Brooklyn’s Labour Day Carnival goes virtual
The celebration of Caribbean culture on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway has been the sizzling grand finale of the NYC summer for over half a century. Each Labour Day — falling on 7 September this year — approximately three million people parade in Carnival costumes, wave national flags, and pump to soca rhythms at the West Indian Day Parade. In 2020 — not unlike many events affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — the festivities will take a different route. A virtual road will replace three-and-a-half-mile Eastern Parkway, and a compendium of film footage from previous Carnivals will bring the spirit directly into viewers’ homes. Energetic art and musical performances are also in the lineup, plus showcases from health and culinary masters. Visit the virtual stage at wiadcacarnival.orgfor more information and to register.
T&T arts festivals move online
For everyone in the culture business, 2020 has been a year of reinvention. As COVID-19 regulations have temporarily closed theatres, cinemas, and art galleries, arts producers have had to figure out how to reach audiences in new forms and on new platforms. Three popular festivals in Trinidad and Tobago have embraced the virtual challenge.
trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff)
9 to 15 September
Screens are essential features for any film festival. This year, from the Caribbean to Latin America, Europe to North America, the ttff is bringing the world to your own living room. On opening night, cricket fans around the globe are in for a treat with the feature-length documentary 501 Not Out — inspired by the extraordinary career of cricket legend Brian Lara. You can also join Academy Award–winning documentary director Orlando von Einsiedel and acclaimed UK film and television producer Lee Thomas for workshops on Zoom. Plus, explore livestreams of free online industry events, panels and presentations via Facebook.
NGC Bocas Lit Fest
18 to 20 September
The Anglophone Caribbean’s biggest literary festival — celebrating its tenth year — has been running free weekly online events since May, culminating in a weekend of readings, debates and performances in September. Highlights include a “Future Friday” programme in which speculative fiction writers imagine how the Caribbean might evolve from the crises of 2020, and a commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of T&T’s 1970 Black Power Revolution, alongside book launches, a virtual version of the signature Bocas “Stand and Deliver” open mic, calypso, drama, and more — all free, and streamed via the festival website and social media.
COCO Dance Festival
24 and 25 October
Creativity is not on lockdown, where dance is involved. As the world comes to terms with the strange new normal, and many of us grapple with a sense of alienation, T&T’s Contemporary Choreographers’ Collective (COCO) presents a virtual programme called ALIEN. Juried works, pieces by the festival’s founders and directors, and specially invited regional and international guests are all in the mix — streaming via online platforms including Facebook, with content remaining viewable for a limited time after first airing.
Terri Lyons’s calypso favourites
Lessons about history, ethics, poetry, and ways of life are often taught in the lyrics of calypsos. But is an appreciation of rhythm overtaking the value of lyrics in Trinidad and Tobago’s music, as other genres soar in popularity? Calypso History Month, celebrated throughout October, is one way to remedy this and pay homage to our musical roots. T&T’s reigning Calypso Monarch Terri Lyons has been singing calypso since primary school. She’s worked alongside prolific songwriters, singers, and producers around the world, and as the daughter of calypso and soca legend Austin “Super Blue” Lyons (formerly known as Blue Boy), she considers her father to be her biggest inspiration. Here are her personal top five kaiso classics, and what makes them special.
by Blue Boy (now called Super Blue)
“When most people hear the word kaiso, they think of songs based on social or political commentary. This song, though often labelled as merely soca, combined elements of soca and kaiso perfectly, and definitely brought on a party vibe with it.”
We Could Make It If We Try
by Black Stalin
“Upliftment! This is a topic that will always be relevant. This track was released in 1988, and is still played today. It is what I would call a ‘forever topic.’ Somewhere in the world, an individual or an entire nation may need to be uplifted, and this song can do that.”
Corruption in Common Entrance
by Cro Cro (also known as the Mighty Midget)
“It’s what kaiso is all about — not being afraid to speak on sensitive topics or calling names. This song spoke of issues that our people faced, hence giving a voice to the ones who felt as if their plights were being ignored. Not only is this one of my favourite kaiso songs, but Cro Cro is one of my all-time favourite calypsonians.”
by David Rudder
“I am fascinated by the way he educates through song. King David Michael Rudder is here telling history through pure poetry in music that will make us dance.”
by the Mighty Shadow
“This is one of my all-time favourites simply because it is so unique. This isn’t a topic most writers would think of developing as content for kaiso. Simple and effective. Most kaisonians follow what is trendy, but not Shadow. He always found a way to bring his unique vibe, in effect giving us what we as listeners wanted while mixing it with his own style. Another track that will forever be relevant, since gossip is rooted in Caribbean culture.”
All About . . .
The Caribbean’s rarest stamps
Handwritten letters from penpals in lands far away may have been a simple childhood pleasure, depending on your age. Curiosity about the postal service and even a fascination with postage stamps might have ensued, too. Stamp collecting is a fun and family-friendly activity with opportunities to learn history, explore the world, and maybe even earn income. Tremendously serious philatelists generally focus on a particular country or era.
Which stamps do Caribbean philatelists consider the biggest treasures? As we mark World Post Day on 9 October, here’s a glimpse at three rare and coveted examples.
Trinidad’s Lady McLeod (1847)
According to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, the Lady McLeod is the first adhesive postage stamp relating to “post by sea” — although privately issued. Comparatively, the Philatelic Society of Trinidad and Tobago claims it as the first stamp to be issued by a British colony. This renowned stamp was introduced to pre-pay for mail carried by the Lady McLeod steamer — named for the wife of Governor Sir Henry McLeod — which plied between the towns of Port of Spain and San Fernando, carrying people and cargo. A $1 monthly subscription fee payable quarterly and in advance was charged for letters, money, and small parcels, while non-subscribers were charged ten cents per letter. Today, eighty-five of these elegantly designed stamps are known to survive. One was sold last year for £7,000. Genuinely unused or mint copies are of the utmost rarity.
Jamaica one-shilling inverted-frame error (1919-1921)
A printer’s error created Jamaica’s rarest stamp, in which part of the design was rendered upside-down. It’s assumed that a sheet of sixty stamps was printed, with half of the sheet being delivered to a post office in Manchioneal, a small village in Portland parish, and the other half possibly sold in Kingston. Fewer than twenty were unused and only five exist in used condition. Mint examples sell for over £30,000.
British Guiana’s one-cent “Black on Magenta” (1856)
The stamp most notorious for creating a media buzz each time it’s sold or displayed is the exceedingly rare “Black on Magenta” from British Guiana, of which a single example is known to survive. Considered the most valuable stamp in the world, it was sold to upscale shoe designer Stuart Weitzman in 2014 for approximately US$9.5 million.
In early 1856, Georgetown postmaster E.T.E. Dalton urgently needed stamps, so he requested the printing of an emergency issue: one-cent stamps for newspapers and four-cent stamps for letters. Stamps with different values but of the same design were usually printed in different colours. Not for this emergency issue, though. The printing firm did both values in black ink on magenta paper. The rushed job was of poor quality, so as a security measure to prevent forgery, Dalton asked post office employees to initial each stamp before selling them.
Prior to making scarce appearances outside of bank vaults, this particular one-cent “Black on Magenta” was owned by a twelve-year-old Scottish boy named Vernon Vaughan. In 1873, while living in Demerara, he discovered the stamp postmarked 4 April, 1856. It was ink-smudged, had been clipped into an octagonal shape, and bore the handwritten initials “EDW”. Vaughan cleaned it up and added it to his stamp collection, then later sold it to a local collector for six shillings, which at that time was worth less than US$1.
Several sales later, London stamp dealer Edward Pemberton identified the one-cent “Black on Magenta” as a rare issue. It was eventually bought by Philipp Von Ferrary, the most famous stamp collector of the early 1900s, for £150. In 1922 it was bought at auction by New York millionaire Arthur Hind for £7,343. It’s rumoured that Hinds was so fascinated with the stamp that he bought a second one-cent “Black on Magenta” and destroyed it so his would be the only one in the world.
Did you know?
Postage stamps were introduced as a receipt to show the sender had paid the postage for letters and parcels. Before that, the person receiving the letter paid the postage. The first adhesive postage stamp was the British “Penny Black”, introduced in 1840.
The main philatelic societies for collectors of Caribbean stamps are the British West Indies Study Circle and the British Caribbean Philatelic Study Group.
BWIA (British West Indies Airways, the predecessor of Caribbean Airlines) also made its postal contribution, by transporting mail on its first commercial flight to Tobago in 1940.
Barbados and Jamaica housed the earliest post offices in the British West Indies in 1663 and 1671, respectively — long before the formal invention of the postage stamp. Many West Indian post offices used British stamps at first, with local stamps bearing the colony’s name eventually introduced.
The taste of invention
Shelly-Ann Inniss meets chef Javon Cummins, star of Barbados’s thriving culinary scene — and learns how he transforms some of his favourite local ingredients
Uncomplicated yet chic describes the offerings at the annual Barbados Food and Rum Festival. Outstanding local talent and homegrown produce are key ingredients of the epicurean masterpieces presented each year. Award-winning chef Javon Cummins is one of the youngest members of Barbados’s winning culinary team. He prides himself on staying true to his heritage by using familial traditions and local ingredients in his dishes, and at very elevated levels.
If something looks appealing, people gravitate towards it. Cummins’s mantra is “people eat with their eyes.” At a Barbados Food and Rum Festival event a few years ago, Cummins impressed patrons with his take on Bajan pudding and souse — a popular Saturday meal. When Cummins presented his version like a work of art — using chilled sous vide pork with a beetroot pudding, pickled gelée, parsley foam, and Scotch bonnet mango gel — no one believed the foundation was the dish thousands of Barbadians stand in long queues on countless Saturdays to devour. “I pushed it to another level to make it look appetising,” he explains. Despite the numerous awards and accolades under his belt, this was the moment his name became etched in my brain’s hall of fame.
The pudding in the Bajan version of pudding and souse is made with boiled sweet potatoes and seasonings. “Sweet potatoes are my go-to. If I need to do something and I’m not comfortable with it, I grab a sweet potato, because it is so easy to manipulate,” says the twenty-eight-year-old chef. Sweet potatoes can be mashed, creamed, made into flour, chips — you name it. Adding homegrown micro greens and edible flowers to enhance the appearance of the pudding and souse flaunted Cummins’s visual technique.
Cummins first became interested in cooking at the age of seven, and got more passionate as he grew older. He recalls buying recipe books, flipping the methods, and substituting ingredients to see what the final result would be. Perhaps it’s this burning curiosity and ambition that led him to become the youngest executive chef on the island three years ago, at Tapestry Restaurant on Barbados’s west coast. This is where his herb garden is planted, and where these fine ingredients make it onto his menu. Cummins believes the garden creates inspiration for his staff: “They feel a lot more attached to the food, since they can just pluck it and cook it.”
There’s no ingredient Cummins doesn’t love, because each one pushes him to evolve. Take coconut and lemongrass, for instance. In one of the dishes he presented at the 2016 Taste of the Caribbean competition in Miami, he made an ice cream using the combination — and won gold. Since then, this has become his signature dessert. He hopes it will enter the product line of a top ice cream brand someday. “I have accomplished a lot,” Cummins says, “and once in a while I pat myself on my back, although I am hard on myself. I always want to evolve.”
Javon Cummins suggests this Bajan menu to try at home:
Appetizer: Bajan soup (chicken, split peas, squash, pumpkin, herbs, sweet potatoes, and cornmeal dumplings)
Main course: braised pork with spiced sweet potatoes and island vegetables
Dessert: classic Bajan rum cake
The 2020 Barbados Food and Rum Festival, originally scheduled for 29 October to 1 November, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Keep an eye on visitbarbados.org for updates on next year’s festival
Popular Artists at El Museo del Barrio
Since its founding in 1969, New York City’s El Museo del Barrio has spotlighted the work of Caribbean and Latin American artists, with a special focus on Puerto Rico and its US diaspora. Its building on Fifth Avenue, facing Central Park, is a key location in the city’s art circuit — but El Museo’s latest exhibition is also its first to be unanchored in physical space, having been shifted online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Popular Artists and Other Visionaries, which opened on 3 August and runs until 8 November, 2020, “examines the contributions of thirty schooled and self-taught artists working between the 1930s and 1970s in different parts of the Americas and the Caribbean” — drawing on both the museum’s permanent collection and “virtual loans” from other institutions. Curated by Rodrigo Moura, El Museo’s chief curator, and co-organised by staff members Susanna Temkin, Noel Valentin, and Kristine Santos, Popular Artists brings together works by artists from Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, and various other countries across Central and South America. “The show departs from the term ‘popular painters,’” explain the curators, “to identify artists working on the margins of modernism and the mainstream artworld. Popular visual sources provide the narrative thread of the exhibition,” touching on themes such as “migration, exclusion, marginalisation, cultural resistance, indigeneity, self-determination, and autobiography.”
See Popular Artists and Other Visionaries and read the online catalogue at popularpainters-elmuseo.org