"It is time that we celebrate our similarities throughout the Caribbean." These were the words of soca king Machel Montano during a popular television morning programme in Jamaica.
His profound words made me reflect on my experiences, having spent time in several islands and currently in Jamaica. This multi-cultural lens provides an opportunity to appreciate the beauty and resilience seen in different cultures, somewhat different when compared to those who rely on speculation and vicarious learning. Such speculation may come in the form of bystanders who ask on a regular basis, "Why Trinis nuh like Jamaicans?" or Trinis who have a false belief that Jamaicans do not enjoy soca or calypso and prefer reggae/dancehall music. I fell into the category of the latter until I visited Jamaica. Such baseless assumptions sparked my interest in the topic, encouraging me to provide an alternative perspective based on my lived experience, and Machel Montano's interview was just timely.
Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have many similarities which should be celebrated, and in this acknowledgement and celebration there will be greater strength between them. In this piece the focus is on Carnival as the common factor, as it has become a gateway for cultural integration in both the Caribbean region and among the Diaspora in the USA, Canada, and the UK, for example. The observations have become even more apparent this time around, given the intensity with which Trinidad and Tobago Carnival returned to the big stage, welcomed by Trinbagonians, who, for the first time since World War II, experienced the cancellation of Carnival. This nostalgic energy seemingly transferred to our Jamaican sisters and brothers as well, who welcomed the return of Carnival festivities as we know it. They welcomed the feel-good energy that accompanies Carnival amidst the daily stresses and, as such, enjoyed this gift from their sister island.
The beauty of our Caribbean culture illuminated from Trinidadian online radio stations during the last Carnival season. The feel-good energy that reverberated through the airwaves brought feelings of restoration and hope for many, having been through the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic phase. Following a long season of pre-Easter Carnival festivities in Trinidad and Tobago, the Jamaicans then took the stage and culminated the activities at the end of the Easter season. Many popular Jamaican radio stations played soca music in preparation for Jamaica Carnival, popular Trinbagonian artistes hit the Jamaican shores for live concerts, and a new level of fun emerged on Jamrock. Likewise, the Jamaican music, through live concerts and popular radio stations, were welcome during the Lenten season in Trinidad and Tobago, not to mention the Jamaican/Trinidad and Tobago musical collaborations during Carnival time, which seems to be strengthening and creating a new synergy.
The earlier works of calypsonians, such as The Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener, Lord creator, and others who influenced the Jamaican musical landscape, has not gone unnoticed. Travelling throughout the districts of Jamaica, one can often find locals sharing stories about these Calypso legends in Jamaica. Similarly, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires remains a well-respected name in Trinidad and Tobago.
This cultural integration is amazing as it also speaks to our oneness as Caribbean people, no matter how some may try to claim superiority over others. The experience also highlights our common connections to our source, African heritage, and the power that lies in our history, which brings our people together. We are also encouraged to think about our ability to sustain ourselves in the Caribbean, having learnt many lessons during the pandemic. This is just one example, and there are many lessons and opportunities for us to benefit from as two of the greatest Caribbean nations. It shows our collective mutual identity as Caribbean people, not as individual cultures, nations, or nationalities, but as one factor, one family, one Caribbean.
It is a potential path forged by our nations that can lead us to greater unification. While some may be disputing which music to play, whether the meal is peas and rice or rice and peas, or which callaloo is better, there is something greater happening among our Caribbean countries which we should observe, appreciate, respect, and embrace. When we can appreciate that "I am you and you are me", we can make a big difference.
Dr Khadijah Williams is a human development consultant and mental health practitioner. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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