Where in the world could one experience a free weekend package of Carnival J’ouvert (Jouvay), the spoken word artistry of Mutabaruka, Trinidad & Tobago’s dynamic 3canal’s unique Rapso music style, limbo dancing, steelpan rhythms, stilt dancing with a traditional Caribbean Moko Jumbie, folk music, storytelling and African drumming?
Harbourfront Centre is the answer with all of the activities taking place over a four-day period starting tomorrow night (Friday).
The centre, along with its lead partner the Toronto Port Authority, presents the 14th annual Caribbean-flavoured Island Soul festival to coincide with the Toronto carnival.
This year’s theme – Riddim & Resistance – celebrates the transformation of the Caribbean islands from hot spots of colonial conflict to creative conduits for carnival and culture.
Harbourfront Centre’s artistic associates Sophia Isajiw and Dalton Higgins developed the concept in a curatorial statement.
“I find that when we talk about the roots of carnival and most music cultures and sub-cultures, themes around resistance tend to get lost very often,” said Higgins.
“What we are trying to do this weekend is bridge gaps and generations and get some of the younger people to better understand the roots of carnival.
“There is meaning to these cultural events, including the songs done by let’s say reggae singers who are still involved in the post-colonial struggle, coming from colonized societies and issues around repatriation and back-to-Africa consciousness which get lost sometimes when we are jumping up and dancing on the street on carnival weekend.
“I mentor young people in Rexdale and some of the other designated priority neighbourhoods and they talk about their love for soca and reggae music, yet they have no idea about the history and they don’t even digest the lyrics properly.”
The festivities start at 6 p.m. tomorrow evening with steelpan music – provided by Pat “Panman Pat” McNeilly and Jeff Walcott – at Ann Tindal Park and move into high gear two hours later with the J’ouvert Ole Mas’ Carnival Parade, starting at the Redpath Stage.
Artistic director Rhoma Spencer coordinated the production.
“The one-hour parade around the centre features steelpan, drums, midnight robber characters, a Tobago speech band, paper doll characters and blue devils performing their traditional spoken word satires and displaying ole mas’ placards,” she said. “You will see some of the traditional carnival characters from Trinidad & Tobago’s carnival.”
Higgins said the parade will entertain spectators with a mixture of satirical parody, spoken word and dance.
“We wanted to provide a genuine articulation of the culture and J’ouvert is a nice little snapshot for those who have not experienced Trinidad & Tobago or some of the other major carnivals,” he added.
Jamaican dub poet and spoken word artist Mutabaruka is one of the festival’s main attractions. He performs on the WestJet Stage on Sunday night at 9:30 p.m.
“Muta is like a one-man entertainment conglomerate,” said Higgins. “He hosts a TV show and he talks about the hard issues. He is quite literally the King of Kings when you talk about spoken word and dub poetry. He’s going to be performing with a live band, so his show is going to be very musical and educational.”
The nine-member 3canal group brings their exciting, energetic conscious music, informed by the spirit of soca, calypso and kaiso, to the WestJet Stage tomorrow night at 9 p.m. while 2011 Juno award winner Elaine “Lil Bit” Shepherd will be on the same stage on Saturday night, beginning at 8 p.m. Her Likkle But Mi Tallawah rendition won this year’s Reggae Recording of the Year award.
Swizzle Stick Theatre highlights the ritual art of stilt dancing at Ann Tindal Park on Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m., Sunday at 5:30 p.m. and Monday at 2:30 p.m.; a Tobago speech band will make an appearance at the South Orchard Tent on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. with Dr. Verlene Bobb-Lewis and performer Keisha Stewart offering an informative history of this masquerade, costumes and musical instruments and Cuban dancers and drummers Sarya Leyva and Yordanis O’Reilly will present an hour-long interactive workshop exploring the roots of African riddims in Cuban music on the Redpath Stage at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
The full schedule of weekend events is available at www.harbourfrontcentre.com/summer.