Monday, Aug 3, 2020
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Dance, Music & Rhythm

The Bahamas, like the rest of the world, is battling a pandemic, but COVID-19 won’t stop the Junkanoo Summer Festival (JSF), even though the 2020 Boxing Day and New Year’s Day parades have both been canceled.

The Ministry of Tourism simply moved its popular summer festival to the online platform, taking the form of a digital competition and workshop which affords locals the opportunity to compete, and everyone, including visitors, the opportunity to learn about one of the most authentic expressions of Bahamian culture.

“If there is anything that would lift the Bahamian spirit, it’s Junkanoo,” said Charity Armbrister, director, events management, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

Armbrister said they felt it was important for them to do something.

“We had to come up with an innovative way to celebrate the JSF while adhering to physical distancing measures, and at the same time be able to promote, celebrate and educate persons on the greatest festival there is. And of course, the way to make that happen was via the digital platform.”

The JSF digital competition will highlight the music, dance and rhythm of the greatest show on earth, with $1,000 and two Bahamasair tickets going to winners in three categories – best beller, best drummer and best choreography. Entrants are encouraged to be as creative as possible for the chance to win.

Entering the competition requires three steps: creating a 30-second to 60-second video showcasing drumming, belling and choreography skills; uploading the video to; and sharing the entry with family and friends, encouraging them to vote August 3 through 9 with an 11:59 p.m. voting deadline. Winners will be announced on August 10.

The digital festival kicked off with a four-day online workshop embracing the educational component, which concludes today. The workshop featured Arlene Nash-Ferguson, creator and founder of Educulture Bahamas Ltd., speaking to the rich heritage of the Junkanoo tradition; Chris Justilien speaking on Junkanoo music; Carolyn Vogt on the art of dance choreography in Junkanoo; and Percy “Vola” Francis demonstrating the art of costume construction and design.

The workshops conclude with a livestream of the Kalik “Who Are We!” documentary today.

Armbrister said the digital version of the popular JSF also gives people who are thinking of visiting the country, a “taste” of what is done in The Bahamas, and would “whet their appetites” to the point that they would hopefully join in the fun when the country returns to normality.

But she said the benefit of being forced to host a digital festival means they now have an add-on through an additional platform through which to sell the JSF.

“It’s important to keep the Bahamian spirit alive during this time, and this competition and workshop will do just that,” said Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation. “This initiative encourages our competitive nature, allowing Bahamians to showcase their talent, while learning from one another.”

While the JSF show goes on, albeit digitally, the big shows – the 2020 Boxing Day and New Year’s Day parades through downtown Nassau – have been scrapped in an abundance of caution as health officials recommend physical distancing as an effective measure to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus disease as there are no preventative medicines or treatments.

In a press release, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture commended the representative groups of the Junkanoo community for the creation and publication of virtual Junkanoo presentations. And it encouraged Bahamians to support the “Stay Safe Virtual Parade Platform” that will preserve the unique expression of cultural heritage.

“The videos currently circulating on multiple social media platforms have received high commendation from virtual spectators – locally and internationally. From all indications, virtual reality for the entertainment of large crowds seems to reflect the new norm.

“We anticipate that, emerging from this new reality, Junkanooers will marshal their efforts and embrace this opportunity to integrate technology to transform Junkanoo in a way that will capture the essence and spirit of Junkanoo as a unique Bahamian cultural expression.”

Dion Miller, Junkanoo Corporation of New Providence (JCNP) chairman, was excited for the JSF competitions which he says will allow Junkanooers the opportunity to enter several competitions, and win serious prize money in these tough economic times.

“One pillar of the Junkanoo experiences will be the virtual experience which includes pre-recording of Junkanoo routines, rushouts, etc…, this is our new reality in COVID-19 as Junkanoo parades, rushing and social distancing do not equate,” he said.

Miller said the digital platform will be an excellent way to expand Junkanoo and take the art form to the world.

With the cancelation of the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day parades, he said the JCNP is guided by health officials, and once they get back to all clear to parade on Bay Street, they will. He said they are also proactively working towards getting Junkanoo active again, with plans in place for a phased reopening, which he said may start by eliminating all wind instruments, and implementing social distance practices that are closed to the public until they can get to the day and time when everyone can come back together.

Miller said the JCNP is looking at the parade cancelations as a glass half-full and not half-empty.

Lifestyles Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Shavaughn Mossjoined The Nassau Guardianas a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor.Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.
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