The inaugural CALO Festival sputtered and coughed into life on Friday 19th August in the Great Hall of Alexandra Palace, London. But, far from beginning with a bang, the three-day showcase of Caribbean music, costumes, food and art got off to a lukewarm start.
Expectations were high, with many patrons queuing early to get into the famous venue. But after entering via the grandeur of the tree-filled atrium, then a long, mirrored corridor, patrons were greeted with an undecorated great hall, a poor seating layout and inadequate bar facilities. The absence of any stage dressing added to the barrenness of the décor, and made the huge hall seem even larger.
Ms Desire opened the night’s entertainment with a short, feisty performance. Her set included her popular UK Soca Monarch contender Mind Ya Bizness and a soca remix of Beyonce’s hit, Best Thing I Never Had.
The first big band of the night followed, Roy Cape All Stars, with Blaxx and Rita Jones on lead vocals. Together, they led patrons through a mix of tracks old and new. Blaxx was playful and comical as he interacted with the audience, whilst Jones showed off stunning vocals on the tracks of her contemporaries, such as Destra’s It’s Carnival and Alison Hinds’ Roll It. It seemed somewhat surprising that their set was composed mainly of other people’s hits, despite between them having a wealth of popular songs that could engage any crowd. Only late in their performance did Blaxx deliver songs like Breathless, Carnival Jumbie, Good Times and Tusty.
The first real spark of the evening came when Benjai, Trinidad and Tobago’s Young King 2011, took to the stage for a mini concert backed by the All Stars. He proved popular with the audience, eliciting huge cheers for his fluid wining display. Benjai took the audience on a journey from his early days in the business with By the Bar, through Watching Me - his beautiful ballad with Gailann - and a heartfelt rendition of Amnesty, the peace song he created with Machel Montano. He shone on his more current hits Drunk Again, Wine to the Side and Trini.
Despite having no backing band, Lil Rick was not to be outdone. In a dazzling showcase of wining prowess, he also swept the audience away with current and historic hits. And, in what has become a staple in his performance, he invited some women on stage to judge who had the hottest waistline - before unleashing his own x-rated moves on them.
The Bajan flavour continued with Krosfyah and the inimitably lush vocals of lead singer Edwin Yearwood, though some did find their performance somewhat lacking in excitement.
Performers of the moment, Kes The Band, led by 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Groovy Soca Monarch Kees Dieffenthaller, were given the honour of closing the show. Patrons were treated to a wide-ranging set, which touched on several musical genres including soca, pop and reggae. As expected, the monster hits Wotless and Whey Yuh From drew the biggest response; however, when Kes dabbled in the dancehall styles of Sean Paul and Barrington Levy, the crowd were still hugely appreciative. But far from being a seamless performance, this set rose and dipped in tempo. For some patrons, being unfamiliar with the band’s repertoire beyond their recent hits stopped their enjoyment of the rest of the performance.
We applaud the fact that Notting Hill Mas Bands Association (NHMBA) moved to make this event something more than just the Grand Carnival Splash, and that Carnival Village and NeXtLevel PoisonUK jumped in. But although a good idea to include all the additional activity, lessons must be learnt from the fact that the audio was never what it should have been. It takes a great deal of sound to fill a Great Hall; although Alexandra Palace is a prestigious and imposing venue, it may just not be the right one for this type of event.
Wendell Clement, the mastermind behind CALO Festival, admitted afterwards that there were areas for improvement. But he took heart from the fact that many people had bought into the concept of the event, and had even been gathered outside the venue before the doors were open. The next step in CALO’s evolution, he said, was, “To perfect the event”.