And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
Excerpt from Jerusalem by Parry 1916
There is no Belizean identity without an appreciation for its artists.
As the world stopped and we all had to retreat into our homes to take cover from the war with the invisible invader, the coronavirus, we all should have realized the immense value of art. We had to read books, we delved into our Netflix shows and favourite creators on YouTube, and, of course, dived into our favourite music that reminded us of our most memorable moments on the dance floor, but more importantly calmed our anxiety about a world our generation has never seen before. Humanity could not have survived the mental burden of abrupt physical distancing and shifted socialization without art to hold our hand. I leaned on much of the work of now ancestor Andy Palacio during this time, as I am now at 2:00 a.m.
The past week has been great for Belize on the international scene. Two Belize art creators, an actor and a composer, proudly wore their Belizean flag as they marked great achievements. First, Indira Andrewin, a 21-year-old actor from Gales Point Manatee, blazed a trail at the Venice Film Festival as she proudly walked the red carpet as a “Best Actress” nominee for her lead role in the movie Selva Tragica – Tragic Jungle. It is a film about a story familiar to us — the folklore story of Xtabai, a female demon said to lure men to their deaths in the forest, and is set with a familiar background that reflects Belize’s economic past: our once-booming chicle trade. Andrewin was beaming with “Jewelizean” excellence at the 77th Biennale Cinema Film Festival as she contended against Hollywood stars such as Shai Lebeouf, whose leading lady, Vanessa Kirby, took home that award. Next, Errollyn Wallen. She used her space at the Last Night of the United Kingdom Proms to make the most beautiful political statement at one of the most prestigious and historical concert series in the UK which debuted in 1895. Wallen left Belize at age two, and settled in the UK with her aunt and uncle. She told the BBC that the reason she grew up in the UK was thanks to her uncles who volunteered in the Royal Air Force for World War II. Wallen, amid the turmoil being faced by the Windrush generation at the hands of the UK government, dedicated her arrangement of Parry’s Jerusalem to Windrush to them and her country Belize. Imagine that! A Black woman reimagining what is touted as the UK’s second anthem and dedicating it to Windrush and our Belize. She even includes in the arrangement our Belizean “shaka” that she was given by another artist legend, Pen Cayetano. Her arrangement was sung by another Black woman, South African, Golda Shultz. If that is not a bold resistance, I don’t know what is.
There’s a poetry to the Belizeaness that lives in art, the strides we have made at home and abroad. I cannot speak of art without writing an ode to Leroy ‘The Grandmaster’ Young. Belize’s most prolific poet with rhymes and rhythm like no other. I have said that if I am ever to occupy a space that wields the power to award this man as a laureate and architect of Belizean identity, he will have it. Of course, there is much to say about how we treat art and history in this nation, the money we allocate to it, the respect we have for it, the regard we give to it, but this musing was meant to be one to highlight #501Excellence, and so I will save that analysis for another time. The fact remains, though, that our mental fight to continue to build and preserve an identity for Belize rests in our creativity. We cannot build nation-state Belize without it. Respect to the Belizean ‘honour rebels’ at home and abroad.