This year’s Independence celebrations, though scaled back, were fitting.
Given all that the country and, by extension, the world has been through over the past few months, it was indeed a blessing and privilege for Bajans here and in the diaspora to be able to celebrate the grand occasion of our 54th anniversary of Independence.
Much has happened since we celebrated our 53rd year close to 365 days ago.
We have made some strides – strides that can so easily be forgotten with the unwelcomed presence of the global pandemic, COVID-19.
No one sector has escaped its crippling grasp. But apart from tourism, the cultural sector stands out, with the cancellation of big and small events that draw us together.
In spite of this, the notable performances of our cultural artistes this past weekend were heartening. They deserve much praise, and as we recap from November 2019 till now, we reflect on some of the major cultural strides we have made, though time and space will not allow us to touch on all.
This time last year we were in the midst of a newly-formatted National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) programme. The highly anticipated festival took on a different look when each night was dedicated to cultural icons. Tribute was paid to Richild Springer, Janice Millington and Andrea Gollop.
As the year turned, the entire country and diaspora were poised for what looked to be a great year ahead for the We Gatherin’ national events which started in St Lucy. There was a lighting ceremony on the opening night and a grand concert giving a taste of what was to come.
Then on January 21, the Government of Barbados unveiled a plaque a stone’s throw away from the birthplace of the late Father of Independence, Errol Walton Barrow at The Garden, St Lucy. This was followed by a mega-concert which featured the crème de la crème, all in Barrow’s honour.
In a touching night-time handover, MP for St Lucy Peter Philips passed on the We Gatherin’ baton to MP for St Peter Colin Jordan for February. St Peter’s celebrations started with a gospel concert featuring talent from across the parish.
St Peter also awarded their gems and outstanding sons of the soil at an awards ceremony held during a church service attended by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley. Their celebration culminated with a mega day-long cultural event in Speightstown.
St Peter then passed on the baton to St Thomas MP Cynthia Forde for the month of March. They also started with a service but it was a multi-faith service in a packed Lester Vaughan School hall. They had a few village events before it all ended prematurely. Sadly, the folks in St Thomas never got to showcase their parish. The We Gatherin’ events all came to an end due to COVID-19.
Finalists were also named in the Baje to the World national talent competition, but that too was affected by the pandemic.
But Barbados is resilient, and the sector seemed determined that the pandemic would not kill the spirit of cultural and national pride. Groups, some organisations and individual artistes got innovative and started to stage live concerts on social media.
And although it was now official that Crop Over and NIFCA were both cancelled, a number of artistes still produced and released new music. We commend all artistes who did.
In May, the release of Iweb’s and Cheyne Jones’ song, We Got This, sung by various Caribbean artistes, got the ball rolling for things to come.
The Prime Minister, through the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), commissioned a song for the frontline workers, and a group of artistes came together for the This Is Who We Are project.
The Inter-American Alliance for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) brought together another set of artistes headed by Mr Dale who did The Farmer’s Anthem.
During the summer promoters held some events, staging them with the COVID protocols in mind.
Chrystal Cummins-Beckles and Trident 10 TV staged the first-ever Junior Soca Monarch competition which saw former Junior Monarch Dynamo taking the inaugural title.
The NCF also did its part. It offered free steel pan lessons in Queen’s Park weekly. These were conducted by two of the island’s top pannists, David ZigE Walcott and Terry Mexcian Arthur.
The Richard Stoute Teen Talent competitions were recently staged and crowned two winners: Kenya Joseph and Kianna Browne in the Over-21 category.
Only this week, the NCF, supporting a group of entrepreneurs, staged a cultural showcase at the Daphne Joseph Hackett Theatre.
On Saturday, as part of Independence celebrations, there was a grand online celebration called We Gatherin’ Barbados Virtual featuring Barbados’ embassies around the world.
There is no doubt about it: the cultural industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. And while plenty attention has been paid to tourism, as it should be, we cannot forget our creatives whose lives have been affected heavily during this time. They are our professional dancers, singers, poets, dramatists, musicians, producers, writers, actors, artists, designers, culinary practitioners, cosmetology workers and other skilled workers.
So, today, we salute them for finding innovative ways to stay relevant. We thank the Government, the NCF, private promoters and all other stakeholders who have given their support to the cultural industry during this time. Let us be forever thankful to our cultural sector which helps us to preserve and promote our heritage and identity.