BY KRISTINA RAMCHARRAN
The sun was shining in Scarborough as the city kicked off the 6th annual Afro-Carib festival. It was a cultural affair as the sounds of Afro-beats and Soca music filled the venue and poured out onto the streets. The colourful and vibrant printed clothing from the vendor stalls blew in the wind as people of the community shopped with fascination. The Albert Campbell Square located on the outside of the Scarborough Civic Centre was filled with a lively assortment of vendors of all kinds and at the centre of attraction was the stage showcasing all of the festival’s performances.
The two-day festival was packed with a culturally exquisite line up of singers and dancers of African, Caribbean and other descents. Apart from entertainment, the festival served as a great way for cultural vendors to reach out to the public and gain support within their cultural communities.
Local vendor Jamal Rowe spoke on his first experience being at the event and said that the festival’s environment is looking positive for his soap business. “So far it’s pretty lively, actually a lot of people are coming out. Really good food, good weather so it’s a perfect time for the event.”
On his product, Rowe was present at the festival selling handmade soaps along with his business partner. He noted that he enjoys making wholesome products like their soap for the cultural community because they have a strong appreciation for natural products. “Everybody wants something more natural, especially from, you know, their own community as well. So, we actually hand make it, so that’s what makes it really special and we keep out all the preservatives.”
Rowe added, “It’s tailored for us. It’s naturally smooth, it’s not that bulk stuff you get at the store, so it’s really catered for us. It’s for us, by us.”
Because of the great vendor environment and the cultural community support generated from the festival, vendors from previous years have returned annually to be a part of this cultural extravaganza. Such a vendor like Marvin Joachim has returned to the festival for four years consecutively.
Joachim runs a business also selling natural products such as body oils, body butters and noted that natural is the way to go, and the crowd at the Afro-Carib fest easily proves to agree. Being present at the festival for four years as a vendor, Joachim said that much has changed and developed over the years. “It’s been a good experience actually. When I first came here it was around six vendors and now we’re about maybe what, 40 deep? So from like six, seven to forty, it’s been a nice ride.”
He also said that the event’s growth pushes his business to grow even further. “[I] try to go bigger and better every year. I try to grow with them.” He also added that the Afro-Carib fest’s value of diversity is evident in everyone. “Everybody that’s coming together, the diversity, the different cultures. I mean everybody just comes here to have a good time,” said Joachim.
Apart from the vendors, there was lots of excitement happening in the front centre stage of the event. The stage featured headlining performances from musicians like Exco Levi and the High Priest band, Ammoye Evans, Destiny band, Jae Baz and more. The days also featured special dance performances from groups Socacize, C-Flava, Bongo Masala and Carnival Spice.
Carnival Spice dancers Sulaire Parahoo and Shakera Martin said that they had an amazing time, as they usually do at Afro-Carib fest and were honoured to be back for another year. Parahoo said, “It’s really cool because we were earlier in the set, so we got to warm up the crowd and get them ready for what the remaining of the weekend is going to be like. And it’s our fourth time at this festival and it’s always great vibes, great energy and an amazing crowd.”
When asked about the growth of the festival, Parahoo added, “Tons more vendors, obviously a bigger audience, because more recognition comes with repeating an event, a successful event at that, and just smiling faces.”
Shakera Martin noted that her favourite part of the performances at the festival is interacting with the kids. “The kids are fantastic. They love the costumes, they love the colours, they’re engaged.”
She added that the warming response from the children shows great cultural involvement from the younger generations. “If you call anybody else to come up and interact, it’s always the kids that come first, because they love that. We’re just happy to get out here and you know, just share our culture with them and get them moving and get them participating and involved in the Caribbean, Soca and Afro beat music.”
The Afro-Carib festival was also presented with an official greeting from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The greeting was received and displayed on stage by Scarborough centre MP Salma Zahid. The festival is promising the community it will be back next year, even bigger and better than before!