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A Speech Band character from the Tobago Heritage Festival’s Tit fuh Tat - Clash of Times.

The ongoing Tobago Heritage Festival continues to push the envelope, keeping fans captivated with their online presentations.

The festival’s physical social gatherings have been banned because of COVID-19 restrictions but its Tobago Traditions Series premiered on YouTube on September 9.

The five-minute feature puts a traditional spin on oral traditions while infusing it with theatre, cinematography and indigenous Tobago rhythms.

The inaugural piece opens with speech band performers gracefully going through their paces before an emperor in a circular arena. On the outskirts of the arena, traditional carnival characters such as Jab Jab, Dame Lorraine and Baby Dolls, observe the challenge. The first presenter, Show Boy, steps before the king.

“The great masquerade is here, people pretend they close when they really far from here. A jook here, a stab in the back there, and we yet to face our biggest fear, Popool appear, appear I say. This Show Boy is done with play,” Show Boy says with gusto.

Another character, a black Devil, interrupts the show and challenges the status quo.

“Stop yuh bow Mister Fiddler, oh ha hi, oh ha how I think about the way we run the show, so dysfunctional and slow. Oh how I beckon a new challenger to try to break the old ways to keep their hands free and their minds from being enslaved,” the black Devil says.

Playing in the traditional role of the speech band, the character touches on the issue of daily-paid workers’ work ethics. He challenges Show Boy to change or become another daily-paid worker.

The piece then shifts from the traditional speech band format into a dramatic physical exchange between the key players.

Show boy rushes to attack the black Devil. There is a violent exchange of sword and pitchfork sparring. The king eventually interrupts the action. He declares black Devil the winner.

However, as the king is about to crown the victor, a senior speech band character, Valentine, openly objects to the decision. He is prompted by Anansi—who is lurking in the background. Anansi, traditionally portrayed as a spider, is said to have the powers of a god as he spins webs of deceit to catch innocent, unsuspecting characters.

The king subsequently kills Valentine. Show Boy then attacks the king and declares: “Draw your sword, the battle for the ages is here!”

Like any work of art, the premiere is subject to interpretation influenced by many factors. It is, however, innovative and entertaining. Some measure of enlightenment are given about the history of the speech band through a very brief narrative at the end of the feature.

The September 9 presentation was the first of a Tobago Traditions Series called Anansi’s Fantasy; our Heritage.