Tue | Mar 31, 2020

For the Reckord | Fabian Thomas, a man of many interests and talents

Published:Friday | August 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Fabian Thomas reads from his book at the launch.
Singers of Tribe Sankofa perform at the launch of Fabian Thomas' Book.
Tribe Sankofa's assistant artistic director, Darian Reid (left), and musical director, Jamaal McKnight, at the PSCCA.

Two of Fabian Thomas' favourite expressions are that he's "led by spirit" and "There are no accidents" in life. It seems, then, that spirit has deliberately led him into what he calls "an intense period" in his life. Happily, the intensity is not negative.

In mid-July, he launched his first book, New Thought, New Words, a collection of gratitude verses, affirmations and the spoken word, in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, UWI, Mona campus. The next morning, he left the island on a business-cum-pleasure trip, and he returned to continue preparing for last weekend's Tribe Sankofa production, Word Soul - The Summer Edition, at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA) on the campus.

The way he tells it, his many activities have streamed into his life in an orderly fashion. He teaches two courses in the UWI's Institute of Caribbean Studies - Bob Marley and his Music and Popular Musics of the Caribbean. He is a trainer and facilitator, an HIV/AIDS educator, a social and behaviour change communication consultant, and a life coach. And, in the performing arts field, he's an actor, singer, director and producer.

His interest in music, he told me, began because his father had a large collection of records, which, as a child, he used to play constantly. His natural talent for writing developed because at the UWI, he had "amazing" lecturers in his communication and literature bachelor's programme. He named some of them. At the then Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication (CARIMAC), there were Alma Mock-Yen, Don Anderson, Marguerite Newland, Fae Ellington and Aggrey Brown. In the Department of English, there were Victor Chang, Edward Baugh, David Williams, Carolyn Cooper, Kathryn Shields Brodber and Mervyn Morris. The last named, especially, started him writing poetry, and all, he said, taught him not just academic subjects, but "life".

His love for drama also blossomed at the university. After all, it was just a few steps from CARIMAC to the PSCCA, where he joined the University Players, later becoming first vice-president and then president of the group. Since around 2011, he has been leading his own group, the 18-strong Tribe Sankofa.


Love for teaching


His love for teaching appears to be innate, for after graduating from the university, he taught high school for two years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Now, he enjoys lecturing at the university.

His writing skills and confidence developed when he went to New York City and joined a writing group - this while studying for his master's degree in public communication at Fordham University. By the time he returned to Jamaica five years after, he had been published six times. Here, he has also been published in Calabash International Literary Festival publications.

While in New York, he also entered the field of HIV/AIDS counselling as a case manager for three years with Bronx Zoo Services, which had a drama programme for HIV education. Because of that experience, he was able, back in Jamaica, to get involved in the Jamaica AIDS support group. Mentioning this, he laughed and repeated, "There are no accidents."

He also started writing poems to be published as a book. That collection, of about 40 poems, is now finished, but he has not yet found a publisher. Meanwhile, he self-published New Thought, New Words so it would be ready for a conference that his church, the Universal Center of Truth For Better Living, is having this month in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Though Thomas doesn't do much acting nowadays, because he's focused on directing and producing Tribe Sankofa shows, he was directed in earlier days by some of the island's best directors - Eugene Williams, Douglas Prout, Earl Warner, Bobby Ghisays and Easton Lee among them, he said. And he has won a couple of Best Actor awards. One was a Tallawah award for work in Joan Andrea Hutchinson's Children, Children, the other an Actor Boy award for his lead role in a Montego Bay Little Theatre Movement production of Forgiven.


Tribe Sankofa at the PSCCA


Word Soul - The Summer Edition, the biggest Tribe Sankofa production to date, ran for three nights over the weekend. The audience on my night loved it - not surprisingly, for there was much to love.

We saw 15 or 16 talented young performers acting with energy and passion. Their texts included powerful poems by acknowledged master writers like Dennis Scott, Lorna Goodison, Olive Senior, Derek Walcott and Toni Morrison, and songs by other famous names - Bunny Livingston, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and India Arie, among others.

Creative and perspicacious direction of the performers by Thomas, the group's artistic director; his assistant, Darian Reid; Jomo Dixon; and the musical director, Jamaal McKnight, meant that nuances and layers of the pieces were explored and given fresh interpretations.

My complaint was not with the quality of the performances, which was excellent, but with the heaviness of the material. For the most part, it focused on the pain and suffering of humanity. Ironically, the one item that had the audience laughing continually, a short play by Rich Orloff, Playwriting 101: The Rooftop Lesson, is about the attempt at suicide by one character and the accidental death of another.