In central Trinidad, covered in tangled vines, towering trees and green vegetation as far as the eye can see, one can find the evidence of a once thriving cocoa, coffee and citrus industry.
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Trini Carnival fever in ZIMBABWE
Twenty-five years after Brother Valentino’s Stay Up Zimbabwe was played on local airwaves, the people of Zimbabwe heard his song for the first time, in May. When apartheid controlled and stifled Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was then called, after aCecil Rhodes’ British South African Country), Valentino recorded the world event as his responsibility as the Griot—the storyteller.
But more importantly, when he wrote the song during the time of the strengthened awareness of black power, it was meant to uplift the downtrodden, as a lyrical threat to racial prejudice.
When Valentino performed the song before those who attended T&T night at the Harare International Festival organised by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, not only did it bring back memories of a time of challenge and struggle but an awe that someone in a country thousands of miles away, across the Atlantic Ocean, actually recorded the spirit of the people.
“They were touched to know someone understood the struggle, revered their freedom fighters,” said Tuco president and rapso pioneer Lutalo Masimba, also known as Brother Resistance, who was part of the T&T contingent that participated in the festival.
Through Brother Resistance’s eyes, he saw more than just a team of masqueraders and musicians showing off their talents in another country. “It was completing the circle of the African experience in T&T,” he said.
Carnival was welcomed in its traditional form—from moko jumbie to fancy sailor and there was a musical exchange for Republic Bank Exodus.
“It was also a personal fulfilment. All my life work has been powered and directed by Africa,” he said. “I had the opportunity to perform and share my vibration. The reaction was great. The way how they responded to the mas and the music, it was really amazing.”
“The Brazilians were also there,” Brother Resistance said. “They brought their samba but it didn’t match up what we were doing. We were sold out on Trinidad night. Nothing compared to Exodus, Valentino and Senor Gomez dancing the mas on Trinidad night.”
About 18 nations—including Malawi, Botswana, Italy and Egypt—participated in the international festival, with each country hosting its own night of entertainment before the actual Carnival parade which is now in its second year.
The T&T contingent was co-ordinated by Dare2discover which is led by Wendy Wiltshire. With her working experience in the African continent, she has been able to combine her knowledge with her love for T&T culture (from a North Stand patron to seasoned masquerader) to be the link between the two countries. She had done this in 2011 when she offered Bela Bela, South Africa a taste of what T&T had to offer.
Bela-Bela is a small township in South Africa’s Limpopo province and is a tourist attraction in its own right. In 2012, the organisers Wiltshire with her Dare2Discover team targeted 2,500 people to participate in the Carnival, with T&T bringing 1,000 costumes, a steel band and 100 international guests and officials.
For this trip, High Commissioner to South Africa Harry Partap contacted her, seeking her advice to prepare a team to visit for the Carnival. The contingent, who included Minister of the Arts and Multiculturalism Dr Lincoln Douglas and National Carnival Commission CEO Michael Guyadeen, also spent time in South Africa in celebration of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties with T&T.
“It was a cultural marriage,” said Wiltshire, as she explained the exchange between Zimbabwe and T&T. In addition to the presentations, she said, Exodus conducted a workshop for Zimbabwe musicians and in turn, the pan players learned how to play the narimba. Students were taught how basic skills in Carnival costume-making.
On the street, Wiltshire said, the union was most evident. “They recognised the African elements in T&T mas. I was amazed how quickly the youth were able to dance the moko jumbie within three days. They had a rhythm already,” said Wiltshire. “They were even dancing to our music on the street. There were only eight Trinis on the road and 30 Zimbabweans dancing in the band.”
In the neighbouring state of South Africa, the T&T traditions were well received, said Resistance. Exodus hosted three concerts: at the National State Theatre, Petroria; Villa Casi Street, Soweto where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu’s houses are located; Brie, a popular barbecue spot.
“Exodus blew the place away,” he said. “The reception was powerful. Even the elders came out to dance.”
Still on a high from the visit, Brother Resistance said he was glad to be part of a mission to share T&T’s culture. Wiltshire said there are some immediate returns. For example, she said, a contingent from Zimbabwe and South Africa visited for the Emancipation celebrations looking at possible partnerships in marketing T&T as tourist destination – although not necessarily for Carnival season. The connection, she said, was one reward that was fulfilling.
Some Caribbean Carnivals around the world
Atlanta Carnival – May
Berlin (Germany) Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures) – June
LA Carnival/Hollywood Carnival – July
ScotiabankToronto Caribbean Carnival (formerly Caribana) – August
Rotterdam (Zomer Carnival) – August
Barbados (Crop Over) – August
Notting Hill – August
Labour Day – September
Miami Carnival, Florida – October