Happenings (July/August 2008)

A brief look at the events that will have the Caribbean buzzing in July and August

  • A masquerader enjoys herself on the streets of Grenada, during the carnival celebrations. Photograph courtesy The Grenada Board of Tourism
  • A performer at JerkFest. Photograph courtesy Island Promotions Inc
  • An Irie vendor serving corn soup. Photograph courtesy Word Magazine
  • A sous chef from the Carlisle Bay Resort at last year's Magic Mango Culinary Competition. Photograph by Christian Valley Mango Festival

Carnival in the air

“Carnival in the air, pretty girls everywhere…” go the lyrics of a song by Trinidadian soca artiste Patrice Roberts, from Carnival 2008.

That rhythm vibrates between the islands of the Caribbean at this time of year. Spicemas in Grenada, Lucian Carnival in St Lucia, Culturama in Nevis, Crop Over in Barbados, Emancipation Festival in British Virgin Islands, and Summer Festival in Antigua all fall in July and August.

Carnival was originally celebrated before the Catholic season of Lent, but these Caribbean destinations have deviated from the traditional time, for cultural and historical reasons. The events that define carnival are more or less the same across the Caribbean, though. They are: calypso competitions, a parade of bands, king and queen of the band competitions, pageants and ole mas or J’Ouvert.

The carnival season starts with Spicemas in Grenada, with the Panorama launch on July 5, and culminates with the parade of the bands on August 11 and 12.

St Lucia has its parade of bands next, on July 21 and 22.

In nearby Barbados they celebrate Crop Over. This festival dates back to 1688, when plantation workers celebrated by singing and dancing after reaping the sugar cane crop—hence Crop Over. The activities begin in July and culminate with the Grand Kadooment on August 4.

Further north, on the small island of Nevis, Culturama, the closest thing to carnival, begins on July 25, and 12,000 citizens will be celebrating throughout the island until August 5.

Meanwhile in Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, masqueraders flood the streets to celebrate the 54th Annual Emancipation Festival from July 25–August 10.

To round up the season, Antigua holds its Summer Festival on August 24–5.

For more info:
Barbados: www.kadooment.com
Grenada: www.spicemasgrenada.com
Antigua: www.antiguacarnival.com
St Lucia: www.luciancarnival.com
Nevis: www.Nevisculturama.net

Maresa Patience


Snails for souped-up loving

The town of Swift River, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, in northeast Jamaica, is home to a snail-like freshwater shellfish known locally as bussu. This unique creature has long been the main ingredient of a special soup which is said be a powerful aphrodisiac—although there are apparently countless other ways to cook the beast.

An annual summertime event celebrates the secrets of the bussu in a festival lasting well into the night. It features many unique Jamaican traditions, such as Kumina, which uses drumming, dancing and chanting to summon ancestral spirits. Then there are Bruckins and the Dinki-Mini, traditional dances associated with the emancipation of slaves. There will be storytelling in the moonlight and while you are munching on a bussu patty, you can buy bussu-shell earrings and related handicrafts.

Swift River is a delightful part of the Jamaican countryside, yet only 15 minutes away from Port Antonio by car. Some visitors avoid this part of Jamaica because of its heavy rainfall and the barrier of the Blue Mountains, but those who make the effort to get to this event are certainly rewarded.

The Swift River Bussu Festival will be held in July or August (the exact date was still to be confirmed when Caribbean Beat was going to press).

David Katz

For more information, contact Patrick Montague, aka Sergeant Baker: + (876) 318 8858 or + (876) 359 0405


Island Hopper

International Reggae Day
When: July 1
Where: Kingston
What: The event features an on-air and online media festival showing concerts of Jamaica’s finest reggae artistes as well as guest performers
For more info: www.internationalreggaeday.com

Christian Valley Mango Festival
When: July 1–15
Where: Christian Valley, southern Antigua
What: A celebration of Antigua’s succulent mangoes. Events include a culinary competition for executive and sous chefs, and a cook-off for villagers and homeowners
For more info: www.antiguamangofest.com

Reggae Sumfest 2008
When: July 19
Where: Montego Bay
What: Jamaica’s top music festival featuring the who’s who of dancehall and reggae as well as American acts
For more info: www.reggaesumfest.com

Curaçao Chess Festival
When: July 26–August 4
Where: Breezes Resort
What: Initiated in 2001 by the Curaçao Chess Players’ Foundation, the tournament also includes tennis, water sports, and other tourist activities
For more info: www.curacaochess.net

Carriacou Regatta Festival
When: July 27– August 4
Where: Carriacou
What: The Regatta focuses on locally built workboats from 14 to 35 feet long. It also includes donkey racing, greasy pole, Miss Wet T-shirt and a Miss Aquaval Queen Show
For more info: www.carriacouregatta.com

Curacao Salsa Tour
When: August 3–10
Where: Willemstad
What: Salsa dancing, salsa competitions, beach parties, workshops and much more
For more info: www.curacaosalsatour.com

Tobago Heritage Festival
When: July 11– August 1
Where: Various villages
What: A celebration of Tobago’s heritage with a variety of cultural displays
For more info: + (868) 639-4441

Carib Great Race
When: August 23
Where: From Trinidad to Tobago
What: Powerboat racing from Port of Spain to Crown Point, a distance of 84 miles.
For more info: www.ttpba.com


Caribbean time in Canada 

Definitely, summer is the time to be in Toronto. For one thing, there’s no snow. And the city’s festivals are almost as numerous as snowflakes, covering everything from theatre to dance, music to food, classical to ethnic—and often, several of these at once.

The Caribbean community comes out to play big-time during these months, when they can finally shed their layers and dress like they’re back home. Caribana, the Carnival offshoot, is the big star, pulling a million spectators to the city each year; but at least two other West Indian-flavoured festivals are developing a strong profile and a loyal following.

The Irie Music Festival is in its seventh year, and in that time has spread from one venue to two. “This is our most ambitious festival yet,” says artistic director Phil Vassell. “We’re very excited.” Running from August 1–4, the free outdoor festival will showcase reggae and world music at Queen’s Park, and jazz, blues and gospel will be highlighted downtown, at Nathan Phillips Square. Last year, there was also a ticketed event at Ontario Place starring an international reggae star, but when Caribbean Beat was going to press, this year’s event was still to be announced.

IrieFest also features a strong dance component, as well as exhibitions by visual artists and readings by Caribbean writers based in Canada. Brand new this year will be a Caribbean film series and—a major addition—a strong emphasis on Caribbean food. “We want to build on the concept of ‘a taste of the tropics,’” says Vassell. “I think the Irie festival is a celebration of all aspects of our culture, and food is a big part of it.” There will be celebrity chefs doing demos, and food vendors aplenty.

With TV sponsorship this year for the first time, festival organisers expect to double the 60,000 celebrants who have participated in past years. “We’re introducing a lot of non-Caribbean people to Caribbean culture,” says Vassell. “The audience response has really been incredible.”

Donna Yawching

For more information: www.iriefest.com

Toronto tastes the joy of jerk

Also in August, and also in its seventh year, JerkFest focuses on food and family, with music as the backdrop to a gigantic picnic. It happens at Centennial Park, on the outskirts of Toronto, on August 9 and is “a celebration of jerk in a wonderful family atmosphere,” says Anthony Plummer, president of Caribbean Promotions Art & Culture Inc, which organises the event.

Jerk vendors from all over the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and from as far afield as Florida and New York State will demonstrate their talents at jerking every possible form of flesh—chicken, pork, fish, crab, conch, lobster, shrimp, lamb—and to compete to be named the best in the business.

Other attractions include live music, an arts and crafts village, a kids’ village, and activities such as dance competitions and jerk-eating contests.

“We’re just hoping people will come out with their lawn chairs and have a wonderful time,” says Plummer, who expects as many as 50,000 folks to pass through during the course of the day.


For more information: www.jerkfestival.ca

Mad about mangoes

Nestled in the foothills of the Shekerly Mountains, the Christian Valley Agricultural Station is home to Antigua and Barbuda’s annual Mango Fest, in which the sweet, fleshy fruit is the feature ingredient and the subject of a cooking competition for residents. There’s also a related competition featuring mango as the crucial ingredient in main courses, appetisers and drinks, as well as desserts, which is held at the Hospitality Training Centre for Executive and Sous Chefs in Coolidge, and avidly contested by the islands’ top cooks.

Christian Valley is a delightful setting for the main event, as the former Maroon refuge, close to the ruins of a sugar estate in Blubber Valley, is home to 40 hectares of mature fruit trees, which produce at least 18 different varieties of mango, as well as guava, soursop, citrus fruits, avocado, Malay apple, cashew and breadfruit trees. It lies at the end of a secluded, unpaved road and is a beautiful reminder of the traditional way of Antiguan country life.

This family-oriented event features live music, storytelling, film screenings and plenty of local food stalls, as well as workshops on budding and grafting for those who want to grow their own mangoes. There are nature trails to explore, and knowledgeable, friendly staff members are on hand to talk you through the intricacies of all things mango.

The Christian Valley Mango Fest takes place on July 14 and 15, and the culinary competition on July 7.

David Katz

For more information: www.antiguamangofest.com

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.