Carifesta XIII Before and Beyond

Nailah Folami Imoja (Charmaine Gill) and Andy Taitt at Carifesta XIII in Barbados, 2017.

Connecting and reconnecting at Carifesta: longtime colleagues and bibliophiles Nailah Folami Imoja of Barbados' contingent and Andy Taitt of The Book Place.  They were in adjoining book stalls at Carifesta XIII held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre in Barbados from August 17-27, 2017.  Photo Copyright © 2017 Graham Bannister.


“…AND WHEN I RUN, I feel His pleasure.

That’s from one of the best lines from one of the great movies of the 1980s, Chariots of Fire, which is about men, determination, conscience, faith, tribal allegiance, and, importantly, hope.  That’s also the way I happen to feel when I sit to write—or when people ask me why I write.  Whether religious or not, I think most people can relate: I feel as if born to do what I do.  I am blessed to be what I wanted to be.  Even if the pay’s not always great or the boss isn’t always appreciative.

It’s going on four weeks that Carifesta XIII came and went.  It was, as with most stagings of the regional biennial cultural festival, far from a seamless show.  It didn’t matter this was Barbados’ second time hosting, nor was perfection at any point part of the ten-day package anyway.  Friend and sister writer Nailah Folami Imoja says Carifesta is made up of two twin spirits, Entropy and Fete.  To understand this is to appreciate what the arts do for many of us: inspire us to hope.  To dare.  To dream.  And the greatest of these is hope.   It defies chaos.  It celebrates life.  In Nailah’s view, “Carifesta is about the connections you make and the relationships you have with other Caribbean people.  That is the unique experience that is Carifesta.”  It’s about memories and stories.
Betting on stories

That’s a big deal.  There are stories about stories saving people’s lives.
For art as salvation and redemption, reread John Wickham, the short fiction and the newspaper columns.  Ask painters Ras Akyem or Ras Ishi about Cuba when next you see them hunching through the River Road van stand.  For some reason, Gabby (among other local artists) thinks he can sing the violence and deadly gunplay in our island to sleep, and who am I to say not?  Art has been known to animate a healthy sense of vigilance and, when necessary, resilience.   I bet many stories are being told and songs sung in all those places Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Katia lashed these last few weeks.
Always close to home, it has been a delight seeing a private student, a little girl of eight whom I tutor, experiencing the antics of Anansi for the first time through Philip M. Sherlock’s Anansi the Spider Man.  She had never before read or been read the stories.  An essential primer, the book can be enjoyed either way.  I was told by Ayesha Gibson-Gill, the National Cultural Foundation’s literary arts officer, that the Bajan book stall at Carifesta XI in Suriname couldn’t stock enough Anansi titles by our authors: everyone was after the trickster.  One of the other books I have on Anansi is actually a Dutch title purchased in 2003 at Carifesta VIII, also in Suriname.

ArtsEtc editor Linda M. Deane, aka the Summer Storyteller, took her act to many kids like my young student at Carifesta XIII.  She was invited to give a workshop inevitably called Blackouts, Cut-ups & Ransom Notes!  It was “all about finding poetry in fun & unexpected places, and mixing words with art.”  In one of her exercises, she used excerpts from Zoanne Evans’ YA novel-in-progress, Tameisha’s Lesson, published in the just released ArtsEtc NIFCA Winning Words Anthology: 2015/2016.  Linda’s usual hangout for her Summer Storyteller sessions is the greenery of Independence Square in Bridgetown, overlooking the Careenage, across from the National Library Service and Days Books, and The Book Place around the corner.  She gathers with fearless minds and has been known to expand their sense of the word and world with balloons that pop with writing prompts.   

Valuing our own

My mother would have played Carifesta, too, if in Barbados.  She’s 84 this year and took up the steelpan in her mid-seventies.  There were many reasons: to keep her brain active; to do something culturally relevant that she’d never done before but would have if not for time spent raising a family and the demands of a working life.  Learning to play pan is something she’s still, so late in life, found the need for.  She and the others in her group (interestingly, the majority are women) gather on Thursday afternoons in a modest room in LaSalle’s old city hall with master Trini pan player Martin Albino.  They give a free concert in a Montreal park every summer.  It doesn’t matter how much she’s retained from practice to practice, or how bad her arthritis is.  She loves the music—music—and how it brings communities together.  

There are so many examples at home and in the Diaspora—in music, literature, the visual arts, and dance; but also in the martial arts, cooking, graphic design, floral arrangement, and craft of all kind—of the ways in which our lives are enhanced and given meaning by the expression of art, the practice of culture.  Carifesta has had the potential for the last quarter century to amplify this vital message…at least for a couple weeks.
Carifesta reflects back to us only partially the value of our own efforts to entertain and enlighten ourselves.   Every Carifesta has had its challenges and its outrages and its disappointments. A recurring grouse has been how much respect is paid to contributing artists, hence to the value they bring to the event.   Tangible recognition of their time and talent is still too much in question.   But, as with most peoples, we learn through play.  Sometimes, like a tired old dog, it’s the shadow we play with, not the bone. While standing in the Antigua line for food, my daughter and her friend killed two hours plus by dancing to music from Trinidad and St Kitts and eventually Antigua before the long wait for bakes (the lobster that attracted us sold out just as we got to the counter) caused their spirits to flag.  Sometimes, the burst of inspiration called Carifesta is enough for patron and performer alike; but that’s usually for now, when caught in the moment of those twin spirits.
There’s what happens before Carifesta and during.  Then there’s what takes place well beyond those two points.  The building up of peoples and societies, to borrow a phrase from a Philip Nanton monologue, “is a doing thing.”  The real work of all our artists, so central to the prosperity of the region, is done in-between the pitching of tents and decorating of stalls for the next big show.  I suspect it is a different kind of “cultural industry” to the one our current policymakers often talk about kick-starting, which is a shame.   Whether they or we ever get Carifesta perfectly right, that real work is ongoing. 

Last updated December 5, 2017