Arts & Events

Islands in the Park: A Celebration of Caribbean American Culture

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday June 11, 2009 - 07:19:00 PM

Celebrating the Rich Cultural Heritage of the Caribbean through Music, with Third World Reggae Band from Jamaica, Calypso monarch The Mighty Sparrow from Trinidad and Tobago, Sheila Hylton (reggae from Jamaica, London and New York), Collie Buddz (reggae and dancehall from Bermuda) and the New Kingston Band appearing 7 p. m. Sunday evening at Woodminster Amphitheatre in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park, with awards presented to celebrate and honor the contributions of Caribbean Americans. 

“Four years ago, Representative Barbara Lee introduced a resolution recognizing June as Caribbean Recognition Month,” said Shorron Levy of CBTV1 (Caribbean TV online). “In 2006, there was a commemorative ceremony in Oakland; in 2007, we began giving formal awards, for both those within and outside the States. We brought the former Prime Minister of Jamaica here, to the Rotunda in Oakland; it was nicely attended. Other local awardees have included writer and teacher Opal Palmer Adisa. This year, the Mighty Sparrow and Third World will receive True Legends awards, and we will honor local people with Caribbean American Heritage Legacy Awards: Dr. Teresita Dean, who works with nonprofits to help teens; the Jamaican American Association of Northern California, based in Oakland, providing scholarships and other help here and in Jamaica; Sistas-Wit-Style, a teenage dance troupe, based in East Oakland, who perform Caribbean dance to make a difference in teens’ lives; and Art’s Jamaican Market at Broadway and 40th in Oakland.” 

Levy talked about “People catching on—‘What’s this month? What are we supposed to do?’ Caribbean Americans have made big contributions. Look at Harry Belafonte, Shirley Chisholm, Colin Powell ... Stevie Wonder’s granddad was Jamaican. But it’s all intertwined; nobody knows.”  

This year’s festival and awards highlight Caribbean music. Reggae has been a familiar presence in the Bay Area, steadily since the ’70s. Calypso and Soca (Soul Calypso) had a local following and frequent shows in the East Bay and San Francisco with Caribbean performers like the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Winston Soso and David Rudder making appearances at venues like the Berkeley Community Theatre, The Justice League (the old Both/And) in San Francisco, and clubs like Mingles on Hegenberger Road in Oakland. Local groups like Jeff Narrell and Rhythm ’n’ Steel and the Panhandlers—a steel drum orchestra, led by Jim Munzenrider, for years based at Ohlone College, now on the Peninsula—promoted Calypso and related music, and brought in collaborators from the Islands. But the situation has changed. “Crazy [Edwin Ayoung, a leading Calypso-Soca singer from Trinidad] lives half the year in San Jose,” said Levy, “but only sits in or performs during Carnaval.” 

The Mighty Sparrow, who will perform and receive a Legends award Sunday, is perhaps the most acclaimed Calypso singer in history. Nicknamed Sparrow because he “hopped around” (“like James Brown!”) when other Calypsonians performed “flatfooted,” he was born Slinger Francisco in Grenada, growing up in Trinidad. Since 1956, The Mighty Sparrow has won the Carnival Road March competition eight times and Calypso Monarch title an unprecedented eleven times, the top honors in the music. His songs are, in turn, romantic, ribald and satiric. His satire made hits like “Philip, My Dear,” when an intruder entered Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber, and “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” in which Sparrow crooned one by one the names of deposed dictators, each “a wanted man,” who “found it hard to survive, now that he’s wanted, dead or alive.” Other politically-tinged hits include “Human Rights” (1981), “Capitalism Gone Mad” (1983) and “This Is Madness” (1995). Last year, Sparrow released “Barrack the Magnificent” in support of the Obama campaign. 


Islands in the Park 

7 p. m. Sunday at Woodminster Amphitheatre, Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland. $25-$45. 832-5400.