Celebrating a decade of music and more
Chewstick is celebrating its tenth year in existence with an unusual performance for its members.
Instead of the normal open mics or jam sessions, the artistic collective is holding its first musical, retelling the story of Chewstick over the past decade.
Performers include Joy Barnum, Vejay Steede, Alan Smith, D-Warning, Kase, Gavin (Djata) Smith, Tanzaoui, Spring Flower and young artists from the ClewSLAM programme. It will also feature some “surprise” international guests and a local band.
Najib Chentouf, co-founder of the Chewstick Foundation, said they decided on a musical to bring the audience something different.
“It will be unlike other musicals and a little unique,” he said. “It’s not a musical like West Side Story, where you sing every line. There will definitely be dialogue in it and it will definitely be a musical journey with a lot of musical performances in it spoken word, a strong hip hop contingent, some soca mixed in there, pop, rock and folk music.”
Mr Chentouf said the performance would take a look back at the organisation’s evolution from open mics and jam sessions to its own facility on Court Street and the launch of its youth programme ChewSLAM.
One of the anticipated performances of the night will be from 12-year-old singer Quinn Outerbridge, described as “one of the stars of the show”.
“She is a singer and has quite the voice on her, so it’s going to be great for us to showcase what the next generation can do,” Mr Chentouf said.
“She is actually very dedicated and as a young person she spends a lot of afternoons here singing and learning songs on her own. I think the opportunity to give her some shine is kind of indicative of the amount of work she puts in on her own as a very self-determined young talent.”
Chewstick was established as an open mic session by five founding members on January 4, 2003.
Some of the original members had been in a rap group called Chubby and Da Faction as teenagers in the early 90s. Upon returning from university they wanted a central place to hone their skills.
“Chewstick was born out of that want or need to perform,” Mr Chentouf said. “So the founding members managed to come up with an open mic concept that we gave them and laboured to perform, as well as other people, and it has grown since then.”
Deidra-Lee Bean said the open mic events attracted a diverse crowd from its early days.
“The open mic turned into a community service and broke down social barriers and the move towards becoming a charity was an extension of that service so people could come together and share their stories,” she said.
“When people come through and authentically share what matters to them, you start to understand that all the separations and misconceptions are kind of false.
“By celebrating story telling and making it so it’s safe for everybody to share, we are moving towards healing some of the issues that come from not understanding.”
The Island had become a place where people of different races worked together, but didn’t play together, Mr Chentouf said. The open mics gave Chewstick the ability “to create a social experience where everyone was welcome and everyone felt at home”.
Co-founder Gavin Smith said the most rewarding part of the past decade was seeing different generations developing a love of the arts.
“Right now there are youngsters as young as ten or eleven involved and there are people who were my elders as a child involved. It’s awesome.
“The community that has come out of it and how everyone looks out and supports and learns from each other I think those relationships will outlive Chewstick if it was to fold, a lot of those relationships would continue.”
Mr Smith said as the ten-year anniversary was part of “a long journey” filled with many great achievements.
One of those was taking a group of young poets to the Brave New Voices competition in San Francisco this past summer. He said: “There were organisations from all over the world and most were poetry specific and their budgets were everything from zero to $4 million.
“We were strong among our peers globally and that made me proud because it’s difficult to assess at times in Bermuda because [Chewstick] is so unique and our market is so small, but we were giving advice and almost ended up being a consultant in the room for other organisations who weren’t at the level we are at yet.”
Due to the isolation of the Island, he said the organisation has had to learn fast and offer a lot more to the public.
Mr Smith said going forward the goal is to “fortify and perfect the models” and become more strong financially so they are able to purchase the building they now operate out of on Court Street.
“That will help us with the budgeting and enable us to develop potentially different revenue streams and help us lay down permanent roots in the ‘back of town’ so we can do more long-term strategy, management and economic development for the area.”
As part of celebrations in honour of the milestone, the group will host a party tomorrow night featuring DJs Beatnik, Kid Fresh and TanZ.
‘The Story of Chewstick 10th Anniversary Musical’ will take place Saturday at Ruth Seaton James, at 8pm.
Tickets, $15 for students, $30 for adults and $100 for patrons (which includes a pre-show reception at 7pm), are available online at www.ptix.bm or at Rock Island Coffee and Kit & Caboodle in Hamilton. The event is sponsored by Northrock, with support also provided by Bermuda Blue Halo and the Economic Empowerment Zone Agency.
Useful website: www.chewstick.org