Like Cinderella, at the stroke of midnight Trinidad and Tobago will turn a new page. It will mark its 50th year as an independent nation, a milestone that is worthy of live blogging. Celebration "ground-zero" for this event will be Woodford Square, the normally quaint and picaresque park at the heart of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Tonight, the Square has exiled all its regular loafers and vagrants in exchange for burly security guards, curious on-lookers and acres of stage space. A gala cultural show is planned, the climax of which will be a re-enactment of the 1962 flag-raising ceremony. Stay tuned.
Scroll down to read how the night, which saw Machel Montano and many others perform, unfolded.
9.30pm: The festivities at Woodford Square at the heart of the capital started late, not surprisingly for a Trini event. For international audiences, I should inform you that Trinis are legendary for our lateness. For the organiser's sake I hope the programme does not lag too much because there is no way to push back midnight when the clocks will strike and the flag-raising re-enactment is due to take place...
9.40pm: A little more about tonight's programme. Firstly, there will be three parts: Prelude; Part II and Part III.
The Prelude was due to start at 5.30pm and wrap about an hour ago at 8.30pm. According to the programme, it was due to feature: pan, jazz, dance and "world music" (a term which the organisers apparently find fitting for Wendy Sheppard; Wendell Constantine and H20 flow). Many people are due to perform in this prelude and I think it's still going on...Is that De Fosto? Why yes it is. He is signing a tribute to TT's gold medallist in javelin, Keshorn Walcott. Lyrics include, "You get house, you get land....de Toco golden boy!"
Part II will be a flag-raising ceremony, re-creating that moment in 1962 when the Union Jack was brought down and the new TT flag raised.
Part III will see a fireworks display. And Machel Montano.
You can read the full programme at the website of the Ministry of Planning and Development (note the name of this ministry) if you click this link here.
9.50pm: TV host Paul Richards, live on C TV, just described the show as a "cultural extravaganza". He reports a "massive crowd" at Woodford Square. Ruskin Mark, sports reporter, however reports that he is surprised that things are not as crowded as he expected.
9.53pm: The Minister of Planning Dr Bhoe Tewarie is addressing the crowd.
Tewarie delivers a speech which includes the following remarks:
Ladies and gentlemen I came here very early and took a look at what you were doing and how you were responding and looked at your faces on the screen because the camera was capturing it and I realised that you, my people, are the salt of the earth. This country would be nothing without you. Give yourself a round of applause! Tonight is not a night for talk, many of my Cabinet colleagues are here. All I want to say to you is thank you for coming. You are one of 1.3 million people of this world who have been born on this island. Cherish that as a gift from your maker. Let that be an indication of how important you are.
9.58pm: Dance interlude. The dancer wears red, white and black - the national colours. There is drumming. He removes a white scarf (it gets chilly in the Square at night?). Wait- the scarf is really a sleeve. This is kinda cool. He's like the dervish. Without the dramatic spinning. His name is Juan Pablo Dennis, the announcer says after he finishes and leaves the stage. Apparently it was supposed to be "a Chinese classical dance".
10.08pm: Lord Relator performing. Lyrics are R-rated so will not repeat them here. Let's just say will not look at kaser balls or paimee the same way again. Paul Richard remarks: "he has perfect pitch, perfect rhythm". Ruskin Mark remarks: "he's so well versed".
10.13pm: 'I Love My Country' is performed by a young calypso star Jeromy Rodriguez.
Over on Twitter, Njisane Phillip says he will be going on CNC3 live in 2 minutes.
10.20pm: Woa it's actually the Mighty Trini! This is bringing back hazy memories of my childhood during the George Chambers years. Lyrics (by Merchant) include "If Trinidad was a boat I go sail on it. We are going to keep this boat sailing!" and "ah sailing with the boat sink or float". The flag posse in the front of the stage goin' wild! You have to give it to Mighty Trini, he's always had charm and charisma....loads more than a lot of the soca acts these days.
Tracy Assing on Twitter remarks:
10.29pm: Getting a sense of a building crowd. One of my scantily-clad agents in the Square reports: "It's loud and the crowd is big". They go wild for Baron! Tommy Joseph comes on to introduce Joseph Adams singing Lord Brynner's classic 'Trinidad and Tobago Independence' (which is not an easy calypso sing by any standard).
#TT50woodfordsquare everyone is trying to make a red, white and black fashion statement. Mighty Trini in a "Plummer-esque" jacket
10.38pm: A lot of chatter out there about "off" notes and who's singing flat. To the critics I say: you go out there and perform in the square, then we go talk!
10.39pm: Ras Commander mounts the stage. "Is 50 an yuh lookin good!" Next is King Austin singing 'Progress'.
11.07pm: My source in the crowd reports: "the Square looks wonderful. It's a nice arrangement. There are two stages. The crowd is good. I just saw Njisane and Keshorn!"
Here are a few blurry photos from the Square as well:
Ruskin Mark says, "It's the middle of the night but it feels like the middle of the day here."
11.23pm: It's fast approaching the midnight hour and, well, a really long song, primarily with the lyric, "Trinidad", is wrapping up now...that was the "jazz" segment of the "Prelude" apparently.
Paul Richards reports that the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's car has arrived. Part II, involving speeches by the Prime Minister and President George Maxwell-Richards is due to begin at 11.45pm.
A fella is singing on the stage. Have no idea who he is.
11.28pm: Meanwhile, tonight's events in the square are running parallel to the PNM's own event at Balisier House. Rhoda Bharath, at that location, on her Facebook page remarks of the events there :
I have been to livelier funerals... The person responsible for the creative direction of this programme should be horsewhipped.Ouch Rhoda. Maybe there should have been teamwork and one bigger, better show would have resulted? We will never know. Maybe at the 100th anniversary.
11.31pm: Back at Woodford Square, some persons dressed as members of the Coast Guard, in smart uniforms, are now being marshalled into the Square. We are preparing now for the re-enactment of the flag-raising. Part II begins.
Apparently there are actors for all the "characters" of the original.There is a mock Eric Williams, even a mock Princess Royal. When they said re-enactment, I thought it was going to be simple. Didn't expect them to go all out! The organisers have even ensured that all the members of the British Navy are portrayed by only white white actors.
There are two flag poles near the centre of the square, just off the fountain. The mood now is of a panto.
The Union Jack is raised and then abruptly falls. Paul Richards, "I wonder if that was part of the plan?" Mark Ruskin, "I suppose the Union Jack does not want to go up".
Several smartly dressed "guests" also arrive. The "Eric Williams" character is actually a good likeness, and they got Sir Solomon Hochoy's glasses just right! Not sure about the crown of the Princess Royal.
In enters Persad-Bissessar (in a bit of time-travel apparently) who is handed the national flag. She hands it over to the TT Regiment, "holders of the highest Order of Trinidad and Tobago" the narrator on the scene says.
The Union Jack is lowered (well stayed lowered after falling earlier).
The TT flag is attached to its pole. There is a very long delay.
11.50pm: The announcer then says, "we wait til midnight to hoist the flag". Oh God! someone in the audience shouts. Am hoping my clock is wrong. "They are well ahead of schedule in terms of where they need to be right now," Ruskin Mark says. Paul Richards says that "according to protocol" the flag cannot be raised before midnight. One wonders about this, as it is impossible to not raise the flag before midnight, it being a point in time...
11.55pm: The flag is hoisted at last! The crowd cheers, the National Anthem plays, one person sings! Cheers! The flag sways gently, not much breeze in the Square. Unable to lift itself, it looks, desolately, to the sky. A representative from the IRO prays:
We pray for the victims of crime and the delinquent. We remember and ask your blessings for our Ancestors who toiled endlessly. Thank you dear Lord let you light always shine on Trinidad and TobagoAugust 31,
12am: Independence Day!
12.03am: The pageantry continues as the "Princess Royal" actually reads the original speech read at the opening of the First Parliament. A snippet:
My Government no longer has any responsibility for this country. My Government wishes to maintain the bonds of friendship which have existed for over 150 years. Small in numbers though the population may be it constitutes a microcosm of the larger world. Here every creed and race find and equal place.Now, "Dr Williams". The actor is good, but there have been better imitations of Dr Williams and his peculiar style. He has a good intonation though, suggesting Williams as opposed to channelling him.
Now the "Leader of the Opposition" Dr Capildeo. The actor looks and sounds absolutely nothing like the original. This is "method acting" in the extreme, dear readers.
Jesus Christ! Just got a close-up of "Sir Solomon Hochoy"'s awful hair!
12.12am: Okay that very awkward part is over. Now Mavis John comes on to sing 'God Bless Our Nation'. She says, "I was here 50 years ago. And I hope to have another 50 years." The crowd starts to sway. This version of the song has been spruced up with some sitar and tassa and keyboard. Mavis John looks lovely, in a beautiful wine-coloured dress.
On a side note, I've never thought 'God Bless Our Nation' would have made a better anthem. I find the current anthem is actually very distinctive, dramatic and rousing, grammatical ambiguities and all.
12.21am: Speech time folks! The Prime Minister comes on to Benjai's 'Trini'. Flags are being handed out in the square, Paul remarks. Apparently, Machel has been spotted backstage.
The Prime Minister's remarks include:
I greet and welcome you this evening with a very profound sense of honour to be the one destiny has chosen to herald this moment in history....On this day the father of the nation Dr Eric Williams stood right here. We were declaring that we were captains of our own ship of state.Tonight let us pay tribute to the founding father or our nation Dr Eric Williams. Let us pay tribute to the first Leader of the Opposition Dr Rudranath Capildeo...You can read the full speech, when they post it, here.
The Prime Minister calls on Keshorn Walcott just before closing her 12-minute speech with, "May God continue to bless each and everyone of you! The great nation that is Trinidad and Tobago. Thank you, God bless!"
12.34am: The President addresses the crowd. His remarks include:
Tonight’s event generates excitement, as it should. The occasion is as solemn, as it is pulsating. But euphoria must not be allowed to cloud sober reflection, as reality will not go away. We need to ask ourselves whether we are living up to the expectations of our freedom fighters, who did battle, not with guns, but with intellectual prowess, artisan skills, artistic brilliance, sport and diplomatic savoir faire to secure our place among the family of independent Nations.
The speech is about 15 minutes long. You may read the full text, when they post it, here.
12.50am: Fireworks above the Square!
1.01am: The Independence Monarch, Chucky, performs to a bored crowd. I think somebody throws something on-stage. The DJ says "make some noise for the President of Trinidad and Tobago!" And now, its Machel Montano HD.
Some techno/house beats start pulsing. This is kinda groovy, "Represent! Represent! it's one love! Put yuh hand in a d air and jump! Anybody from Trinidad? Anybody from Barbados? Let me see your hand!" Flags real moving.
Machel wears an all-red jacket, red cap and red shoes, black jeans, red bow tie. At one point, he brings on Neeval, former Digicel Rising Star. Some interesting interplay between genres there. They jump up arm-in-arm, and their voices actually blend well. Could a new boy-band be in the making? Maybe KI -who later comes on stage to render the haunting song 'Single Forever' - would also be a great member to add to the consortium. The crowd though looks a bit stony.
Soon the red jacket disappears dramatically, it's white shirt only. Machel performs 'One More Time' and I wonder if the barricade by the stage will hold up. Droopatie joins him as well! And Benjai! Benjai steals the show with his 'Trini'. Even Machel declares the song to be the anthem of TT's 50th anniversary. Benjai puts on a sparkling performance, too.
The same cannot be said for Farmer Nappy who comes on to sing 'Surrender (Your Batty)' in the tightest pair of red and black plaid trousers seen on the planet. It looks painful, but he has no difficulty prancing around. Things go back into equilibrium when Patrice Roberts, who is so perfect it hurts, comes on. [NOTE: Iwer George, one of many people said to be at odds with Machel, also performed with him in a moment of unity which contrasted with our politicians.]
Reader, the culture overwhelms. It is a huge wake-up! And a fitting end. Now, at 50, let us slip out into the night. Age is but a number.