The chew crew: Chewstick staff members from left, ‘superintendent’ Haile Maryum, executive director and co-founder Gavin Smith, office administrator and PR officer Deidra Lee-Bean and assistant director and co-founder Najib Chentouf. They are pictured outside the Chewstck headquarters on the corner of Court Street and Elliott Street. *Photo supplied
The chew crew: Chewstick staff members from left, ‘superintendent’ Haile Maryum, executive director and co-founder Gavin Smith, office administrator and PR officer Deidra Lee-Bean and assistant director and co-founder Najib Chentouf. They are pictured outside the Chewstck headquarters on the corner of Court Street and Elliott Street. *Photo supplied
1
2

FRIDAY, JAN. 4: Tomorrow evening the Chewstick Foundation will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a musical and theatrical journey charting the milestones in the charity’s history. 

Chewstick was born out of a need for young people to have a creative outlet and ten years on it has grown into a charity that is dedicated to nurturing and showcasing talent both on the island and internationally.

The two-hour staged production —The Story of Chewstick, 10th Anniversary Musical — will be performed at Ruth Seaton James Centre tomorrow at 8pm. Proceeds from the show will go towards the charity and its many youth programmes.

Some twenty musicians and actors, many of whom have strong ties with the organization including founding members of predecessors, will perform a series of around eight vignettes highlighting how the organization was inspired to be and the major eras that followed.

Milestones

Co-founder and executive director Gavin ‘Djata’ Smith, who largely wrote the theatrical component of the musical, said: “We are celebrating a major milestone in the Chewstick history. “We will be looking back on what we see as the development era that is opening the door to further fortifying Chewstick as an institution that will outlive its founders and live on for future generation to come.”

Chewstick was born out of a cultural arts movement in 2002 and is dedicated to “breaking down social barriers, providing opportunities for storytellers of every medium and committed to being part of the solution.”

Among the many musicians to take to the stage will be Joy T Barnum, Alan Smith, Deidra Lee-Bean, Tan Zaoui (Najib Chentouf), Veejay Steede, rap artist The R?ddler and young poets ChewSlam.

The movement began with Flow Sunday in 1997 as a “challenge to the boundaries of traditional expression” founded by the likes of DJ Beatnik Rubaine, Andre Simons and Suzanne Mayall.

The regular slot attracted Bermuda’s rappers, singers, musicians and poets performing original works at Coconut Rock’s Bourbon Street Lounge in Hamilton.

Flow Sundays then gave rise to the “spoken word revival” known as Netu Letu thanks to such artists such as Veejay Steede and Lauren Francis.

When it closed its doors in 2002, the Chewstick open mic nights formed at Hilly’s on Front Street before moving to other locations. It began with the likes of Gavin Smith and Najib Chentouf, young artists frustrated with the lack of creative outlets on the island.

It has since developed into one of the most diverse and creative recreational organizations on the island. The charity not only holds its regular open mic nights, it now organizes BeachFest — the island’s biggest party, it runs various youth groups including poetry and spoken word group ChewSlam and youth open mic night Twigs.

It offers scholarships to up and coming talent and organizes international music and poetry tours for young artists including a mini tours in New York and Toronto and a poetry festival called Brave New Voices in San Fransisco.

It’s Neo Griot sessions offer individual artists the chance to entertain an audience for an evening while their performance is streamed live over the internet. Occasionally it organizes cultural retreats on the island and participates in the anual Bermuda Day Parade.

Youth programmes

Smith said: “As well as the Flow Sunday experience and Nenu Letu, we will talk about the founding of the JTN Experience. JT from Tha Underground Radio was our first manager back when we were trying to be rap stars and that was incredibly influential for us because it got us into entertainment at a young age and it still informs lot of our youth programmes today. We will talk about our move to Champions where we cut our teeth and it took off before we moved to Spinning Wheel. We will talk about the key moments — Joy Barnum’s performance will be very powerful and will speak to how we evolved from being just entertainment to having a higher purpose.”

The star of the show is the up-and-coming star 12-year-old pop singer Quinn who Smith says represents the future of Chewstick.

In the play the aspiring young artist meets Smith and asks him about the history of Chewstick sparking the telling of the story.

The play transitions between the present day and the various vignettes and Quinn Outerbride (pictured above) will perform a song at the end of the show.

Smith said: “Quinn has performed at BeachFest, she has been on the (parade) floats with us, she’s a regular Twigs performer and a great singer. She is heavily influenced by mainstream pop right now including Rhianna.

“She has got the pipes and the discipline and I have high hopes for her.”

Asked what the legacy of Chewstick is so far office administrator Deidra Lee-Bean said: “Chewstick has been able to thrive over the last ten years because one — we don’t just focus on one medium of story telling.

“If somebody is looking for a place to fit in, it is very likely they will. And also because we are open to innovation and change and everyone has ideas that maybe they have never been able to manifest.

“Our whole ethos is about respect, freedom, love and truth. People who come here are respected, they are loved and they have the freedom to show their truth. They are able to feel comfortable and they all grow personally.

“That is one of our strengths — up holding those pillars. As long as you are upholding the pillars then there is a space for you to be here and do what you want to do.”

Smith added: “When I talk to the youngsters, a lot of them really do feel like Chewstick has been here for ever and that it will stay here forever. They really, deeply cherish it and that always makes me feel proud and it makes me laugh too because I’m like ‘cha! If you knew what the dark ages were like before we were coming up we didn’t have anything like this’.

“That is what I am most proud of. When it first began it was done out of a personal need for everyone involved but I think everyone put that on hold to make it available for others.

“I like to see some of them go on to do stuff that I know they wouldn’t have followed through on because they didn’t have the space to do it in.

“We’ve seen people who didn’t know anything about performance, poetry or rapping go on to publish books, go on to release CDs, go on to perform overseas and are passionate about their craft.”

The second annual Mary Prince Award will awarded to a Bermudian artist of the charity’s choice and there will be an after party at the Chewstick headquarters at 28, Court Street.

Anyone wishing to donate to Chewstick can do so through ptix.bm, through www.chewstick.org or by visiting the headquarters on Court Street.
Becoming a member also supports Chewstick and the organization is always looking for volunteers.
Artwork will be auctioned off on the evening.