Junkanoo, which has been described as the greatest show on earth, will continue well past the upcoming New Year’s Day parade as Cultural Experience Production (CEP) hosts its first Bahamas Junkanoo Art & Music Festival, with the focus placed squarely on Junkanoo as an art. The festival will feature everything from lead pieces, step-down costumes, off-the-shoulder costumes, beller costumes and drummer costumes.
The festival will be like taking a stroll through a sculpture garden, with costume displays from the recent Boxing Day and upcoming New Year’s Day parades on display, January 26 and 27 at the Nassau Botanical Gardens, according to Angelique McKay, the visionary behind the festival and leader of the Junkanoo Commandos, which falls under the umbrella of the CEP.
“We want the world to understand and know the value of Junkanoo art as we begin to move forward. There is nothing more spectacular than Junkanoo, [which] is absolutely the greatest show on earth,” said McKay.
Approximately 50 pieces are expected to be showcased in the sculpture garden. The selected pieces will have been accepted after having gone through a juried process to ensure the best of the best is on display at the festival. Prior to the parades, McKay said people with proven track records for creating spectacular pieces were approached to have their pieces displayed at the festival.
With that, she said all of the pieces that will be on display will be available for sale and can be purchased from the artists; the festival will not ask for a commission.
“Each of the artists whose costumes will be displayed will be financially compensated for having their costumes on display. We want to empower the artists,” said McKay.
A gallery will also be available at the festival, where visitors can purchase separate pieces from those on display.
“We’re inviting Junkanoo artists to present to us items they would like to have for sale; but again, it won’t be automatic that, because they’re a Junkanoo artist, their stuff will be allowed in. It’s going to be juried just like any other art show, so pieces have to be to a particular standard and have to be vetted to be allowed access into the gallery.”
According to McKay, the CEP would like to showcase costumes from throughout the entire parade.
“We won’t have any banners, but everything behind the banner is expected to be there. We’re having pieces as small as free-dancer costumes to lead costumes, and everything in between.
“And it’s not any one particular group’s costume that would be displayed; we’re actually targeting the artists, as opposed to the groups,” said McKay. “The main stakeholders of this festival are the Junkanooers themselves. We’ve spoken with members of the Valley Boys, Roots, Saxons, One Family and Genesis, and artists from different areas of the Junkanoo groups have committed to participating.”
Festival patrons, she said, will be able to see the magnitude of the creativity and the hard work that goes into the production and creation of costumes.
“People are going to understand the creative process of Junkanoo and that Junkanoo art is in the same category of any other art. And the designers and creators of the pieces will be there to speak to the creative process and their passion for creating,” said McKay.
As the pieces to be showcased during the festival will have been featured at the two most recent parades, McKay said the time frame between the parades and the festival will allow for the Junkanoo artists to touch up and repair the costumes, if needed. The CEP will not accept pieces being built for display at the festival.
“We don’t want people to create costumes. We want them to get that authentic Junkanoo feel. We want people to be able to experience the creation of those costumes for Bay Street and the amount of time, energy and effort that goes into the creation of those costumes,” said McKay.
The vision for the Bahamas Junkanoo Art & Music Festival has been something McKay says she has had “incubating” for approximately six years. For the last four years, she’s been actively trying to get people to buy into the vision and support it. Over the course of the last year, she felt it was time to create the festival. The event’s motto is “We Live in Color”, because Junkanoo is colorful; McKay said when people think about color, they think about living and life, which is how Junkanoo people move.
Their mission, she said, is to bring the world to Junkanoo.
“I said we have to do this because there’s no way the world cannot see and experience the greatest show on earth, and the costuming and whole production that goes into it,” she said.
“We’re hoping that persons that attend this festival, at the end of the day, having toured the festival, have a better understanding of the creative process of Junkanoo and are able to experience the passion, because it’s passion that drives,” said McKay. “Even as you attend the festival, Junkanoo parades and all that, you’re not able to see the magnitude of the creativity and the hard work that goes into the production and creation of these various costumes. And it’s not any one particular group’s costume that will be displayed; we’re actually targeting the artists, as opposed to the groups.”
She’s also hoping that the pieces are purchased from the artists by individuals and members of the corporate community, to allow the pieces to live on; in most instances, McKay said, there is no way to store the pieces.
As she prepares for the first festival, McKay says she’s anxious and excited, at the same time, to be able to give people the opportunity to get up close and personal with Junkanoo artists and be able to see the exquisite beauty of the costumes.
“The life of a Junkanooer is like a fraternity. If you’re not a part of it, you miss a whole lot of what goes on behind the scenes. Persons don’t understand the hours that goes into the creative process, juggling work, family, extra-curricular activities and Junkanoo, which can’t be lumped into extracurricular activities… Junkanoo is a jealous creature, and the one thing you need in Junkanoo and you can’t buy is time,” said McKay, who has been actively involved in Junkanoo for many years.
The festival will also feature roving artists, artisans, food vendors, a gallery of Junkanoo art for sale and a section devoted just to women in Junkanoo.
“It will have all of the elements of a festival, in addition to the creative arts of Junkanoo. So we will have roving artists, a children’s area with activities geared just towards the children and, of course, a Junkanoo rush-out at the end of each of the evenings, in which persons will be allowed to participate in. We’re going to have persons in a position to speak about the creation of the costuming, and you’re able to see Bahamian art and culture at its finest, because we also have live entertainment as well.”
Aliv is the title sponsor for the upcoming festival, along with the official radio station, Guardian Radio 96.9 FM, and Kalik.
The festival will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Entrance is $5 for adults and $2 for senior citizens and school-age children.