Culture

8 am in Trinidad

I wrote this reflection exactly 4 years ago today (July 10, 2014). Don’t ask me why, but this came to mind. I searched my hard drive, and there it was, in a ‘TRAVEL’ folder. To honour Carnival season in Toronto, here’s a personal essay on a place I hold dear to my heart, with memories that are shaping the person I am becoming. 

It’s 8 a.m. in Tunapuna and a woman calls out for her dog. Its name is Iris and her voice rings with urgency. Minutes before, and minutes after, sirens fill the air. They scream danger in broad daylight as people flock to the market for fresh breadfruit or meat, flies hovering in the heat above each slab.

Inside a home, sophisticated and plush, surrounded by tin roof shanties and Creole houses coloured lavender, robin egg blue and baby pink, there is no urgency and you feel no tension. The world outside, stigmatized by crime, kidnappings, pickpocketers and rape is separate. Foreign women are free from catcalls and terse eyes. You can watch the news without being subjected to reality.

“Out in the streets, they call it merther,” sings Ini Kamoze. “When rhythms spacing out your head.” The concrete is hot, as the sun welcomes a new day in Trinidad. Kamoze’s birthplace may be Jamaica, but it all makes sense in daylight. Just walk around Port of Spain, and you’ll see an array of faces, characters, symbols and surfaces. Behind each of them lie vast experience, historic depth and cultural flavour.

“How many yuh want?” says the doubles lady on the corner, placing two bara on a piece of grey parchment in the palm of her hand. “Channa? Aloo?” Yes to both. She dips her spoon into vats of curried chickpeas and potato, dumps them onto the bara, adds a little chutney, be it cucumber or sweet tamarind. “Pepper?” she asks. All in, it’s an inferno. If you’re somewhat committed, say, “slight.”

And that’s only breakfast – an intro to the gastronomic blend of Creole and Indian cuisine and the event we call “eating.” Curried chicken wrapped in paratha or dhalpuri, its layers sprinkled with dried split peas makes a mean roti. Fill mine with pumpkin, a bit of channa and a bit of aloo. A dash of tamarind chutney. Wrapped in paratha. All is well.

Natural light seeps through a barred window into the kitchen, where a grandmother picks at a roti shell, buss-up-shut. After a series of locked gates, a door is left open to let in the island breeze. Walls are plastered with photographs. Family heirloom pillows grace a couch covered with macramé throws. The Price Is Right blares through the TV, its neon American primetime applause fighting the percussive chutney soca from a car passing by. The day is hot, and bodies become lethargic. Across the street, small children play in the yard of a shanty house. The woman tells me her neighbour’s property has never changed. No progress in upkeep or addition. She says that one of the young male inhabitants is a Rastafarian, who can be seen smoking sinsemilla in his own private space – a tin shed in the backyard. Bricks lay atop the roof to balance the beams below. It’s a wonder that they don’t fall.

Cars drive by, blasting Machel Montano’s latest track. Some bump Drake or 50 Cent. There’s shared cultural elements amidst the varied demographic puzzle in each subdivision and it shines in many ways.

At night, it’s hot. Crickets orchestrate a symphony of song, buzzing in the heat. A breeze rushes in every now and then. As palms brush against the walls of the house, it sounds as if someone has entered the property. Your heart races. Then stops. Races. Then stops. You realize that it’s just the nature of the weather, the vibe of the people, the essence of the land.

Sometimes you forget where you’re going; numbers, names and turns. The next thing you know you’re driving around town with strangers. Full speed down the highway, the windows are down and your hair is a mess. It’s mad hot. The heat is thrilling as Action Bronson plays through the stereo on full. The directions to Tacarigua are blurry as each moment passes. And at that point, you want to be lost for a very long time.

It’s almost midnight in Trinidad. In a partition, you question what you just did and answer with emotion. Push boundaries. Turn a blind eye to the warnings. Life is more real when it’s raw.

Roots & Culture Cuisine – A Diasporic Food Feature

Welcome to Toronto, where the biggest party of the year is the colourful, enthralling celebration of Caribbean culture known as Caribana. The festival might only happen every summer, but West Indian culture is celebrated year round in “The Six” through music, fetes and, of course, food. Toronto is one of the best cities in the world for Caribbean cuisine. Jerk chicken and roti are the first dishes that come to mind when one mentions Caribbean food, but all of the dishes that reflect the true flavors of the Caribbean — pelau, ackee and saltfish, callaloo, bokit — are available in T.O. It’s a place where you can taste the flavour of almost every island. If you’re craving a five-dollar jerk chicken lunch special with rice ‘n peas packed up in a white Styrofoam box, there’s a good spot for that. If you’re searching for authentic Trinidadian doubles, reminiscent of those sold outside Piarco airport, a flight isn’t necessary. Toronto is more than a ‘mosaic’ of cultures – it’s a place where people share and explore different parts of the world. The city cherishes facets of the Caribbean and the Diaspora, which is why many of the restaurants in our list have been serving the city core and Greater Toronto Area for years. They are preserving culture, straight from the kitchen, and onto piping hot plates.

In conversation: Daniela Nardi’s Espresso Manifesto

Interview and words by Ola Mazzuca
Photo by Vanessa Heins

Coffee is a stimulant. Art is stimulating. Daniela Nardi is a blend of both. Espresso Manifesto is her caffeinated lovechild of global music scenes by sampling a taste of traditional and contemporary sounds.

Nardi’s mission to showcase her Italian heritage is fueled by an unconventional approach of hitting familiar notes in covers of Paolo Conte’s “Vieni Via Con Me” to her roots of electro-acoustic jazz. When she’s not working on her new album, the multi -instrumentalist is practicing for live performances.

This winter, Nardi will collaborate with acclaimed jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli in Toronto, and in March 2014, taking on Moscow, Russia at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. In between, she’ll be representing the “Chloe Woman” of the Verse at our Fall 2013 Gala on October 17. I caught up with Nardi to discuss her latest endeavours – be it French press or doppio, coffee will be required within the next few months.


 

Ola Mazzuca: What have you been up to?

 Daniela Nardi: I’m staying close to home for the next couple of months because I’m working on a new record. I’ll have more shows coming up in November and December, where I’ll be going to Montreal. Then, I’ll be doing a big show in Toronto at Koerner Hall, on December 7th. Next year, we have a Russian tour booked for March. So that will be rather exciting.

Can you spill any beans about the new album?

 It’s an ever-evolving process, but the idea that I have at the moment is to explore Italian songs. Most people can hum a Tarantella or “O Sole Mio,” but the mainstream culture doesn’t realize the vastness of songwriting. Popular song has its roots in Neapolitan song. What I want to do is really showcase that and go from the Neapolitan stuff all the way to the contemporary stuff like Jovanotti and one of my favourites, Gianmaria Testa, and really celebrate by writing my own songs in Italian, with English and mix it up a bit.

Speaking of Jovanotti, you met him last year at Luminato Festival.

Yeah, that’s right.

What was that experience like? You wanted to meet him for a long time.

 It was absolutely thrilling. I admire him and think he’s one of the rare contemporary artists with so much integrity. What you see is what you get. It’s not a show. He is the real deal. His writing is tremendous and the quality of his voice is so compelling and again, so real, that he’s the whole package. From the live shows, to the art and the work itself. For me, he’s a big inspiration and to shake his hand and to be able to say that to him was a check off my bucket list. The next on my bucket list is to be able to work with him, but one step at a time [Laughs].

You’ve experimented with so many genres and now you’re doing the whole Espresso Manifesto thing, where you’re writing or covering Italian music. Yet, you come from a background of electro-acoustic jazz. How has your music and style evolved over the years?

 I don’t know if it’s really evolved or if I’ve just gone in circles and explored things that interest me. You know what I mean? Jazz was something I studied when I was in university and I was interested in it, so I followed it. The whole world of electronica was something I was interested in, so I followed it. Now, Italian music is something I am interested in, so I went after it. I go down these roads that pique my curiosity and then I bring them back and throw it in my songwriting pot, mix it all up, and I see what happens.

Now that there’s time for you to explore cultural music in general, be it Italian or any other traditional genre, what kind of impact does that have on a North American audience?

I think they don’t realize that Italian music; especially Italian popular music, is comparable to other world music. People listen to Brazilian music, African, French and they just take it in and appreciate it. To be able to present it as a North American kind of shakes up their heads a bit and makes them realize that Italian music is another world music. I think that’s the impact that I find I’m having on audiences that are becoming aware of Espresso Manifesto. They’re curious because of the project name, and then when they hear the music, they say, “oh wow, I like this,” and it happens to be in Italian! That’s really cool to see people break stereotypes of what people thought of Italian music.

Amongst all of this, how would you define your sound today?

I would call it “Earthy, Modern, Pop, Jazz, World, Cool.” It just really has all of those elements. There’s a mixture of things in there. It’s contemporary, but there’s a part of me that’s a little retro. There’s a part of me that feels I was born in another time. That shows up every once in a while. But, it’s really music of today. How do we define any music today? I’m definitely not in a rock band, indie or straight up electronic. But I think a lot of artists are a combination of a lot of things. Does that make sense?

Yeah, completely.

It’s hard to define. If you had to put a big label on it, I would say that it’s pop music. It’s not straight up jazz or world. It’s modern.

Now that you’re pushing so many genre boundaries, why is this significant to your show at Koerner Hall?

It is really the first time that an Italian pop project like Espresso Manifesto will be playing at Koerner Hall. Anything Italian at Koerner Hall will be something classical, like an opera or ensemble. To be able to bring this project to more of a mainstream audience is really exciting. Now, we’ve broken the barrier a bit. Which is what we’ve always wanted to do. To be on stage with John Pizzarelli, who is part of the mainstream, is really quite cool. We’re manifesting our manifesto on a more mainstream stage.

Koerner Hall is a great venue. That should be very exciting. And in October, you’ll be performing at the Gala for CHLOE Magazine’s Fall issue launch.

It’s kind of the same thing. There’s so much integrity. A lot of great work has been put into this magazine. There’s so much substance, and to be able to be a part of this, to be able to perform in a place for people that probably wouldn’t listen to or know about is exciting. I can’t wait to see how they’ll react. It’s another fantastic opportunity to bring this music to a different audience.

Considering that our audience of female readers is so vast, what mark would you want to leave on other women experiencing your performance?

 To be authentic, to be who you really are and to not construct this persona that you think you need to be in order to please people or society’s ideas of what they think you should be. A big thing for me, too, is that women should come together and really celebrate one another. A lot of times, we can be against each other. We have insecurities that make us behave a certain way, but for women to come together and celebrate our strengths, skills and beauty, both inside and out, that would be fantastic.


 

Daniela’s Top 6

First live music experience
Engelbert Humperdink at the O’Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre for Performing Arts) in Toronto

First piece of music purchased
“Outlandos D’Amour” by the Police on vinyl.

Dish best paired with Espresso Manifesto
A warm mushroom risotto topped with truffle oil and a glass of Ripasso.

Favourite film
“81/2” directed by Federico Fellini.

Dream travel destination
India.

The colour of Espresso Manifesto
A deep, rich, earthy burgundy.

 

This piece was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine