Happenings (March/April 2008)

A brief look at the events that will have the Caribbean buzzing in March and April

Diana Ross wows her fans. Photograph by Andrea De SilvaPremium paella—chockful of shrimp and sausage. Photograph by Sharon MillarRevellers jamming down Front Street in the heart of St Maarten`s capital Philipsburg during St Maarten Carnival 2007. Photograph by Judy H FitzpatrickSeveral offshore sportfishing tournaments are hosted by the Grand Bahama Yacht Club annually. These events keep anglers and tour. Photograph by Laura Dowrich-Phillips

More mas in St Maarten

Judy H Fitzpatrick

There’s something especially captivating about Carnival in the tiny Dutch/French island of St Maarten/St Martin. With 106 nationalities among the 80,000 residents who call this 37-square-mile island home, carnival is as multicultural as it can possibly be.

It seems one carnival is not enough, as revellers savour two carnivals on the island each year. The one on the French side is during the pre-Lenten period, in keeping with the tradition of the French Creole mas. But the bigger celebration—an activity-filled 17–21-day affair—is held on the Dutch side. Tentative dates for this year’s 49th carnival celebration are April 17–May 3.

The curtain will rise on carnival 2008 with a “Unity Jump-up” featuring several local bands playing their latest soca and calypso hits and with thousands of revellers jamming behind. The two sides of the island take turns in organising the Unity Jump-up, which will start in French St Martin this year and end in the Dutch-side capital, Philipsburg.

The Dutch-side carnival features the Junior Parade for children, followed by the Senior Parade and then the Grand Parade, which brings together all the junior and senior costumed revellers in a final burst of colour and splendour.

Also among the celebrations are the junior and senior queen shows; calypso contests rich in social commentary and double entendre that often capture and unmask local political intrigue; youth talent shows, which usually attract some of the largest crowds; and concerts featuring local and international artistes, all in keeping with the island’s slogan, “A little European, a lot of Caribbean.”

At the very soul of carnival is the Carnival Village in Philipsburg. The spanking new facility, largely completed in time for the 2007 carnival, boasts more than 100 booths offering some of the tastiest local and Caribbean delicacies, 24 hours a day for the duration of Carnival.

Another high point is the J’Ouvert jump-up, a street parade which starts at 4 am—usually after the popular calypso finals—and continues until midmorning. Revellers jam around the Great Salt Pond in Philipsburg to the rhythms of bands belting out the hottest calypso and soca tunes of the time.

The curtains fall on carnival with the last lap jump-up and the burning of “King Momo,” a straw figure which embodies the spirit of carnival. Legend has it that all carnival sins are turned into ashes , so that the burning of King Momo leaves the island pure.

President of the St Maarten Carnival Development Foundation Fabiana Arnell says the unique aspect of the island’s carnival is that there are activities 24/7 throughout the 17–21 days, while on most Caribbean island the celebrations last only a couple of days.

“It’s an experience out of this world and you just have to experience it for yourselves,” he says.

For the entire carnival programme go to: www.stmaartencarnival.com

A full plate of food festivals

Sharon Millar

If you devoted a year to eating your way across the Caribbean, it would probably take all 365 days and a few more to sample all the culinary goodies the region has to offer.

While there are similarities between the islands, each relays its individual heritage through the national palate. Epicurean anomalies can depend on factors as diverse as the region’s topography (volcanic or coral, flat or mountainous), religious or agricultural traditions, as well as the more commonly acknowledged influences of colonialism, slavery and indentured labour. Often overlooked is the legacy of the indigenous Amerindian population, who, by the time Christopher Columbus sailed in, had well-entrenched culinary traditions of their own.

This rich vein of gourmand possibility is only just being tapped. Now the discerning foodie traveller would be wise to sit with his calendar and map his culinary journey via the excellent Caribbean food festivals cropping up everywhere. These events run the gamut from high-end, exclusive gourmet experiences to charming provincial food fairs that evolve spontaneously within the communities. Many of these taste extravaganzas have developed as natural spin-offs from the annual Taste of the Caribbean competition, which pits teams of regional chefs and bartenders against each other in a series of exacting competitions to determine the Team of the Caribbean and Chef of the Caribbean.

The bottom line is that whatever your budget or your palate, there is a food festival out there that’s calling your name.

Caribbean food festivals: a calendar

Antigua
Taste of Antigua : September 18–21
http://www.antiguaculinaryfestival.com

Barbados
Oistins Fish Festival: Easter weekend
Oistins Fish Fry: every Friday night
http://www.barbados.org/off.htm

Taste of Barbados Festival: October 3–11
http://www.tasteofbarbados.com/

Taste of the Caribbean: check website for 2008 dates
http://www.caribbeanhotelassociation.com

Curaçao
International Food Festival of Curaçao: April 30–May 1
http://www.curaçao.com

Guadeloupe
Festival of Woman Cooks: early August

Jamaica
Flutes & Flames: February 2
intek01@mail.infochan.com

Trelawny Yam Festival: March 24
http://www.stea.net/

Epicurean Escape: June 29
http://www.breezes.com/resorts/breezes-grand-negril/

Little Ochi Seafood Carnival: July 13
http://www.visitjamaica.com

Portland Jerk Festival: July
http://www.visitjamaica.com

Wine and Food Festival: September 26
http://www.heartfoundation.org.jm/

Old Harbour Bay Fish and Bammy Festival: October (to be announced)
http://www.visitjamaica.com

Best of Jamaica 2008: October 12–16
http://www.superclubs.com/

Jamaica 4-H Nyammins and Jammins: October 16
http://www.visitjamaica.com

Restaurant Week of Jamaica:
November 10–17
http://www.visitjamaica.com

Breadfruit Festival: December (TBA)
http://www.visitjamaica.com or contact
Ainsley Henriques at +878-754-8146

Nevis
Niche (Nevis International Culinary Heritage Exposition): October (TBA)
http://www.nevis-niche.com/

St Lucia
St Lucia Food and Rum Festival:
October 30–November 2
http://www.foodandrumfestival.com

Trinidad & Tobago
Taste T & T: May (dates to be
announced)
http://www.visittnt.com/cuisine.asp

Tobago Culinary Festival: May 11 or 18
http://www.visittobago.gov.tt/

Tobago Blue Food Festival: October 19
http://www.visittobago.gov.tt/

Turks and Caicos Islands
Gourmet Safari: December (TBA)
http://www.tcigourmetsafari.com

Ross is still the Boss

Laura Dowrich-Phillips

In 2007, everything was bigger at the third instalment of the Plymouth Jazz Festival in Tobago—the crowds, the artistes, and the controversy.
It was the perfect mix for an exciting musical weekend, and the droves of patrons, many of whom booked hotels and guesthouses months in advance, weren’t disappointed.

From the Friday night, Sean Paul and LL Cool J, and soca bands Imij and Company and Roy Cape All Stars, got the vibes flowing.

By Saturday, which boasted a star-studded lineup of Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Mary J Blige, Beres Hammond and Heather Headley, the crowd was thick and eager. Soca siren Destra Garcia set the bar high when she opened the show with some Whitney Houston classics, decked in a breezy white Meiling dress. Ross took it to another level when she emerged onto the smoke-filled stage in a red sequinned dress, singing I’m Coming Out. Sadly, the late start of the show forced Ross to cut her set short to accommodate Blige, the night’s headliner, and fans were visibly upset.

Al Green and Earth, Wind and Fire dried those tears on Sunday, however, when they unleashed their hits. Earth, Wind and Fire were particularly entertaining, with moves and vocals that defied their age.

They paved the way for Sir Elton John, whose inclusion caused a maelstrom of protest from the island’s pastors, who were against his homosexual lifestyle. Wearing a large cross around his neck as if to thumb his nose at those who didn’t want him there, John sang Rocket Man, Can You Feel the Love Tonight and many other of his classics, all the while seated at his grand piano.

Soca star Machel Montano closed off the weekend with his highly charged performance and fireworks.

Those looking forward to the 2008 edition from April 25–27 will be pleased to know Ms Ross is scheduled to return. Shakira, Smokey Robinson, Jill Scott, James Ingram, Peabo Bryson and Rod Stewart are also expected to perform.

For more information visit: www.plymouthjazzfest.com

Island Hopper

Easter is kite-flying season in the Caribbean, because it’s the breeziest time of year—and that makes it perfect weather for sailing, too. Over the next two months the Caribbean has lots of water activities to offer, as well as plenty on land.

Thaw out the winter blues in Tobago at the Carib Game Fishing Tournament (March 6–9). Thirty-eight boats participated last year and even more are expected in 2008.

You can usher in the spring down in Jamaica at the Jamfest concert series in Negril from March 7–24. Dancehall stars Shaggy and Beenie Man are among those scheduled to perform each night.

Relax and unwind with a game of golf in Barbados from March 4–8. Barbados will play host to 48 players for the 2008 PGA European Seniors Tour. Held at the Royal Westmoreland course since 2000, the tour will feature golfer Ian Woosnam in his seniors debut.

Soak up the sun in the Bahamas at the 29th annual Bacardi Rum Billfish Tournament. Running from March 9–14 at the Port Lucaya Marina, this event includes cocktail parties, an awards dinner and lots of great catches.

Fly back to Jamaica, where bacchanal will erupt on the streets of Kingston for the 20th anniversary of its annual carnival from March 12–30. Entitled Bacchanal Jamaica 2008, the carnival will include block parties, a beach J’Ouvert (the start of carnival celebrations) and the Bacchanal Road March.

Continue the seafaring adventures at the sixth annual Grenada Round-The-Island Easter regatta on March 20, and if you are yearning for a mellow musical event, the St John’s Blues Festival in the US Virgin Islands from March 19–23 offers top bluesmen such as Tab Benoit, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp band, Waylon Thibodeaux and Sean Carney.

Steady yourself on land in Tobago over the Easter weekend from March 21–24. Join hundreds of visitors at the annual goat and crab racing events in Buccoo village.

Take to the seas in style at the International Rolex Regatta in St Thomas where every class winner takes homes a Rolex timepiece. Taking place from March 28–30, this luxury sport attracts about 100 sailors and is the oldest regatta in the company’s history.

Hop on over to the British Virgin Islands from March 31–April 6 for the Spring Regatta, a smaller, more intimate event.

At the 20th annual Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta from April 17–22, the emphasis will be on sailing again, thanks to the Caribbean’s trade winds.

Take a break from the sea and head over to Carriacou for the eighth Maroon Music Festival. From April 25–27, there will be nightly shows with Big Drum Nation dancing, string band music and quadrille dancing.

The mother of all Caribbean regattas takes place from April 27–May 3, when the 41st Stanford Antigua Sailing Week comes off. One of the premier sailing events in the world, this regatta comprises five days of sailing competitions, parties and other social events.

Close off the month in the Bahamas for the International Tuna Tournament from April 30–May 3, in Port Lucaya Marina, Grand Bahama Island, one of the prime destinations for tuna fishing in the Bahamas and home of the famous Tuna Canyon.