BY JELANI GRANT
DJ Flash’s upbeat island playlist was the first of many sounds to bellow from inside Albert Campbell Square at the Scarborough Civic Centre to begin the 5th Annual Scarborough Afro-Caribbean Festival.
This year, the theme for the festival was “Celebrating Our Diversity”, reinforced regularly throughout the weekend by both hosts Michiemee and G98.7’s MC Bonde. The two popular hosts had many announcements translated to French to provide for inclusive dialogue.
There was a flag naming competition that gave guests the chance to demonstrate their knowledge of African and Caribbean countries by their flag, hung up above the stage. Demarcus Lojore, originally from South Sudan, Deon Dailey from Scarborough, and Princess from Toronto competed against each other by pointing to flags they recognized one at a time. Dailey named most flags, but Princess also picked out a number of flags correctly. Lojore, however, knew mostly African countries from their flags, and could only name the Jamaican flag. Michiemee said most people do not know a majority of the countries’ flags being celebrated, which proves the importance of Afro-Carib Fest, teaching people about other countries besides their own. To celebrate and include all cultural backgrounds in attendance, MC Bonde would tell the crowd to shout out their nationality and be proud to celebrate such diversity. “I was ready to win the contest this year, but I wasn’t expecting to be asked about Caribbean flags,” Lojore told Toronto Caribbean.
One of the favourite events of the festival, the dance competition, gathered most of the attendees towards the front of the stage to watch bravery and style displayed by a number of guests; as usual the winners were decided by the audience’s “Stay” or “Go” verdict.
The crowd, consisting primarily of families, enjoyed delicious Caribbean and African dishes, such as fufu, oxtail, curried & jerked meats from food vendors such as Ceejay Catering, Sweet Caribbean Sweets, Mckoys, Coconut Island, Jerk Paradise, Hot and Tasty Catering, BD Kitchen, and Spiked Punch Catering and Décor, all while enjoying endless tunes from the Albert Campbell stage. Reggae music played in between performers by DJ Flash.
Fashion enthusiasts could be found across from the food vendors, picking from clothing with traditional African print as well as island-inspired shirts, hats, shorts and umbrellas sporting different flags, all great for the weekend’s hot weather that reached 29 degrees on Saturday. Among the fashion vendors, there were makeup artists, designers and even a fitness apparel and equipment kiosk.
Zumba instructor Ndem was one of the first to perform at this year’s festival, taking the crowd through a non-stop dance exercise that gradually picked up the pace every couple minutes, and despite the heat, a number of guests were keeping up with her sweat-producing instructions. Following her workout routine, was reggae singer Connector, who performed songs like “Soca Doctor” and “In The Mood”. French-speaking Cameroonian performer MC Zogho also performed on stage, singing his single “A Beautiful Life”. Another Afro-Carib Fest favourite was the Carnival Spice dancers, who broke a sweat when they gathered kids, and eventually adults, into a dance circle, giving the festival a moment of Caribana vibes. The two ladies started limbo, challenging everyone to test their flexibility under the blazing sun. Saturday’s performers included Madame Wob Dwiyet Group, Ras Groundation, Freddie B, EDIFY, Ijo Vudu, dancehall singer Chita Movalez, and JUNO award-winner musicians Afrafranto.
Due to the minimal rain, Sunday was a much cooler day but the performances, including Socacize, Kandara Capoeira, Mora, ICU Group C Flava and Black Stars, kept the energy high and people out of their seats. “I perform around the world and every time I come to Toronto, the crowd looks bored,” said Congolese performer Blandine of her perceived reaction from the audience. However, when she asked for someone to join her on stage to dance, a number of women jumped on stage to dance to the sound of the band. Nearing the end of Sunday night, MC Bonge gathered guests to the front of stage to dance with the help of DJ Flash’s up-tempo mix, ending with a ‘Follow Da Leada’ conga line before the highly energetic Destiny Band performed with band members: vocalists Curtis B, Mr. Logan, Kamela Singh, Kiran Dindial, and drummer Kailash D. Destiny Band was scheduled last for a reason as they closed the festival with a bang, performing singles such as “Pon di Road” and “I Don’t Know About You”. Kailash sang Top 40 singles “Sorry” by Justin Bieber and Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” and “Waiting In Vain”, before Curtis B told the crowd to form a dance circle that later formed into another conga line.
After all of the performances had ended, and the $250 raffle prize for a 2- person stay at the Toronto Holiday Inn was collected, MC Bonde handed out free CDs of DJ Flash’s playlist from the weekend. It was truly a celebration of cultures proven by the diverse crowd, which included people from Hamilton, Mississauga, and even Spain. The end result of the cultural diversity among attendees was fun-loving positive vibes.