Artists united: The performers at Chewstick’s 9th anniversary celebratory concert took to the stage for special applause at the end of the evening. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Artists united: The performers at Chewstick’s 9th anniversary celebratory concert took to the stage for special applause at the end of the evening. *Photo by Sarah Lagan

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 11: Chewstick celebrated its 9th anniversary with perhaps the biggest and most diverse single showcase of local talent the island will see this year.

This is the first time the performing arts charity has performed such a large-scale event at a mainstream venue and it went practically without a hitch.

The CedarBridge Band performed in the lobby of City Hall as it quickly filled up with all walks of life including Premier Paula Cox.

Speaking to the Bermuda Sun Ms Cox said: “I’m glad to be here to support Chewstick on their 9th anniversary. They are having an effect in transforming Bermuda and I appreciate their stick-to-it-ness and commitment in engaging our youth and celebrating Bermuda’s heritage and diversity — it is wonderful. You only need to look at the audience to see that this is a celebration of who we are and a celebration of what it is to be proud to be Bermudian.”

Haile Maryam opened the set with musings about the history of Griot (story-telling, music and poetry) and how it an integral part of our culture.

In a humorous exchange, Chewstick stalwarts founder Gavin Smith and Tan Zaoui described the many successful programmes the charity has built up over the years — summer retreats, poetry clubs, open mic nights, movie nights, not to mention the overseas tours and, of course, the biggest beach party on the island — BeachFest.

“Chewstick has empowered storytelling, creative expression and social justice to enrich youth, arts, culture and community,” they beamed.

On top of all this the organization is regularly invited into the island’s schools to talk to young people about expressing themselves through poetry, art and music.

Last year also saw the opening of the Chewstick Headquarters on Court Street and Elliott Street which Smith said symbolized a “coming of age” for the charity.

At City Hall, Smith awarded the charity’s second Mary Prince Scholarship Fund of $1,000 to Music Composition student Yesha Townsend Smith.

Diverse

There was a diverse line-up of acts performing over a four-hour long concert which, while it could have been shorter, was testament to the incredible talent the island has to offer.

The four-part group Poetry Cypher rapped about everything from religion to negative influences on children and colonial bonds to the failure of the school system.

Certainly worthy of mention was violinist Lynneice Nisbett’s lively and unique rendition of The Way It Is (some things will never change) by Bruce Hornsby. The girl had pluck and the audience loved every minute.

Iconic storyteller Ruth Thomas bridged the generation gap with one of her well-known and loved “fireside chats” about old Bermuda.

Gavin ‘Djata’ Smith took to the stage with his emotive song Detour paying tribute to those whose lives had been taken through violence on the streets of Bermuda including two of the artist’s own cousins. His second song Smile restored the more positive and upbeat energy.

Little-known singer Olivia Brook should have been given a second slot. Accompanying the expressive dance of Krystal Smith, her voice was strong, professional and utterly impressive. Capital G generously sponsored Chewstick’s poetry club ChewSlam and Brook is one of the programme’s hidden treasures to listen out for. Gavin Smith announced on the night that ChewSlam members are due to perform at the Brave New Voices Conference in California in June.

There were plenty of hip hop acts throughout the night and while the boys held it down, it was refreshing to see a female in the line up — Imari, winner of ThaUnderground Awards 2010. She did the girls proud and the crowd loved her.

David O’Shea of Hamilton, Ohio, was extremely easy on the ear. He told a real life tale about receiving a fish as payment for a cab ride in a particularly dodgy part of Harlem “where strange things happen — like people selling brand new Zenith TVs still in their boxes”. His quirky style and colourful language were highly amusing and he left you feeling like you had just taken a drive through the depths of the city in the back of his cab. 

Princess Black, accompanied by Jules Roberts on guitar and Mitchell ‘Live Wires’ Trott on percussion, sang a soulful tune she wrote about tainted love. While there were many cover songs sung by artists throughout the night, it is always refreshing to hear original material.

The nature of the concert was that amateurs, some performing in front of an audience for the first time, shared stage time with seasoned artists. As a result the quality was variable but Chewstick is about opportunities and nurturing talent and what better way to do that than to host this concert. It was great to see the performers feeding from one another’s energy. Here’s to many more years for this emerging pillar of culture in our society.