I was in Trinidad over New Year’s and delighted to see Literature Alive playing Wednesday nights on Gayelle TV. It was a very different experience from watching it in Canada; different again from making it. That’s why I don’t get bored watching my programs, because each new context brings fresh insights, new perspectives on craft, form, process, audience.
To start the New Year just right, here’s a clip from our award-winning documentary Blood, Dub, and the Matriarch, about dub poet d’bi.young. In it d’bi talks about growing up poor in Jamaica, and the importance of telling our own stories, even in the face of capitalism, classism, and American colonialism.
I want to appreciate Gayelle TV: one of life’s miracles.
Now 3 years old, the station is really coming into its own. Location inserts and original drama have been added to a core studio-based format of call-in talk shows, interviews, and sketch comedy. Its passionately devoted viewership extends by cable to Grenada, and via the internet, around the world. Its content is 100% local programming, 24/7. Not bad for a young, independently-owned channel, run from a tiny island in America’s armpit.
Gayelle, tho new as a Channel, is the product of a long gestation. Decades of dreams, analysis, commitment, blood and tears went into the development of the unique model that hit local airwaves in 2004 as Gayelle TV. So many of us passed through, as students of and participants in the process, on our way to whoever we were becoming.
I was 24 when I had the privelege of belonging to “the Gayelle family” for a brief intense moment in time. It was the year of The Hammer (Rudder), Ship Is Sinking (Gypsy) and Too Young To Soca (Machel). Hall, Laird and Paddington (impossibly flawed leaders) were directors of Banyan, the small TV production company that was producing a giddying mix of documentaries, ads, music videos, drama series, training, and their weekly flagship magazine programme called GAYELLE. The shows were developed through a rigorous collaborative process of brainstorming and improvisation. They were defined by a commitment to reflecting Trinidad and Tobago’s extraordinary culture to itself, on its own terms, in its own language, using its images, characters, humor, rhythms, points of reference. Television as the voice of ordinary people, and daily life, as an instrument for social change. The medium itself was inherently democratic, and democratising. It was also in its nature creative, and healing, bringing together artists – writers, painters, comedians, singers – to pool their talents in a new electronic form as traditional and native to us as the Gayelle.
In the old days, the Gayelle was a backyard place that people came to stickfight, watch cockfights, lime, drink and exchange news and gossip in the form of kaiso. It was a vital social forum for discussion and expression. This was the concept underlying Banyan’s flagship series “Gayelle”.
But those were tough, lean times. The constant battle with the single local broadcaster (TTT) for airtime and funds meant no money to pay people, no ressource to create, time to finesse, space for the necessary dialogue. Always so much more to do. It was heartbreaking. In the end Banyan’s programs were starved off the schedule, replaced by insipid irrelevent American content, and wall to wall American cable TV. A depressingly familiar scenario.
In the 90’s the idea of a whole TV station devoted to local programming, successfully targetting a popular audience, seemed impossible, utopic.
In 2004 the digital age gave birth to Gayelle TV, as we all watched with incredulity and awe. Now it seems (almost) normal. But for me, still, a miracle. I still get choked up when I see the slogan:
AT LAST WE OWN TELEVISION.
Photos: Inside The People TV. Old Year’s at midnight I jumped in my car and headed down to Gayelle. Got there just in time to bring the New Year in with friends, Robin Foster and Errol Fabian, here seen presenting the New Year show.