Mélange Caribbean Travel & Lifestyle Magazine


Andy Purcell

Keeping Shortknee Alive

Shortknee, a kaleidoscope of colours! Anonymous players, heads covered with white towels. Scary, masked faces. Colourful costumes, with small round mirrors sewn on to the back and torso. Blouses with arms extending way past the knees, puffy pants ending just under the knees. Stocking-covered feet with small bells called woolos, tied around the ankles. Talcum powder-throwing revelers, singing in the streets and in the yard of villagers, arms extended, requesting, "something for the Shortknee", be it a snack or money. Small children are sometimes scared of Shortknee, mainly because no one knows who is wearing the costume and whose face is behind the mask. Run when they approach! Run, because they may playfully swat you with their long sleeves or sprinkle you with talcum powder.

This is Shortknee in the small northern village of Hermitage, St. Partick's on the island of Grenada. Shortknee is played during the island's carnival Festival which takes place on the 2nd Monday and Tuesday of August each year.

Let us introduce Andy "Laykay" Purcell, a resident of Hermitage and the leader of the Hermitage Shortknee Band. Scared, but also intrigued as a child, he watched while his older brother played Shortknee and was determined to overcome his fear one day, and get involved. This he did in 1985 at the age of 15 and a short while later in 1988, he became the Band's leader. His is one of many Shortknee bands on the Island, but as Andy and the other members will be quick to tell you, theirs is the best. In 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 they captured 1st place in the Shortknee Band Category during the Carnival competition. Alas, in 2015 they placed 2nd, losing to the St. John's, St. Andrew's Band (they also took 2nd place in 2011). But they are not deterred. Determined to re-capture the title in 2016, Andy will again rally his troops and begin the process for this year's competition. Band members come from Hermitage, the neighbouring villages, other Caribbean Islands like Trinidad and as far away as the USA and Canada.

Due to the band's popularity, no recruitment drive is needed as people gravitate to the band all on their own. Enquiries pour in from all over as this colourful, cultural expression expands throughout the Island. Andy explained that many young people are now getting involved, with the band having over 40 active participants, some as young as 2 years old. Playing Shortknee is also not only reserved for men, as there are now over 16 ladies in the band. Maximum band size is 150 and sadly, some are turned away because they've reached their maximum capacity.

While additional costumes are being sewn for new members, songs are written for the competition. The lyrics of some of these songs contain pieces of local village gossip. It is said that one should live pristine lives all year round, being careful of watchful eyes and sharp ears. If one isn't vigilant, their life story may be sung on the streets by the local Shortknee Band.

During the month of July, their practice sessions take place at night when the villagers are all asleep. As one proud female band member explained, the band gathers at the base of Hermitage hill and journey upwards toward the mountain, singing, dancing and perfecting their performance for the big competition day. Villagers are usually jolted out of sleep by the sounds of the belled feet and melodious chanting, ears straining to hear who they are singing about this year. "I hope it's not about me",  people whisper to themselves fearfully, as the band passes by, their chants slipping past billowing curtains guarding windows deliberately left open to hear their mysterious songs, the lyrics of which may forever haunt the subject.

The big day arrives and members don costumes and make their way to the city of St. George's where the competition takes place. En route, they chant and sing through some of the villages, then travel by bus the rest of the way into the city. Each band is given time to perform their song on stage, during which time their performance is judged by a panel. Win or lose, it is an energizing, fun-filled experience for all participants. On Carnival Tuesday afternoon, many villages are given a special treat by the Shortknee bands as they weave their way through the streets, bringing the festivities to a close.

Andy says what he enjoys most about the Shortknee experience is the friendly rivalry among the various bands. Theirs is the band to beat because they are the best, he says. Yes, he is proud of his Band's accomplishments over the years. and even more so because of the contribution they make to the village of Hermitage. In addition to funding the children Hermitage's participation in the Island's Kiddies Carnival, Andy visits 5 schools in the area, teaching them about the history of Shortknee. Most importantly, when his band wins the Carnival Competition, their prize money is used to purchase school supplies for the children in the village.

Hermitage Shortknee Band is proudly keeping Shortknee alive while making a meaningful contribution to their community.