An assembly line of festivals…

A drought of festivals in Jamaica, as one after the other the best ones dry up…Calabash, Kingston on the Edge…

Seen en route to Treasure Beach...

It’s been over four weeks since I updated this blog. This has never happened before; its not that I’ve lost interest, I just didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to say anything in this space. Part of it is that with two weekly radio programmes to produce in addition to all the things i normally do (The Silo and Double Standards on Newstalk 93FM, Jamaica) I have less spare time than i (n)ever had before.

Also, the time of year when you start the slide into summer came earlier this year. It used to start with going to Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach towards the end of May, followed by the Caribbean Studies Association Conference, wherever it happened to be–this year in Curacao–and then various other conferences, symposia and events at UWI in June, capped by my fave “urban fringe festival” Kingston on the Edge (KOTE), and before you knew it it was July.

Lyric, lovely Lyric...

Instead this year it all started with Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad which was the stuff of my last two posts and then the first May in ten years without Calabash. Although several pretenders jumped with indecent haste into the void left by the sudden absence of this rollickingly good literary festival none could hold even a tenth of a candle to it. Having made our bookings a year in advance my friend Faith Smith and I spent Calabash week ensconced at Lyric, the cottage i always stay at year after year, and took a proper vacation–nothing like being served breakfast by the seaside–and then doing nothing but read, write and talk. Great break.

Breakfast at Lyric, Faith in background...
Batter fried bacon!

My problem with the replacement festivals was their lack of ambition, which was the very thing about Calabash that was so remarkable. Calabash aimed to bring together a group of GREAT writers, local and foreign, or newsworthy writers at the very least, in a setting that was at once international and local in scope. It was an exemplar of good timing and organization especially after the teething pains of the early years. Oh yes, there were things you could disagree with them on, but Calabash was a case study in successful festival staging year after year, elements permitting.

Its been a blow that on the heels of the retirement of Calabash from the annual calendar another great little festival–KOTE–has also suspended activity for the year. Held in the third week of June for the last 3-4 years KOTE was an exciting addition to Kingston’s cultural life. Organized by a few enterprising thirty-somethings, of whom Enola Williams and Omar Francis stand out, KOTE was for me an innovative intervention by the younger generation into the aging, creaky almost bureaucratic cultural landscape in place these last few decades.

I had always been struck by the mutually exclusive, colour-coded enclaves of aesthetic expression in Kingston where the literary crowd rarely went to art events, artists were rarely seen at literary affairs, musicians remained in their own circle, as did dancers, actors and all the other cultural actors as if there were walls preventing them from moving back and forth. KOTE tore down those walls, mixing dance with art, theatre with music, poetry with song, film with food and bringing the young out in droves. Their Theatre on the Edge evening with its 8 x 10, 8 ten minute plays was something to queue up for, as was their Dance on the Edge where i first came across the incredibly talented Neila Ebanks (having heard about her for years).

This was made entirely from cardboard. EMSVA grad show.
from Edna Manley Graduation Show

KOTE creatively wove the End of the Year graduation show at Edna Manley College each year into the programme, and shows at several of Kingston’s sleepy art galleries. The graduation show this year has a couple of must-sees by the way–I was particularly impressed by the student who produced a really sharp shoe coffin, and a series of ‘death bins’. Deighton Abbott I think his name was. His studies for the project were outstanding as well.

Shoe Coffin

KOTE is a local festival in the best sense of the word…I look forward to its return as and when it decides to reappear. Trying to replace Calabash with the rash of pseudo-festivals that clamoured for our attention was like trying to replace the Havana Biennale with the Liguanea Art Festival, or Reggae Sumfest with the August Town Independence Day Bash…Don’t assume that because i’ll go out of my way to go to Calabash or Bocas or KOTE that i’ll happily accept anything that proclaims itself a literary festival but seems to include everything but exceptional writers.

Finally you may be interested in going to see the documentary “Bad Friday” which chronicles the traumatic Coral Gardens ‘Incident’ of 1963 during and after which Rastas were persecuted in the most violent manner by the State. The premiere is June 23, Thursday at the Bob Marley Museum. See you there!

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