Connecting Caribbean artists

Kassav' from Guadeloupe entertains at Island Beat Super Concert on August 24, at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain
Kassav' from Guadeloupe entertains at Island Beat Super Concert on August 24, at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain

This is the second part of a review of Carifesta events. The first part was carried on August 30.

CELEBRATING similarities, enjoying differences and forging friendships all happened at the Carifesta celebrations hosted in TT from August 16-25.

Artists from 20 countries – 15 Caribbean Community (Caricom) member states and five associate member states – participated, as well as delegates from Caribbean diaspora regions such as Canada, the US, the UK and Europe.

Carifesta’s theme – connect, share and innovate – permeated throughout the festival, as artists, tradespeople and spectators came together to mingle with regional neighbours.

What did Carifesta mean to you? That was the question Newsday asked participants in the ten-day celebration of art and culture.

Jocelyne Béroard, one of the lead singers of Kassav’, said she’s proud to finally celebrate being a Caribbean performer with the rest of the region.

“Every time they ask me if I’m French, I say I’m Caribbean,” she said at the Island Beats Super Concert at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, on August 24.

Kassav’ is a French Caribbean band with members from Guadeloupe and Martinique. Kassav’ is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and Island Beats was added onto the tour as part of its celebrations.

For years the group wanted to be a part of Carifesta celebrations, but could not, as the islands are overseas French territories.

“In the beginning we were out of it because we had to represent the red, white and blue flag, so that was France, and France did not want us to go under the colours of Martinique and Guadeloupe. They wanted us to represent France. They always want us to represent France outside of France, but when we are in France we don’t really represent France.

“It’s just hypocrisy. We are here, I’ve got a French passport, but I am a Caribbean, and I am from Martinique,” she said.

Béroard says she is a true Caribbean musician who has loved the music of the region since she was a child.

“I share quite the same history with you. Even if the histories are different, even if we have differences because of the languages, we always understand each other, and since I’m six I’ve known about the music of Trinidad, the music of Dominica, Haiti, of all over the Caribbean. I’m pure Caribbean.”

Kassav’ is most famous for playing and popularising zouk music from the French Antilles. At the Island Beats concert, the band sang in French, but the energy of the music was so powerful people lost themselves in it, regardless of being able to understand the words.

Asked about the French lyrics of zouk and its ability to permeate an English-speaking market, Béroard said in France, lots of people love Michael Jackson and Bob Marley, and may not know the lyrics, but they love the music.

“Language is never a barrier, it is a barrier if you want it to be one. I am listening to songs from Korea – not K-pop, but the real good singers – but sometimes it makes me cry because (of) the feelings. It makes me feel it.

“If you are open enough to listen to a foreign music, and just get into it to understand what is happening with the music, then you can feel it. Now if you want to know what they are talking about, you just have to ask them. But language is not a barrier, music talks to itself.”

Neval Chatelal

Chutney singer Neval Chatelal said he was honoured to be a Carifesta ambassador and connect with artists from around the region.

“Carifesta, to me, is the coming together of all the Caribbean islands’ identities as we celebrate the unity through the arts and culture, music, dance. It is where we have connected and shared heart-to-heart conversations – not only about culture. It is the future of our youth and how we could continue to inspire them to love their own,” he said at the Island Beats concert.

Chatelal performed that night with his Chutney Soca Monarch partner Nishard Mayrhoo. He said his mission now is to inspire young people of the Caribbean to continue the different cultural traditions of each island.

“We all are familiar with pop culture, but our true richness and wealth is in the culture of our motherland. Although we may have come from lands that are far off, we have our new mixture, a combined massala of cultures in TT and up the islands and through the region. Our Caribbean identity is unique. It is many things – jumping up, waving up and wining up as one family.”

At the Carifesta Youth Village at Bishop Anstey High School, he met young people from Jamaica, Grenada and Guyana to discuss inter-island collaborations.

“I was really invigorated to know that the young people are able to carry the torch of our culture together in a real way. That was the biggest gift for me in this Carifesta.”

Tamo Harewood plays at the Music District's show at Monarchs on Ariapita Avenue.

Tamo Harewood is a music instructor in the Multicultural Music Programme Unit who teaches at Rousillac Presbyterian Primary School and Point Fortin Anglican Primary School. He is also a bassist and keyboardist who played at three events for Carifesta: MusicTT’s Live Music District for Neil Thomas, All Jazzed Up for Ruth Osman and at the Big Black Box’s Elemental Series for rock night in the band 5 Miles to Midnight.

He describes Carifesta as a whirlwind experience that involved an exhaustive rehearsal routine every day with sleepless nights, multiple soundchecks and rushing to performances, as All Jazzed Up and the Elemental Series were on the same night.

“It’s the kind of fast-paced, but enjoyable experiences I live for as as a full-time and active musician,” he said.

At first, Carifesta seemed like just another opportunity to perform, but when he got on stage and saw the diverse audience, he realised the energy of Carifesta was much different.

“From my first gig I realised I was playing for a whole different crowd of Caribbean people who I wouldn’t have easily connected with musically. However, I made quite a few connections between that time. You never know what good things could develop from that.”

He hopes next time he is in Grenada or St Lucia he can rekindle some of those connections.

In July, the TT theatre community went into mourning as iconic comic actor and director Raymond Choo Kong was murdered on July 15. On August 17, the cast of Choose Your Partners Wisely, the last play Choo Kong acted in, staged a memorial show.

Kevon Brooks, one of the cast, said the show had a fantastic turnout, with few free seats in the Central Bank Auditorium, Port of Spain.

“It was unspoken among us: this was the last time we were doing the show. We were the last cast who worked together while he was alive. Whatever it meant individually, we put it out on stage. The show was impeccable,” he said.

From the performances to the production to the audience, Brooks described it as a perfect night, with many praising the cast for the work. He said it was a night Choo Kong would have loved.

“Doing the show and knowing you did it for Raymond was great. The process of breaking down the set and the props and knowing it was the last show – it felt like we finally buried Raymond.”

The Carifesta crowds slowly grew throughout the week.

Cathy Shepherd went to Carifesta events for five days. She went to shows like Decade of Dance and All Jazzed Up, the Jamaica country night, walked the Streets of the Caribbean, adored the replica buildings, visited the country booths, trade zone and art exhibitions and visited the book fair.

“Due to the crowds, my visits were very focused. I made a few purchases, but curtailed my shopping because of crowds. I was happy to see the large crowds, their diversity and family participation. I did not experience the food court, because lines were too long,” she said.

She also got VIP tickets from a friend for the two shows, otherwise she would have missed out. She said she’s pumped to go to Antigua and Barbuda for Carifesta in 2021.

Part three of the Carifesta wrap will appear in tomorrow’s Newsday.


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