Port of Spain may not be decked out with bright buntings, fluttering streamers and public notices hanging from lampposts and overhead in the streets, but CarifestaXIV is coming in just under two weeks, August 16-24.
In our capital city, the main evidence of something big about to happen is the molehill that is growing daily in the Queen’s Park Savannah. Over the last month a city of white tents and low-rise structures has been taking shape around the Grand Stand area. This week, a procession of small white tents donned hats of brightly coloured flags atop what should be a walkway from the eastern end of the Savannah into what is being called the Grand Market. At the end of that walkway, patrons from across the entire Caribbean will enter through a mock-up aircraft and walk across a bridge to be transported into a re-versioned Caribbean city, full of famous sites from all the countries that make up the Caribbean Community (Caricom), plus the wider Caribbean and Latin America.
Carifesta is the cultural manifestation of Caribbean integration. As much a cultural as a political show, the festival has its detractors but it embodies the still-lively desire to recognise our shared regional history and interests, even if success in some significant areas of integration have eluded us since the death of the West Indies Federation in 1962.
Since 1972, when Guyana hosted the first Carifesta, various Caribbean countries have taken turns to bring our peoples together to strengthen cultural ties and promote our artistic forms to each other and the rest of the world.
It is interesting that the government of TT, host of the 14th Carifesta, has as its not very celebratory slogan, “Connect, Share, Invest,” which might be taken to signify that it is putting a focus on the economic viability of the arts at this time when we all mouth the mantra of diversifying the economy, but are much slower at taking viable steps to realise it.
It would also appear to be a nudge to us to come together in a real attempt to act in unison as a region in thoughtful, enabling ways that can build for the future, and parts of the programme focus on just that.
This approach is in line with the altered direction for Carifesta, which comes under the Caricom Secretariat. In 2004 Caricom redirected the arts festival in order to generate greater value for stakeholders, such as artists, cultural workers and entrepreneurs by promoting the development of the cultural industries and of artistic merchandising in order to maximise the economic potential of the region.
Central to the Grand Market are the vendors of Caribbean arts and culture, including a book fair, replete with Caribbean titles, which is also the site of dozens of daily readings by Caribbean writers. These back-to-back literary events are anchored by star writers and will feature authors of legendary texts, including Earl Lovelace and Michael Anthony, and a host of blazingly talented younger writers from across the region. Paul Keens-Douglas will be telling his irresistible stories and extempo wordsmiths Brian London and Black Sage will debate Caribbean unity. The author of Kitch, Anthony Joseph, will bring his biography of the lord of calypso to life with ace musicians at a feature event on August 18 at the Big Black Box, just one of several non-Savannah Carifesta venues spread across the country. Amongst cultural events in San Fernando will be two writing workshops at SAPA and back in Port of Spain, eight unique writing workshops will take place from August 18-24 at the National Library, where there will also be an exhibition of prizewinning, classic Caribbean books. Literary information is at: www.bocaslitfest.com/carifesta.
A three-day UWI series of symposia addressing topics such as whither soca, adapting to climate change, and sustainable marijuana livelihoods is yet another Carifesta offering that brings together regional thinkers to consider some pressing issues facing us. Master classes by Etienne Charles on jazz improvisation, Tony Hall on seeing with native eyes and an introduction to the fabled National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica are part of the UWI Journey Round Myself programme, as is a full series of workshops.
The stories of murder and mayhem in this benighted country of ours may have drowned out news in traditional media of the attempts of our regional governments to fill our hearts with erstwhile joy through the creativity of all our peoples in music, dance, drama, literature, the visual and folk arts and more. The fact that the Carifesta news is circulating digitally is also evidence of the migration of younger people to social media platforms and the relative financial savings to be made. www.carifestaXIV will take patrons to where they can find the information needed to attend a completely free week of novel entertainment and cultural exhilaration with a purpose.