Umoja, the Swahili word for “unity,” was the title of one of the Carifesta XIV events which demonstrated the Caribbean’s uniqueness and also its unity.
The show began at its scheduled 7 pm start time at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s Road, Port of Spain, last Tuesday.
Although there were reports of long lines for tickets at Carifesta events, the line for tickets for Umoja was not long and tickets were quickly distributed from 4 pm.
The show opened with the Lucy Margaret Regis Nation Folkness Theatre Company a group from San Fernando. The dancers opened their purple and yellow bele skirts like wings as singers on the stage chanted and sang in Ibo.
The National Dance Company of Guyana then took to the stage with The Journey. The piece consisted of dance to both poetry and song, including Bob Marley’s Exodus.
Trinidadian poet Zahra Gordon demonstrated the Caribbean’s connectedness through poetry doing pieces “honouring ancestors.” She read Graveyard, which spoke of her father’s final resting place. In the final line of the poem, Gordon said, “Every grave has a mailing address and I can’t remember where my father lived.”
Her second piece, Licks like Rain, dealt with domestic abuse, with a line saying “disrespect is a one way street travelled only by women.”
Her last piece, Ancestry, was a tribute to her great-grandmother.
Gordon was followed by the Trinidadian group, Dayo Bejide Organic Music Movement,
whose incorporation of natural sounds such as birds chirping felt like a quiet, serene Caribbean evening. The band did four pieces, among them Chaguanas Caravan.
Anthony “Mighty Gabby” Carter’s entrance and performance elicited loud applause from the packed hall. Gabby, who has written over 1,500 songs among them Dr Cassandra and Government Boots, sang folk songs about Bajan fishermen and Bridgetown. He recreated scenes common to most Caribbean people, mimicking the vendors in Bridgetown on a Saturday morning as he sang “Come for your breadfruit, come for the corn, come for the guava.”
He also sang a calypso around a common Caribbean theme (although sometimes called by other names): horn. He had the crowd repeating the line, “Face the reality you getting horn.”
Afterwards, the crowd begged him for more.
Jamaica’s Quilt Performing Arts Company sang songs from The Lion King, combing song and dance, which delighted the audience. The lead vocalist’s mournful sounds came from a place deep within that rang true to Caribbean ears. The group’s performance of the Circle of Life enthralled the crowd, which responded with grand applause.
Fellow Jamaican entertainment company Ashe followed, doing The Ibo Dance, which “paid homage to the African presence in the Caribbean.”
The first half of the show wrapped up with the National Dance Company of Guyana doing Jewels of the Earth, which explored the “attributes of the African Woman.”
This was followed by TT’s Egbe Omo Oni Isese Traditional African Association accompanied by drummers doing Orisha songs.
Digicel’s 2014 Rising Star Neisha Guy opened the second half of the show, paying tribute to Ella Andall and doing her popular Bring Down the Power.
There were two slight delays in the second half, one of them being just before the San Juan South Cultural Organisation came on. But the mainly youthful group captured the audience with its drumology and dance, The Journey has Begun.
The second half also included a reading by Kevin Adonis Browne, winner of the 2019 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, from his book High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture, which quieted the audience. Browne said in his opening line, “The light is different in the Caribbean.”
There were also performances of dance by Wasafoli Trinidad and a special guest appearance by calypsonian Brother Valentino.
The show ended after 10 pm.