Friday 29 May 2020


The poster for Haingosoa.
The film Haingosoa had barely made it onto screens in France when the government ordered a lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Theatres, cinemas, museums and other cultural institutions had to shutter their doors, leaving the arts world scrambling to salvage numerous projects.

While the lockdown rules have now been eased, cinemas remain closed and Haingosoa - like many other films - is moving online. It will be offered via e-cinema and VOD from June 9, and viewers will be able to participate in virtual debates with its French director Édouard Joubeaud.

Haingosoa is ostensibly the story of Haingo - a young, single mother from southern Madagascar who, unable to pay her daughter's school fees, leaves her family and travels far to join a dance company in the country’s capital. Haingo has only a few days to learn a dance that is totally foreign to her, and viewers follow her ups and downs as she tries to make the move work.

Played by the engaging real-life Haingo, the main character readily gains empathy, and viewers will find themselves cheering her on. Yet, the real star of Haingosoa is the music of Madagascar, as the director mixes drama and documentary to highlight the country’s rich and diverse artistic traditions.

“I wanted to give a different viewpoint of Madagascar, by focusing both on the woman lead and on the country,” Joubeaud told SWAN. “I’ve always been interested in the music, and I wanted to show the range of stories as well as the culture.”

Musician Remanindry in the film.
Photo: Pitchaya Films_Marine Atlan
Haingosoa brings together several generations of revered Malagasy composers and musicians, such as Remanindry, Haingo's father. A leading performer of the music of the Androy, the island’s southern, arid region, Remanindry basically plays himself - and his own music - in the film.

Meanwhile, the Randria Ernest Company of Antananarivo, which provides the fictional dance space for Haingo, represents “in its own way” the dance and music of the highlands of today, according to Joubeaud.

Additionally, one of the composers of the film’s soundtrack is Dadagaby, an icon of Malagasy music whom Joubeaud knew for 10 years. The creator of countless songs popular in Madagascar, Dadagaby died during the making of the film - which is dedicated to his memory.

Haingo leaves her family to earn an income.
Photo: Pitchaya Films_S. Cunningham
The movie also features 13-year-old prodigy Voara, who performs two of her songs:  Sahondra (accompanied in the film by her father on guitar) and Mananjary. We see Voara singing in a backyard, as Haingo goes for a walk. The scene comes across as being there just for the music, with Voara’s striking, memorable voice.

There are segments as well showing young musicians casually playing instruments and singing as they sit on a wall, and dancers practising to traditional music - again just to spotlight the distinctive music and array of vocal styles.

So, what about the story, the plot? To be honest, this is fairly simple: Haingo goes away to try to earn enough to pay for her little girl’s education. The boss of the dance company she joins is harsh and puts her to work cooking and washing rather than dancing. But with the help of her friends, including the gifted dancer Dimison, Haingo is able to reveal her true talent.

Haingo in a pensive mood. Photo: Pitchaya Films
That is the surface story. The backstory is that the film is based on Haingo’s own life. She had a child at age sixteen and experienced many of the difficulties covered in the movie, and she’s at her most affecting when pleading for her daughter to be able to continue attending school, despite falling behind on the fees.

“You can feel the real emotion here because this is something she really had to deal with,” Joubeaud told SWAN.

As a director, he faced a dilemma: how much of the film should be about Haingo’s actual life?

“It was a little bit tricky,” he admits. “I didn’t want to expose too much about her life. So, we used her story as the starting point of the film and made a lot of the rest fictional. We wrote it in consultation with her.”

Edouard Joubeaud (Photo: McKenzie)
This diffidence comes across in the film and may be seen as a drawback. The drama never reaches the high point that viewers expect, and the finale is more of a fizzle than a flare.

The unsatisfactory ending is also due to budget constraints, Joubeaud said. After completing the first half of the film, he ran short of funds and had to make a decision: stop filming or continue?

He decided to continue, especially as part of the reason for the film was apparently to raise money for Haingo’s daughter to continue in school, and for the main character to see how she could move forward. (Now in a relationship, Haingo, 25 years old, is the mother of three children.)

As a French director, Joubeaud could have perhaps accessed more sponsorship by making the film in French, but he shot it fully in Malagasy. He says he has studied the language for many years, after first visiting the country in 1999. The work, however, is not eligible to apply for screening in some African film festivals because of Joubeaud’s nationality.

“I do recognize the limits of a French director going to Africa, and I don’t pretend to give anyone any lessons,” Joubeaud told SWAN. “I see this as a personal project, related to my life and to Haingo’s life. I think my responsibility is to respect her consent, to respect all the participants in the film and to avoid stereotypes.”

Regarding what he hopes viewers will take from the film, he added: “My first hope is that viewers will be enlightened by diving into the story of a Malagasy woman, by the richness of her context, and the richness of Madagascar’s diversity - in music, dance, culture.” 

Some viewers will indeed feel that they have gained an insight into the diverseness of Malagasy culture and a new appreciation for the music, but others will wish that the film had gone further and delved more deeply - into the socioeconomic reasons for Haingo's situation and into the legacy of French colonial rule on the island. -  SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Saturday 23 May 2020


Opal Palmer Adisa is a Jamaican writer, poet, academic and the director of The Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. In 2015, she launched Interviewing the Caribbean, a project to spotlight Caribbean “artists at home and in the Diaspora”, getting them to discuss their work and the arts of the region in general. 

Writer and scholar Opal Palmer Adisa.
After receiving wide acclaim from the beginning, the project now has a home at UWI, becoming an official journal of the university's press. 

SWAN met up with Palmer Adisa in Paris, France, last December, following her attendance at a conference on gender. 

We discussed her work - she has written some 20 books including novels and collections of stories and poetry, almost all of which are set in Jamaica or are about some aspect of island life - and in our conversation, we explored the importance of Interviewing the Caribbean as a long-term project and publication.

Describing herself as being “Jamaican to the bone”, Palmer Adisa also endorses and advocates for Caribbean federation. The following interview was completed via email.

SWAN: How did Interviewing the Caribbean begin?

Opal Palmer Adisa: I had been nursing the idea for 10 years, hoping to get a windfall to publish a yearly, fully coloured journal. I kept putting it off, then when Steve Jones agreed to partner with me and do design layout, we met and I concluded that online was the most feasible route, and that it would still be beautiful. So, in 2014 I decided to see who would respond to my call. Also, I believe the first issue had to have an important Caribbean name to set a precedence, and when Junot Diaz agreed to my interview, then I was on. Interviewing the Caribbean was launched and premiered in 2015.

SWAN: What were your main aims with the project and subsequent publication?

The first issue of Interviewing the Caribbean.
OPA: My primary goal was to give Caribbean writers and artists a place to talk about their own work.  There still isn’t a lot of critique on and about Caribbean writers and artists.  But also, as a writer whose works have been reviewed and critiqued, I often feel: I wish the person writing about my work had interviewed me to get some things right. I wanted to provide the platform for writers and artists to talk about their own work, to explore their process and intention in writing a piece, or creating a piece of art, and in general to have them share ideas about their work. This objective has not changed, but I am more deeply committed to the inherent value of this self-critiquing process.

SWAN: The Caribbean has produced numerous writers and artists. How has the project been able to highlight their contributions to a more global audience?

OPA: I remain firm in my belief of wanting to provide space for new or emerging writers and artists as well as established ones, and each issue of the journal has fulfilled that commitment. This is an exciting time for Caribbean literature at home and throughout the Diaspora. Although most of us are still unable to make a living from our work, more of us are winning awards, being recognized on the international market, and the work of more diverse writers are being heard and shared. I would like to think that we are a part of that trend. We have received submissions from Caribbean writers in Asia and New Zealand, so I believe the word is getting out there. We are striving to access the global market more.

SWAN: Interviewing the Caribbean now has an institutional home at the University of the West Indies (Mona campus). What does this mean for its longevity and impact?

A novel by Opal Palmer Adisa.
OPA: I am truly grateful that the UWI Press agreed to partner with us and commit to the journal. This is huge because of the solid reputation of the UWI Press, and also its reach. As we continue to expand our readership and membership, the position of the journal will be solidified and its continuity, after I no longer edit it, will be guaranteed. There is no other journal of its kind in the Caribbean, and it fills an important need. The UWI Press recognized this; being one of its journals will, I believe, enhance the stature and provide entrée into more academic spaces for IC to be used as a text in literature and art courses.

SWAN: The project also supports Caribbean publishing, a sector that comprises many dynamic professionals - who nevertheless face both new and longstanding challenges. What can be done to provide greater support for Caribbean-based publishing, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic?

OPA: There are two factors here: readership and the cost of printing that makes the purchase of books prohibitive in the Caribbean. With more attention to e-books this might support such efforts. We have to get people in the Caribbean to read and buy books for their children outside of school texts. We have to get the general population reading more. Some people do, but not enough, and cost is a factor, but also, in general, we are not a reading society. Ministries of education throughout the region have to invest in Caribbean books for children, and fund the library system so more books can be purchased. It will take a multitier approach - advertisement promoting reading among adults.

SWAN: Countries in the Caribbean region have a shared history and common concerns, and the literary reality can be a range of projects with similar themes. Ideas are like the wind - free to everyone. How do you retain originality, while maintaining your creative generosity?

The cover of the latest issue of
Interviewing the Caribbean.
OPA: What is original is how we tell the same story, about the same place and the same people. Simple, I focus on the story I am telling and try not to eavesdrop or tell someone else’s story. All writers borrow bits and pieces we hear and then we stitch our own composite. It’s your voice, however you define that and keeping true to that, that makes you original. You and I will hear the same story, but given our personal history, we will tell it differently that at times it is not even recognizable. I remember once writing a story about a woman from details she provided me with. However, when she read the story, she didn’t recognize herself or her story. I don’t think I disguised or distorted what she said, but I told it through my own lens and it transformed into a story not about her, even though it was based on details she told me, but rather a story about a woman conjured up from my imagination.

SWAN: How has the project affected your own work as a writer, poet and teacher?

OPA: A great deal. I am not writing as much, but I discovered that I love editing, and interviewing, and I feel as if I am making such an important contribution. I am really okay where I currently am in life. I am not teaching anymore, at least not full time so that is not impacted. I am still writing poetry, because I must, because I am driven, because without it I might not remain with my two feet on the ground. However, doing a journal is a full-time preoccupation. Before you are done with one issue, you are thinking about the next - who to interview? Is the theme relevant? Will you get enough good submissions to produce an issue, ad nauseam? And then there is the constant challenge after numerous emails to get writers and artists to submit their bios and photos… the nitty gritty work; it requires so much effort, back and forth, to receive all that is required to get the issue done. 

SWAN: What is the focus of the current issue, and who are the personalities featured?

The journal invites submissions for a special
issue devoted to late poet Kamau Brathwaite.
OPA: For the first time I had a co-editor, Juleus Ghunta, and that was such an amazing help and collaboration. I had decided on the theme in advance and because Juleus is an emerging writer, with a children’s book, and I liked his insight, I invited him to co-edit with me; he brought a lot to the project and was more in tune with those publishing in this arena. The issue we just completed is the 2nd of a two-volume feature on children’s literature and features some amazing writers, publishers and illustrators of children literature for the Caribbean.

SWAN: How do you visualize Interviewing the Caribbean in 2030?

OPA: That it is a coffee table book in every household that reads. That it is translated in all the major languages spoken throughout the Caribbean, and funded to offer more prizes to contributors.

SWAN: What is next for you, as a writer, poet and academic?

OPA: I want to make films of my work and other works. I want to write about 10 more novels and children’s books. I want to launch a literary journal for children of the same caliber as IC; it is a goal I have been working on since 2012 when I was living in St Croix.  I want and plan to continue to be open to life and live fully. - SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Sunday 10 May 2020


One of Europe’s most popular reggae festivals has become another casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic, joining the list of arts events that have had to cancel their 2020 presentations or move to a virtual format because of the global health crisis.

Ziggy Marley performing at Reggae Sun Ska in 2019.
(Photo courtesy of the festival.)
The festival, Reggae Sun Ska, held annually for 22 years in France’s Médoc wine region, announced that it would not take place this year but would be back in August 2021. It also launched the hashtag #SunSkaSoonCome.

“This is usually the time when we count the days before the doors open… when the excitement of organizing this festival so dear to us becomes palpable, and when we look forward to hearing the bass reverberating on stage and festival-goers rushing to the entrance with their smiles,” stated the organizers.

“But after growing uncertainty… we must resign ourselves to cancelling the festival this year.”

The three-day event is known for bringing together music fans to enjoy reggae, calypso, zouk, dancehall and other forms of Caribbean music now performed globally.

Singer Tiken Jah Fakoly at Reggae Sun Ska 2019.
(Photo courtesy of the festival.)
In 2019, some 27,500 spectators traveled from far and wide to see internationally renowned artists such as Jamaica’s Buju Banton and Ziggy Marley; Trinidad’s Calypso Rose; France’s Dub Inc; Brazil’s Flavia Coelho; and Ivory Coast’s Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly. According to participants, the shows were some of the best put on by the festival, the largest event of its kind in France.

The 2020 line-up was to have included young Grammy winner Koffee, Zouk pioneers Kassav and legendary UK band Steel Pulse. But despite remaining “mobilized to move forward”, organizers said the decision to cancel was “inevitable” when the French government announced that public gatherings would be restricted after the end of lockdown on May 11.

Still, the festival has got used to dealing with setbacks over the years, surviving criticism and debates about what Reggae Sun Ska means for the Médoc region and having to relocate from one venue to another. The organizers say they are determined to guarantee the event’s “longevity”, and, alongside the music, they now offer a range of well-being activities, including outdoor yoga and dance.

A poster announces the 2021 Reggae Sun Ska dates.
“Sun Ska is a spirit, it's a family, it's a way of life, a way to think, a philosophy, and this state of mind is nothing Utopian,” said the event’s director Fred Lachaize, following the success of last year.

“Living together, learning together, co-building, recalling the essential values that make up our education and our daily life. This is the basis of our … collective gathering,” he stressed.

Lachaize and his team said the festival would “overcome this new obstacle to offer an unparalleled edition in 2021”.

Acknowledging that the arts sector is among the hardest hit by the pandemic, the festival organizers also called for support in ensuring that cultural events continue to exist, and they expressed concern for the vast numbers of people who’ve contracted Covid-19 as well as for workers on the frontlines.

“We often talk about ‘well-being’ and ‘living well together’ at Sun Ska, so let's take care of ourselves and others,” they urged. – SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale