By Michelle Johnson
Monday 15 October 2012 : 9:00 GMT
“The Trinidad and Tobago Culture Fest is a celebration of everything we are as a people: our food, our language, our music and more… this year we turn 50, it is very important that we celebrate that.” These words, from the High Commissioner’s welcome note in the Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Village ‘What’s On’ guide, sum up the ambitious adventure of art, theatre, dance, cinema, food and atmosphere that engulfed the well-known Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn from 25th July until 25th August. The T&T Village became a fantastic hub for the diaspora, and the public at large, to soak up the diversity of culture and talent that the twin island republic has long since offered the world.
The event, hosted by the T&T High Commission, was the vision of His Excellency, Garvin Nicholas, High Commissioner to the UK. His desire was 'to give back to the people while raising awareness of Trinidad and Tobago in the UK.' Whether these aims were achieved was perhaps only measurable by substantial turnout night after night, and the smiling faces and positive feedback of both attendees and the media. Undeniably, the crowds were predominantly made up of UK based nationals, but there were also visitors from local British communities, France and the US, to name a few, who came repeatedly. Visitors to the festival were enthralled by the range and quality of artistic expressions on offer. Not to mention the richness of our indigenous cuisine. Whether it was the kids’ workshops in the day, the films, the concerts and plays at night, the cuisine, browsing in the art gallery or catching an Olympic event on the wide screen in the 'savannah', there was definitely something for everyone. The village was the place where folks 'bounced up' old friends they hadn't seen for years, and made new ones.
Clearly the effort was on an epic scale but, as is inevitable with anything so prolific, there were things that did not go according to plan. The website for booking tickets was often down, which left some people frustrated as they were unable to reserve seats to see their favorite shows. Additionally, the modest capacity of the Tricycle meant that many found themselves left out of great performances by Paul Keens Douglas or Machel Montano, for example. There were other sensitive issues raised by expats, born out of our relatively new-found, and frankly lamentable, race conscious psyche. There were complaints that there was not enough 'indo-Trinidadian' expression at the village, plus the dominating image on the wall in the 'Savannah' room had only white folk in it. Greater sensitivity in these areas would have likely pre-empted such criticism. The areas where the project received critical feedback may be linked to the last minute funding, which left organisers with little time to scrutinise and rethink some of what eventually appeared on the programme and in the environment. “I don’t think it’s fair to say we left out Indian elements completely. The legendary Mungal Patasar performed at the launch and most of the food was Indian,” explained Renuka Köninger, Head of Public Affairs, Culture and Tourism at the High Commission. As for the picture, she said, “That was maybe something we could have paid closer attention to.”
The layout of the Tricycle was conducive to hosting the varied programme; however, some felt the venue should have been more central. “The cost of a central London venue would have prevented us from putting on what we did. Would we have gotten another site that would have given us a bar, cinema and theatre, studio, art exhibition area, all in one place?” asked Köninger. The Tricycle may have been off the beaten track for some, but it was very accessible by public transport – and on the Jubilee line, so people were able to head to and from the Olympic Park with ease to catch live events.
Despite the criticism, the Culture Fest was definitely a worthwhile endeavour overall; the efforts of the T&T High Commission in London to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence surpassed anything done by other T&T missions around the world. Other missions wondered how the UK team managed to stage it, whilst continuing to run the High Commission. “We had a whole team of volunteers,” said Köninger, “… nationals who volunteered their time and service, and who were on a rota every day. So that was pretty admirable that there were people who gave of themselves. Plus our staff worked extra hours.” Her summation was that, “This was a celebration. We showcased what our country has to offer the world, and that we are 100% proud of our culture and history. You can’t put a price on that.”