The Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta) opened to a stunning display of Caribbean dance, theatre, music, photography, pyrotechnics and arts on Friday at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
This is the fourteenth edition of the arts festival where regional countries send their best visual, performing and literary artists to network, appreciate each other’s cultures and learn more about the neighbouring states.
In his opening address, TT Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley welcomed citizens from the different countries, and hoped that through Carifesta the ties between countries would be strengthened and one day the dreams of having a unified Caribbean would be achieved.
“We are still separate subject states where it could have been better… But all is not lost. We are working fastidiously towards integration of a Caribbean single market… one day, hopefully in the not too distance future, politically...economically we will be identified as a people from the Caribbean who are coming from this region from all parts of the world, but enjoying and prospering in the best location in the globe.”
The show titled The Spirit of Wild Oceans, epitomised Caribbean performing arts at its best by not just staying true to the cultural heritage of each island, but invoking a deeply spiritual view that culture and the arts are not just entertainment, but necessary to keep a consciousness and preserve memory.
The production utilised a number of themes from Greek, Indian, Chinese and African mythology.
The show began with an invocation by Muses, goddesses of artistic inspiration, to bless the festival.
Act one, The Genesis, narrated by Nickolai Salcedo was a story of the beginning of humanity, when Mother Gaia breathed life into Earth. Coming out of the primordial void, cosmic turtles, a turtle with the earth on its back, crawled onto the stage. Shortly followed by the Tree of Life which carried dancers in its trunk called the first children.
Chinese dragons, ships with great white sails, moko jumbies and men dressed as Hermes, the god of trade, merchants and commerce followed on stage, symbolic of the Caribbean’s history of migration, business and the different journeys that filled the Caribbean space with multi-ethnic people.
Following the Genesis story was the Caribbean Odyssey, a beautiful dance act which highlighted the best of each participating island with a key nod to an intrinsic element of its culture and playing the music of each island.
Jamaica kicked things off with a man and woman sailing in on a raft to Bob Marley’s Is This Love.
Dominica, known for its lush green environment and preservation of indigenous culture, had women dressed in green outfits, mimicking movement of people who lived off its land.
The dancers depicting Grenada were costumed as stones and held the formation of Vicissitudes from the country’s Underwater Sculpture Park in Molinere. Vicissitudes is the most iconic statue formation from the water park built by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor that shows 26 children holding hands in a circle.
Following the last Caribbean island dancing, TT’s culture took centre stage in the third act, Our Land, as two artists dressed as deceased calypsonians Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Shadow did a lip-synced, sing-off of the iconic musicians’ best songs.
That was followed by a montage of some of TT’s most distinguished artists talking about the true purpose of art and the contribution TT has given to the culture of the world. Ending with a clip of renowned mas man Peter Minshall saying: “This place, it sweet too bad.”
Top singers in TT’s music industry, chutney star, Neval Chatelal, opera coloratura soprano, Natalia Dopwell and soca singers, Nailah Blackman and Olatunji Yearwood came on stage to sing Machel Montano and Super Blue’s Soca Kingdom.
While the symbolism of the different musical artforms singing together in unity was noted and appreciated, one questions whether their voices blended harmoniously with each other.
The unlikely quartet was joined by stunning moko jumbies whose costumes flowed gracefully on stage. One was a Midnight Robber dressed in black and red. The other was a golden king. Lost Tribe masqueraders wearing past Carnival costumes appeared in the background, joined by the Hermes dancers from act one. This reviewer suspects, the Hermes dancers are symbolic of the wealth and business Carnival brings to TT, and the possibilities of all artforms in Carifesta to be as lucrative.
At the end of the tribute to TT’s Carnival empire, Blackman took centre stage to sing her hit song Iron Love. Though Pan Trinbago complained about pan artists being snubbed at the Island Beats concert, 11-time Panorama winning, large band Desperadoes was on stage to accompany the song. Desperadoes played Iron Love for the 2019 Panorama finals.
Following the pan tribute was the Dragon Boy’s Tassa Band and the Khalnayak Academy of Dance.
Patriotic anthems for TT followed the tributes to the instruments of the land. The Signal Hill Alumni Choir sang about going to Tobago for holiday. Denyse Plummer sang Nah Leaving and David Rudder sang Trini to The Bone.
Chutney soca singer Raymond Ramnarine and Destra Garcia, soca queen of bacchanal, closed the act.
The opening ceremony ended with a parade of the Caricom countries.
The participating Caricom artistes are from Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam and TT. The Caricom associate members are Anguilla, Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Independent contingents such as Curacao, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Colombia and the Caribbean diaspora from Canada are also participating in Carifesta.
If the opening ceremony of Carifesta is indicative of the performances to come, the art lovers of the region are in for a spectacular treat as the show was phenomenal from start to finish.
Choreographers Ian Baptiste, Terry Spring, Deon Baptiste and Nobel Douglas did an exceptional job as the movements were captivating, powerful and flawless.