Happenings (January/February 2008)

A brief look at the events that will have the Caribbean buzzing in January and February

American songstress Gladys Knight. Photograph by Andrea De SilvaAssassin aka Jeffrey Campbell. Photograph courtesy VP RecordsBasil`s Bar, home of the Mustique Blues Festival, on the beach of Britannia Bay, Mustique. Photograph by Dianne WilsonCe`Cile. Photograph courtesy Danger Zone RecordsJah Cure. Photograph courtesy Danger Zone Records

Jumpin’ jazz

After criticism of the use of the word “jazz” for music festivals with more R&B flavour, some Caribbean islands have revamped their famous festivals to reflect what the name implies.

Barbados, the first to kick off the jazz calendar, is going that route this year.

The Barbados Jazz Festival, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary, has seen the likes of R&B singers such as Macy Gray and Alicia Keys. This time, says Gilbert Rowe, founder of the festival, the non-jazz acts will no longer take centre stage.

“Been there, done that. We are going to become the only true jazz festival. This will be a jazz festival from top to bottom. I think jazz enthusiasts have become disillusioned over the years. This is a festival they will love.”

The St Lucia Jazz Festival revisited its roots in 2007, scaling down the number of R&B acts in favour of more jazz musicians. Though crooner John Legend was the headliner, he shared the spotlight with Tania Maria and Al Jarreau.

The new format was successful, said Kirby Allain of the St Lucia Tourist Board. “It caused a re-emergence of our French market—we lost that group of jazz aficionados, we had gone too far and too deep with the R&B side of things. In 2007, we brought it all back together and we had Martiniquans and Guadeloupeans in droves.”

Allain said thanks to that response, there will be an artiste from Paris or the French Antilles to attract that crowd in 2008, the festival’s 16th year.

Now in its fourth year, the Plymouth Jazz Festival in Tobago has garnered a reputation for its array of celebrities. The festival has attracted Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Diana Ross, Mary J Blige, and Earth, Wind and Fire, to name a few. The cast for this year is set to be even more high-profile.

“We are young and we need to attract attention worldwide,” said Kiran Maharaj, a director of CL Communications, which stages the show.

Maharaj said it was important to have a mix of artistes to satisfy the tastes of those in attendance, but there are no plans just yet to change the name of the festival.

Laura Dowrich-Phillips

Barbados Jazz Festival January 14–20
Plymouth Jazz Festival April 25–27
St Lucia Jazz Festival May 2–11

Caribbean Awards for Excellence

Three Caribbean achievers will be given awards in April by the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence. The awards seek to “recognise significant Caribbean achievement, to encourage and to support the pursuit of excellence by Caribbean persons, for the benefit of the region,” says the programme’s website (www.Ansacaribbeanawards.com).

In its inaugural year, 2006, the winners of the award’s gold medals and TT$500,000 prizes were Robert Yao Ramesar, a pioneering Trinidadian filmmaker; Fr Gregory Ramkissoon, whose Mustard Seed Community charity in Jamaica has helped thousands of people; and Prof Terrence Forrester, a medical researcher from Jamaica investigating chronic disease in the region.

They were selected by regional and country committees, a process now under way once again for three new recipients in the areas of arts and letters, science and technology, and public and civic contributions.

Ramkissoon said he had started a new ministry with his prize. Christ in the Garbage is a project to assist families and individuals living in the dumps in Kingston, Jamaica, by providing training, clothing and food, so they can become more self-sufficient and “pull themselves out of the garbage.”

The Ansa McAL Foundation started in 1993. Initially funded by the Ansa McAL Group, a regional conglomerate of some 50 companies, the foundation is now self-sustaining.

“This programme represents a coming-of-age, in which we Caribbean people recognise our own,” the foundation says. “It celebrates the excellence and the potential of Caribbean people, working for the benefit of the region, our home. The ANSA McAL Foundation is convinced that talent needs to be sought out, brought to light and encouraged.”

Barbados Music Awards

Shontelle Layne, Hal Linton, Dwayne Husbands. They are not yet household names, but thanks to the Barbados Music Awards (BMA), these performers may well be on their way to emulating the success of fellow Bajan Rihanna.

“The aim was to expose the wealth of talent we have in Barbados—recording artists, writers, producers,” said Ronnie Morris, founder of the BMAs and Timeless Barbados Entertainment Agency, which manages the event.

Layne, who won Best Soca Single and Best Hip Hop Single for her collaborations on the song Colours and Take Me Home the first year, and Best Dance (Urban) Single in 2007, was signed to Syndicated Rhythm Productions (SRP)/Universal Motown Records.

Linton, who won the Best New Artist, Songwriter of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Soul/R&B Single in 2007, is now managed by Horace Madison, who attended that ceremony. Madison manages the R&B singer Usher.

Husbands was asked to sing a duet with Rihanna that was featured on her second album, A Girl Like Me.

Rihanna has been a multiple winner too, and since she attracts a large crowd, the BMAs have benefited tremendously.

“Rihanna is an international superstar: her three albums together have sold nine million copies worldwide, [and] wherever she goes the international press follows. Last year over 200 representatives from the media came down,” said Morris.

While artistes have to be Bajan to qualify for an award, honours are given to foreign acts in special categories. This year, Trinidadian soca star Machel Montano will receive the International Achievement Award.

The Barbados Music Awards take place on January 27.

For more information visit www.barbadosmusicawards.com

Laura Dowrich-Phillips

Worldwide reggae

There isn’t a country in the world you can go to and not hear the throbbing sounds of reggae. Jamaica’s famous musical export, reggae has transcended race, cultural barriers, and even infused other genres such as soca, hip hop and reggaetón, to become world music.

From February 18 to 24, the origins of reggae, its impact on the world, its evolution, and of course Bob Marley’s contribution, will be discussed at a conference entitled: “Global Reggae: Jamaican Popular Music A Yard and Abroad.”

The Institute of Caribbean Studies and the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of the West Indies, Mona will host it in association with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, the Bob Marley Foundation, and the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Musicians, scholars, cultural practitioners and entrepreneurs from Jamaica and around the world are expected to attend.

There will also be daily concerts, featuring known and upcoming reggae acts, and a mini-expo to showcase the industry.

The conference will culminate with the inaugural Reggae Academy Awards staged by the Recording Industry Association of Jamaica (RIAJAM).

For more information visit: http://www.mona.uwi.edu/conferences/2008/globalreggae/about.htm

Laura Dowrich-Phillips

Island hopper

Happy New Year! Christmas is over, the old year is a memory, and it’s time to make new ones.

Start on a high in Barbados at the annual Barbados Jazz Festival from January 8 to 11. This year, the event promises to be a true jazz event, with live performances at the historic Sunbury House and scenic Farley Hill.

If the swing of the music keeps you yearning for more, then head off to Mustique for the Mustique Blues Festival from January 23 to February 8, where performances are complimentary for guests on this private island, or to Jamaica for the 11th annual Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival in Montego Bay from January 24 to 27.

Take a break from the music from January 25 to 29 at the La Source Sailing Festival in Grenada. Now in its 15th year, the festival comprises four days of races and regattas, and a day-long craft market and cultural street festival.

If land-based sports are more your taste, then hop across to Antigua for the Stanford 20/20 Cricket Tournament from January 25 to February 24. Regional teams, including Cuba, the only Spanish-speaking country in the tourney, will compete with each other for US$1 million.

Return to Barbados on January 27 for the Barbados Music Awards to see the crème de la crème of the Bajan music industry.

Pack your most comfortable shoes and strongest sunblock: February is the month of Carnival, and you have a choice of islands to jump up and make merry in. Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique, Dominica, Carriacou, Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire all celebrate this pre-lenten festival in their unique ways on February 4 and 5. In Trinidad in particular, the preceding weeks are filled with numerous fetes (parties), shows and competitions.

If you think you have some energy left, then head to Jamaica for the Fat Tyre Festival from February 6 to 10. It’s a mountain- bike festival, where rides include lung-busting climbs, technical trails, and fast downhill descents.

Wind down in Grenada on February 7 for that island’s Independence celebrations, which include an award ceremony, cultural extravaganza, military parade and rally, and a reception at the Governor General’s house.

From February 8 to 18, immerse yourself in the Cayman Islands’ annual Arts Festival. During the week there will be cultural events including jazz and classical concerts, workshops and art exhibitions. This year, the highlights will be the African Children’s choir and the touring Garden opera.

The Holetown Festival in Barbados from February 17 to 24 commemorates the anniversary of the first settlement of Barbados at Holetown in February 1627. The week-long festival includes lectures, fashion shows, theatrical presentations and an antique car parade.

More history will be featured at the Global Reggae Conference, which runs from February 18 to 24 in Jamaica. The University of the West Indies, Mona, will host the event, which will pay tribute to generations of musicians.

St Lucia celebrates its 29th anniversary of independence on February 22 with pomp and pageantry, games and live calypso.

For more patriotic celebrations, fly south to Guyana for the annual Independence celebrations known as Mashramani on February 23. The theme of Mash 2008 will be “Guyana: let’s unite and celebrate in 2008,” and events will include the Miss Mash pageant, calypso competitions, float parades and baton-twirlers.