Wheel and come again

Braata Folk Singers members in the song “Sweepstake.”
Braata Folk Singers members in the song "Sweepstake."

The New York based Braata Folk Singers, under the Artistic Direction of Jamaican-born actor, singer and producer Andrew Clarke have scored the biggest success of their two-year existence with Wheel An’ Come Again – their 2011 concert season.

“Wheel An’ Come Again” was staged at the world famous Baruch Performing Arts Center at Baruch College in Manhattan in June of this year, and played to capacity crowds and standing ovations during a limited run.

The response to the 90-minute presentation has been so overwhelming that the show is being remounted for one performance only at The Brooklyn Music School at Saint Felix Street in Brooklyn, on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 8:00 p.m.

Set predomimantly in a vibrant and colorful Jamaican market on market day, Wheel An’ Come Again traces, through song and movement, the activities of a motley group of vendors and shoppers as they gossip, haggle, socialize and occasionally argue their way through the busy day.

The dramatic market day backdrop provides a perfect performance platform for many memorable Jamaican and Caribbean folk songs including Coconut Woman, Ruckumbine, I’m a Better Woman Than You, Don’t Touch Mi Tomato, Domino, Under The Coconut Tree and Lionheart.

Every aspect of the production- from the musical direction by University of Mississippi graduate Garnett Mowatt, to the Movement and Choreography by Alvin Ailey School alumnus Jermaine Rowe and NDTC Dancer/ Choreographer Chris Walker- came in for high praise from critics and the public alike during the show’s first run earlier this year.

According to award winning Jamaican playwright/producer David Heron, who produced the group’s Mothers Day production Mothers Day Braata earlier this year, the success of Braata in New York City signals the dawn of a new cultural age for Jamaican artists in the USA.

“What we are seeing with the gifted Andrew Clarke and his talented team of collaborators- Garnett Mowatt, Jermaine Rowe, Chris Walker- is the changing of the guard and the passing of the baton to another generation of remarkably talented Jamaicans who are making their cultural mark on the diaspora,” Heron says.

“The seeds that were sewn by The Honourable Louise Bennett Coverley, Professor The Honourable Rex Nettleford, Trevor Rhone and so many others are bearing fruit with these young artists, and the fact that a little show like Wheel an’ Come Again has attracted so much attention here in New York is a sign of even bigger things to come for Jamaican culture. Miss Lou and Prof Nettleford are smiling with pride wherever they are.”

Founder and Artistic Director Clarke attributes the success of the group’s new production to staying true to a simple formula- presenting tried and true traditional folk songs with exciting new choral arrangements and unique movement and visuals.

“What we knew from the minute we formed Braata back in 2009 was that we are living in a very visual age’’ says Clarke, “And that meant that when it came to performing our region’s traditional music, we had to provide not only a feast for the ear, but a treat for the eye as well. The internet and cable era in which we live demands that all the senses be engaged. So we can’t just perform the songs- we have to present them as well, in visually compelling ways… This is evident in everything we do, from our choreography to our lighting and especially in our costumes, by John Paul Pierre.”

But for all that, the tremendous success of the group’s second annual concert season still took him by surprise.

“The fact that so many people came to see the show and spread the word to others who missed it is indeed very humbling, and we felt compelled to remount it one more time so that those who enjoyed it before can ‘wheel and come again,’ and others who missed it can see what all the fuss was about.”

Immediately following the encore performance of Wheel an’ Come Again, Clarke and his 12-member choir- comprised of New York based Jamaicans of birth and descent – will shift their focus to next year- the 50th anniversary celebrations of Jamaica’s independence, and the World Choir Games in Cincinatti Ohio where they will represent Jamaica.

“All I can say is that it will be a very special year for Jamaica and Jamaicans, and Braata will be marking this once in a lifetime event in our own special way.”

Stay tuned.

Actress Hillary Roosevelt Ricketts learning about the “Breadfruit” from Braata Folk Singers members.
Photos courtesy Braata Productions
Photo courtesy of Braata Productions

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