The tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat places itself firmly on the map by hosting the 1st Festival of African Music to be held in the English-speaking Caribbean.
The successful inaugural opening of the annual festival took place on in March 2013, featuring Daby Taure – Afro-Pop voice of Mauretania- ably supported by Senegalese African drum and dance act – Jalikunda.
In 2014, the Montserrat African Festival is proud to feature the venerable Grand Master of South African music –Tuku – at the top of the bill. By popular request, Jalikunda returns to Montserrat to join this year’s festival line-up to provide a further burst of joyful and energising African dance and drums.
The open air concert takes place on March 15th on a specially constructed stage in the centre of Salem Cricket Ground. The music kicks off at around 8.00pm in the evening with the massive party continuing into the early hours of the morning. Find out more about the festival here:-
Montserrat: What’s the Irish, English, African connection?
English catholics arrived on Montserrat from St Kitts in 1632 to set up the first colonial plantations. 17 years later, this tiny island the other side of the world provided the perfect place for English protestant republican Oliver Cromwell to dump his dissident political adversaries after the pacification of Ireland and Irish Catholics arrived by the boatload.
Plantations of tobacco, cotton and sugar require a large cheap manual labour force to run efficiently and profitably. Enter the slaves. From 1660, a steady flow of Africans captured along the Guinea coast, transported half way round the world and sold as slaves increased the population on Montserrat, often managed by Irish overseers.
In 1768, an insurrection by the slaves on St Pats Day, overcoming their Irish bosses who were partying in time-honoured Irish style was brutally put down. The slaves had to wait until 1834 for emancipation. The spirit of the oppressed black population represented by this failed uprising is a big part of the underlying spirit of the present day St Pats celebrations on Montserrat.
Montserrat forges a new identity out of adversity
Until 25 years ago, Montserrat provided an idyllic home to 12,000 people. The island also hosted Sir George Martin’s paradise musical retreat for world pop and rock ‘n’ roll greats. The devastating destruction of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, followed by the eruption of a dormant volcano in 1995 changed all that.
A further cataclysmic volcanic eruption in 1997 that lead to 19 deaths sealed the island’s fate. The island’s economy was convulsed by the emergency. Two thirds of the population were forced to flee the island and today over half the island – including the capital city and the majority of the island’s original infrastructure – lies abandoned, buried in brown sea of mud and ash.
Montserrat now flies in the face of adversity to become the first location in the English speaking Caribbean to hold a musical celebration of the African roots of a large part of the population. The festival of part of an imaginative initiative by the Government of Montserrat to find new ways of kick-starting the island’s economy with a view to making the island economically self-supporting in the future.
An African festival during St Patrick’s Day celebrations?
Outside of Ireland itself, the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat is the only other place in the world to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with a public holiday. The island indulges in a week’s worth of festivities to celebrate the great Irish saint.
On Montserrat, the St Pat’s festivities have become a time for families to get together and for kids working abroad to come home to celebrate and visit friends and family. In many respects, the St Pat’s week has become a week to celebrate Montserrat’s identity. Since the majority of the population of the island has African roots – what better time to choose to hold a festival of African music?
Come back for more about Montserrat: the tiny island with a big story, to find out how this tiny island triumphs over adversity to present a unique modern twist of St Pats extending the brief to include the celebratation of the island’s African identity in time-honoured Irish St Pat’s tradition – with a great big, gi-normous party!