An influential voice in culture fell silent on Friday night. The death of Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall, comedian, actor, historian, and researcher, at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope, widens the void in local arts and entertainment.
He was fondly known as Sprang to his legions of fans throughout T&T and the Caribbean diaspora. His casual, slightly unkempt stage persona and comedic offerings were not just entertaining but thought-provoking. He made us laugh but he also made us think more deeply about the issues that affect us.
A deeply intellectual man, Sprangalang was committed to all things Trinbagonian, a walking encyclopedia of T&T culture and history.
His passing just two days after his 71st birthday was the poignant end to a week in which Gayelle, the local television channel to which he was closely linked, came dangerously close to being forced off the air.
An eleventh-hour fundraising effort staved off foreclosure action against the station’s owner, Errol Fabien. However, that incident raises concerns about the failure by those in authority to put a real value on T&T art and culture.
Sprangalang and his brother playwright Tony Hall, who died just five months ago, were part of the visionary team of actors and writers who first brought Gayelle to life in 1985 as a weekly cultural magazine television programme on Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT)
Large numbers of viewers regularly tuned in for a segment called Cultural Spranglang where he appeared as Draxi, a character who would emerge from a cupboard to engage viewers with local trivia.
Gayelle, the Banyan Productions programme, evolved into the television channel which broadcasts 100 per cent local and Caribbean programming. However, it has not been given much support, particularly from the State, and struggles to stay afloat and air local content.
In early 2009, mounting debts almost forced the station off the air until a corporate Good Samaritan stepped in. However, Gayelle continues to struggle for commercial viability and in 2016, Fabien approached the Government for support but drew complete blanks after meetings with two ministers.
The ongoing struggles of this indigenous television channel and many other entities in the arts and culture sector suggest that very little value is placed on the artistes, creators, inventors, and thinkers who should be at the very heart of T&T’s development strategies.
Significant financial allocations and initiatives geared specifically to the creative industries have never featured prominently in the National Budget–a position not likely to change in the fiscal package to be presented tomorrow by Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
Successive political administrations have recognised the potential of our creative industries which have frequently been touted as one of the pillars for the country’s economic diversification. However, there seems to be a reluctance to deeply explore and invest in the country’s vast creative resources.
So it is now the case that the creative sector already hard hit by COVID-19 is bracing for further devastation due to the cancellation of Carnival 2021.
An unfortunate state of affairs as the country mourns the loss of another cultural icon.