By Tad Richards
There’s no secret as to the great focal points of end-of-the year celebration: Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa, which mostly means staying home (on land or afloat) or going to Grandma’s, and New Year’s, which can mean staying onboard and watching the fireworks from a convenient anchorage, or going ashore, mingling, and celebrating with the crowds. In any event, you’ll find music and various holiday festivities throughout the month.
December 1-2: Afro Fest Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The organizers want you to know that “Afro Fest Punta Cana 2023 is not just about the music … It’s about celebrating diversity, unity, and the power of culture. Connect with like-minded individuals from all over the world, share stories, and forge new friendships that will transcend borders.” That said, the music is a pretty strong attraction. “All over the world,” on stage, mostly means Nigeria, a country brimming with talent on the world beat scene. Burna Boy, blending Afrobeats, reggae, dancehall, and pop, is a Grammy winner whose song, “Ye,” is closing on 250 million views on YouTube. Singer-songwriter-activist Yemi Alade is world music all by herself, known as “Mama Africa” for her influence on all styles and countries throughout the continent. Ckay‘s haunting ballad “Love Nwantiti,” with over one billion streams on Spotify, has been called the biggest hit in African history. Rema‘s mega-streamed songs include a duet with Selena Gomez. Nigeria is also represented by Naira Marley, Asake and Tekno, and, from Ghana, MzVee. From Jamaica, Koffee is the youngest person and only woman ever to win a Grammy for Best Reggae album, and Grammy nominee Shensea has recorded with Kanye West and Christine Aguilera. All in all, they make a strong case for the vitality of world music. At the Punta Cana Resort, Dominican Republic.
December 1-2: Los Rivera Destino, San Juan, Puerto Rico
This homegrown trio mixes traditional Latin rhythms with hip-hop and presents it all with a sly, irreverent sense of humor. Coca-Cola Music Hall.
December 2-4: Daddy Yankee, San Juan, Puerto Rico
This has been announced as the final performances in the farewell tour of the “King of Reggaeton,” arguably the biggest star of 21st century Caribbean music and an international phenomenon. Coliseo de Puerto Rico, José Miguel Agrelot, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
December 5-15: Havana Film Festival
Short films, animation, documentaries, and features from filmmakers across the Caribbean and Latin American region are shown in movie houses throughout Havana. There is a special category for Cuban filmmakers. The festival has been running since 1979.
December 7-11: Winter Pride Fest, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The website can tell you better than I can, since it’s less bound by family-friendly modesty.
December 7-21: Bachata Festival and Dance, Dominican Republic
This uniquely Dominican dance form traces its roots back 400 years, so no wonder it takes two weeks to do it justice. Workshops, dance parties, concerts. Full details available at domibachata.com/program/program.html.
December 8-10: Marathons, Jamaica and Barbados
If running is your thing, how about running to a reggae beat? And if a Jamaica party is your thing, watch the race on December 8 — and watch the winners hoist the Bob and Rita Marley Trophies created by the great Jamaican sculptor Basil Watson. It’s the party atmosphere that accompanies any Jamaica event. Also featuring a costume contest. Or…the largest Caribbbean marathon, a three-day event in Barbados featuring races over scenic and historic courses.
reggaemarathon.com/2023 and visitbarbados.org
December 10: René González, San Juan, Puerto Rico
There’s nothing like the Christmas season for bringing out the spiritual side, and René González, one of Puerto Rico’s leading singers of gospel music, may be just the person to listen to. Coca-Cola Music Hall.
December 11-13: Rasta Rootzfest, Negril, Jamaica
A celebration of the Rastafarian lifestyle, from music and art to cuisine and ganja cultivation. A highlight is the presentation of the Ganjamaica Cup, to the grower of the best product on the island.
December 12: Gerardo Teissonnière, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The Steinway Society of Puerto Rico’s Celebrity Pianist Concert Series presents this celebrated native son at The Gallery Inn. Works by Rachmaninoff, Schubert and Beethoven.
December 14-15: Potters Fair, Kingston, Jamaica
What would Christmas be without last-minute shopping? And what better place than a craft fair like this one, the longest-running art and craft fair in the English-speaking Caribbean. All the artisans in the show are Jamaicans. At the Jamaica Horticultural Society, Hope Botanical Gardens.
December 15-17: Carriacou Parang Festival
Christmas celebration begins with holiday music that’s unique to the Caribbean. Parang is a form of holiday folk music that began in Trinidad, and traditionally features small string bands doing house-to-house Christmas serenading. The festival brings the best of these community bands together for a competition. Each band sings a traditional Christmas song (or their Caribbean version of the same) followed by a song of their own creation, generally a humorous recounting of the major social events of the year. puregrenada.com/product/carriacou-parang-festival
December 15-January 2: Sugar Mas, St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Kitts and Nevis pulls out all the stops for this multicultural event featuring “calypso shows, masquerades, talent pageants and a variety of fêtes that will test your stamina.”
December 16-24: Nine Mornings Festival, St. Vincent
You’d have to get up early to participate in this uniquely Vincentian tradition of holiday music and cultural performances, and by early we mean 4 a.m. Of particular interest, the last of the nine mornings concludes with a steel band “jump-up.” During the same time frame, the “Nine Nights of Lights” at the Botanical Gardens offers an array of musical and cultural events. discoversvg.com/events/nine-mornings-festival
December 16-January 2: Montserrat Carnival
Competitions featuring the best of Montserrat’s homegrown musicians are among the highlights of the Montserrat Carnival. On December 17, the calypso semi-finals. December 20 is devoted to a night of pan. December 22, a gospel concert by the House of Refuge. Christmas Day, carol singing. December 26 sees the Soca Monarch competition and a street jam. December 29 heralds the crowning of the Calypso Monarch, and December 30 the female calypso competition and the crowning of the Queen of Queens.
December 25 and 31: Holiday Festivities, Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua
A Christmas day champagne party, named in The New York Times as one of the five best Christmas events in the world. A New Year’s-eve blowout with live music, dancing, and, of course, fireworks. Funds raised from these events will go to College of Hope, as a tribute to Team Antigua Island Girls (see Business Briefs, Oct-Nov Compass).
December 27-January 6: Crucian Christmas Carnival, St. Croix, USVI
The one certain thing about this annual St. Croix holiday tradition is when it ends—that is mandated by USVI law, and it ends with two parades, on the first Friday (Children’s Parade) and the first Saturday (Adults’ Parade) of the new year. So one counts back from that to find the beginning. Another certain thing is that the adults’ parade will be more adult than the children’s parade. Cultural Night, December 29, features homegrown but internationally celebrated talent. Headliners are Stanley & The Ten Sleepless Knights, the leading exponents of USVI’s sassy and catchy quelbe style, Spectrum Band, Xpress Band, and Cool Session Brass. St. Croix native Adam O headlines Soca Night, also featuring Pumpa and Patrice Roberts. Latin Night will feature Charlie Aponte. Ladies Night will glow with performances from Alison Hinds and the “Queen of Bacchanal,” Destra Garcia. The climactic January 6 Afro-Soca Night will be headlined by AfroBeats superstar Davido, with performances by Mr. Killa, Mic Love, Bugz, Sisa, and Quan. Christiansted, St. Croix, USVI.
And on the horizon: January events include St. Barts Music Festival, January 15-21 (stbartsmusicfestival.org/festival); Panama Jazz Festival, 16-20 (panamajazzfestival.com); Barbados Independent Film Festival 16-21 (barbadosfilmfest.org); Havana Jazz Festival, 21-29 (jazzcuba.com); Bequia Music Fest, 24-28 (bequiamusicfestival.com); Mustique Blues Festival, 24-7 Feb (basilsbar.com/whats-on).
Oct/ Nov Issue
You could eat your way across the Caribbean in October and November, island-hopping from one food festival to another. And in fact one of them — Cayman Restaurant Month — is a monthlong celebration of gustatory indulgence. But there’s more … this being the islands, where there’s food, there’s music. And even if there aren’t international headliners everywhere, you can be sure the music is good.
October 1-31: Cayman Restaurant Month
The Caymans may be renown for cruise ships and hotels, but they also have long welcomed cruising sailors. Participating restaurants across the Caymans will offer a fixed-price menu, allowing diners to sample a wide range of dishes and flavors. But Cayman Restaurant Month, they tell us, “isn’t just about the food — it’s also a chance to soak up the warm and friendly atmosphere of the Cayman Islands, with live music at many of the restaurants.” (restaurantmonth.ky)
October 7: Yovngchimi, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Fans of gangsta rap will want to catch this young star and his smash hit, “Glizzy Walk.” At the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot. (coliseodepuertorico.com)
October 13-16: Tobago Blue Food Festival
You perhaps have never been to a blue food festival before, but dasheen, a form of taro indigenous to Tobago, really does turn blue when cooked — different shades for different recipes. Sample a wide variety of dasheen-based dishes, including dasheen wine, dasheen ice cream, and other products made from the various parts of the plant.
October 19-22: Barbados Food and Rum Festival
Barbados calls itself the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean — and the birthplace of rum. Over 30 local chefs, culinary personalities, mixologists, and renowned rum producers will prepare the sumptuous cuisine and exotic drinks. (foodandrum.com)
October 19 – November 3: Havana Theater Festival, Havana Ballet Festival, International Choir Festival
The theater festival runs from October 19-27, ballet from October 27-November 3, choirs October 9-November 3. The theater performances are mostly in Spanish, but there’s no language barrier to the ballet, and Cuba’s ballet companies are world-renowned. The choir festival looks particularly intriguing. Choir groups worldwide will perform in public squares, schools, hospitals, factories (where else but in Cuba?), and their principal venue, the Santiago Cathedral. (cubagrouptour.com/us/information/events-in-cuba)
October 21: Robi Draco Rosa “Mysticus,” San Juan, Puerto Rico
Experimental rocker Draco Rosa has come a long way from his boy band days with Menudo (one would hope so, over four decades) and he claims Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Camarón de la Isla, Caetano Veloso, Edgar Allan Poe and Jim Morrison as his spiritual forebears. Look for a mysticus and intriguing evening. Coliseo de Puerto Rico.(coliseodepuertorico.com)
October 27: Foxy’s Cat Fight, Jost Van Dyke, BVI
After the race, don’t miss this post-regatta Halloween masquerade ball, described as “the wildest in the West Indies.” (foxysbar.com/foxys-cat-fight-halloween-masquerade-ball)
October 27-29: Jounen Kwéyòl, Dominica, St. Lucia
St. Lucia devotes the whole month to a celebration of all things Creole. Both islands devote the last weekend of the month to a dedicated celebration of Creole culture, culminating in “Jounen Kwéyòl,” or Creole Day — on Friday in Dominica, Sunday in St. Lucia. Dominica’s Creole Festival features three days of live music featuring Popcaan, Beres Hammond, Machel Montano, Patrice Roberts, Jean Luc Guanel, Joeboy, Asa Bantan, Tabou Combo, and late addition, Dominican legend Gordon Henderson. Both festivals feature Creole cuisine in abundance. (discoverdominica.com/en/events/12/world-creole-music-festival)
October 28: Flavor Fusion Fest, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
The flavors to be fused are “the food and cultures of Ibero-American countries, highlighting the similarities and differences that stand together as a united community.” Ibero-American food, music, and art will celebrate cultural diversity, and a highlight will be the attempt to establish the new Guinness World Record for the largest serving of the beef stew known as sancocho. (facebook.com/flavorfusionfest)
October 29: Carriacou Corn Festival
Surely you have room for one more national dish to round out your month. String band music, dominoes, beach volleyball and, of course, cornbread, corn soup, roasted corn, boiled corn, corn pie, cornkee “Payme”, corn cake, corn dumpling, corn porridge, asham, patch corn & more at the first-ever Corn Festival. (nowgrenada.com/2023/08/carriacou-corn-festival-2023)
October 31 – November 4: Saint Barth Rum Festival
And to wash it all down… “Rum and cigar pairings, ti’ punch parties, master classes, a rum expo featuring rare and ultra-premium bottles.” Gustavia, St Barthélemy. (caribbeanrumawards.com)
November 1: Antigua and Barbuda Independence Food Fair
Antigua Independence Day is also the occasion for this day-long food fair, where you can eat and party your way through, starting with breakfast. Popular selections include the country’s national dishes saltfish and ducana, fungee and pepperpot. (visitantiguabarbuda.com/antigua-and-barbuda-independence-food-fair)
November 9-19: Pirate Week, Grand Cayman
Features the spectacular Pirates Landing (a staged pirate invasion from the sea), and a parade complete with pirate-themed floats and fireworks. November 9 is the Pan in the City steel pan competition. (piratesfestcayman.com)
November 10-13: Hydro-Caribbean Festival, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The stars of this all-gay festival are the DJs, and the focus is dancing, dancing, dancing, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. at venues all over town. (facebook.com/hydrocaribbean)
November 16-20: ADN Bachata World Festival, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Bachata in the birthplace of the music/dance style, with concerts, dance workshops, bonfire, beach and pool parties. Performers TBA. Circuito Dancekom, over this same weekend, features bachata dance events and instruction across the island. (adnbachataworldfestival.com)
November 19: Pimpinela, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The romantic ballads of this Argentine brother-sister duo have touched the hearts of millions around the world. Their voices blend beautifully, and Lucía Galán Cuervo, in particular, joins a magical voice with a powerful dramatic sensibility. Coca-Cola Music Hall. (cocacolamusichall.com/events/detail/pimpinela-1)
November 24-26: Anegada Lobster Festival, Anegada, BVI
Ok, you committed to the long sail to Anegada, the northernmost of the British Virgin Islands, you’ve dug the anchor in sand, and now you’re hungry for its famous spiny lobster, in any form, from grilled to signature component of ice cream. (marinemax.com/vacations/articles/british-virgin-islands/anegada-lobster-festival)
November 25-27: Colonial Fest, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
A celebration of all things native — arts, crafts and cuisine during the day, outdoor concerts at night. Performers TBA, but you can bet there’ll be some bachata.(colonialzonenews.colonialzone-dr.com/tag/colonial-fest/)