Garvey and his teachings come back to life
From October 13 to17, National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey (Andre Bernard) was resurrected by four ancestral spirits, led by Olo (Shana-Kaye Burns) and cast on to the stage at the Philip Sherlock Centre for The Creative Arts in Garvey The Musical Roots Rock Reggae, presented by The University Players (students and alumni).
Written, directed, and choreographed by Michael Holgate, it was a refreshing treatment of the Garvey story, which used poetry, drama, comedy, dancing, singing, and excellent drumming by Maroghini and Kemoy Outar to great entertainment value. Book, music, and lyrics are also the intellectual output of Holgate, who is the creative director at the centre.
"Garvey The Musical has been a labour of love for me in numerous ways, teaching me more about the way that I want to create and the kind of stories I want to tell," Holgate said in his director's notes.
And to make the story of Garvey "more relevant", he told Arts & Education after the show on Monday, October 17, that he created the four ancestral spirits to transport Garvey from his long slumber to the present. In this mythical story, Garvey was brought back to teach troubled and nonchalant present-day young Jamaicans and to share his story.
What Garvey found was heartbreaking and disturbing, to say the least. Angrily, he attempted to intervene, to set them straight, but they could not hear or see him. So the spirits created magic. And there he was, the ghost of Garvey, face to face with the Jamaican black people of the new millennium, who were wallowing in self-deprecation and self-hatred. Some did not even know about Garvey, it seemed.
But he was not speaking their language, especially that of Scrubs, the bleached-face thug nephew of Caroline, an Afrocentric-looking woman with her own issues of identity. Thus, he had to adjust. Scrubs almost drove Garvey to his wits' end, but Garvey was resolute.
With believable acting, Scrubs faced off, pun intended, with his aunt, Garvey, the spirits, and a diminutive Rastaman named Benjamin (Derrick Clarke), whose performance was punctuated with many moments of comic relief, yet he did not smile. The audience loved him. He can also sing and dance.
It was Benjamin who threw away Scrubs' bag of bleaching cream, but not before calling down "fire" on to it. The reformed Scrubs, who was regarded a dunce, eventually went around, helping to tell Garvey's story, after he was told to go educate himself.
The production itself is all about education. "The story is part civics lesson on the life of National Hero Marcus Garvey and part empowerment education for young people, as well as general audiences. It is an edutainment production, which highlights the valuable teachings in self-love and acceptance from a first-class Jamaican philosopher," Holgate said.
Going back to the treatment of the production, Holgate said, in retrospect, that he could have put Garvey's wives on stage, not just mentioning them, yet, he also said, "I believe we have captured the true intention and essence of this production, which is to reclaim Garvey's consciousness and philosophical genius from the past and make it accessible by showing the relevance in the world we live in today."
In the end, after he had made his points, the ancestral spirit returned Garvey to the realms in which those afflicted black people are not living, and who knows, he might be resurrected again, soon. But for now, Holgate is pleased with his own efforts, and the audience turnout, which he said was "awesome".