Canadian contingent makes lasting impact at CARIFESTA

By Dayo Kefentse

Canadians in Trinidad

The contingent representing Canada during the 14th edition of The Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) will be remembered as a unique and trendsetting addition to the festival. Canada was the only country with a Caribbean diaspora delegation participating in this year’s festival.  The 10-day feast of Caribbean culture held in Trinidad and Tobago, which featured sights, sounds and tastes of countries from right across the region, ended on Sunday August 25.

The nearly 50-members, who made up Canadian’s entry, was managed by the Canadian-Caribbean Arts Network (C-CAN).  They received significant attention from audiences because people were curious as to why Canada would participate in a Caribbean event.   Audiences were pleasantly surprised by exceptional performances by The Children and Youth Dance Theatre Toronto (CYDT), the Roots and Branches Dance Company, KasheDance and Daniel Ellis’ presentation of the play Speaking of Sneaking.

“Our younger artists, who made up the largest segment of our contingent, were very enthusiastically received,” said Michael G. A. Lashley, C-CAN Co-founder and Chef de Mission for the Canadian contingent.  “C-CAN is justifiably proud of its contribution to youth development and to the future of the arts and culture in Canada, and especially within our Caribbean diaspora community.”

The Grand Market was one of the key features of the festival: picture huge white tents peppering the Savannah grounds.  On display were multiple exhibits of regional literature, arts, crafts and fashion.  Canada’s booth featured a virtual carnival experience conceived by Dwayne and Candice Dixon of SugaCayne Designs.  On a daily basis, as many as 500 people waited in line to see one of Canada’s newest innovations in the carnival sector.  On the final day, Calypso Jazz band, Kalabash entertained standing room only crowds.

“We’re thrilled that we were able to give audiences more than they may have expected from a Canadian contingent,” said Rhoma Spencer, Artistic Director and Co-founder of (C-CAN). “This speaks to the fact that Caribbean culture and talent are also very much alive and well outside of the Caribbean region. They are spread around the world and are passed on from generation to generation, and we’re glad to share that perspective with Caribbean audiences.”

Joan Pierre managed the logistics and planning for the Canadian team.   She was particularly happy about this CARIFESTA’s success as she was born in Trinidad, and has also called Canada home for more than 40 years.  As a veteran arts and events administrator, she assessed the festival both as a professional and as an audience member.

“My overall experience surpassed my expectations,” said Pierre. “We showed the CARIFESTA organization that although we live in North America , we are doing great work, keeping our art form intact, and making our respective islands proud.”

C-CAN plans to increase its presence at future CARIFESTAs. During the closing ceremony, the Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, Dr Nyan Gadsby Dolly formally handed the festival over to her counterpart representing Antigua and Barbuda.  These twin islands will be hosting the festival in 2021.