Whenever the contingent of Junkanoo artists from New Providence, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera performed for the crowds at the Henley Festival in the United Kingdom, the crowds were in seventh heaven.
And this is no ordinary Festival. The Henley Festival is recognized as one of the largest and most significant of England’s Arts Festivals with its net profits going to support cultural and artistic ventures.
Artistic Director for the festival, Stewart Collins said each July large audiences are welcomed to one of England’s most beautiful locations for five nights ‘under the stars, with the stars’.
“The Henley Festival is and has always been, a wonderful playground; a playground for brilliantly talented people to do what they do best with the expressed purpose of leaving us all feeling better about ourselves.”
Festival goers dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos enjoyed a mix of opera, classical music, comedy, jazz and rock, dance and visual art showcases including this year for the first time – Junkanoo.
Notwithstanding being dressed in their finest, when they heard the Junkanoo beat – attendees could not help but to get down to the sounds of the horns, the shaking of the cowbells, and the beat of the goatskin drums, while at the same time waving the Bahamian flag.
This is part two of the Junkanoo Live initiative and the second time this year a contingent of Junkanoo artists have come to the United Kingdom.
In April 2008, during part one of Junkanoo Live, a group of Junkanoo artists and performers travelled to the Isle of Wight for an exchange and residency programme. Parts one and two of the initiative are sponsored by the Arts Council of England.
The Bahamas Government has fully endorsed both ventures.
During a press conference to promote the current trip, Minister of State for Culture the Hon. Charles Maynard said, “This is a historic occasion for The Bahamas.
“This is going to help promote our tourism industry, this is going to help promote our culture and most of all, we are going to send off the best in terms of our Junkanoo artists, to show the world what is special about The Bahamas.”
Angelique McKay, project manager for the initiative and manager of the National Junkanoo Museum of The Bahamas explained that since the group arrived July 3 to perform at various festivals throughout the United Kingdom for 21-days, people cannot seem to get enough of Junkanoo.
Ms. McKay said people have been saying things like “this is brilliant”, “this is fabulous, gorgeous”, “this is beautiful” or “I want to go back to The Bahamas with you”.
“We have these people moving,” she said. “Junkanoo has these people moving and it is a good feeling to see that.
“To see these people getting just as excited about Junkanoo as we do when we are watching it on Bay Street is priceless.”
Prior to Henley, the 30-member group performed in Isle of Wight and is now headed to London. Working alongside Ms. McKay is “Quentin “Barabbas” Woodside of Barabbas and the Tribe.
Barabbas had the awesome task of choosing the Junkanoo artists for the group, but he said the task was not too difficult.
One of the main criteria Barabbas used to choose his team members were persons who were involved in community outreach projects and endeavours such as the Paraplegics Rush through the Streets.
“They do not get paid for these things so this is a way to say thank you, and I think they deserve it.”
He also explained that it is not all fun and games for the group while they are in the United Kingdom.
“We are here on a mission to promote The Bahamas and to bring as much people to our shores.”
Ms. McKay added, “The culture of the Bahamas is what brings the visitors to our Bahamas.