MALIKA GREEN has very little time to do much else but work. But, as the saying goes, “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Green is a musician and a jeweller – her love for the latter discovered while studying the former.
“I needed a fine arts course outside of my major to fulfil my requirements for graduation. So the inspiration was a practical one, but I had always been into the visual arts even as a child.
“I thought the silversmithing/metalsmithing looked interesting and I liked that it was hands-on. After the class, which I loved, I didn't do anything again for about two years.”
Eventually, she started doing it on her own, making pan-inspired designs, and had an online shop on Etsy.
“But it was always a hobby until I moved to Trinidad in 2019. Now, it's definitely a business that started from a much-loved hobby.”
Malika Rachelle Designs is home-based in St James and she sells her pieces online through her social media platforms @malikarachelledesigns.
“But I do have some pieces on consignment at ThinkArtWork studio on Cipriani Boulevard.”
Unlike her interest in jewellery-making, which started in her 30s, her gravitation toward music started much earlier.
“I had the opportunity to learn pan as a child and fell in love with it. Although it’s challenging to master, there is a sense of instant gratification and it allows introverts like me to break out socially. It helped develop my confidence and once I started playing pan the whole world opened up. I love to sing too, but it's more likely that I would get paid to not sing,” she told Newsday with a chuckle.
She has a BA and masters in music in pan performance from Northern Illinois University, and is the the project manager for the newly-created Pan Fellowship programme at the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
"I’m trained on pan, but I dabble on piano too. I can play any type of pan, but I focus on double second."
With Trini and American roots, her childhood was influenced by the culture of both her parents. Her mother is a Trinidadian who grew up in Malick and her father is a New Yorker.
“My parents met in New York and have been married for over 42 years. I grew up with my older brother and sister in a suburb of Washington, DC. We were exposed to Trinidadian culture via the food that my mother cooked and music we listened to.”
Her first visit to TT was at seven, and at 12 she learned to play pan during a vacation here.
“Then I started to become more engaged with my Caribbean roots and as a result my ‘Africanness.’ We also spent summer in South Carolina, in Gullah country, where my father's family is from."
Gullah people are descendants of enslaved people from West and Central Africa who worked on plantations in coastal North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. They maintained their strong familial and community ties and developed a unique English-based creole and cultural patterns that are heavily influenced by their African heritage. The language is frequently likened to the creoles of many Caribbean islands.
"I always felt more connected to the Trinidad side. I loved the music, the food, and now that I live here, it's the way of life that has really given me some peace.”
She works mainly with precious metals and brass and her designs are inspired by life in the Caribbean.
“I use the silversmithing or metalsmithing process…and I particularly focus on local flowers and plants. I am still learning, but I make everything, from large statement earrings to small dainty pieces. I also learned to make cocoa-pod bangles or beeras, and love chiselling unique designs on each one. Learning about traditional techniques is something that is very exciting for me.”
The intricacy of making jewellery, she said, is time-consuming.
“Sometimes a piece may take hours, sometimes several days,” but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Most of her pieces begin as a rough sketch and scrap silver and gold.
“There are few brass blanks that I order from abroad,” but other than that she melts and cuts her scrap pieces and reshapes them into new designs.
“I'm still working on my drawing skills, though,” she chuckled.
There is so much to learn about silversmithing techniques that there was a time when she would learn something new every day.
“Now it's every other day,” she smiled. “I have a natural passion and curiosity – but I have definitely received a lot of help, mentoring and training. And I still receive help and training."
She credits Robert Mouttet of Mouttet Jewellers in Maraval with much of her development.
"Without learning from him and his associates I would not be where I am today.”
Ironically, she said, while the covid19 pandemic has caused the demise of many businesses, it has breathed life into hers.
“I started the business during the pandemic, which provided me with the time to work on designs which I had developed the skills to create. It gave me chance to really see if my work really had an audience. My plan was to have a sale for the start of each phase as the country slowly started to open up in June. It worked and it gave me goals to work towards,” even though she has not yet identified her target market.
And while she still keeps her music close to her heart, it has had to take a back seat to her new venture.
“For the last several years I have been mainly on the education and administration side,” as a pan instructor with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.
“Right now music is a bit on the hiatus. Not sure when I will get back to it, or if I will, either.”
But there are some aspects of it she refuses to let go of. She has played in the Panorama competition three times – with Skiffle, BP Renegades and Silver Stars.
“I do love playing for Panorama. That is something I definitely want to continue doing.”