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Coco P tells ‘tales of survival’

Published: 
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Davis “Coco P” Deen

Davis “Coco P” Deen has the durable, master Trinidadian folklorist Al Ramsawak to blame for his initially confusing sobriquet as impresario, stage performer, broadcaster, poet and author.

The Southampton-based, Gasparillo-born writer remembers one of his first London gigs and when he was asked about the stage name for which he would have liked to be become known, it did not take him long to recall a few lines from his 1983 performance of Ramsawak’s Sermon of a Drunkard in which comedic mention of Venezuela’s “cocoa panyols” was made.

“Call me ‘Coco Payol’,” he remembers telling the show promoters, only to be reminded by some linguistic genius that he probably meant “cocoa panyol” —with its convenient truncation of the word “espanol.”

In the end, a potentially bothersome dispute was averted when he decided that he should simply use “Coco P”—no controversy over the dropping of the ‘a’ in the word “cocoa” and absolutely no confusion over the absence of the accented Spanish “n.”

Much like this introduction to the storyteller/psychotherapist, it’s difficult for Coco P to cut a good, long story short. In fact, his recently-published Tales of Survival—Caribbean Stories and Poems is also not short on some rather tall tales.

One revered Gasparillo neighbour called “Paapy” (with the two a’s) once claimed he was part of the grand discovery of oil in Penal in 1941. Coco P points in the direction of Paapy’s house as he sits with me at the family homestead in the southern town. “He was the old black man who lived out the corner dey.”

It was the same Paapy who, according to Tales of Survival, at age seven, survived a falling coconut to the head and was, on another occasion, resuscitated by his father after being struck on the same ubiquitous head by a cricket ball.

Coco P moves seamlessly from Gasparillo tales to his recent work as a psychotherapist in the British military and his repute as a broadcaster with an intimate knowledge of everything from Trini chutney to Punjabi bangra to the latest soca.

The Coco P web site features him on bongo drums and with ponytail in full flight at Notting Hill Carnival at which he is a regular feature, serving under the Kric Krac Productions brand, as a leading MC for Cocoyea and other West Indian bands. It’s a far cry from the sometimes solemn nostalgia of Tales of Survival.

Coco P’s grounding in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church provides him with both the roots of what he describes as his “lyrical background” and a reflective shell from which he describes his father’s painful passage as a result of alcohol abuse and other tragic childhood memories.

“My father died at the San Fernando hospital of cirrhosis of the liver at the young age of 36,” he says. “We grew up without a father, so my grandmother who was an Adventist … always got us to sing the hymns, read the bible, read psalms, read something lyrical.”

“When you go and spend holidays,” he says, “every Friday, we would do a skit, we would recite some poetry, sing something, dance something.”

Then there were the days as a cub scout and the Ramjohn family—as in the iconic athlete, Manny Ramjohn. “He (Ramjohn) was responsible for the scouting movement in Gasparillo,” Coco P says of the renowned CAC gold medalist of 1946.

He also recalls his earliest introduction to Carnival when he and his grandmother, a seamstress, ventured out to Guaracara Park in San Fernando to sell caps and hats.

Then there was Paapy. “The stories and poems (in Tales of Survival) are from his point of view,” Coco P says.

“He would tell us tales about soucouyants and la diablesse and thing walking up the road,” he adds.

In Tales of Survival, we are told of Paapy’s preference for stories told at sunset when rural Gasparillo was about to get very dark. In fact, neighbours were known to declare him an obeah-man who had not only survived coconuts and cricket bats but who had wrestled with a shark, fought an octopus and survived a fall from a “donkey cyart.”

Tales of Survival reads almost as good as chatting with Coco P in the yard in Gasparillo. Today, the corner house stands at a busy intersection with street lights to keep the douens at bay, except when Coco P is in town en route to new adventures either as Davis Deen, psychotherapist, or as Coco P, spawn of Al Ramsawak’s delightful tales.

• To read more about Coco P, visit his web site at cocop.co.uk 

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