Need to know | Events calendar (Mar/Apr 2019)

Essential info to help you make the most of March and April across the Caribbean — from music festivals to Holi poems to Jamaica’s Champs athletics extravaganza

  • Photo courtesy Clay J’ouvert
  • Photo by Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock.com
  • Photography courtesy The Cloth. Model: Gabriella Bernard
  • Photography courtesy The Cloth. Model: Laura-Lee Williams
  • Photography courtesy The Cloth. Model: Glenesia Wilson
  • Photography courtesy The Cloth. Model: Gabriella Bernard
  • Photography courtesy The Cloth. Model: Laura-Lee Williams
  • Still from elsewheres are beginnings and endings (video, 2019), by Christopher Cozier. Courtesy Christopher Cozier/Sharjah Art Foundation
  • Photo by Lightfield Studios/Shutterstock.com
  • Kevona Davis of Edwin Allen High School won the girls’ 100m and 200m races, both in records times, at CHAMPS 2018. Photo by Gilbert Bellamy/Photosbybellamy
  • Finding the rhythm at the New Fire Festival’s drum circle. Photo by Joshua Cazoe, courtesy New Fire Festival
  • Photo by Calvert Jones, courtesy St Vincent And The Grenadines Tourism Authority
  • Photo by Delphi/Shutterstock.com

Don’t Miss: J’Ouvert in T&T

Vibrations from music trucks jumpstart your biorhythm early on Carnival Monday morning (4 March), the true start of Trinidad and Tobago’s annual festival. Mud, paint, powder, and chocolate cover your skin, honouring the rituals of J’Ouvert. Joyful shrieks announce those about to get dirtied. From 4 am to after sunrise, revellers dance and chip through the streets to soca, pan, and brass music. And the action is not just in “town”: outside Port of Spain, J’Ouvert flourishes in communities around the twin islands, from San Juan to Couva, Arima to San Fernando, Scarborough to Point Fortin. The J’Ouvert bug is contagious — just watch the smiling bystanders who are now gloriously anointed.

Shelly-Ann Inniss

How to get there? Caribbean Airlines operates numerous flights daily to Piarco International Airport in Trinidad from destinations in the Caribbean and North America


Top Five: In the groove

From the waves lapping at our shores to our rhythmic accents, the Caribbean is a naturally musical archipelago. And brilliant dry season weather brings a chorus of amazing music festivals across the islands, where international celebrities headline alongside treasured local talent. Here are five of the best in March and April, to add the right notes to your travel plans.

SXMusic Festival

13 to 17 March, St Martin
For five days, escape into an alternate universe like a movie set, with your closest friends carefree and forever dancing to music by over fifty world-class house and techno DJs. sxmfestival.com

Jazz Artists on the Greens

6 April, Trinidad
Carnival is over, but the musical energy still thrives, in a different genre, with no shortage of Creole jazz and smooth jazz, jazz fusion, and more. Relax on your blankets to the sounds of artistes from St Lucia, Cuba, and T&T. jaotg.com

Tobago Jazz Experience

25 to 28 April
Why don’t we paint the town, and all that jazz! Tobago’s annual musical bonanza is filled with dynamic performances inviting you to leave your troubles at the gate. tobagojazzexperience.com

Carriacou Maroon and String Band Music Festival

26 to 28 April
You won’t want to wake up from this dream. Steeped in African traditions, the festival presents an all-round experience of Maroon culture, food, and music in an atmosphere where strangers become friends. carriacoumaroon.com

Barbados Reggae Festival

27 to 30 April
Barbados might not be your first thought for reggae, but if you’re looking for a fix, this festival has all the ingredients. Listen out for Bajan artist Buggy Nhakente alongside international talent in this completely immersive experience. thebarbadosreggaefestival.com


Ready to Wear: Keep it clean

As each new year begins, a fresh start is a common and hopeful resolution. For 2019, Trinidadian clothing label The Cloth, led by designer Robert Young, has offered a new collection called Clean Slate, with no expiry date. For over three decades, The Cloth has been known for its storytelling through intense colours and intricate appliqué, but Clean Slate offers a pared-down look. “It deconstructs our heritage, our patterns, and these saltwater boundaries, to figure out how we can move a little differently,” says the label. These sophisticated minimalist designs — executed in light Baltic flax linens, with special attention to the finer details — speak for themselves. You too may be inspired to find a different voice, while staying true to your origins.

For more information and the full Clean Slate lookbook, visit thecloth.com


On View: Sharjah Biennial 14

At first, a bleak and empty desert landscape, where reddish sand stretches to the horizon. A group of men arrive, dressed in identical white shirts and grey trousers, and a series of pickups deliver building materials: bricks, ropes, iron poles. The men start to erect a scaffolding structure. Gradually it rises to form a cube, three storeys above the sand. What kind of construction might this be, in the middle of nowhere, a roofless object that seems more like an abstract sculpture than a habitable dwelling? But the men aren’t alone: a ragtag bunch of small boys wander around, alternately observing and ignoring the workmen’s labour. These scenes of mysterious activity are intercut with abrupt jumps, either back or forward in chronology, to the time before the scaffolding was built or perhaps after it was dismantled.

 

elsewheres are beginnings and endings is a video work by Christopher Cozier (produced in collaboration with Maya Cozier and Shari Petti, with original music by Etienne Charles), documenting a ritual of labour instigated by the Trinidadian artist in the desert of Sharjah, commissioned by the Sharjah Biennial, and ultimately paid for by the state coffers of the small but immensely wealthy Persian Gulf state, one of the United Arab Emirates.

Running since 1993, the Sharjah Biennial is the biggest contemporary art event in the Gulf states. In its fourteenth iteration — running from 7 March to 10 June, 2019 — it assembles more than eighty artists and includes over sixty newly commissioned works. Under the general title Leaving the Echo Chamber, the Biennial is divided into three distinct exhibitions, one of them organised by Guadeloupean curator Claire Tancons, known for her engagement with artists working in Caribbean performance traditions. Tancons’s “open platform of migrant images and fugitive forms” features works by artists from around the globe, including Cuban Carlos Martiel and Puerto Rico’s Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla.

Invited to create a new work in this context, Christopher Cozier reflected on a common factor in the histories of the Caribbean and the Persian Gulf: “transplanted labour.” His structure in the desert was “obviously not a real construction site.” Rather, it was an experiment. “I wanted to see, and to listen to, who would be doing the actual work” — specifically, the workmen who wittingly participated in the project were labourers from South Asia, who make up much of Sharjah’s labour force. “I realised that everyone involved, including myself, in this act of labour, was from an elsewhere,” Cozier says. “Some children appeared and were playing around all over our chosen temporary site. They were behaving as if we were disturbing their playground or backyard.”

It remains for the Biennial audience — drawn from a jetsetting global art elite — to put the pieces together, or perhaps to merely acknowledge a fact we ought to already know. Behind the smooth, shiny surfaces of capitalism and its cultural manifestations, the hardest, dirtiest labour that makes it all possible is done by men and women from elsewhere, working for minimum wages — often invisible, silent, ignored, until someone pulls back the veil.

Philip Sander


How You Say: Nautical lingo

The fine weather of March and April comes with a slew of regattas across the Caribbean, from Antigua to Bequia to the British Virgin Islands. The exhilaration of slicing through the water and the flapping of sails in the wind entice many landlubbers — but if you’ve never set foot on a boat, some of the crew’s language may confuse you. Here’s a handy guide for those who can’t even tell mast from sail.

Bow or stern?

Let’s start with the most basic of basics: the bow is the front of the vessel, and the stern is the back

Port or starboard?

Facing the bow, port is your left, while starboard is your right

Heeling

When the boat tilts into the water, due to the force of the wind

Gybe

To change direction by turning the stern of the boat through the wind, in order for the wind to come from the other side of the vessel

Tack

Your nautical course relative to the wind: if it’s blowing over the port side, you are on a port tack. To tack as a verb, however, is to change direction by turning the bow of the boat through the wind

Ready about!

Prepare the boat for tacking!

Man overboard!

Hope you’re wearing your lifejacket . . .


The Read: Lalbihari Sharma’s Holi Songs

In 1916, a small pamphlet of verses with the title Damra Phag Bahar was published in Bombay. Its author, Lalbihari Sharma, had left India some years before, bound for what was then British Guiana, as an indentured labourer. No one knows exactly how many copies of Sharma’s pamphlet were actually printed, how far it circulated, or why this pioneering publication — the only known literary work written by an indentured labourer in the Anglophone Caribbean — was eventually forgotten.

But not forever: a century later, in a sequence of events combining sheer luck with archival doggedness, researcher Gaiutra Bahadur unearthed a fragile copy of Sharma’s verses at the British Library, and passed the text along to Guyanese-American poet Rajiv Mohabir. Capable in Bhojpuri — the native tongue of both Sharma and his own grandmother — Mohabir produced a translation now published as I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (Kaya Press), giving today’s readers thrilling, tantalising glimpses of life in a plantation community in the era of indentureship.

Sharma’s Holi Songs, as the title suggests, are verses intended to be sung in the month of the Hindu festival of Holi, usually called Phagwah (its Bhopuri name) in the Caribbean. These songs, Mohabir writes, “remind you of comfort, of home, of the gods — and that this suffering is temporary” — drawing on traditional devotional poetry, Sharma’s memories of his youth in India, and the landscape of Guyana’s Demerara coast, where he created a new life for himself, and a new home.

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Doha

There are many provinces in British Guiana:
some queer, some miserable, depending

on your own eyes. Everyone knows
the wondrous village

Golden Fleece in Esiquibo District.
Where Pandit Paramanand resides

is renowned both here and abroad.
Again I bow before Rama; also I bow

before the wise one’s feet,
the foundations of my life.

Chautal

The bright Sita gained Rama’s dark body
    as a husband. Adorned in jewels,
her friends sent her off
    to the garden to distract her.

Rama and Lakshman’s hearts
    now hers. Sita opened
her mouth but no sound came out,
    looking around she saw her friends

and blushed. Praying to the goddess
    her face flushed. Beholding Sita’s blush
Rama’s stalwart heart stirred.
    Sita’s face like the moon. Ram’s eyes

like chakor birds, there in the garden
    Sita’s friends burned with jealousy.
Bringing flowers, the brothers depart.

    Lalbihari says, “Rama’s feet won my heart.”

Ulara

My love, do not vex.
What I say
And what I don’t say
Is only what I’ve seen.
What use is anger?

Celebrated in Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad, and other parts of the Caribbean in late March this year, Phagwah — also known as Holi — is the Hindu spring festival, an extravaganza of coloured liquid and powders, music and merriment.


On the Field: Calling all CHAMPS

Kellie Magnus explains why Jamaica’s high school athletics championships loom large on the sports calendar — and predict future Olympic stardom

Maybe it’s the statues of track legends that adorn the grounds of Jamaica’s National Stadium. Olympic medalist Don Quarrie stands guard at the entrance, while Arthur Wint, Herb McKenley, Merlene Ottey, and Usain Bolt beckon athletes from other points of the complex. Maybe it’s the rhythm of history — decades of tradition, glory, and sweat baked into the floor and walls of the McDonald Tunnel, through which the athletes pour onto the track. Maybe it’s the hopes and dreams of an audience 35,000 strong, who strain the stadium’s capacity and roar athletes on to break records with astonishing predictability. Whatever the reason, when the stadium opens on 26 March, the expectation for greatness will already have been set.

Its official name is the ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys and Girls Championships. Jamaican track fans know it as CHAMPS. In 2019, the five-day carnival of running celebrates its 109th year. Hosted by the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association, CHAMPS is the premier high school athletic competition in the Caribbean, and the biggest high school athletic event in the world. The Boys Championships began in 1910 as a competition between a handful of prominent high schools at another storied Kingston location — the cricket grounds at Sabina Park. The Girls Championships started in 1914, settling into an annual schedule in the 1960s. The two were merged in 1999.

The result is a solid week of athletic excellence with sprint events (100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 100m/110m hurdles) and the 1500 arranged by class and gender. Open distance events including the 5,000m and the 2,000m steeplechase and a full array of field events — high jump, long jump, triple jump, pole vault, discus, shot put, and javelin (girls only), plus the heptathlon — round out the schedule. Then there are the relays — hotly contested 4x100s, 4x400s, and medleys featuring Jamaica’s top thirty-two teams, their places won by times at sanctioned meets on the country’s grueling high school athletics calendar.

High school loyalties run deep in Jamaica, and the CHAMPS trophy tops the list of local prizes worth bragging rights. The three-thousand-plus athletes who will take to the track this March represent more than one hundred schools. But in 109 years, only sixteen schools have won a CHAMPS title. Longstanding rivals Kingston College and Calabar High School will resume their battle this year, with Calabar looking to extend their seven-year winning streak and add another precious title to the three they need to surpass KC as the boys’ school with the most CHAMPS titles. Meanwhile, recent Girls Champs’ powerhouse Edwin Allen High School will need many more wins to surpass Vere Technical’s twenty-two.

But while loyal alums come for the contest, most of the crowd in the stadium comes for the show. Qualifying and finishing times at CHAMPS, particularly in Class 1 (ages sixteen to nineteen) rival those of any international track meet. The 2018 staging saw twenty-one record-breaking performances. And each year reveals a new cast of athletics stars likely to shine in Jamaica’s already bright constellation for decades to come.


Word of Mouth: Light a New Fire

Shelly-Ann Inniss learns how a Trinidadian music festival with green roots tries to spread a hopeful message of change

Picture the lush grounds of a historic cocoa estate in Trinidad’s Maracas Valley. Surrounded by natural rainforest and the meandering Acono River, yogis do their practice. Nearby, artists focus on their canvases, people shop for innovative goods at an artisan’s market, while others play games or participate in workshops of all kinds. Meanwhile, from a vibrantly decorated stage, the lyrics and harmonies of musicians and poets fill the air.

This is the vibe audiences have come to anticipate at the New Fire Festival, which returns this year to the beautiful Ortinola Estate (running from 12 to 14 April), for a weekend of fun, feel-good activities that manage to do good, too.
 The brainchild of the Trinidad and Tobago Bridge Initiative — a non-profit connecting people through sustainable cultural, environmental, and economic practices — New Fire blazes with a solid lineup of musical acts. For 2019, that means performances from Isasha, Nex Chapta, Caleb Hart, Jivanna, and festival favourite Freetown Collective. True star power will come from calypso legend David Rudder, who will headline as the new “Master of Fire.” The Ortinola stage, it’s safe to say, will be lit. 
Then there’s the everything else that makes New Fire a full-day experience: you can watch belly dancing, make your own up-cycled jewelry, try moko jumbie stiltwalking or capoeira, and more. To help you shed your cares and find your inner spark, experts will lead sessions in art therapy, dance and drama therapy, aromatherapy, and even horse therapy. And if it all sounds so good you never want to leave — or if you just want a chance to be one with nature, unplugged from social media and everyday noise — New Fire caters for that, too, with colourful tents creating a camping area.
 Zero waste is the goal throughout the festival, with single-use plastics banned by organisers. Audiences and campers are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles, and vendors will gladly fill your reusable food containers. Unlike your average Trini fete, New Fire is “based on environmentalism and sustainability,” says festival director Elize Rostant.

Fire is an element of transformation, the organisers remind us, and every year New Fire tries to influence lives in a fun, positive way, appealing to the community-minded, and anyone interested in safeguarding our planet and environment. For New Fire regulars, the festival has become a pilgrimage they anticipate year after year.

 

This is the dream: that in this ever-complicated life we live, there’s another world away from the everyday. One where happiness is not faked, inner peace is not compromised, and positive energy flourishes. You can breathe fresh air, be mindful of the environment, learn and develop sustainable life skills, relax and enjoy stellar entertainment — above all, try something new. Sounds a little far-fetched? Just maybe, the New Fire Festival is the fuel you need to ignite that hopeful flame.


Datebook

More highlights of March and April across the Caribbean

St Vincent and the Grenadines National Heroes and Heritage Month

March
Traditional food, concerts, and a host of cultural activities celebrate SVG’s heritage (above), all month long. On Indigenous People’s Day, commemorations take place on the Grenadine island of Balliceaux

St Patrick’s Day, Montserrat

17 March
Don your green and join the joyful masses in parades, a soca monarch competition, the St Patrick’s Cultural Pageant, and a Freedom Run and Walk around the Caribbean’s Emerald Isle

Oistins Fish Festival, Barbados

20 to 22 April
Every Easter weekend in the fishing village of Oistins, families come together for karaoke, boat races, road tennis competitions — and, of course, food. Do you think you can eat the most fish cakes?

Easter, around the Caribbean

21 April
Each island has its own cherished Easter traditions — from kite tournaments in Trinidad to a rodeo in Guyana, Easter bun in Jamaica, and goat-racing in Tobago

Jamaica Carnival

25 to 28 April
Throughout the season, Jamaican and international soca and dancehall artists headline fetes. Charge up with high-energy, fun-filled events in Kingston and Ocho Rios, and get ready to crush the road!

Fusion Adventure Races, Trinidad

27 April
Athletes discover the hidden treasures of the island from a unique perspective as they compete in an adventure race through the forest, starting at Maracas Bay on Trinidad’s scenic north coast