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A Historical Review of Culturama

(…. De Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Lime)

The idea of Culturama was conceived in February 1974 during a meeting of the Nevis Dramatic and Cultural Society (NEDACS). The main point discussed during this meeting was the general decline in the customary folklore troupes on parade during the then Christmas festival. It was felt that much of the customary indigenous Christmas traditions and activities were dying and that there was an urgent need to revive these traditions so that they can be handed down from generation to generation thereby ensuring the posterity of Nevis’ rich cultural heritage.

Lengthy discussions ensued in the following weeks and months ahead in an effort to find ways in which this rich Nevisian cultural heritage could be kept alive through the preservation and promotion of the cultural art forms and traditions. The then Vice-President of NEDACS the late Calvin “Cabu” Howell spearheaded the charge and he set about to put things in place for the urgent revival, preservation and promotion of the traditional customs and folk art. It was felt that a Cultural Festival, highlighting and promoting Nevisian heritage would have been the most appropriate way forward.

Having secured the name “Culturama”, the next step was to find the most suitable time of year to stage this festival. The August Monday Emancipation weekend was looked at as the most appropriate time since it coincided with a very significant period in the lives of the African descendants living in the Caribbean region.

The main objectives of Culturama from a NEDACS prospective were as follows:

1.    To give a vital thrust to the dying traditional customs of Nevis.
2.    To stimulate an interest in the wealth of Nevis’ cultural heritage.
3.    To create a climate in which Nevisian indigenous folk art can reassert itself and flourish.
4.    To raise funds for constructing a community center, to serve as a base for the projection of cultural awareness programs.

The first Culturama Festival was therefore held over the Emancipation Day/August Monday weekend in 1974 and the program included dancing, drama, a display of old fashioned troupes, folk singing and an art and craft exhibition. A local recipe competition along with a Miss Culture Talent Show and a Calypso Contest also formed part of this inaugural festival.

Special mention must be made of the first Ms. Culture Talent Queen, Lucina Stapleton-Wade and the first Calypso King of Culturama, Lanston “King Zero” Knight. The two other calypsonians who competed in the 1974 Calypso contest were Bahowlah The Meek and Peter Whiltshire.
Mention must also be made of the persons who were largely responsible for the success of Culturama in its early years. They are the “Father of Culturama” late Calvin “Cabu” Howell, the first chairman of Culturama, Irma Johnson, Victor “Jay” Martin, Lyra Richards, Tyrone “Bahowlah” O’Flaherty, the late Melford “Mel” Henville and Clifford “Boots” Griffin.

The inaugural Culturama festival was held at the Charlestown Secondary School. After a few years this venue was changed to the Nevis Club and in 1980 and 1981 the venue was changed to Grove Park then back to the Nevis Club in 1982. Culturama was suspended in 1983 due to the Independence celebrations that took place in September of the same year. From 1984 up to this present day Culturama has continued unbroken and the home of Culturama has been the Cultural Complex, which was built from funds raised by NEDACS.

During the late 1980’s Culturama went into a slow decline. This was due to a lack of sufficient funds to adequately sustain the festival and an apparent lack of interest shown by the members of the NEDACS group. In order to prevent a further decline of and a possible extinction of the Culturama Festival, the Nevis Island Administration nationalized the festival in 1990 and provided the newly assigned Culturama Committee with a staffed secretariat to assist with its clerical work. The Administration also provided an annual subvention to the committee to help defray expenses incurred in the staging of the festival. This subvention has continued up to this present day.

When the Department of Culture was established in 1993, the Culturama Secretariat was attached to that department and was housed at this said department. Halstead “Sooty” Byron, the then Director of Culture was assigned to the position of chairman, a position he held until 1998. Mr. Byron was later re-appointed as chairman of Culturama in 2007 and has served in this position up to this very day. He therefore has the distinction of being the longest serving chairman of Culturama to date. Nuff respect to you “Sooty” for the excellent job at keeping the “Culturama Ship” afloat.

In September 1998, the Nevis Island Administration, established a fulltime Culturama Secretariat, staffed with an Executive Director and an Administrative Assistant. The Secretariat continued to operate out the offices of and under the umbrella of the Department of Culture with Halstead Byron still lending his experience and expertise to the planning of the festival. In June 1999 the Culturama Secretariat moved to its own offices at the Cotton Ginnery Mall Charlestown and still continues to operate from this location up to this day.

In 2002 the Culturama Secretariat was separated from the Department of Culture and there after the Secretariat began operating as a separate department under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and was provided with its own annual budget in the Nevis Island Administration’s Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.

In July of 2007 the Nevis Cultural Development Foundation Ordinance was passed in the Nevis Island Assembly establishing the Nevis Cultural Development Foundation which subsumed the Department of Culture and the Culturama Secretariat under the umbrella of the Nevis Cultural Development Foundation. The Nevis Cultural Development Foundation began its operations on April 1, 2008 and the Culturama Secretariat was renamed the Festivals Secretariat and still continued its role of overseeing the management of the Culturama Festival.

A number of additional activities have been added to the calendar of Culturama activities over the years. In 1987 while still under the management of the NEDACS group the Mr. and Ms. Teenage Pageant was introduced. This show targeted Secondary School students from the five parishes on Nevis. In an effort to increase the number of participants in the contest the focus was shifted from the teenagers in the Secondary Schools to the fifth and sixth grade students in the Primary Schools and the contest was then renamed the Mr. and Ms. Talented Youth Pageant.

The Silver Anniversary of the festival (CULTURAMA 25) was celebrated in 1999 and two new events were added to the calendar of activities for this milestone celebration. These activities were the Soca Monarch Contest and the Freedom Concert. A King of Kings contest was also held as part of the CULTURAMA 25 celebrations in 1999. Crefton “King Meeko” Warner was crowned CULTURAMA 25 Kaiso King of Kings.

The Soca Monarch contest was short lived. It was staged for three years 1999, 2000 and 2001 and has since been removed from the calendar due to a lack of sufficient participation. We must however commend the efforts of the three winners namely Earl “Sweetees” Walters in 1999, Carlisle “Raba” Maynard of the Kasanova Band in 2000 and Chris “Ras” Browne of the Ultra Sonic Band in 2001.

The Freedom Concert which features mainly top international reggae and soca performers has however enjoyed much greater success and has become one of the most anticipated events of the festival. To date it has featured prominent international stars such as the late legendary Joseph Hill and his Culture Band, Freddie McGregor, Everton Blender, soca King of the world the Mighty Arrow, Mr. Vegas, Buju Banton and the “Musical Messenjah” Luciano.

The Mr. Kool Contest was introduced in 2001 and although it faced much opposition in its early years, the Mr. Kool Contest became a high light of the festival as it gave Nevisian males and opportunity to “show off” their talent and physique. The Mr. Kool Contest was unfortunately removed from the calendar of activities in 2008 because it failed to attract sponsorship during its seven years and was therefore a financial burden for the Culturama Committee.

The Ms Caribbean Culture Queen Pageant was added to the Culturama calendar in 2006 and it has given Culturama some regional recognition because it has received participation from up to 10 different regional countries. The Clash of the Bands, which was added to the calendar of activities in 2008, has also brought further regional recognition to the festival as it has featured top regional soca bands such as Stroka Band from St. Croix in 2008 and the “Awesome Jam Band” of St. Thomas in 2009.
The main events of the inaugural Culturama Festival in 1974, namely the Senior Calypso Contest, the Ms Culture Talent Show, the Cultural Food Fair, the Jouvert Morning jam session and the Cultural Parade, have continued to be a part of the Culturama activities from then up until now. Some of these events have however taken on a new look. The Senior Calypso Contest has been renamed the Senior Kaiso Contest and the lyrics of the calypsos have shifted from being cultural to social and political commentary.

The Ms. Culture Talent Show has been renamed the Ms. Culture Queen Pageant and now has a Swimwear component added to the pageant. The competition however still focuses on the talent segment but the traditional “flour and crocus bag” costumes and the “dry banana leaves” costumes are no longer a popular site on stage during the contest. In spite of this, the contestants still place special emphasis on keeping the Nevisian culture alive by portraying some aspect of Nevisian culture during the talent segment of the contest. The swimwear segment features three appearances namely a one-piece swimwear segment, a two-piece swimwear segment and an “Our Estates our Heritage” segment. This Swimwear segment is held one week prior to the Ms Culture Queen Pageant and the points from this segment are used to determine the winner of the Ms Culture Queen Pageant.

The Cultural Food Fair is now a major feature of the festival and has outgrown its previous locations, which were the back of the Rookery Nook, Chapel Street, Grove Park and the Charlestown Waterfront. The present location is the Charlestown Secondary School Villa Grounds, which offers much more space for this event, which has continued to grow and grow from year to year.

The Jouvert Morning jam session is now known as the Emancipation Jouvert Jump Up and has grown into a huge event with thousands of revelers taking to the streets of Charlestown from the wee hours of the morning right up until midday. A four mile road jam from Gingerland into Charlestown has now become a feature of the Emancipation Jouvert Jump Up. This “Gingerland to town” road jam was started in 1989 by the Kasanova Band and is now a permanent feature of the Culturama Emancipation Jouvert Jump Up.

The Cultural Street Parade has seen major changes as well. The traditional costumes of flour bag, crocus bag and dried banana leaves have been replaced by colorful sometimes shinny Carnival type costumes. The customary site of the colorful masquerades and clowns can still however be seen on parade day dancing in the streets to the sounds of the sweet Big Drum. The sweet strings of the String Bands are still very much apart of the parade even though the numbers have declined over the years.

In an effort to recognize the outstanding contributions of past cultural icons to the development of culture and Culturama on Nevis, the 1998 Culturama planning committee decided to introduce the honoring of one such cultural icon each year there after. The first cultural icon to be bestowed with this honor was the late Darrel Dore of Bath Village. Mr. Dore was involved in the preservation and promotion of a wide variety of Nevisian folk dances in Nevis for well over fifty years and was more popularly known for perfecting the Cake Walk and Quadrille over the years. Other cultural icons that have since been recognized for their invaluable contribution to the preservation and promotion of Nevis’ rich cultural art form are Mr. David Freeman in 1999, Mr. John Liburd in 2000, the late Mrs. Georgina Mills in 2001, Ms. Eglantine Duberry in 2002, Mr. Joseph Brandy in 2003, Mr. John Jarvis in 2004, Mr. Wilfred Hamilton in 2005, Ms. Inetha Lawrence in 2006, Mr. Nehemiah Neale in 2007, Mr. Norman Liburd in 2008, Mr. Irvin Bussue-Hendrickson in 2009 and Mr. Eugen Pemberton who will be the patron for the 2010 Culturama festival.

Today, Culturama has become a permanent feature on the calendars of regional festivals. It has cemented its place as the “the Caribbean’s only unique cultural festival”. The festival has now been extended to 12 sometimes 13 days and is still based on the primary objective for which it was formed i.e. to revive and promote the cultural traditions of Nevis.

We at the Festivals Secretariat and the Nevis Cultural Development Foundation wish to say a big thank you to the forerunners “NEDACS” for the bold initiative taken at creating what can now be termed as a mega festival and to all others who have similarly contributed we say a big thank you.

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