Island hopper (January/February 2007)

What’s happening in the Caribbean in January and February

Illustration by Marlon Griffith

If Bacchus, the Roman god of revelry, were alive, he’d surely take up residence in the Caribbean at the dawn of the New Year. With memories of the old year barely cold, the Caribbean rings in the new one with joyful celebration for the fun-loving — and those with comfortable shoes.

We’re not just talking about Carnival. With everything from formal concerts to lascivious wining in the streets, the Caribbean is a smorgasbord of entertainment for all in January and February. Barbados sets the ball rolling from 6 to 14 January with the Barbados Jazz Festival. The musical flagship event for the island, this year’s festival will feature American singers Anita Baker and Macy Gray, gospel duo Mary Mary, violinist Karen Briggs, jazz saxophonist Arturo Tappin, and Afro-Cuban jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Before the last notes are played at the Barbados festival, you can head to Bermuda for two months of music, comedy, drama and dance at the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts (11 January to 3 March). The line-up includes singer Melba Moore, Italian comedian Ennio Marchetto, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, and the Max Morris Dance Troupe, plus theatrical productions like La Boheme and Romeo and Juliet.

If you need something that will get you out of your seat and into the streets, the San Sebastian Street Festival in Puerto Rico is the place to be. From 22 to 23 January, old San Juan’s San Sebastian Street hosts Puerto Rico’s biggest party of the year. During the day, thousands flock to shop among the fare on display by local artisans. At night, the street becomes party central. Musicians line the pavements, and strangers dance with each other to salsa music and sing along lustily. If your hips aren’t up to the excitement, a little water activity may be just what the doctor ordered. The Curaçao Regatta (22 to 28 January) is a great combination of competitive sailing and pulsating night-life. This year, the regatta includes the Sunfish South American and Caribbean Championship.

Grenada, too, has sailing activities for those so inclined. The La Source Grenada Sailing Festival (26 to 30 January) is one of the most anticipated events on the island’s calendar, with four days of competitions, regattas, and entertainment. Relaxed and rejuvenated, you could head to the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival (25 to 27 January). Now in its tenth year, the festival features Cyndi Lauper, Michael Bolton, Kenny Rogers, and jazz instrumentalists Pieces of a Dream. And where would a Jamaica music festival be without reggae? Luciano, Shaggy, and Freddie MacGregor are among those scheduled for the home team. Running parallel to Jamaica’s festival is the Bequia Music Festival, which incorporates the Mustique Blues Festival during its four day run (25 to 28 January). The Michael Boothman Quintet, Toby Armstrong, the Mount Gay Rum Blues Band, and the Honky Tonics are among the line-up.

The month ends with a burst of colour and sound at Trinidad’s Hosay festival (30 January). The local manifestation of the Shia Muslim festival of the 10th of Muharram, Hosay takes place on the streets of the west Port of Spain district St James and the south-western peninsula town of Cedros. Models of mosques, called tadjahs, are made with paper and tinsel, elaborately decorated, and paraded through the streets to vigorous tassa drumming. The festival lasts three days, and on the third day at sunset the tadjahs are thrown into the sea.

We hope you’ve paced yourself through all of January’s activities and saved some energy for February. You’ll need it. If not, you can get a pick-me-up in Puerto Rico at the Maricao Coffee Festival (9 to 11 February). There you can not only sip some locally grown coffee, but also join in harvest celebrations. Community spirit is also the order of the day at the Holetown Festival in Barbados (12 to 19 February). Recognising Holetown as one of the earliest towns to be settled in the English-speaking Caribbean, the annual festival includes seminars, concerts, pageants, music, and exhibitions in a jam-packed schedule.

Although activities have been on-going since the start of the year, Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Aruba, and Curaçao culminates on 19 and 20 February. The pomp, pageantry, and gaiety crescendo to dizzying displays that will leave you breathless.

If you haven’t had enough yet, and just aren’t ready for Lent, then head to Guyana on 23 February for Mashramani. A festival celebrating Guyana’s independence, Mash, as it’s known to locals, is also that country’s annual carnival. There are costumed parades, calypso competitions, games, and, of course, food.

Are you ready?