The Caribbean Festival of Arts, more commonly known as Carifesta, is a regional and diaspora multicultural showcase hosted by the countries of the Caribbean. The festival happens every two years or so, each time hosted in a different Caribbean island. This year, TT will host the 14th edition – the country’s fourth time welcoming the region’s artists, artisans, performers, authors, musicians, dancers, poets – every creative manifestation to show off the talent, traditions and stories of the Caribbean. Events are all over the country, but the main stage is at the Queen’s Park Savannah, with a “streets of the Caribbean” style craft market and performances every night of the celebration from each country in the Caribbean.
After her first trip to the main event at the Savannah, Business Day guest columnist
Nyssa Pierre details her handy list to get the best experience from Carifesta XIV.
So you’re thinking of going to Carifesta. Here are 10 tips to consider:
1 - Stop thinking about it. JUST GO! By yourself. With friends. With kids. Just go. It’s absolutely worth the experience whether you’re a big spender or casual observer. There’s something for everyone and although you’ve missed some great events, there is still a packed calendar until it all comes to an end on Sunday. (Speaking of Sunday, try to get tickets for the closing ceremony. The opening was nothing short of magical.)
2 - Download the Carifesta app and/or follow their social media accounts for info on all the events happening. Check the website as well (https://carifesta.net/). Note that there are very cool events, Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival movies, academic sessions and showcases happening all over the country so don't limit yourselves to the Savannah. The organizers have done a great job of making sure people across both Trinidad and Tobago are able to participate in different kinds of events. There are also events specially designed for children and parents. All are welcome!
3 - The downside to those cool events is that, though free, there is some ridiculous system that only makes one ticket per person available three hours before the event. Yes, in 2019 when the internet exists. This is a major deterrent to the working public and general inconvenience for people who have things to do. There have been some insanely long lines for the more popular events, far in advance of the three hour window, so plan wisely.
On the upside, the Savannah allows for some truly unexpected and amazing experiences. On Monday night I ate breadfruit pie from Guadeloupe, ran away from some Grenada jab jab at lunchtime on Tuesday and unexpectedly learned (and failed) how to crack a jab whip on arrival on Wednesday night then chipped out of the Savannah to Renegades beating. Did I mention the fresh lobster for $60 from the Antiguans? Absolutely worth the wait.
Off the Savannah and heading East, the symposium on climate change and culture at UWI was eye opening and began a conversation on topics unimagined.
4 - Let’s circle back to the Carifesta Grand Market at the Savannah. This is really the crown jewel of the entire event. The decor gives a nod to famous landmarks around the Caribbean and you can easily feel like you’re walking through Bridgetown or admiring Cuba’s famous colourful houses. Wear comfy shoes. Between the shops, food stalls and the Grand Stand, you will do a fair amount of walking. Go hungry (but carry a small “just in case” snack). There’s a wide variety of food from around the region but the lines can be long, especially in the evening around dinner time. Note that food starts running low around 9pm.
That said, everyone is very friendly and you learn a lot about the islands from vendors. Set a budget and pace yourself because there's no shortage of Caribbean talent and craft and you're going to want to buy everything. Bonus tip: there is an ATM in the Trade Village and a few vendors have bank card machines so don’t be overly concerned about walking with cash beforehand.
5 - THE ANGOSTURA HOUSE HAS A HAPPY HOUR FROM 6-8! You're welcome. It is also a full on mini fete and you might lose people there. I'm still waiting on people to meet me back after leaving them. You know who you are.
6 - Local beer brands are notably absent so If you’d like something stronger than the widely available soft drinks, see point 5. Special mention to the Curaçao booth that features tamarind liqueur. Tamarind. Liqueur. Who knew this was a thing and so delicious?!
7 - The days are running out but try to go more than once because there's a lot to see and the experience is different by day and by night. A visit during the day allows you to appreciate the decor and is an easier browsing experience as there are less people but many of the food vendors are not yet open. By night, there is an unmatched energy and excitement that you should really experience on your own.
8 - Can’t make it to any of the events? Check out Carifesta’s online radio station, Festival Radio for in-depth content on all things cultural. It features interactive live interviews, capsule reports from various festival locations, in-studio performances and more. You might recognize the voice of co-host Ardene Sirjoo of I95.5FM as she shares the mic with culture buff and journalist Franka Phillip and their many interesting guests from across the region.
Tune into the live audiostream via the Carifesta XIV app for IOS and Android and via the Trini Good Media website, trinigoodmedia.com.
9 - The country showcase on the main stage is exceptional. Patrons can sit in the Grand Stand and enjoy performances from 3 or 4 countries every night. Jamaica was featured on Monday night and set the bar for performances to come. For the lesser-known islands, it is a fantastic opportunity to showcase their cultures, particularly the indigenous performances. Cultural diplomacy at its finest! Trinidad and Tobago will be featured on Friday night which should be a real treat. Go early! If you’ve never seen the re-enactment of the Canboulay riots on Carnival Friday morning, now’s your chance! There are two re-enactments at midnight on Friday and Saturday, making it much easier to stay awake and enjoy than the original.
10 - Did I mention that this is all FREE?! You still home?
But most of all, have fun, learn and experience the arts and culture of the Caribbean, sample the diverse flavours of the region… and maybe make some new friends! Carifesta runs until Sunday.