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Southern students celebrate Caribbean culture

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Mackenzie Hurlbert – General Assignment Reporter

Photo Courtesy | Jon Pater
A Southern student performed a song as part of the celebration of the Caribbean culures.

Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. All names read for cruises and dream vacation planners; however the night of the Caribbean Showcase emphasized their importance not as beach-bum destinations, but as countries rich in culture and heritage. These islands and countries have more to them than great beaches and mixed drinks. The Caribbean Showcase held on Wednesday Oct. 24 displayed the cultural dress, dances, and music of countries within the Caribbean and West Indies as it turned the Student Center ballroom into a fashion runway and theatre.

Junior Kelly Stewart was excited for the showcase while waiting for the doors to open. “I hope they tell us something about the Caribbean that I never knew,” Stewart, an elementary education major, said. “Instead of just coming here for entertainment, I hope to learn.” Stewart’s family is Jamaican and her uncle is from Trinidad, so the cultural emphasis behind this event was an attraction.

Photo Courtesy | Jon Pater
Southern students dressed up in culture attire to celebrate Caribbean traditions and customs.

Organized by the West Indian Society, the showcase was based around the theme J’Ouvert, which is similar to Carnival in Brazil. It started back when the West Indians were oppressed and outcasted from celebrations by the upper class. In answer to this rejection, the West Indians developed a celebration of their own and took it to the streets. “It was just a way to show their freedom,” said Latish Whyte, president of the West Indian Society and senior liberal studies major. “In America we have J’Ouvert in New York, usually during Labor Day weekend.”

DJ Keemy and Host ‘Slay’ entertained and energized the crowd before things got started and in between performances by playing and mixing music from different Caribbean and West Indian countries. Southern students, faculty, and family members were dancing in their seats to the music while a slideshow with pictures of cultural dress, flags, and J’Ouvert celebrations lit up the screen that dominated the front of the room.

“I’m just here to see it all,” said Danielle Ellis, freshman with Jamaican heritage, as she surveyed the room before the show. “I’m looking to see a different kind of culture. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Whyte welcomed and addressed the audience with a few opening remarks mentioning the effort and focus behind this event. “We just want you to carry out the lively energy, have a lot of fun, and enjoy!” she said. This began the night’s lineup of 20 performances ranging from poetry readings to live music and dancing to fashion shows.

Kojo designs started the event with a runway style fashion show of West African clothing and later showcased a line of urban wear. The creator of Kojo is a freshman here at Southern, and his collection displayed a variety of colors, prints and styles for both men and women. The diverse group of models were all Southern students.

The other fashion shows of the night included a Creole cultural wear collection by Cecilia Philogene from New Jersey. This cultural wear, featured on a group of dancing models, was worn for special occasions and incorporated lots of plaid. There was also a runway show for GMI Clothing, a more modern and urban brand, and hats and clothing from Unique Design. Lastly, Crissy’s Shoes showcased a collection which featured a variety of materials including tassels, pompoms and, of course, glitter.

Probably the most popular performances of the night were the dance acts. SPDC was the first dance act to perform and they set the bar high, entering the room to the Lion King signature theme. Their performance incorporated multiple genres of dance including African dancing, salsa and break dancing. The crowd, filled with people of all ages, cheered on the dancers and following dance acts included the tutu wearing WS Magnificent Dancers, the partnered dancing of “509 de Ayiti” and the Hamden Academy of Dance and Music.

Hamden Academy came out dressed in Carnival costumes and decorated with feathers, tassels and sequins. They danced along to a set of songs, impressing the crowd with a mix of dance and gymnastic stunts such as splits, jumps and displays of flexibility. The act received a standing ovation from the crowd.

There were many musical performances at the showcase, the first being a steel pan drum performance by Bryan Garbe. Without any vocals or accompaniments, Garbe entertained the crowd by playing two songs on his steel pan and drum set. The first roused the audience to their feet to dance or clap along with the music, and the audience sang along to the second, “One Love” by Bob Marley.

“He was amazing,” said Ellis about Garbe after the performance. Meanwhile DJ Keemy kept things moving and the crowd entertained during the short breaks. Ellis thought Keemy was doing a good job, “He’s a little bit biased because he’s been playing a lot of Jamaican songs, but it’s been good.”

Other musical performances in the showcase included artist Timmy singing “Is This Love” by Bob Marley, performer Sammy Maximin, and singer Stefan who sang Rihanna’s song “Man Down” (accompanied by the enthusiastic audience). There was a live band performance playing all original reggae music fronted by Southern student and artist Shane and another performance by the group Ju$$ Bu$$. Lastly, rapper and singer Jovaun ended his performance with a series of dance moves and flips.

“That was more energy than MC Hammer,” said Host Slay once Jovaun left the floor.

Lastly, poetry was the other genre of cultural performance at the showcase. Poet Benjamin Caman read a poem titled “Angel” inspired by the family bonds within West Indian culture. “As a young child what I always admired about the West Indian Culture was how tight the family [unit] is,” said Caman.

Poet Steven Lorrius performed a comical piece that confronted stereotypes in a light-hearted manner. He started by defining what the Caribbean is to him, then talked about friends and people he has met who share a heritage from the Caribbean and West Indies. Lorrius described with an accurate impression how Trinidadians sing while they speak, and he also joked how the clown and game-filled American “carnival” is much different than the feather and thong-filled “Carnival” celebration. Lorrius ended by revising his definition of the Caribbean: “It’s an amazing place that’s never boring or dull.”

The total of 20 performances lasted about three hours and ended with a Carnival or J’Ouvert celebration where students paraded around in body paint, holding flags, and modeling decorated bikinis. Overall, the showcase was high-energy and packed with the rich culture of the Caribbean. “I liked the music and the fashion was very good. There was a representation of every culture,” said Ellis. “SPDC had a great performance!”

“The success of the event was phenomenal. It was a great amount of collaboration and cooperation. It was a lot of background help; everyone pulled together in unity,” said Whyte. “We had a great audience and a lot of support.”

Photo Courtesy | Jon Pater
Dancers from the Symphonic Pulse Dance Company performed at the Caribbean showcase Oct. 24, 2012.

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