expectations of your demanding guests? No Event Manager in his sane mind would pass up an opportunity like this to boost the ratings. So I jumped up from my chair, ran to the cupboard and grabbed the PA console to make an announcement.

“A very good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is Jai your Event Manager speaking. I hope you are all enjoying this fabulous summer day out at sea and the majestic views of Vancouver Island. I’ve just received a call from the bridge and they have informed me that they’ve spotted a pod of Killer Whales, at least six of them together. We will be passing them shortly, on the starboard side of the ship. Again, that is the starboard side of the ship, your right hand side, when facing the bow. So quickly grab your cameras, and if you’re not already outside enjoying the sun, I’d say get out on deck right now to get some of the action. That’s all for now, we will back with you at noon for the Captain with his Voice from the Bridge!”

After having gone out to the deck myself, watching the whales and chatting for a while with some of the guests, I made my way back to the office to continue whatever numbing administrative task it was that I was doing before Paddy saved my day (and probably our entire cruise for that matter). As I passed the main staircase and elevator landing in the ship’s atrium next to my office, the elaborately decorated doors of one of the elevators had just opened. Out came an elderly couple, obviously lost, like most of them always are, even up to the last day of the cruise. They were wearing matching outfits, as though they were going on a full two-week fishing expedition, complete with the hats, vests and hiking shoes. The lady was holding on to her husband for dear life, while he was trying to balance the immense weight of the professional telephoto lens on his camera, hanging around his neck.

Being a seasoned veteran in cruise guest psychology, I thought to myself: “Oh shit, these two are looking for the whales… Well, we can really use the ratings, so I might as well ask them if they need anything.” So I smiled and said: “Excuse me sir, ma’am, is there anything I can assist you with?” “Oh yes!” he replied. “Eh… where are the whales!?” she asked, as an excited smile appeared on her face. “Well ma’am, I’m really sorry to inform you that the whales are gone by now. You see, the ship is going close to 18 knots and the announcement was almost half an hour ago, so unfortunately we…” As her smile faded, she interrupted me: “No No! I listened to the message from the guy on the microphone and he said that the whales were on the deck!”

I rest my case. I was stunned, baffled, bewildered, flabbergasted. I mean, in the course of my years at sea I had learned to go really far to make the ratings. But putting six live Killer Whales on the aft Lido Deck, now that’s where I draw the line. I wished them a fabulous afternoon and continued my way to the office.

That evening, after what seemed like the longest Hotel Manager’s meeting ever, changing the show times because of a dancer who had twisted her ankle in a heavily intoxicated state the night before, and resolving a feud between the bridge players and the Rabbi over the meeting space that I had double-booked, I decided it was time for one of my ‘blowout sessions’. A ‘blowout session’ is when I would go out to get some fresh air on the little deck on the forward end of the ship, high up, right underneath the bridge. It had a bridge wing on either side, so you could look out towards the back, along the entire side of the ship. When sailing at full speed out on the open sea, at that height, the wind almost literally blows your brains out.

As I was standing there, watching the beautiful sunset over the passage, all the stress of that day was carried away by the wind. I walked over to the starboard side bridge wing, looking down into the ocean, thinking about my whale incident of that afternoon and having myself a good laugh out loud, all by myself. As a looked up toward the rear of the ship, I was surprised by a gorgeous full moon, hanging right above the stern of the ship, almost touching the deck. I turned around and looked back to the front, where the sunset was still turning the sky above Vancouver Island into a thousand shades of red. I was completely speechless for the second time that day. I had never seen such a mesmerizing sunset and moonrise at the same time. And then, when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any more enchanting, in the distance I heard a couple of faint, but clearly discernable whale blows. I searched the ocean from the ship’s waterline to the horizon and back a couple of times. And then I spotted the pod of Humpback Whales that had just surfaced to get some air. My first instinct was to run to my PA console to make an announcement, but then I thought: “Jai, are you insane? This is your little private moment. Just stand here and appreciate it.” And that’s exactly what I did. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Besides… making an announcement at that late hour would have led to lots of complaining guests. That in turn would have brought the ratings that we had worked so hard to boost with our morning whale show, right back down.

‘GEEN LIEFDE ZONDER VRIJHEID’: A SINCERE ODE TO OUR ANCESTORS IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

– ‘Geen liefde zonder vrijheid’ (No Love Without Freedom), musical storytelling by Volksoperahuis, seen at De Parade in Den Haag on July 7th 2013, 18:45. Language: Dutch/Papiamentu –

By Jairo Lobo

Sometimes in life you unexpectedly stumble upon these marvelous little delights; tiny works of art that bear witness to the power and importance of sincerity and love, both in daily life and within the art itself. ‘Geen liefde zonder vrijheid’ (No Love Without Freedom) is one of those. Bringing new meaning to the genre of old-fashioned musical storytelling, it is a tribute to our ancestors in multiple ways. It tells us the age-old slave legend of Buchi Fil and Mosa Nena. Employing the traditional theatrical form of our ancestors, it uses the rhythms and melodies they once created and the performers themselves are the embodiment in offspring of said ancestors.

The story takes you two centuries back in time, to the island of Curaçao in de 18th century. Mosa Nena is the most beautiful girl of the plantation. She gains power over the fate of her fellow slaves, by giving herself to the ‘shon’ (the slave owner), much to the chagrin of his wife. When the shon buys a new slave from a downtown estate, the safe relationships that everybody, slave and master alike, had gotten so used to, suddenly change. Buchi Fil is a very proud slave who refuses to bow to his owners, despite the harsh whippings he receives. Nena confronts him with the immense danger he subsequently puts all of them in, while he confronts her with her own fears and the unimaginable extent of her conformism: giving her body to her oppressor, in exchange for ‘good treatment’.

‘Geen liefde zonder vrijheid’ demonstrates the power of traditional musical storytelling, by focusing entirely on the seamless cadence between the musical instruments, the storyteller, the singers and the engaging and vivacious words written by Jef Hofmeister. There is nothing that distracts from the essence of the story. A simple canvas backdrop depicting the Caribbean horizon, a wooden palm tree, a pair of weathered shutters and some sand on the floor are all that’s needed to turn the tiny circus tent on the festival grounds into the perfect setting to immerse the audience in a lifelike witnessing of this tragic love story. The placement of the performers in a half circle split in two, underlines the controversy of the time. To one side of the stage are the black percussionists dressed in white; while on the opposite side are the white members of the Dudok String Quartet, dressed in black. In the middle is the main character Mosa Nena, beautifully performed by Izaline Calister, dressed in a bright red summer dress with a flower in her hair. On the far ends of the half-moon shape are two adversaries: the energetic storyteller Raymi Sambo, who also plays the role of Thomá di Kenepa (Buchi Fil) and Kees Scholten who effortlessly switches between the roles of the shon, his wife and a witty Amsterdam folk singer.

Moving back and forth between their basic position and the center of the stage, Calister, Scholten and Sambo each add equal parts of dramatic conviction, melancholy and luckily also lots of humor and fun to the performance, which makes this sad story more bearable. While not in their individual roles, all the actors and musicians remain on stage and in full view of the audience for the entire duration of the piece, participating as spectators from the opposite side of the circular tent. Mirroring their reactions and emotions to the audience, this creates a wonderful tension that demands one’s undivided attention from beginning to end.

Compassion in human coexistence, beyond the barriers of collectively instilled resentment, is theatrically underlined in an ingenious manner by director Kees Scholten. Mosa Nena falls in mad, passionate love with Buchi Fil and the show reaches its climax when Buchi Fil hears of the shon’s retaliation. He leaves the stage in dismay and after only a brief moment of inner deliberation, Nena walks over to the large storybook set on a stand at the edge of the stage. She turns a few pages and then determinedly continues the story where Buchi Fil left off, already knowing how it ends, but keeping the audience waiting for it, until the very last moment.

Coming out of the cozy circus tent in a serene state, contemplating what I had just seen, I caught the observant critic in me trying to find something in the show that wasn’t to my liking, but I couldn’t. Right in that moment I realized that sometimes, something is simply perfect just the way it is…

Geen liefde zonder vrijheid is a production of musical theatre collective ‘Volksoperahuis’

For play dates, please follow this link: http://het.volksoperahuis.nl/?page_id=236

Idea: Izaline Calister

Director: Kees Scholten

Text: Jef Hofmeister

Music: Izaline Calister and Jef Hofmeister

Storyteller: Jörgen Raymann/Raymi Sambo

Lead Singers/Actors: Izaline Calister en Kees Scholten

String arrangements: Marc Bischoff

Musicians: Roël Calister (percussion), Vernon Chatlein (percussion), the Dudok String Quartet, Ed Verhoeff (guitar)

Dance: Untold Empowerment

‘KATIBU DI SHON’ IS AN UNMISTAKABLE ENRICHMENT OF OUR CULTURAL HERITAGE

– Katibu di Shon, opera, seen on the Opening Night, July 1st 2013 at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam –

By Jairo Lobo

When I go watch a performance, I like to use the degree to which it manages to trigger my emotional involvement as an indicator of how I should position my professional analysis of the piece. I call it my Chicken Skin Meter. ‘Chicken skin’ being the Dutch equivalent of goose bumps. Another famous Dutch saying is: ‘the monkey comes out of the sleeve’, which is an expression used when an inevitable truth finds a way to come out, even when the odds are against it. That is exactly what Tania Kross, Carel de Haseth and Randal Corsen did when they created Katibu di Shon, the first opera ever written in Papiamentu, the native language of Curaçao. This opera is in many ways ‘the monkey that came out of the sleeve’. It is a testimony of the power of a language spoken by less than half a million people worldwide, in conveying emotions in an art form that is considered by many to be the greatest of all the performing arts, due to the almost impossible combination of talent, diligence and craftsmanship it requires to fully master it: the opera.

Katibu di Shon tells the story of a friendship between slave owner Wilmu and his slave Luis and their shared love for a slave by the name of Anita. The two men were born on the same day and they grew up as though they were brothers. Anita loves both men, but chooses for Luis. Their love triangle ultimately leads to a confrontation between the two men and they both deflect their anger and frustration on Anita, who becomes the catalyst in this conflict. This story of impossible love is set against the backdrop of the Great Slave Revolt of Curaçao on August 17th, 1795.

Being a ‘Yu di Kòrsou’, a child of Curaçao, from the moment the ensemble of the National Opera and Concert Choir came onto the stage and sang the first notes of the composition by Randal Corsen, my ‘chicken skin meter’ went off the charts. Hearing twenty professional classical voices sing words in a language native to me but foreign to them, in a style that is alien to the common cultural frame of reference associated with this language, has something magical to it that is difficult to explain. Opera is known for being a powerful and emotional form of theatre that will usually touch you, even if you don’t understand all the words. With Katibu di Shon, for the first time, I did not only feel the power of the music, but I actually understood every single word. I believe I got a brief feel of what an Italian must be experiencing when he witnesses Verdi’s La Traviata performed in his native language. In my view, Papiamentu lends itself perfectly to be sung in opera, due to its melodic nature and the decisive use of vowels in short and clearly enunciated syllables. While some would think that Papiamentu could never be a language for the opera, one can’t help but recognize that it does an outstanding job at it. In no way inferior to Italian or French, Papiamentu seems to feel very much at home as the newcomer among the great Roman languages of the opera.

The fact that the entire ensemble is made up of white singers enacting black slaves makes that paradox even more noticeable. This unintended dramatic symbolism is so strong that it could hardly be created if you would try to do it intentionally. The neutral colored costumes they are wearing and the black & white visual imagery, both designed by Jolanta Pawlak, create a calm and solemn atmosphere, drawing all the attention to the colorful composition by Randal Corsen. Adding further to the dramatic contrast of the opera, the composition is surprisingly light and uplifting for the painful theme of the piece. This is to a great extent thanks to the use of traditional local rhythms and melodic styles, which Corsen brilliantly intertwines in a strong classical composition to allow the actors ample room to perform their craft, but also enough grasp of the local musical elements to convey emotions that probably come close to what our ancestors must have felt. The local styles, such as the waltz, dansa and even a hint of tambú, make this opera one of the most engaging I have seen. Every time I drifted off in thought, suddenly there would be ‘a little musical present’ that drew me right back into the show. Who would have thought that the tambú, slave music that was expressly forbidden in the sophisticated salons of the Dutch elite in the eighteenth century, would ever find its way into an opera, performed amidst the gold-plated ornaments and chandeliers of the prestigious Stadsschouwburg of Amsterdam.

The libretto by Carel de Haseth, based on his own novel by the same name, is simple yet effective. The story starts off rather flat, with the dialogues being seemingly over illustrative, yet as the opera progresses, that element does become somewhat Shakespearean in nature, with added poetic verses, mainly in the monologues of the lead characters. Just before the top of the tension arch of the show, the choir of slaves gives a vivacious reflection on their fate, in a beautiful metaphorical comparison that de Haseth makes to the relentless waves of the ocean crashing against the rocky shore of the island. I’m not sure if it is entirely true to the spirit of that time and I have a hard time believing this much reflective ability and poetic eloquence of the slaves in the midst of a bloody revolt, but then again, I secretly think that is just my own shortcoming, influenced by my rather conservative western education.

Of the three lead actors, Tania Kross clearly feels most at home in the language, adding perfect nuances, not only to the longer lines she delivers, but even to individual words and the intonation of syllables, giving a unique personal touch to her interpretation of the strong and loyal Anita. Considering the amount of time the cast had to master the language, Peter Brathwaite’s performance of slave Luis was outstanding. If not for some slight nuance discrepancies in the language, I would have believed he was a Curaçao native. Jeroen de Vaal is the least convincing of the three. In the role of slave owner ‘shon’ Wilmu he lacks the typical composure of superiority when he rapes Anita who is waiting for Luis in the dark, but also the power of command and persuasion when he tries to beat down the revolt of his slaves. I believe this is owed in part to the clear fragile timbre of his tenor voice, which oddly enough is also the element that actually carries the opera to its climax in the most touching scene of all. When the revolt is beaten down and Luis is arrested and sentenced to death, Wilmu visits him in prison, as he awaits his execution. The two men stand head to head in an impossible confrontation, when they literally collapse next to each other, leaning up against the rugged rock face of the island, reminiscing their childhood. Slave and master, side by side like two little boys, partners in crime and with a brotherly love that should overcome all odds. And perhaps in a way, in the dramatic denouement at the end, it actually does.

21st Century: where do we go from here?

I said:

Only two things will help resolve the impasse the world is in, not only in so-called ‘crisis countries’, but in the entire ‘civilized’ Western world for that matter:

  1. Seriously reassess the political system – and I don’t mean a routine oil change, I’m talking a complete overhaul of the entire engine.
  2. A long overdue dismissal of the bankrupt capitalist system, replacing it with a new value exchange method that actually works for the needs we have TODAY.

Both our ‘modern day’ political system and the ever praised ‘gem’ called Capitalism were invented CENTURIES ago, based on the way the world looked back then. Would you drink expired milk? No, because that’s disgusting, right? Well so is continuing to hang on to an expired life! Get over it and let evolution take its course. Come what may, at least natural evolution is REAL. All other animals caught up to that a long time ago. Only humans fail to recognize this fact. So who’s the more developed species really? I’m just saying.

You asked:

And how do we do that?

I answered:

Glad you asked! Before we can answer that question, we have to dare to say that what I just pointed out has an undeniable truth in it. So long as we don’t even recognize that all we ‘own’ is actually in our minds, we cannot even commence to talk about ‘how we’re going to get rid of it and what we could put in its place’. The first step in beating any addiction is admitting that you actually have an addiction. I’m not talking about socialism, Marxism, or Chavism; – by the way, I heard a rumor today that he has been brain dead since December 30th and I guess neither you, nor I will soon find out whether that is true or not – I am talking about something entirely new. Something that has not actually existed yet. Between the seven billion humans walking the face of this earth, I’m sure we can come up with something better than capitalism, socialism, communism, Marxism or Chavism all together. After all, we are humans, we can think and conceive right? We’re more developed and intelligent than any other species, are we not?

Your next comment was:

Here we are suggesting all the solutions, but how do we execute them as a community? Let’s be practical here!

I replied:

Well, maybe we are not ready to execute anything yet. Perhaps we need to think first, or maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe being practical is actually one of the issues. I don’t know, could be. That is precisely what I’m talking about. Maybe we should not do all the things we were taught to do. Maybe everyone should start by being a lot less practical. Why don’t we start there and see what happens? Just to see what happens.

A newly hatched bird that flies out of the nest for the very first time doesn’t actually KNOW how to fly. It is not being practical, deciding how to execute its first flight together with its bird community; it just flies! Sometimes the bird makes it and other times it plunges to the ground and dies. It simply dies, just like that. But never does it ask HOW it needs to fly. Maybe we shouldn’t either.