Each year, the Caribbean plays host to a seemingly endless array of dynamic celebrations highlighting the uniquely vibrant character of our islands. History, literature, storytelling, agriculture, filmmaking, rum, music, dance, sailing, cuisine and more are all part of the fun, ensuring that there’s Caribbean festivals to suit most every interest. Here are five prime examples of Caribbean art festivals that deserve their own recognition.
Emancipation Month in Martinique
Festivals and special events marking the freeing of enslaved Africans in the West Indies are undoubtedly among the most highly anticipated annual celebrations throughout our islands. All Caribbean countries set aside a specific day for emancipation festivities. In Martinique, though, that celebration lasts the entire month of May. Visitors arriving in Martinique can expect to find small-scale festivals, solemn commemorations and events being held in villages all throughout the Island of Flowers at any time of the month.
The biggest show, though, is reserved for May 22 — Emancipation Day. On this day, in La Savane (Martinique’s answer to Central Park) located in the heart of Fort-de-France, a moving, artistic stage show is held under the stars. Thousands crowd into the park for a series of interpretive dance performances tracing the arc of the island’s history.
The genocide of the indigenous Amerindian people at the hands of Europeans, the Triangle Trade and the forced movement of African people to the region, the abject horrors of slavery, the euphoria over emancipation, the extended horror of indentured servitude, and the challenges still facing Afro-Caribbean Martinicans today – all of it is artfully portrayed in a powerful display by local performers and volunteers intent on making sure that the past is never forgotten.
Belize International Film Festival
As parang and reggaeton seamlessly blend the influences of Latin- and Afro-Caribbean music, the Belize International Film Festival does much the same for the region’s contributions to the big screen. Held each November (usually in Belize City), the festival brings together top filmmakers, animators, documentarians, movie buffs and other cinema industry creatives as well as executives from the Caribbean, Latin America and elsewhere around the world.
Unlike most film festivals that are high on the glam, the Belize International Film Festival showcases films focused heavily on the contemporary social issues and challenges facing our region. To be sure, this is a film festival with soul.
World Creole Music Festival, Dominica
Music festivals always make for a great time, and many of the region’s best-known events are marketed as “jazz fests” — the better (so organizers believe) to appeal to tourists.
Dominica’s World Creole Music Festival, though, is different. It is unabashedly all about homegrown West Indian music.
Held annually in late October, the World Creole Music Festival is the largest cultural celebration of the year in The Nature Island. The event attracts the biggest acts in just about every genre of Caribbean music, including soca, reggae, zouk, kompa, salsa and more.
The bigger deal for those keen on taking a deep dive into West Indian music, however, are the smaller acts specializing in traditional folk and newly emerging musical forms, like bouyon, for instance.
In Creole, the word “bouyon” refers to a gumbo soup — a spicy mixture, savory and satisfying. The musical style was developed in Dominica in the 1990s combining elements of zouk, soca and various other West Indian genres to create a wonderful new sound worthy of the name. A tasty musical treat best enjoyed at the World Creole Music Fest.
Liguanea Art Festival, Jamaica
The annual Liguanea Art Festival is the largest fine arts exhibition in the region, drawing together more than 100 artists from across the Caribbean. Works on display and available for purchase run the gamut from fine art paintings, ceramics and sculptures to professional photography, jewelry and other handicrafts.
More than just a chance to admire and collect exquisite original works of West Indian art, the Liguanea Art Festival also affords aficionados the opportunity to mix and mingle with the artists themselves. Imagine interacting with a creator and learning the inspiration behind his or her work prior to purchasing it.
In addition to the fantastic exhibits, the event is also a showcase for Jamaican music and entertainment. Like all other aspects of the festival, the emphasis here is on authentic culture with music and dance representing a broad cross-section of Jamaican traditions.
Best of all, admission is free. Some hotels in Kingston, including The Courtleigh Hotel & Suites, offer discounts to festival-goers, leaving plenty of room in the budget to pick up all the art pieces they might desire.
Aruba Art Fair
Experience a hotbed of West Indian art at the annual Aruba Art Fair.
A three-day showcase of art in all its forms, the Aruba Art Fair is held in late September within the usually sleepy surroundings of San Nicholas, at the far southeastern tip of the island. The festival goes well beyond traditional sculptures and canvas paintings, attracting local and international artists to perform live art demonstrations and display their work.
The dynamic range of craft on display covers everything from the culinary arts, graffiti and street art, television programming, magazine art and more. There’s even a school art contest inviting budding young creatives to share the spotlight with established artists from around the world.
A variety of art expositions are held each day. Local Aruban food and drinks, music, dance, poetry and other forms of live entertainment are also part of the fun.
Best of all, the Aruba Art Fair beautifies the streets of San Nicholas with huge, vibrant murals and other forms of street art that live on long past the annual festival dates. Anyone visiting Aruba will have the chance to experience extraordinary elements of the fair no matter when they stop in.