Happenings (January/February 2009)

A round-up of current events on the Caribbean calendar

  • Renowned West Indies fan Gravy (Labon Kenneth Blackburn Leeweltine Buckonon Benjamin), right, and fellow supporter Sameer Saloum. Photograph by Iossjr
  • Illustration by Nikolai Noel
  • Roast pork loin with plantain purée, blackeye pea ragout and plantain chips, prepared by John Conrad Ste Marthe. Photograph courtesy the St Lucia Tourist Board
  • Midtown Manhattan--West 42nd Street, near Times Square. Photograph by David Corio

Beat of the Big Apple

Caribbean Beat sales manager Helen Shair-Singh recently returned from New York with good news: you can now read your favourite Caribbean magazine at three of the city’s hotspots

New York vibrates with an energy that is uniquely its own. I’m not speaking only of the lights and sights of Times Square. Nor the fact that there is so much to see and do any time, night or day, or that there is so much history buried, and culture celebrated, there.

No. What I mean is an unseen but powerfully felt—well, by me at any rate—undercurrent of creative energy, a force that winds its way in, around and through everything.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the large and vibrant Caribbean immigrant population that now calls New York home has influenced the way life goes on in this busy metropolis.

Once, immigrants from every corner of the globe came to the Caribbean islands, bringing with them their lifestyles and traditions to create the most diverse social system in the world. Now Caribbean migrants have held firm to what makes them essentially Caribbean peoples, and so birthed events and festivals that have become important and revenue-earning celebrations in their adopted homelands. They create communities and stick together, eventually making each place their own.

They find each other, no matter how far apart they are—another special Caribbean trait: Caribbean people are famous for their ability to make a lime (party) anywhere.

In New York, there are a couple of spots that stand out as meeting places for Caribbean people. This is where you will find the movers and shakers in the community, and I’ve had the pleasure of both sampling the food and experiencing the “at home” atmosphere.

These are Sugarcane Restaurant and Tropical Paradise Restaurant, both in Brooklyn, and Negril, in Manhattan. I highly recommend a visit the next time you’re in the neighbourhood. You might even get lucky enough to pick up the latest issue of Caribbean Beat there, if they haven’t run out before you arrive. But in any case, don’t forget to tell them we sent you.

Best of Barbados

The Barbados Music Awards has become one of the most highly anticipated events in the country. The show attracts a laundry list of the island’s who’s who in music, as well as fans eager for a glimpse of their favourite stars.

This year the BMAs will move back to the original venue, the Sherbourne Conference Centre. The show, on January 4, also promises to be shorter and tighter, with fewer awards given out on the night.

Ronnie Morris, operations director of Timeless Inc, promoters of the event, said awards will be tougher to win, and it is hoped that raising the bar will motivate singers, producers and musicians to improve the quality of their work to match.

Last year, Jamaican acts such as Sizzla, TOK and Capleton tore up the auditorium with their performances, but 2009 may not see as many foreign acts.

What patrons are sure to see is the talent of their countrymen on display. Since Rihanna’s discovery and international success, the BMAs have become a major forum where Bajans can display their talents for music executives and foreign media who attend.

Last year’s show featured two Bajans who were signed to international recording labels, fuelling further excitement, as Shontelle Layne and Livvi Franc each performed songs from their debut albums.

For more information: www.barbadosmusicawards.com

Laura Dowrich-Phillips



Bat, ball and Barmy Army

The English are coming! From January 25–April 3, one of the most eagerly awaited tours in the international cricketing calendar will see four Test matches, five one-day games and a Twenty20 international staged across seven Caribbean nations.

When the late, great Malcolm Marshall literally gave Mike Gatting a bloody nose in 1986 courtesy of a vicious bouncer (bone shards from the Englishman’s splayed snout were found embedded in the ball) it was all part and parcel of a 5-0 hammering and so-called “blackwash.”

But that was then and this is now. England’s last visit, in 2004, yielded them a comfortable 3-0 victory, with Brian Lara’s 400 at St John’s, Antigua, the only West Indian highlight.

England arrive this year with a new captain, the flamboyant Kevin Pietersen, and with talismanic figures Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff and Steve Harmison looking as if they are once again approaching their 2005 Ashes-winning peaks.

Off the field, it will be a contest of supporting eccentricities, as the conch-blowing, drum-beating, picong-hurling West Indians take on the trumpet-playing, song-singing, fancy-dress-wearing Barmy Army.

James Fuller

England tour itinerary:

25–27: Three-day practice match, Barbados
29–31: Three-day first-class match, Barbados

4–8: First Test, Jamaica
13–17: Second Test, Antigua
21–22: Two-day match, Barbados
26 February–2 March: Third Test, Barbados

6–10: Fourth Test, Trinidad
14: One-day practice match, Trinidad
15: Twenty20 International, Trinidad
20: 1st ODI, Guyana
22: 2nd ODI, Guyana
27: 3rd ODI, Barbados
29: 4th ODI, Barbados

3: 5th ODI, St Lucia

Island Hopper

Barbados Jazz Festival
When: January 12–18
Where: Farley Hill National Park, Sunbury Plantation House, Crane Resort and Heritage Park
What: An exciting lineup of musicians featuring Angie Stone, Chrisette Michele, James Blunt and Glenn Lewis
For more info: www.barbadosjazzfestival.com

14th annual Mustique Blues Festival
When: January 21–February 4
Where: Basil’s Bar, Mustique, St Vincent
What: Performances from Ronnie Jones, Zach Prather, Dana Gillespie, Papa George, Steve Simpson and the London Blues Band, among others.
For more info: www.basilsmustique.com/basic.asp?title=blues

6th annual Bequia Music Festival
When: January 22–25
Where: Bequia, St Vincent
What: Reggae, calypso, jazz and pan
For more info: www.bequiatourism.com/events.htm#blues

16th annual Port Louis Grenada Sailing Festival
When: January 30–February 3
Where: Grenada
What: Four days of races and regattas, craft market and cultural street festival
For more info: www.grenadasailingfestival.com

25th Havana International Jazz Festival Tour
When: February 8–17
Where: Havana, Cuba
What: Music from world-renowned jazz musicians; guided tours of Havana
For more info: www.jazzcuba.com

Carriacou Carnival
When: February 23
Where: Carriacou, Grenada
What: Calypso, competitions and parade of bands through the main villages
For more info: www.grenadagrenadines.com

Abengs in Accompong

Accompong, home to a community of Maroons, is host to the 270th annual Maroon Festival celebrating Captain Cudjoe’s birthday on January 6. Cudjoe, a leader of the Maroons (runaway slaves) of Jamaica, signed a treaty with the British in 1738, granting his people their independence, freedom, and right to the land.

Today’s Maroons are the descendants of the runaway slaves who benefited from that treaty. They are self-governed, don’t pay taxes, and are led by a colonel who is responsible for the community.

The festival opens with a symbolic feeding of the ancestors, by Maroons in ceremonial wear, offering a native pig cooked with white rice to those who have gone before them. This is followed by a meeting under the Kindah tree, where the Maroons sing, chant and dance. Really a mango tree, it got its name from the African word for meeting.

A march through the community comes next, accompanied by drumming and the blowing of the abeng. For most cultures, drums play an important role in ritual ceremonies, and it’s no different for the Maroons of Jamaica. But the abeng holds centre stage. Made from the horn of a cow, it’s used in musical celebrations, and as a simple means of communication.

There are numerous other cultural events, including a music festival, when sound systems are set up throughout Accompong, with guest artistes from around the country participating.

Mirissa De Four


Soca, steelband and sensay

“Dominica’s Carnival: the Real Mas,” is the tagline for the island’s annual pre-lenten affair. “The Real Mas” is not just a clever marketing line designed to lure tourists away from that other carnival in Trinidad, which culminates on the same dates, February 23 and 24. No, according to Val Cuffy, head of the Dominica Festivals Committee, it speaks more to the preservation of his island’s history in carnival.

Though there has been an increase in modern-style mas—that is, bikinis and beads—in Dominica in recent years, traditional costumes such as the sensay are very popular. Sensay is a costume of West African origin made of frayed rope and other fibrous material. The material is tied around the body in layers so that it cascades from the head to the feet and a mask is usually worn over the face, with cow horns forming the headpiece.

“We were very late in getting KFC and Subway, so influences in the modern era do not significantly affect our psyche,” said Cuffy, explaining the strong grip of the traditional aspects of Dominica’s Carnival, derived from the island’s African ancestry.

The structure of Dominica’s carnival, though, resembles that of other West Indian carnivals. There’s a soca monarch competition, a calypso show, queen show, steelbands and a parade of costumed bands through the streets of Roseau, the capital. A “wet fete” was introduced last year to add more excitement.

Carnival, as elsewhere, is the most festive period in Dominica, and, said Cuffy, many people still don home-made costumes of their own and jump into whichever bands they see along the route.

The merriment all comes to an end on Ash Wednesday when Vaval, an effigy representing the spirit of carnival, is burnt to signal the beginning of Lent.

For more information: www.dominicacarnival.com

Laura Dowrich-Phillips


Costumes in close-up

Photographer Jenny Baboolal will present an exhibition, tentatively titled Costumes, Faces and Paint, at the National Museum, Trinidad, from the second week in February.

It will feature 50 photographs of children in Carnival costumes from her extensive collection, accumulated over the last 30 years.

“There is something about taking photos of children’s Carnival that appeals to me,” said Baboolal, who admitted that she never played mas as a child. “Children’s Carnival reminds me of how Carnival used to be long ago for adults.”

Having already exhibited photos of birds, flowers and butterflies, Baboolal said she was encouraged to put together Costumes, Faces and Paint by her friends, who saw and loved the work.

“Although anyone can see children’s Carnival, the masqueraders are usually in constant movement, and few get to see them and examine their costumes up close. This exhibit will provide that opportunity, and the clarity of the images will make this even easier,” Baboolal said.

“In bringing these images to the public, we will be contributing to the appreciation and preservation of our culture and showing our young people in a positive light. Inherent in the experience will be cultural enrichment and artistic inspiration.”

Costumes, Faces and Paint will run for three weeks at the National Museum, Frederick Street, Port of Spain.

Essiba Small


Season of the senses

There is an energy in the air, a hum of excitement that anyone visiting Trinidad and Tobago during February will recognise: it’s Carnival. Celebrated this year on February 23 and 24, it is the traditional lead-up to the Lenten season.

Most revellers don’t wait for Carnival Monday and Tuesday to bid carne vale, “farewell to the flesh”—one explanation of the festival’s name. For those who like to get as much as possible out of the season, Carnival begins even before Christmas, and many Carnival bands launched their new costume designs as early as last August.

Carnival season includes high-profile fetes (parties) such as The Alternative Concept; public fetes (the ticket price only covers entrance) such as WASA fete, Fire fete, and Insomnia; and the all-inclusives (drinks and food are included in the cost of the ticket) such as UWI, QRC, Bishop’s and Fatima fete.

The week leading up to the grand affair is a frenzy of activity, with every night featuring a different event catering to a wide range of tastes. During this time, enthusiasts get a minimal amount of sleep, the better to experience everything.

Then there are the various competitions: Calypso Queen, Chutney Soca Monarch, Young Kings, Panorama, Dimanche Gras and International Soca Monarch. And let’s not forget the calypso tents, for those interested in the traditional art form.

Carnival Sunday, known as Dimanche Gras, is when the King and Queen of Carnival are crowned. The competition goes into the wee hours, so many people go straight to J’Ouvert, which is played in the streets of Port of Spain and elsewhere, from before dawn to around 9 am. Now the time-honoured Carnival arts have their hour, with mud mas (costumes), devil mas, bats, Dames Lorraines, Midnight Robbers and minstrels taking the stage.

Covered in mud, paint, oil, chocolate, and anything else they can smear on their bodies, revellers prance, chip and dance through the streets of Port of Spain, until the burning sun clears the way for the main event: Carnival Monday. But bands don’t come out to play in full costume that day, but leave the sequins, beads and feathers for Tuesday, when they burst upon the streets in all their glory.

This year, as last year, there will be no stage in the Queen’s Park Savannah, so city masqueraders will take it to the streets where the mas was born, and all are welcome, whether as participants or onlookers.

Mirissa De Four

For more information, visit the websites of some of the many Carnival bands:
Evolution www.evolutioncarnival.com
Island People www.islandpeoplemas.com
Legacy www.legacycarnival.com
MacFarlane www.macfarlanecarnival.net
Pulse 8 www.pulse8carnival.com
Tribe www.carnivaltribe.com
Trini Revellers www.trinirevellersmas.com


Cocktails, chocolates and cuisine

Can’t tell the difference between an aguardiente de caña and a rhum agricole? Visit the Food and Rum Festival and learn about the product which once formed the basis of the Caribbean economy. This St Lucian festival blends Caribbean cuisine with some of the finest rums in the world.

The festival has attracted many greats, such as Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef Art Smith, who created some spectacular dishes served at the Discovery Bay Hotel, and New Zealand-born chef Robert Oliver, famous for his pioneering approach to Pacific and Polynesian cuisine.

Jessica B Harris, an expert on African and Caribbean cuisine and noted food writer, will explain the subtler points of preparing the perfect flying fish. Other visiting experts include Trinidadian-born sommelier Duane Dove. A veteran of the festival, Dove combines artisan chocolates with barrel-aged rums for an enlightening taste sensation. Also, Iron Chef of America’s star mixologist Tony Abou Ganim will be on hand to give a lesson on the delights of rum cocktails.

And of course local chefs like Bobo Bergstrom, Craig Jones, Richardson Skinner and Orlando Satchell—the men responsible for putting St Lucia on the culinary map—will be preparing their finest dishes again this year.

Then there are the drinks…At the Rum Pavilion, rum distillers from across the region will offer samples of their wares for tasting, and guest mixologists will prepare their award-winning rum cocktails and drinks. This prestigious segment will feature top rum companies such as Angostura from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbancourt and Berling from Haiti, and the amazing Appleton from Jamaica, and of course St Lucia Distillers will bring their impressive range of over 25 rums and rum liqueurs to the party.

If all the cooking demonstrations and rum samplings aren’t enough, then take the opportunity to make dinner reservations at some of the island’s top restaurants, where visiting chefs from Europe, US and Canada will prepare five-course meals, in a once-in-a-lifetime chance for any gourmand.

There are many activities to choose from and packages are offered to ensure you don’t miss out on any of the events. The festival takes place from January 15–18.
For more information: www.foodandrumfestival.com