Authored by Jasmine Pacheco
This newspaper clipping of two men, one of which was holding a guitar quickly catches the eye due to the overtones of potential Blackface. However, after reading William Harris’ review, I discovered the work of Trinidadian playwright Mustapha Matura who used his experiences to craft powerful political commentaries. Matura first began writing and directing plays in London often tackling the ways Black people have been mistreated and abused throughout the Caribbean and the UK.
On November 3rd, 1977, The Soho Weekly printed its review column “Off and On” discussing the recent theatre openings in New York City. Written by William Harris, the first review was of the play “Rum and Coca-Cola” by Trinidadian playwright Mustapha Matura. Harris explains, “Beneath the paradiscial veneer and the story of two carefree calypsonians who sleep on the beach, play music, and pose for tourists’ photographs, Matura is writing about the systematic robbing of Trinidadian identity” (Harris 1977, 56). Matura juxtaposes the breezy carefree scenery of Trinidad with the harsh reality of poverty and exploitation that arrived along with the American influence. Harris’ review illustrated that Matura was making a statement on how colonialism has appropriated and commodified Caribbean culture.
Mustapha Matura was born in Trinidad in 1939. He eventually traveled to England, where he worked as a hospital porter until he took a job in Rome as an assistant stage manager for the play “Shakespeare in Harlem” by Langston Hughes. It was working on this play when he realized there was an absence of the Black perspective in theatre that he would work to fill.
In the playbill for “Rum and Coca-Cola” (found in the archives of William Harris’ belongings at Marymount Manhattan College) are the lyrics to the original song “Rum and Coca-Cola” by Calypso artist Lord Invader.
Since the Yankees came to Trinidad,
They have the young girls going mad,
The young girls say they treat them nice,
And they give them a better price.
They buy rum and Coca-Cola,
Go down Point Cumana
Both mother and daughter
Workin’ for the Yankee dollar.
Historically, Calypso is performed by the lower class and is a reactionary art form that discusses the “crippling condition of [people’s] lives at the bottom of society” (Patton 1994). With that in mind, Lord Invader is discussing how Trinidadian women made a living prostituting themselves to American soldiers. These bleak lyrics mirror Matura’s play by showing how “tourism and violence highlight the trauma of colonialism” (Lanz 2010).
Highlighting Matura and his play “Rum & Coca-Cola” reflects the Vincentian tradition because it raises up the “voices of the under and misrepresented [so that they] are heard and understood” (Angel, n.d.). Matura is widely regarded as a pioneer of Black theatre and “a genuine pathfinder who not only paved the way for a new generation but who, in 1978, co-founded, the Black Theatre Co-operative (now nitroBEAT)” (Billington 2019). The Black Theatre Co-Operative was created so that black writers and actors had the support they needed to create and tell their own stories. By creating a space for Black writers and actors Matura acted as a catalyst for important representation within the arts.
Angel, Christine M. n.d. “Information Representation through the Vincentian Lens of Transparency: Providing the Under and Misrepresented with a Voice within Our Cultural Heritage Records.” Evolution of Teaching Philosophy: 1–7. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VkY3xbRv1Ikuny5LApVmVWmSiZ81OTtUyJ6aSl_I3xo/.
Billington, Michael. 2019. “Mustapha Matura Obituary.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media,. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/nov/01/mustapha-matura-obituary.
Harris, William. 1977. ”Off and On.” Soho Weekly, November 3, 1977.
Lantz, Victoria Pettersen. 2010. “Locating Cultures, Constructing Identities: The Caribbean Diaspora, Black Britain, and the Theatre of Mustapha Matura.” Order No. 3421932, The University of Wisconsin – Madison. https://jerome.stjohns.edu/login??url=https://search-proquest-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/docview/755706828?accountid=14068.
Owusu, Kwesi. 2006. Black British Culture and Society: a Text-Reader. London: Routledge.
Patton, John H. 1994. “Calypso as Rhetorical Performance: Trinidad Carnival 1993.” Latin American Music Review / Revista De Música Latinoamericana 15, no. 1: 55-74. doi:10.2307/3085948.