Complete regional integration remains elusive. Since the collapse of the short-lived West Indies Federation in 1962, there have been several attempts to unify the Caribbean. In sports, it’s the West Indies cricket team, which for many years has been a source of pride for Caribbean people. Then there is CARICOM, which comes with its own band of critics, many of whom are calling for its dissolution. A lesser-known event, the Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta) highlights the culture and arts of the region. The biennial event held its 13th Staging in Barbados this year. Several Jamaican actors, singers, authors, and designers were present, among them, Tribe Sankofa.
Tribe Sankofa is a local performing arts collective founded by Fabian Thomas who is also the Artistic Director. The Carifesta Symposium, hosted by the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, was the group’s first participation in an international event, but getting there was not easy. The group was not part of Jamaica’s official contingent to Barbados and as such, had to finance the trip themselves. This proved to be a daunting task, especially after the C.H.A.S.E Fund declined Thomas’ request for funding. The group then turned to the crowd-funding platform GoFundMe and also sought sponsorship from local individuals and organizations. The saying “every mickle mek a muckle” rang true for them and after an intensive fundraising campaign they were able to secure the required funds for the trip, inclusive of lodging and meals. After overcoming that hurdle a tropical storm threatened to derail the group as flights were being cancelled and the opening ceremony had to be postponed. However, by the time they reached the airport they were able to board their flights with no issues as the storm had dissipated by then.
In response to both of Thomas’ abstracts were accepted by the Symposium organizers, Tribe Sankofa remounted their acclaimed piece Word Soul: The Lorna Goodison Edition, while Thomas, who is also an adjunct lecturer at the University of the West Indies (Mona Campus) gave a panel presentation on Tribe Sankofa’s production Black Bodies staged in 2016. The presentation was entitled Black Bodies: A performance Ritual for the Living and the Dead, both pieces were very well-received, despite limited audience. This performance is but another notch in the belt of the group which has been recognised by notable performing arts and cultural organizations since their formation in 2011. They have received multiple awards from Tallawah Dramatic Arts Festival and the Jamaica Cultural Development’s Speech and Drama Competitions. They have a growing cadre of supporters and well-wishers, which they are very grateful for.
It has been almost one month since the Tribe returned from Barbados and since returning the group has been juggling rehearsal sessions for their signature offeringWord Soul, held annually in December and The Movement, an ongoing campaign against underage drinking, done in partnership with Heineken and Collingswood Learning. In between rehearsal sessions Tribe members recounted their Carifesta experience, including lessons learnt along the way.
The consensus among the group was that the event was a good one, despite the minor initial setbacks. They were all grateful for the opportunity to perform in a different country and to be able to do so together. The community/family that exists within the Tribe is evident in the way they relate to each other and this also comes forth on the stage. Thomas unreservedly shared: “We absolutely loved performing at the Errol Barrow Centre for the Creative Imagination! The theatre is lovely and the technical team is first-rate, professional and so accommodating.” In addition to the overall experience, the cultural exchange that resulted from the trip was of immense value. The Tribe met other performing arts groups and Directors from the region and made meaningful connections, particularly with Dr Chenzira Davis Kahina of the University of the Virgin Islands, which could see the group performing at other events across the region. This is a testament to the regional integration that can be achieved through Carifesta.
Another thing that stands out for the Tribers, is the need for more intense study of our culture. Caribbean people on a whole and Jamaicans specifically have a rich and complex culture that needs to be preserved, studied and improved upon for the future. We are more alike than we are different; our shared history creates a commonality that cannot be erased. Carifesta provides the perfect opportunity for highlighting our cultural similarities while at the same time demonstrating that which is unique to each Caribbean island.
The next staging of Carifesta will be in 2019 in Trinidad and Tobago. The group is already excited and look forward to being a part of that staging. However, as of now, their focus is on pre-production and rehearsals for Word Soul on December 16 at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Performing Arts.