Island Beat (September/October 1998)

What's hot and happening in the islands


ANTIGUA

Up, up in the sky . . .

You’re in Antigua, lying flat on your back on one of those famous beaches, drinking in the sun and a suitable cocktail. As your eyes open and your hands fumble for the glass beside you on the sand, a whisky bottle the size of an apartment block drifts lazily into view over the coconut palms. You check your rum punch, but no, you’re not hallucinating, you’ve discovered the 4th International Antigua Hot Air Balloon Festival, and it’s heading your way.

At this time of year balloonists from all over the world descend on Antigua in order to ascend again. The sky is filled with gigantic balloons and enormous inflatable bottles, cars, cans, chocolate bars, any shape really that can support souls intrepid enough to venture into a wicker basket suspended only by rope and hot air. If you’re up for it, there’s certainly no better way to see the spectacular holiday playground that is Antigua, and far, far beyond . . .

Antiguans and visitors to the island are welcome to participate. Flights begin in the early morning or early evening. Launch sites are dotted around the island, and the flights last about 45 minutes.

The festival runs from October 31 to November 14, coinciding with Antigua’s independence celebrations. It was brought to Antigua four years ago by Todd Challenger, an Antiguan living in England who has a passion for hot air ballooning.

For further information on taking part, contact him via email at: challenger@anglianet.co.uk, or by phone at (44) 1473-280010.

BARBADOS

Beaches and bridge

When it comes to taking a holiday with a difference, there’s one sure-fire way of trumping your friends — at the Sun, Sea and Slams ’98 bridge tournament in Barbados. Now in its ninth year, Sun, Sea and Slams runs from October 16 to 25 at the Accra Beach Hotel and Resort in Rockley. Sanctioned by the Central American and Caribbean Bridge Federation, it’s a relaxed and friendly 10 days with a schedule allowing participants plenty of time to get away from the green baize and enjoy the delights of Barbados.

Though competitive, emphasis is on enjoyment; you may end up against new players or those who have attended each of the last eight years. There are few restrictions on systems and conventions, and partnerships can be arranged if needed. Except for the opening event, all evening games carry cash prizes, with supplementary prizes of local craft and merchandise.

As one regular said: “It was absolute torture . . . golf in the morning, sunbathing in the afternoon, cocktails and bridge in the evenings.”

For further information: (246) 429-3724/3189.

CARIVISTA

The Caribbean is blessed with an unusually high proportion of talented artists, film-makers and craftsmen. CARIVISTA (a Caribbean Visual Arts Festival), to be held in Barbados from October 2 to November 1, offers an unrivalled opportunity to see work from all over the region together on one island. It’s part of Barbados’s contribution to preparations for the even bigger CARIFESTA VII, scheduled for St Kitts in 1999.

The CARIVISTA festival has three parts. Through four Fine Art exhibitions, it will showcase the work of artists from the four main language areas of the Caribbean: English, incorporating the work of young artists, curated by Christopher Cozier; French, curated by Dominique Brebion; Spanish, drawing on work from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and curated by Marianne de Tolentino; and Dutch, curated by Jennifer Smit, with work from three sculptors from Aruba and Curaçao. The second part will display the diversity of craft produced in the region, while the third, Film Fest, will be the screening of a selection of films produced in the Caribbean. There will be 13 films shown in the four language groups of the region, giving movie enthusiasts a chance to see films that have had little exposure. Each of the three components of the festival will be accompanied by seminars and discussion forums.

The main venues are the Sherbourne Conference Centre, the Barbados Gallery of Art, The Art Foundry, and Queens Park and Morningside Galleries. For details of the programme, contact the National Cultural Foundation in Barbados, tel. (246) 424-0909.

Lip, Sticks and Marks

Lip, Sticks and Marks is an exhibition of art featuring the work of seven Caribbean women: Alida Martinez and Osaira Mayale from Aruba; Annalee Davis and Joscelyn Gardner from Barbados; Roberta Stoddart from Jamaica; and Irenee Shaw and Susan Dayal from Trinidad.

The idea for the exhibition grew from a discussion held by Caribbean Contemporary Arts in Trinidad earlier this year. As one of the curators of the exhibition, Annalee Davis, explained, it was found that the work of the artists being discussed shared a common theme: how they related to space.

“There are very clear connections between the works of these seven artists, and we wanted to capitalise on those links. A lot of this work has been created without the knowledge of what the other women were doing, and it is uncanny the amount of overlap in the ideas within these works. We feel that the need to connect up with a regional community is vital for each of us . . . this show helps to solidify that community. The region needs to know itself better, and we need to do what it takes to push that knowledge along.

“I hope that visitors will feel intrigued by the work in the show . . . how these artists deal with space — physical and psychological, private and public, internal and external. I hope that the viewer may see herself reflected in the mirror images that these women are representing.”

The seven artists work in a contemporary manner with painting, sculpture, and multi-media installation art. The latter is a way of presenting ideas to the viewer apart from wood and canvas: employing any or all the senses; hanging things from the ceiling or standing them on the floor.

Lip, Sticks and Marks runs from August 23 to October 25 at the Art Foundry in St Philip, Barbados. From November 24 to December 5, it will show in Trinidad at The Museum of Port of Spain, Fort San Andres. It is hoped the exhibition will then travel around the Caribbean.

Look out for . . .

• Fred Rumsey Pro-Am Cricket Festival, Barbados,Oct—Nov

CARACAS

Bolivar’s city

The newest destination to be added to BWIA’s list of schedules is Caracas, the “city of eternal spring” and the capital of Venezuela.

Caracas is a big, bustling city, sprawling east to west along a nine-mile valley, half an hour from Simon Bolivar International Airport, and just south of the mountains of the Avila National Park. It has a very cosmopolitan population of around 4.5 million, most of whom seem to be on the city’s roads at the same time. Unless you have good offensive driving skills honed in Port of Spain or Kingston, the best way to see this 400-year-old city is by taxi, bus, or, best of all, by the modern metro/subway system.

Among the stops to make is the centre of the city at the Plaza Bolivar. Here, there’s a statue of the famous liberator, who won independence from Spain, sitting astride his horse, surrounded by fine colonial buildings. The city’s cultural centre is the Ateneo de Caracas, off the Av. Mexico where there is a theatre, art gallery, and bookshops. For shopping, try Sabana Grande Promenade. This is a street some 12 blocks long, closed to traffic, and crammed with stores selling any and everything. Alternatively, there’s The Chacaito Shopping Centre, located at the Chacaito metro station, or the CCT building, the largest shopping centre in Venezuela. Centro Artesanal Los Guajiros is a handicraft market specialising in Venezuelan and South American crafts: blankets, tapestries, leather, pottery etc.

Caracas has plenty of fine restaurants and many discos and nightclubs. These come alive after 11p.m., where the favourite music is salsa. There are a number of comfortable, modern hotels, particularly popular with business people. These include the Caracas Hilton International; Continental Altamira; Eurobuilding; and Tamanaco Inter-Continental. For those on a tight budget, try the Savoy near Chacaito.

Avila National Park is easily accessible from Caracas and is well worth visiting. It stretches from just north of the city all the way to the Caribbean coastline, and is criss-crossed with hiking trails and dirt roads. Its forested mountains reach 9,069 feet at the highest point, Pico Naiguata. At weekends the citizens of Caracas flock to the park to enjoy its tropical splendour: the birds, butterflies, flowers, waterfalls, and the spectacular views.

Traveller and tourist information for Caracas and Venezuela is available from the Corporacion de Turismo de Venezuela, at Parque Central, Torre Oeste, Piso 37, Caracas. Tel. (582)574-2524.

DOMINICA

French World Music

Last year the Dominica Festivals Commission staged a triumphant new festival celebrating Creole music. So successful was the first World Creole Music Festival that the organisers have had little choice but to stage it on an annual basis — not that they mind, of course. Proceeds will go towards establishing an arts and culture trust for Creole music in Dominica. This year’s festival will run from October 30 to November 1 at the upgraded Festival City in downtown Roseau.

Creole music, as presented by Dominica’s festival, encompasses cadence-lypso, zouk, soukous, bouyon and compas, performed by an equally eclectic line-up of Dominican and international musicians. Lectures and media events explaining the culture of Creole music will be helpful to those experiencing it for the first time. The music itself is a fusion of styles, uplifting and universal in its appeal, accessible even to those with conservative tastes.

In 1970, the music created by Dominican Gordon Henderson and his Exile One Group heralded a new wave of Creole music. It became known as cadence-lypso, a form of Creole with its roots in Haitian compas, Trinidadian calypso, and American funk. Henderson’s success spawned a number of professional Dominican bands, including Grammacks, who will be playing at this year’s festival, combining with the New Generations, led by the exciting Jeff Joseph.

Other artists for the 1998 festival include popular zouk band Kassav. Boo Hinkson and Friends will be representing St Lucia, and from North America come the ever-excellent Louisianan band Buck Wheat Zydecco, and the Toronto/Caribbean group Levitation. Also on the list are the Phantom Band and Zin from Haiti, Tanya St Val and Franky Vincent from Guadeloupe, Ashanti from Martinique, and Aurelius Marbele and Loketo from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dominican bands include WCK, First Serenade and Rough and Ready.

GRENADA

Cooler runnings

Remember Cool Runnings, the movie about a Jamaican bob-sleigh team? Well, get ready for the Grenadian version, the “Spice Team”. No, not bob-sleighing, but skiing — winter skiing, the World Slalom Championship — and it isn’t a comedy. In fact, they want your help.

Strange as it may seem, Grenada is a member of the International Ski Federation.

Using the same sort of ploy that enabled Jamaica’s World Cup football squad, the “Reggae Boyz”, to include English players with Jamaican ancestry in their team, so the Grenada International Sports Foundation (GISF) is keen for people to use Grenada’s Citizenship Programme so that they can enter a powerful Grenada team in next winter’s World Championships.

Grenada already has a European slalom international named Elfi Eder, around whom the team will be built, who has taken out Grenadian citizenship and will be representing her new country. And there are some Swiss and Austrian skiers who are considering taking out Grenadian citizenship and joining the GISF. If you are a keen skier with Grenadian connections, and want to represent a Caribbean island on Europe’s pistes this winter, contact Johann Hoschtialek, Director of the Grenada Hotel Association:

tel. (473) 444-5640; or

email: hoschti@caribsurf.com

GUYANA

Natural pleasures

A wag writing on the Net about Guyana suggests it’s a place for Indiana Jones types who don’t mind roughing it. True, Guyana is epic in proportions: river-mouths dotted with islands the size of Barbados; the Kaieteur Falls, five times higher than Niagara; the biggest snakes and creepy-crawlies in the world; isolated Amerindian tribes; rugged gold-mining outposts where men called “porkknockers” search for fortunes, panning the rivers for gold. Yes, there’s more than a hint of adventure involved in visiting Guyana’s interior. But you don’t need to be an over-extended archeologist or carry a whip to enjoy it. And you needn’t rough it, unless you really want to.

Eco-tourism in Guyana is growing fast with comfortable new lodges and camp-sites sprouting along its myriad waterways and throughout its endless forests. Trips out of Georgetown last for a few hours, a few days, or several weeks. Popular destinations include the Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls and towns, villages and mission stations along the Essequibo and Marazuni Rivers. Most tour operators offer bird-watching and nature tours.

The following operators are all based in Georgetown. Call them. Have an adventure.

• Wilderness Explorers: tel. 62085/77698

• Wonderland Tours: tel. 65991/59795

• Cattleya Rainforest Tours: tel. 76590

• Discover Tours: tel. 72011-5/58001

• Evergreen Adventures: tel. 51048

• White Water Adventure Tours: tel. 65225

JAMAICA

Jazz and heritage

The dynamic creativity and rich heritage of Jamaican culture was first celebrated by the All That Heritage and Jazz Festival back in 1993. Like so many Caribbean festivals these days, from its modest beginnings as a one-day event it has mushroomed into a major cultural event lasting a week, an essential stop on the island’s bulging calendar.

Jamaica’s turbulent past and its mix of African, Indian, English, Spanish and Chinese ancestry left a unique mark on the island: its customs, folk traditions, art, craft, song and dance. But, like many countries before it, much of this heritage has been forgotten, usurped by the distractions of modern living and its all-too-easy conveniences. While the organisers of the All That Heritage & Jazz Festival realise that many of Jamaica’s traditions have been lost to history, they’re determined to make sure that what is left is preserved. As Jamaica’s national hero, Marcus Garvey, once observed, “A people without knowledge of its origin and history is like a tree without its roots.”

The festival seeks to redress the balance for one fun-filled week in October, and all for good causes. Proceeds go to local charities, which include The Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill, the Westhaven Home for the Handicapped, the St James Infirmary, and the Ernie Ranglin Foundation for Young Musicians. There’s a wide mixture of visual arts, craft, drumming and dance workshops, fairs, children’s activities, and a mouth-watering array of traditional foods. Oh yes, and jazz. Lots of it.

Why jazz? Well, jazz in Jamaica is as much a part of its heritage as reggae. It certainly pre-dates it. The Caribbean has always made a significant contribution to the development of jazz music: many of Duke Ellington’s first orchestra were West Indian musicians, and they made quite a mark on his early music. In fact, some people say that jazz came out of the Caribbean, caught fire in New Orleans, and became America’s art form. What isn’t in dispute, though, is the influence Afro-Caribbean tempos and rhythms have had on North American jazz — traditional and modern.

Between 1940 and the end of the sixties, Jamaican musicians became heavily involved in this ever-changing idiom, and jazz clubs boomed. Listening to radio broadcasts, they became familiar with swing and bepop, and a string of master musicians emerged, notably Sonny Bradshaw, Billy Cook, “Little G” McNair, and the maestro himself, Ernie Ranglin (who will be playing this year’s festival). Today, jazz in Jamaica is undergoing a revival, and this year’s festival showcases some of the best local and international jazz talent around. All that heritage — and jazz too! The festival runs from October 11 to 19.

What’s on in Jamaica . . .

• Caribbean Heritage Festival, October 10-11

• Terra Nova’s Heritage Food Festival, October 11-16

Game fishing

For the angler, it’s the watery alternative to tracking an elephant through the bush: just you, the elements, and your quarry. Going after billfish like marlin, swordfish and sailfish is sometimes called “elephant shooting”, though, these days, catching and tagging is the norm for most Caribbean game-fishing tournaments. The work starts, though, when you hook the fish: reeling in a 700-pound blue marlin is no easy feat. The size, power and speed of billfish make catching them difficult, but thrilling always. The angler’s Everest, perhaps.

If you aspire to the ultimate fisherman’s tale, then September and October in the Caribbean is the time and place to be. There are a number of well-established game-fishing tournaments at this time, where entry is available, for a fee, through the many charters operating in conjunction with the tournament organisers. Entry fees vary, as do charter prices, the latter often wildly. There are usually cash prizes in a variety of categories, new records carrying the largest purse. If you are after a marlin, Jamaica is your best bet.

Fishy Facts

Blue Marlin: the largest caught by rod and reel was 708kg/1,560lb. Marlin are characterised by an elongated upper jaw — the bill, or spear — which is thought to be used to stun the marlin’s prey as it thrashes through shoals of fish and squid. Marlin can reach speeds of 65km/40mph.

Sailfish: related to the marlin and probably the most beautiful of all billfish. These are the ones who put on spectacular aerial shows when hooked, leaping high out of the water, deep blue dorsal tails standing tall on their backs, rapier-like bills slashing through the air. They can weigh 450 kilos and reach a length of 8 feet.

Swordfish: have a long, flattened bill. The average length of a swordfish is 6 to 11 feet, of which a third may comprise the bill. Swordfish are powerful swimmers capable of reaching speeds of 100 km/60 mph, and can drive through the supports of small wooden boats. Often basking on the surface, they are, sadly, vulnerable to commercial harpooning.

Tuna: not a billfish, but a highly prized sports fish nevertheless. Bluefin tuna have been known to exceed 14 feet in length and weigh more than 1500 pounds. Tuna are fast swimmers, 48 km/30 mph, and can reach great depths where their large eyes help them to see in the dark.

Fishy Events

Puerto Rico

• International Bill Fishing Tournament September 1-6

Jamaica

• Montego Bay Yacht Club Blue Marlin Tournament September

• Falmouth Fishing Tournament

• Discovery Bay Marlin Tournament October

• Port Antonio Blue Marlin Tournament

St Lucia

• St Lucia Bill Fishing Tournament October 1-5

Bahamas

• Big Game Small Boat Tournament, Bimini, September

ST LUCIA

Creole traditions

Jounnen Kweyol Etanasyonnal (International Creole Day) is celebrated every October 28. It’s a day when St Lucians join with creole-speaking people around the world in celebration of their common culture: the patois language, food, folklore, traditions and craft. There are exhibitions and special events all over the island. A great family day. Details of the extensive schedule of events is available from the Folk Research Centre in St Lucia; tel. (758) 453-1477.

• Annou Tjuit Sent Lisi: chefs from the island’s resorts compete in an annual culinary competition, September

• St Lucia Bill Fishing Tournament, October 1-5

ST MAARTEN

Fit for the holidays

For keen runners and keep-fit fans, St Maarten is the place to put your pastime to the test. How fit are you really? While everyone else seems to be enjoying traditional holiday pursuits — like diving, swimming, windsurfing, lying on the beach — others are out in the sun, pounding roads, mile after mile, or pumping legs in mountain bike races. All year St Maarten stages road races, and varying degrees of marathons: quarters, halfs, full ones. September and October are good months to combine fitness with the island’s other delights, if you still have the energy.

• DHL 6K Around The Great Salt Pone Run, September 13

• Evian Mountain Bike Race, September 26

• International Triathlon, October 4

• Jamming 94.7” 5 person Relay Race — 3k per person, October 12

• BMX Wheelie Competition Series, October 16

• ING Fastum 10K Run, October 19

• 21 Antillian Day

• Zoo Around the Pond Race, TBA

• Animal Fun Day, TBA

TOBAGO

Celebrating Tobago

Tobago is buzzing. There are new tourism projects everywhere, it seems, and there are more visitors to the island than ever before. New radio stations and newspapers have hit the pavements and airwaves; there are new hotels, new restaurants, new shops, new golf courses being built, and now, a new festival.

Tobago Fest is a Carnival-style event which will run from September 25 to October 4. It’s the brainchild of the Tobago Region of the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA), and it’s backed by the Tobago House of Assembly. The event is geared towards the further development of Tobago culturally, economically and socially.

The NCBA has more experience than most in putting on carnival-related events, and Tobago Fest looks like being one of its most successful ventures. Tobago Fest will showcase mas, the parade of bands, calypso, pan, art and the history of Carnival. Mas bands from Trinidad are twinning with mas bands from Tobago, and calypsonians will find Tobago Fest the perfect occasion for penning and playing new material.

Further information on Tobago Fest is available from the NCBA in Tobago, tel. (868) 660-7225.

What’s on in Tobago . . .

• Carib Tobago Classic Cycling September, 20-21

TRINIDAD

Windswept paintings

Windswept is a new exhibition by Trinidadian painter Brian Wong Won, about the “tranquillity of our tropical topography”, blending nature and architecture in lively style.

Wong Won says that while Windswept is a departure from his Carnival paintings, the exhibition strives to instil the same energy into landscapes and architecture, so that they flow with the rhythm so evident in the Carnival pieces. Subjects range from colonial facades of intricate fretwork and diffused light to bustling downtown scenes of vendors and storefronts and the tranquillity of secluded woods. This is a collection of work celebrating the peace and vigour of island life, and the rhythm of calypso that runs through it.

Windswept can be seen at The Gallery 1.2.3.4, St Ann’s Village, 10 Nook Aveue, St Anns, Port of Spain, from 7-19 September.

Look out for . . .

• Live Chutney shows; National Chutney Foundation (tel. 868-628-2174), Sept

• Launch of Parang Festival; a celebration of T&T’s traditional Christmas folk music, sung in Spanish, September

• Steelband Music Festival — “Pan is Beautiful”, October

• Divali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, Oct 19

Lighting up night

Should you find yourself in Trinidad at Divali, (October 19), you will discover an island bejewelled by hundreds of thousands of tiny flickering lights. Strung out like necklaces along fences, walls and window-sills, on elaborate bamboo frames in parks and gardens, even floating down rivers and streams, tiny deyas (clay pots filled with coconut oil and a wick) are lit in symbolic homage to the Hindu goddess of light, Lakshmi. During Divali, Trinidad’s towns and villages glow in defiance of the dark night.

Divali is the Hindu festival of light, and in Trinidad and Tobago — and in Guyana — it is a major national festival and a public holiday. Originating, like half of Trinidad’s population, in India, Divali is celebrated over a period of five days, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Weeks before the event, large bamboo poles are cut and fashioned into a variety of shapes and frames onto which the deyas are placed. Gardens, parks, and open spaces all over the country begin sprouting peculiar spidery structures adorned with tiny pots; when Divali arrives familar landmarks turn into fairy grottos filled with dancing flames and the pungent scent of burning coconut oil.

Homes around the island are spotlessly cleaned, and decorated with deyas and electric bulbs threaded through garden trees. Hindus believe that it is not only darkness that should be banished from the home at Divali — driving out disease and creatures of the night — but we should remove the darkness from our hearts and minds as well: hate, jealousy, egotism, greed. Instead, on Divali, we light the lamps of love and universal brotherhood, filling the world with health and happiness. And this in never more apparent than in Trinidad’s parks and gardens where families of all races and religions gather, children’s faces bathed in light and wonder as they light the deyas.

It’s easy to find places to enjoy the Divali festivities; there are pageants of song and dance; Chutney and Divali queen competitions; folk theatre; and flaming deyas everywhere. The Divali Nagar site just outside Chaguanas is the hub of Indian arts and culture and well worth a visit, and there are special Divali celebrations at D’Triangle Entertainment Centre in Aranguez. Or just take a night-time drive through the flame-lit country villages of central Trinidad; it’s a magical way of experiencing this special festival.

Carnival Messiah

On the face of it, Handel’s 18th-century oratorio Messiah might not seem to have much in common with Trinidad Carnival, Orisha chants and Indian tassa drumming. But they are all coming together in a striking piece of Caribbean musical theatre called Carnival Messiah.

Its creator, artist and musician Geraldine Connor, was born to Trinidadian parents living in Britain (her father Edric Connor was a pioneer folksong collector), and is now Senior Lecturer in Popular Music Studies at Bretton Hall, University College of Leeds. The first performance of this “high mass” of Carnival and oratorio took place over four years ago at the Theatre Royal in Wakefield; since then, it has evolved into a travelling theatre and education project.

Carnival Messiah is in three acts with a Prologue, Overture and Epilogue; it incorporates the Orisha cycle of birth, death and re-birth, the life of Christ and the Christian mysteries (the Joyful, the Sorrowful and the Glorious), as well as age-old themes of good and evil.

The music blends Orisha praise chants, old-time calypso, ragga, bhangra, soca, gospel and soul, hip-hop and jazz with Handel’s themes.

Carnival Messiah will be part of Britain’s Millennium Events in the Millennium Dome at Greenwich, but it will open at the West Yorkshire Playhouse — the largest regional theatre company in Britain — in April 1999 and travel in Great Britain, the Caribbean and Europe.

The production will involve several leading artists from Trinidad, including dancer Carol La Chapelle, designer Peter Minshall and his Callaloo Company, musician André Tanker and singer/actor Nigel Wong.

“Yes, it’s huge,” laughs Connor, “because it’s bringing not only the musical forms that I like together, but all sorts of overlapping religious beliefs and criss-crossing currents of culture to wash against each other. But, in the end, it’s all about bringing people together.”