AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Joshua Ballantyne and I host a club night in London called Ariapita Social Club, inspired by Ariapita Avenue in Woodbrook.
I’m a Trinbagonian. I grew up in London.
I’m a musician.
Also an economist. Really.
I was born in London, but my Trinidadian dad, Andrew Ballantyne, came to England when he was 11.
My direct family is me, my dad, my mum, Christine Mellors, (is English,) and my younger sister Ianthe Mellors.
We have an older sister, Ama McKenley, Dad had before, and two brothers from a different mum who live in Trinidad, David Lee Skinner Ballantyne and Daniel Che, after Che Guevara. I didn’t know about them until I was 18.
I’m not in a relationship.
My mum’s white and that’s fine in Trinidad. You can walk around Trinidad and look however and no one bats an eyelid.
However, it was not great growing up in England. If you’re not in (a big city), there’s a lot of, like, racism, and ignorance of different cultures. A lot of pressure to assimilate.
I grew up in Bedford, a basically random town in England.
I was 23 when I first went to Trinidad.
It was cool. I stayed between a friend in Curepe and my brother’s in Tacarigua.
I was doing an internship at the UN Economic Commission headquartered in Trinidad. And my brother was getting married, so I thought this was the time to go.
The first night I arrived, he took me to the Avenue. I had my first doubles. Which was, like, the
best food in the world!
There’s one place in London where you can get a doubles that’s not embarrassing, but actually good. Like, if you had it in Trinidad, you’d still like it.
My dad’s an educational psychologist, so I could read before I went to school.
I read Lord of the Rings when I was five. I stopped halfway through The Two Towers because I got bored. There were some really long passages of just one dialogue.
Because things came easily to me, I think I stopped pushing myself.
I still did pretty well. I did history at University College, London and then an economics masters at SOAS.
There would have been very occasional occasions where I’d be called upon to go to church. Very occasionally. My parents weren’t religious.
Passionate atheism is quite arrogant. I think Christopher Hitchens and those guys are a bit silly. The only logical position is, you don’t know the truth of the universe.
I wouldn’t call myself an atheist or agnostic or anything. I don’t feel the need. I don’t know why everyone has to put labels on everything.
I think it’s sad when people allow their belief systems to be decided by something that was clearly imposed, like in the Caribbean and West Africa. Why does everyone around us believe this particular religion?
Oh, yeah: because it was forced on us in slavery!
People should talk about these things. They may make the same decisions at the end of the day but they should be honest with themselves first.
Usually I’ll say, “My dad’s from Trinidad, my mum’s English.” And leave it at that.
Or I might say, for shorthand, I’m Trinbagonian or Trinidadian.
Because, if there’s any one country I’m going to identify with, it’s going to be there. I feel way more at ease with people from there. Even though I spend way more time with people from England.
That first trip to Trinidad wasn’t, like, a holiday vibe. I lived there for four months. I was working, getting to work by maxi, being in town and stuff.
I got more of an experience of what it would be like to live there full time.
And then I went back every one or two years since that first trip, for a few weeks each time.
I think BC Pires could be right that this could be the worst time for humanity in the last 60 years.
There’s the rise of the right, the sort of brainwashed left (their moral position is the right one) and one is feeding into the other. Like we had the Brexit thing and I was struck by the arrogance of the Remain people. They didn’t necessarily have economic arguments – although obviously, it would be better to stay in the EU – but the problem was not even the fact of the Brexit views. It was the division that was being created.
And lack of actual dialogue and everyone posturing that they’re right! And they have the moral high ground!
People are feeling hopeless now.
My generation knows what’s wrong; we just feel we can’t really do anything about it. The people in power – who might espouse liberal ideology, but they’re still controlled by business interests – have carved dissent up into little camps. Where people just kind of argue on social media; and dissent is diffused there. It’s distracted from actual meaningful political change and channelled into a social media debate space.
So even when we can dissent now, they know how to manoeuvre it so it doesn’t matter if we do.
I make music (but I haven’t released it yet). I DJ. And I run my Ariapita Social Club.
And I also work part-time as an economist in the civil service.
My time is split between DJing and… well… economics.
Being a part-time economist was good when covid happened. I would have been screwed if I didn’t have that income.
There are a lot of soca events in London but Ariapita Social Club is unique.
I was thinking of my first night in Trinidad and trying to recreate that feeling. And also capture the interlinkages between Trini and Caribbean music – soca, dancehall, but also some reggaeton, Afrobeats.
So it was centrally inspired by Trinidad and the Avenue, but then bringing together those wider other communities into one. It’s all connected.
It feels like somewhere in between a house party and a nightclub. It happens every six weeks, two months kind of thing.
Ariapita Social Club is very cosmopolitan. Big Trini crowd. Latin crowd. Jamaicans and Nigerians into soca. Arabs, Indians, Europeans.
It’s really diverse, which is one of the coolest things about it. I thought, Trinidad is really diverse, so instead of trying to stick to a very narrow thing, why not take that Avenue spirit?
I had a DJ from Bahrain last time – and why not? Because we have an Arab population in Trinidad.
I run the whole thing myself but hire other artists, DJs mostly.
I love live music but then everyone is standing watching one person. With a DJ, there’s a backdrop for everyone to interact with each other and I’m more interested in that.
The best thing about Ariapita Social Club is the people who come and the atmosphere. It’s not trying to be cool, it’s not posing. It’s just warm, fun energy. It’s not a stush crowd. Everyone is there to dance.
The bad thing is it’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot to do.
A Trinbagonian is someone with the best sense of humour.
Trinidad and Tobago is the country that has produced, in soca, the most fun music of any culture in the world. I challenge anyone to find a music that will top soca for making you have fun.
Read the full version of this feature on Friday evening at www.BCPires.com