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Edmonton’s Cariwest Festival celebrates 30 years of Caribbean culture

Edmonton’s Cariwest Festival celebrates 30 years of Caribbean culture

Posted by Shanelle Weir on August 06, 2014

Edmontonians yearning for hot sun, colourful dancing, steel pan and calypso music won’t have to venture far this week, as the Cariwest Caribbean Arts Festival returns downtown for its 30th year.

Bringing to life the music, costume, dancing and cuisine characteristic of Caribbean culture, organizers say the three-day event represents the city’s vibrant Caribbean and West Indian community. To mark their 30th anniversary, the festival will feature a children’s carnival, specially designed costumes and a documentary about the festival’s history.

“This is such a stellar occasion for us,” festival president Donna Coombs-Montrose said. “We are very proud that we have reached 30 years, it’s a milestone. We’re about sharing and experiencing who we are and what we brought with us, and we have created this kind of carnival to showcase who we are.”

Perhaps the most popular of the festival’s events, the grand costume parade began in 1984 as part of the Klondike Days parade, and offered a way for Caribbean immigrants to share and celebrate their culture with the city. This year’s parade on Aug. 9 will feature hundreds of costumed dancers and Caribbean community members as they make their way down Jasper Avenue toward the Caribbean Village in Churchill Square.

This year, festival organizers commissioned Fitzgerald DeFrietas, a costume designer from Trinidad and Tobago with 60 years of experience to create the some of the feathered, beaded and sequined costumes and masks worn in the parade.

“There will be an explosion of colour, of form, of street theatre, of excitement,” Coombs-Montrose said.

The events planned showcase Spanish, Latin, French and British influences to Caribbean art and culture, but the parade will also include performances from local pipe and drum bands as well as local aboriginal groups. Food vendors in Churchill Square will be cooking up traditional spicy Caribbean dishes throughout the festival.

Coombs-Montrose said she hopes to see many children in attendance. Keeping Caribbean heritage alive in Edmonton is important to the next generation of new Canadians with a Caribbean background, she added.

“It’s a generation that’s going to be preparing to take over when those who are here currently have moved on,” she said. “We try to pass on the arts to our young people, to anyone who wants to learn from us.

“It’s a passion that we have about reflecting our history.”

The Cariwest Caribbean Arts Festival runs Aug. 8-10 downtown.

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