Category Archives: Agenda

Jamaica’s Calabash Goes Globalishus

Calabash Literary Festival Jamaica 2014 GlobalishusFrom auspicious beginnings, Jamaica’s Calabash Festival has become THE literary event to attend in the Caribbean, attracting some of the biggest names in literature from around the world and inspiring the development of regional literary festivals in islands such as Trinidad, Barbados and Dominica.  Caribbean Bazaar spoke with Calabash co-founder Justine Henzell to find out more about how the “greatest likkle festival” has earned it’s stellar reputation.

There is a tale, often repeated, of how the first Calabash Literary Festival in 2001 was heralded by the arrival of yellow butterflies as the event opened, then disappearing as soon as it was over, as if the spirits of writers gone before were sending their blessings.  A labour of love, Calabash has been built purely through the tireless work of volunteers and co-founders into a must-attend event for aspiring and published writers and authors where there are not only readings but seminars and workshops, all free to attend.

Co-founders of Calabash - Colin Channer, Kwame Dawes, Justine Henzell
Colin Channer, Kwame Dawes, Justine Henzell: Co-founders of Calabash Literary Festival

The idea for Calabash was sparked by the frustration felt by friends and authors Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer as they embarked on a disastrous book tour in the UK.  Recognising that there was a opportunity, their “crazy idea” was to stage their own literary festival in their homeland of Jamaica.  Realising they needed someone on the ground, Colin contacted his friend Justine Henzell, a freelance film producer with a predilection for crazy ideas and a family owned hotel called Jake’s.  So the journey began……

Held every year for the first decade, Calabash is now a two-day biennial event held on even years, welcoming authors, writers, poets and musicians to the beautiful surroundings of Jake’s Hotel at Treasure Beach, a tiny fishing village in the south of the island.  “It’s a heavy workload to put on an event like this every year.  Holding it every two years makes it easier on everyone” acknowledges Justine. It was a practical decision,  not just for the volunteers but also for sponsors and funding, which they have found to be the most challenging aspect.

“People thought we were crazy and insane – not only for developing a literary festival but also because of it’s location” Justine explains.  “We started with 300 people attending and are now getting 3,000.”

One of the attractions of Calabash, she explains, is that “it’s not a staid and stuffy event.”  The vibe is relaxed and casual, readings are framed with a gorgeous oceanfront backdrop; the stage is simply decorated with flowers and calabash gourds; the lectern is made from bamboo and uses rocks as paperweights.  There is a feeling of authenticity, of genuine appreciation for the work being shared – the ambiance is that of a friendly hangout, where everyone mingles together.  It goes without saying that reggae music is an integral part of the whole event, with performances from artists at the end of each day – Justine could not have conceived Calabash without it: “Music is a big part of it organically – every day ends with music” she says.

Calabash Literary Festival at Treasure Beach Jamaica
Images via

“We aim to share a good balance of literati [at Calabash]” says Justine, revealing a line up that includes representatives from Asia, India, Kenya as well as the Caribbean.  For 2014, Salman Rushdie heads up a delicious roster of names including Jamaica Kincaid, Zadie Smith, Robert Antoni, Karen Lord, Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, Ngugi Wa Thiong’O, Mervyn Morris (Jamaica’s first Poet Laureate inaugurated this year) and K’wan Foye to name just a few of the nearly 30 invited to participate this year. calabash-2014-lineup

Indeed, previous participants wax lyrical about their experiences at Calabash. “I can’t tell you how many authors say to us it’s the most responsive/respectful audience they have ever had.  [The audience] are sitting there…..they are not silent…….they are responding to what is being read, they are not chatting amongst themselves.  Simultaneously responsive and respectful.”

When co-founder Colin Channer made a decision to resign from the board officially in 2012, many speculated on the reasons why.  Justine is unfazed by the so-called controversy: “Kwame and Colin are best friends, even when we launched….[the 2014 event] in Kingston, Kwame referred to the ghost of Colin Channer that was hovering with us.  Colin is not actively a member of Calabash but he is absolutely there ….if we need to bounce something off him, he is still there.  Colin was such a huge force and part of creating the festival….the festival is imbued with him.  It is hard to separate Colin from the festival.  The three of us worked very, very closely to make this happen.”

The benefits emerging from cultural events held throughout the Caribbean often go unstated – for Calabash, being located so far south in the parish of St Elizabeth has enhanced and generated not only international interest but has also encouraged internal tourism.  “It’s not a place you would pass by”, says Justine.  “You have to be going to Treasure Beach.”

The influence of Calabash on the literary culture in Jamaica and the Caribbean is undeniable.  “Local authors refer to B.C and A.C (Before Calabash and After Calabash).  It has exposed our writers to such wide, diverse styles and forms.  Many now published writers have emerged from our workshops, such as [award-winning Jamaican writers] Marlon James and Ishion Hutchinson.”  In order to keep the event fresh, the Committee, led by Kwame Dawes, are discerning about who is invited and seek to promote a diversity of voice and genre, with 2014 seeing the inclusion of sci-fi and fantasy fiction for the first time.  Participants are chosen not only for their brand appeal; other criteria include having a book in print within the last two years and ensuring a roster that includes emerging Caribbean writers alongside internationally acclaimed names.  Invitees can only attend once every three events.

From the start the Calabash team have been very particular about the organisation and timing during the event, having been described as a “drum & bass mentality with Swiss precision.”  Events start on time, which is sometimes lacking at Caribbean festivals and many would say that’s simply the Caribbean way.  Justine disagrees: “[you] can be…..vibesy and rootical and start on time and have a PA system. It is not at odds with our culture to be punctual.”   Having firmly established itself as a significant event on not only the literary calendar, but also as one of the major Caribbean cultural festivals, Calabash continues to raise the bar.  All costs related to the staging of the event are raised by sponsorship as well as direct support from Jake’s Hotel, which closes down for a week to host the participants and attending press.

“Most challenging – without question – is the money. Everything else is a joy. Raising money for the arts..[is difficult] when people don’t get it. 12 years later they now realise [the opportunity].  We have proven it can work.”

Unlike the US and Europe, voluntary support of the arts is not a culture in Jamaica or indeed the Caribbean as a whole.  “It’s another cultural thing that we are trying to champion.  We are committed to keeping the festival free – with voluntary support it can work.” Now a registered non-profit in the US, donations can be made directly through the Calabash website or via cheque to Calabash International.

In it’s 12th year, Calabash is going from strength to strength, and has built a legacy with tremendous impact on the Jamaican and Caribbean literary landscape.  “I am incredibly proud,” Justine shares, “Calabash is like my 3rd child.  No matter how challenging, I feel truly, truly blessed to spend a weekend in one of the most beautiful places – with 30 of the most interesting people in the world.”

Thanks to Justine Henzell for her time.

Images via Calabash Festival, Susumba


Caribbean Writers Lit Up at Trinidad and Tobago’s Bocas Festival

Trinidad Bocas Literary Festival 2014

2014 looks like a stellar year for Caribbean writers, with a steadily growing calendar of literary events taking place in the region and gaining momentum as they expand beyond their immediate island shores to show the talents of Caribbean writers & authors to the world.

Although it only launched in 2011, Trinidad & Tobago’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest has created a name for itself as not only a celebration of Caribbean books, writers and writing but also as a environment that showcases emerging new talent, giving up and coming writers the opportunity to be seen and heard by a wide audience.

At the heart of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest are a series of readings by some of Trinidad and Tobago’s and the Caribbean’s finest writers of fiction and poetry — from authors of books already considered contemporary classics to prizewinning newcomers.

Running from 23-27 April 2014, this five day festival (find the Bocas Lit Fest schedule here) is packed full of more than 60 events including readings, performances, workshops, and discussions; while authors read excerpts from their books, talk about their work and have Q&A’s with the audience, participating booksellers have books for sale and there are book-signing opportunities as well.  In the months running up to the festival there are several smaller events, from experimental readings (such as Five By Night: New Fiction from T&T) to poetry slams and even a mini-festival on the island of Tobago at the end of March.

Bocas Literary Festival authors, writers, poets
Bahamian author Marion Bethel; Jamaica’s Olive Senior; Trinidad’s Danielle Boodoo-Fortune and Jackie Hinkson at Bocas Lit Fest 2013 (Photos by Maria Nunes, Official Festival Photographer: Facebook/bocaslitfest)

Each year the winners of major regional literary awards are announced, including the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature; the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, supporting an emerging Caribbean writer in completing a book; and the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, a new prize recognising Caribbean writers of young adult literature.

Three Caribbean authors have made the shortlist for the OCM Bocas Prize for 2014 from a field of ten titles being considered – in the fiction genre, Trinidadian Robert Antoni, with his novel As Flies To Whatless Boys; Poetry – Jamaican Lorna Goodison’s Oracabessa and in non-fiction, fellow Jamaican Kai Miller with Writing Down The Vision: Essays & Prophecies.  The winner receives a US$10,000 prize.

Bocas Literary Festival Caribbean Literature
Shortlisted books for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature 2014



Images courtesy Bocas Literary Festival/Facebook – Maria Nunes (Official Festival Photographer) 

Caribbean fashion designers chosen for Black Dress

No less than four fashion designers with Caribbean roots have been chosen for a celebration of their creativity and entrepreneurship during the Black Dress exhibition now on at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, New York.

Black Dress - contemporary fashion at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, NYC

Running through until 26 April, this free exhibition features ten contemporary fashion designers (all New York-based), exploring each designer’s background, how it influences their work and celebrating their ground-breaking, visionary designs along with their singular dedication to their craft.

Black Dress opens at a time when black designers, despite their growing influence and success, remain largely underrepresented in the fashion world.

These four designers include two with Jamaican heritage – Samantha Black, a former Pratt graduate, Project Runway contestant and Sammy B label maven, brings fierce feminine edge while Michael Jerome Francis shows his beautifully crafted environmentally-aware ‘sustainable couture’; and two with Trinidad and Tobago roots – Stephen Burrows, fearless fashion innovator with over 50 years in the industry and Donna Dove, visual artist and designer with her signature ‘wearable art’.

Samantha Black designs
Samantha Black and the Sammy B label – fresh and fierce!
'Sustainable Couture' - Michael Jerome Francis
‘Sustainable Couture’ – Michael Jerome Francis
Photos: Michael Jerome Francis – Google+
Fashion innovator and fearless designer Stephen Burrows
Fashion innovator and fearless designer Stephen Burrows
Caribbean fashion designer Donna Dove at Black Dress in NYC
Designer Donna Dove

Conceived by Adrienne Jones and co-curated with art dealer/exhibition developer Paula Coleman along with with fashion consultant Walter Greene, Black Dress highlights the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that is required for success in the fashion world, presenting each designer’s work through an innovative installation concept showcasing each designer’s work as if seen through a store window, a la Madison Avenue.

Black designers are emerging on the scene with greater visibility than ever,” said Jones. “Black Dress will highlight the correlation between entrepreneurship, creativity, and locality. These factors work together to create opportunities for designers and their communities to become new destinations where fashion excellence and achievement are measured.

Pratt Manhattan Gallery – 2nd Floor, 144 West 14thStreet, NYC

Read about Black Dress at

Jamaica’s Blue Mountains Come Alive

It’s reggae month – what better way to celebrate the music that has become an intrinsic part of our lives, than with a two day music festival?  The hills above Kingston will come alive over the weekend of 22-23rd February as the inaugural Blue Mountain Music Festival kicks off in the Blue & John Crow Mountains National Park, Jamaica.

No ordinary ‘Caribbean music festival’, this epic two-day event has an enviable backdrop – surrounded by the stunning landscape of the Blue Mountains, with panoramic views of Kingston and the ocean.  The Festival encompasses the original Misty Bliss annual cultural event with a Reggae Party, combining music, culture and outdoor activities to create an event that, according to Executive Producer Roshaun ‘Bay-C’ Clarke, is “music meets art meets nature” and promises an experience synonymous with the legendary Woodstock.

Blue Mountain Music Festival - Holywell, Jamaica
Blue Mountain Music Festival – Holywell, Jamaica

This is no one-off event, however, and with a vision to evolve the festival to include different genres of music as well as expand the range of attractions on offer, the Blue Mountain Music Festival will no doubt become one of the must-attend festivals in the Caribbean.

The roster of performances spread over the weekend features some of Jamaica’s most well-known musical acts such as reggae icons Third World (who will be paying tribute to founding member Bunny Rugs, who recently passed away), international dancehall superstars T.O.K, Tanya Stephens, Chronixx along with a seemingly endless list of Jamaican artists and musicians.

Holywell - home of the Blue Mountain Music Festival, Jamaica
Holywell – home of the Blue Mountain Music Festival, Jamaica

With hiking, yoga, massage, poetry, story-telling and more on the schedule for this year, it’s already gearing up to be a weekend jam-packed with things to do and experiences to be had.  And we haven’t even got to the performers or the food!  Just remember that up in the Blue Mountains it can get a bit chilly – but never fear, there will be brightly coloured blankets on sale at the event with proceeds going to charity.

Stunning views from the Blue Mountains - what a location to hold a music festival!
Stunning views from the Blue Mountains – what a location to hold a music festival!
Stunning scenery surrounds the location for the Blue Mountain Music Festival
Stunning scenery surrounds the location for the Blue Mountain Music Festival

Jamaica has so much more to offer than the cliche of ‘sun, sand and sea’ – the interior of the island is simply breathtaking, and in true festival style, there are camping facilities available on site, with bonfires and stargazing.  What an adventure!

There will be shuttles to and from the events on both days – have a gander at the Blue Mountain Music Festival Facebook page to find out more information about the event along with videos of the acts on the roster or visit the Blue Mountain Festival website.  You can also stream or download an audio track on soundcloud featuring the musical acts.

The organisers will stream the festival live via ustream for those who cannot attend – so bookmark this link!

Follow the Blue Mountain Music Festival on Twitter: @bluemountainmf

*Photos courtesy Blue Mountain Music Festival

Bring on the Jazz Tobago style

Tobago Jazz 2014

Jazz it up in Tobago!

Now in it’s sixth year, the Tobago Jazz Experience (formerly the Tobago Jazz Festival) has garnered a reputation for featuring some of the top jazz, R&B, neo-soul and fusion acts from around the world alongside local and regional performers.  The line up for 2014 is no exception – Headlining is the masterful, multiple grammy award winner John Legend, along with R&B singer Brandy, singer/songwriter Keyshia Cole and the indomitable Earth, Wind & Fire.  Previous performers have included George Benson, Erykah Badu, Randy Crawford, Chaka Khan, Trey Songz, Melanie Fiona, Angie Stone, Janelle Monáe and Emeli Sandé. 

Tobago Jazz Arturo Tapping
Caribbean saxophonist extraordinaire, Arturo Tappin, gets in with the crowd at Tobago Jazz 2013

The event runs from 19-27 April, with concerts hosted in different locations across the island – a great way to showcase what Tobago has to offer while enjoying world class musical performances.  Staying true to their promise of offering ‘much more than music’, the Tobago Jazz Experience is all about exploring the historical and cultural element of the island, with shows in Speyside, Signal Hill, Scarborough, Castara and Pigeon Point Heritage Park.  Visitors are encouraged to indulge in authentic local experiences – try ‘dirt oven bread’ indigenous to the village of Castara; walk off the beaten path into the Main Ridge Reserve; watch goat races or take in a history lesson while checking out the Fort King George Heritage Park – and to immerse themselves into this unique ‘Jazz Experience’.

Emeli Sande Janelle Monae Tobago Jazz
Emeli Sande & Janelle Monae perform at the Tobago Jazz Experience

Find out more:

Web: Tobago Jazz Experience 2014

Facebook: Tobago Jazz Experience

(Images courtesy Tobago Jazz Experience)

Long Live Caribbean Style

Caribbean fashion is alive and kicking, thanks to the Jamaica’s Caribbean Fashion Week – now in it’s 13th year, this annual event delivers fashion from some of the best designers in the region over a 4-day weekend extravaganza with supermodels in attendance, performances from international entertainers alongside workshops, exhibitions and the can’t miss after-parties!

Held in June, the 2013 event kicked off with 3 nights of fashion shows featuring some of the Caribbean’s up and coming designers alongside established fashion houses from around the region and the world – proving that the Caribbean diaspora continues to support it’s own.  Of particular note were the WILD/FREE line by Rae Williams, the debut of the SOL swimwear line by Drenna Luna and Kokobeenz by Ann-Marie Robinson (all from Jamaica), Crown Atelier by Tigerlily Hill (Cayman Islands), Conrad Sinclair by Christina Goddard (Barbados) & Wadada Movement (Trinidad & Tobago).

Caribbean Fashion Week DesignerGavin Douglas, a Jamaican-Brit with an elite ladies-wear label that has garnered great success and been featured in Vogue and London Fashion Week returned to the stage after a four-year break with his latest collection, while designers from Zimbabwe and Ethiopia showcased their creations.  The beauty of this event is in seeing models of every single colour on the catwalk; something that many international ateliers seem to ignore.

The designers that really shine are all based in the region, and producing collections with impeccable attention to detail and clearly inspired by the fashion world.  It doesn’t hurt that by virtue of the lifestyle, Caribbean designers understand how to make their designs practical for tropical weather!   Fashion in the Caribbean covers a lot of bases – a myriad of influences reflected in the diversity on display – and happily we’re now seeing more menswear and accessories on show.

Full list of designers at Caribbean Fashion Week

Find out more:

Caribbean Fashion Week

Dai Ailian – Trinidad’s Mother of Modern Chinese Dance

Dai Ailian - Trinidadian Mother of Chinese Dance“It seems that when I hear music, I have to dance.  Especially when I was a child, the place I was born, they have the carnival….in the island they don’t call it dance, they call it jumping….”

Known as The Mother of Modern Chinese Dance, Dai Ailian achieved much in the world of dance during her lifetime.  An icon in China, born and raised as the child of 2nd generation immigrants in Trinidad, Dai Ailian (Ai – Love and Lian – Waterlily) was born Eileen Isaac in 1916; her love for dance and music developed early.  Taught by her cousin Sylvia Chen and then under the tutelage of Neil Walton, Dai Ailian left Trinidad for England at the young age of 14.  Studying ballet and modern dance in London led to performances in Hong Kong and China – after marrying her husband, (who would become one of China’s most famous painters) – they moved to China in the 1950’s where Dai Ailian studied traditional Chinese dance, combining east and west with her early influences from Trinidad, bringing an African/Indian element and transforming it in her own inimitable style.  As founder and  principal of the Beijing Dance Academy, her guiding hand established it as the leading dance school in China.

According to Chinese Ambassador, Yang Youming: “What makes Dai Ailian a unique and outstanding world-class dance icon is that she herself is the very embodiment of the integration of the cultures of East, for example China and India, West Africa and Latin America. Furthermore, Dai Ailian is also the forerunner of the cultural exchanges between China and Trinidad and Tobago. She had single handedly connected our two cultures so closely together by her graceful movements of the body as a great artiste.”

Dai Ailian - the story of modern chinese danceHer accolades are many, her accomplishments as a dancer, choreographer and teacher in the development of the Chinese dance art form are highly respected; as creator and principal performer in the Dance of the Lotus Flower and Flying Apsaras – acknowledged as two of the classic chinese dances of the 20th Century – she won gold at the World Youth Festival.  A woman who straddled two worlds, connected to each and steadfastly determined to follow her passion, Dai Ailian spearheaded the National Chinese Ballet in 1954, all but disappearing from the world during China’s Cultural Revolution.  When the new China began to emerge, so did Dai Ailian – becoming a cultural ambassador, international judge and restoring the premier classical ballet company back to it’s former status, organising tours all over the world.

Dai Ailian foundation dance scholarships Trinidad In honour of Dai Ailian, The Chinese Association of Trinidad & Tobago set up the Dai Ailian Foundation in 2011, granting full dance scholarships to the distinguished Beijing Dance Academy; extending this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to exceptional dancers who demonstrate ability, artistry and passion, in their area of specialisation, be it Ballet, Chinese Classical Dance, Chinese National/Folk Dance or Modern Dance.  In so doing, the foundation continues to breath life into the dream of this diminutive yet resilient woman to develop cultural exchange between two countries on the opposite sides of the world through the art form of dance.

Janine Fung’s terrific documentary video on Dai Ailian captures the essence of this incredible lady, exploring her life and experiences through rare footage and interview clips.

Open to citizens of Trinidad & Tobago with a valid passport, the 10-month long scholarship commences in September 2013; male or female dancers between 18-25 years are considered.


Dai Ailian Foundation on Facebook

Application form

Dai Ailian Foundation, c/o The Chinese Association of Trinidad & Tobago, 7 St. Ann’s Road, St. Ann’s, Trinidad & Tobago

Phone: +1 868 624-7150