Deliverance (1972) is British director John Boorman’s gripping action-adventure about four suburban businessmen on a disastrous weekend’s river-canoeing trip. It ranks as one of my favourite films. I can never tire of seeing it. The horror starts in this clip below.
Vibrant, evocative, expressive; a European Christian religion fuelled by the rhythms and traditions of West Africa, yet totally indigenous to Trinidad; the Shouter Baptist faith has emerged from a history of persecution to occupy a unique place in Caribbean culture.
Once ‘Shouter’ was a dirty word in Trinidad, a term imposed on its followers by a mainstream society that saw their practices – dancing, shaking, falling to the ground, loudly invoking the spirit of the Lord – as unseemly and anti-Christian. Today its status in Trinidadian life is reflected by the observance of an annual holiday on March 30th to celebrate the repeal of the Shouters Prohibitive Ordinance, the law that forced thousands of Shouter Baptists to practice their faith in secrecy for years, for fear of brutal reprisals by the police.
Much has changed. There is some dispute over the origins of the Shouter religion – various theories place its roots in Africa, North America, St. Vincent and Grenada – but what is beyond dispute is that it has evolved and grown over time to become entirely unique and indigenous to Trinidad, a rich conflation of the many, often competing, cultures of the island and unaffiliated to any foreign religious organisation.
While, at a local level, the organisation and hierarchy of the Shouter Baptist faith can be incredibly complex (with countless ranks and positions, such as Leader, Mother, Shepherd, Watchman, Captain and Healer), there has traditionally been no formal organisational structure. Churches – or ‘camps’ – were founded according to the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit. The faith blossomed as hundreds of independent churches were established all over the island, each practising their own local variation of the faith. Today, a degree of organisation has developed, with the three main archdioceses being incorporated in 1985. However, many churches still remain autonomous, either under the umbrella of one of the archdioceses or functioning in complete independence. It is a religion that remains spontaneous, unpredictable and driven by the unseen hand of the Lord.
The once-shameful ‘Shouter’ label can be traced back to the influence of this unseen hand. Shouter services are at once highly ritualised and incredibly spontaneous. They traditionally begin with the ringing of a bell and the lighting of candles, followed by the recitation of a liturgy, the singing of hymns and ritual handshaking and the touching of all those gathered. The ‘Leader’ delivers a sermon and there is more singing and praying and, all the while, the worshippers clap hands, stamp feet and cry out in praise of the Lord. They clap, stamp and build up into a religious ecstasy until they ‘catch the Spirit’ – the Holy Spirit visits the worshipper, who begins to sway, shout, speak in tongues and eventually fall to the ground in a trance-like state.
Another fascinating practice of the Shouter faith is that of ‘mourning’, a period of ‘Godly sorrow’ lasting for seven days or more, in which the ‘mourner’ prays, meditates and is forbidden from speaking, eating, bathing or any other comfort, lying for the duration on the bare floor of a mud hut. In a ritual derived from the religion’s African influence, the mourner is ‘called’ by the Leader to go through the mourning period, which is meant to symbolise death and resurrection, a spiritual journey from which the mourner emerges cleansed of their ‘impure’ being and possessed of spiritual gifts. Or, as Archbishop Barbara Gray-Burke, of the Ark of The Covenant Spiritual Baptist Church in Laventille, puts it: “In psycho-biological terms, the rite of ‘mourning’ actually involves a period of intense physical sensory deprivation as the initiate is deprived of light and movement and receives minimal sustenance.”
It was such practices as ‘mourning’, as well as the loud and expressive elements of Shouter services – which drew disapproval from mainstream society for ‘disturbing the peace’ – that led to the colonial government of the time banning the Shouter Baptist faith from 1917 to 1951. While conservative elements of society deemed Shouter rituals and practices barbaric and ungodly, it is now felt that underlying this was a sense of embarrassment and distaste for the vivid evocation of their African roots – now considered ‘uncivilised’ – that these practices involved. The shame and self-hatred bred by their colonizers led the Trinidadian people to suppress a unique and vibrant tradition in an attempt to flee from their past.
The Shouter Baptists suffered 34 years of suffering and persecution, forbidden from worshipping and beaten and arrested if suspected of doing so. Yet they survived, slowly organising themselves from a disperse company of individual churches into a body – The West Indian Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Faith, under the leadership of the Grenadian-born Elton George Griffith – that was able to successfully lobby for the repeal of the Shouters Prohibitive Ordinance in 1951.
Now they practice freely across Trinidad and have spread their unique brand of African-flavoured Protestantism across the Caribbean and beyond to the United States, to Canada and to England. Singing, dancing, hollering: the Shouters are here now too. Catch the Spirit.
Better known in Poland as one half of the duo, Przytuła & Kruk, Bartek Przytuła is worthy of attention in his own right as a blues vocalist, rebellious rascal, undisputed blues fan, and interpreter of all types of music that might make you shiver.
With the accompaniment of a guitar and harmonica, he very quickly gains your attention, and although the blues may be considered a monotonous and even boring genre by some folks, his performances are always original, due in part to his rye sense of humour and an enormous amount of unbridled musical emotions flowing straight from the heart. His music is inspired by Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, BB King, Buddy Guy, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Dixon, Big Joe Williams, and Robert Lockwood Jr–to name just a few–and this too adds a certain texture and mesmerizing context to his performances on stage.
Working with Tomasz Kruk on guitar, their performances over the last three years have notched up an impressive array of awards in every contest they have entered. So far this year alone:
Victory on the small stage competition of the Rawa Blues Festival and a gig on the main festival stage of biggest Poland’s biggest blues festival in 2010. First prize at the VI Galicia Blues Festival in Krosno and a recording session in Studio OTD (2010). Winners of the Power Flower Festival in Opatów (2010). Runners-up in Olsztyn Blues Review competition in their first joint appearance (2010). Second prize and a Audience Award at the festival Las, Woda i Blues in 2010. President of Nowa Sól Award for vocalist Bartek Przytuła at the V Solówka Blues Festival (2010). The Audience Award at the XIX Blues Nad Bobrem festival (2010).
Fresh from Katowice with a shaved head and a significant new win at an important gig on the main stage of the Rawa Blues Festival, we caught up with Bartek Przytuła to find out what makes him tick.
What drew you to the blues?
Generally, blues gives me a thrill, makes me high. It makes me shiver, and for me, it’s a quest and a pleasure to give it to others through my gigs. I remember when first heard the blues: it was John Lee Hooker’s “Boom, Boom” and I was then 10-years old and heard it on some kind of commercial. I didn’t realize that there was a whole category of such music.
What blues musicians inspire you and why?
The things that I truly admire in music are originality and emotions, no matter what kind of music it is. That’s why I really love listening to Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, BB King, Buddy Guy, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Dixon, Big Joe Williams, and Robert Lockwood Jr.
How did you learn to play guitar?
I started playing guitar when I was more into rock and heavy metal at around thirteen or fourteen years old. I was being taught by my older cousin. I stopped playing systematically after some time because of a temporary loss of interest in music, and later I started to learn how to sing. For a year, I was being taught by a professional opera singer, and since then, I’ve never stopped singing—just fell in love with it! A few years later I came back to guitar just to have an opportunity to be independent when needed.
Can white men sing the blues?
White guys very rarely really can sing the blues. To me, it seems that most white people are more into diligence; accuracy and versatility while black musicians are more innovative and great at feeling the music. These characteristics often make whites fine instrumentalists but vocals should be primarily emotive. That in my opinion is why black people are better vocalists in general.
But as always, there are some exceptions such as Dr. John and Randy Newman—it’s the feeling it invokes, that’s what makes it the blues.
Is blues music as popular in Poland as reggae?
Well, no, neither genre is very popular in Poland. Blues mostly appeal to older people while reggae is for young ears.
What kind of gigs do you normally play in Poland, and are you looking to bring your music to London?
In Poland, I play in duet called Przytuła&Kruk where we play old Delta music and songs of our own. We’ve taken part in a number of contests and have been fortunate to get some kind of award in every competition we’ve entered, even winning two of them, Galicja Blues Festiwal in Krosno and Flower Power Festival in Opatów. We’ve also recently recorded our first album and hope that it will be available to buy in Poland by the end of the year. I can’t wait to play a few gigs in London but I see it as an opportunity start playing as a solo artist.
For more information about Bartek Przytuła and upcoming gigs, visit the website he shares with Tomek Kruk: www.przytulkruka.pl