Caribbean Carnival Night at La Pena

Ras Mo

Ras Mo

 

 

La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley, California hosted its first-ever Caribbean Festival on March 30, 2001. Organized by RAS MO-the Dominican-raised, Bay Area-based percussionist, poet, and theatrical performer who also headlined the show-the event featured dance, drums, song and music with influences from around the Caribbean.

Ras Mo and Hugh Humphrey of the band Jouvert

Ras Mo and Hugh Humphrey of the band Jouvert

 

 

The first performance was by JOUVERT, led by Trinidadian percussionist HUGH HUMPHREY. The audience snapped to attention and answered with a roar of approval for Jouvert’s tight, high-energy presentation featuring 8 drummers. Their brief set included the African-based roots rhythms Naningo and Yanvalou, and also presented the Calypso.

ASHEBA then performed solo on acoustic guitar. Hailing from San Fernando, Trinidad, Asheba demonstrated fine calypso skills with a witty, lyrical and enjoyable set. A calypsonian is Trinidad’s version of the troubadour or minstrel, who both entertains, informs and educates, and Asheba fit the bill, using his talents of singing, telling folk-tales, even scatting the instrumental lines. Tony D and Hugh Humphrey joined him on a few tunes on percussion. Relaxed and visibly enjoying himself, Asheba charmed the crowd.

Group Petit La Croix

Group Petit La Croix

 

 

The performance by the Haitian-style dance troupe GROUP PETIT LA CROIX pinpointed the only downside of the evening: the stage was too small and the appreciative overflow crowd was too large for La Pena. Petit La Croix, led by artistic director/choreographer Blanche Brown, is influenced by instruments, songs and dances from the African and Haitian cultures and the spirit of the vodun (voodoo) religion. In colorful folkloric costumes, the dancers’ energy, grace and lyrical singing was captivating. The drummers, including musical director John Scovel, showcased a Haitian rhythm, when the dancers returned in flowing white folkloric costumes, urging audience members to join them in their dance. The appreciative crowd demanded and was treated to an encore.

Blanche Brown of Group Petit La Croix

Blanche Brown of Group Petit La Croix

 

 

Ras Mo proudly brought his La Pena Drummers onstage to present the skills they have been studying at their weekly percussion workshops. The 12 drummers demonstrated many rhythmic stylings from across the Caribbean, with different drummers taking the lead for each piece. Their final number, featuring vocals and dance, encited an enthusiastic call-and-response from the audience. See the related article about Ras Mo and the drummers.

The evening then shifted from its folkloric roots to a showcase of contemporary Carnival costumes. D’MIDAS INTERNATIONAL, the award-winning local branch of Trinidad’s Carnival masquerade group, presented a few of their costumed revelers who pranced to recordings of SHADOW, the veteran Calypsonian whose song “Stranger” was the winner of the Road March Competition in the 2001 Carnival. Masquerade group ALL AH WE, whose name means “We Are All One,” showcased their traditional “Old Mas” Carnival costumes including the Burroquite (donkey) and Pitchy Patchy. By this time, so many of the audience members had joined the performers that there was an unscheduled dance intermission where everyone was enjoying reveling to the soca beats.

Ras Mo and Hugh Humphrey of the band Jouvert

Ras Mo and Hugh Humphrey of the band Jouvert

 

 

Fittingly, RAS MO & JOUVERT closed the evening with an impressive performance that blended the percussion-playing of Ras Mo and Hugh Humphrey with a full electric band including Harry Mo on keyboards, Toho on bass, Big Vic on guitar, and Tony D on drum kit. With influences from throughout the Caribbean, this musical mix created a hot new sound that grabbed the audience and got them dancing and singing along with the performance. Sing/chanting in the rapso style, the animated Ras Mo fronted the band with passion, and they performed many of the songs featured on his CD “Tjebe/Hold On.

Ras Mo

Ras Mo

 

 

It was a full house at La Pena as the audience packed the seats, lined the walls and spilled out into the hallway. DJ Sweet Waist spun tropical tunes to set the mood for the night, and the evening’s MC, charming radio personality Anne Marie Stephens, gave informative introductions for each performer.

The resounding success of the event will most certainly lead to similar cultural festivals at La Pena in the future. Check out their website and schedule at www.lapena.org

 

 

 

 



About Corinne Mah :

JahWorks.org contributor Corinne Mah is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and publishing specialist who has a passionate interest in Caribbean music and dance. You can e-mail her at cm@corinnemah.com. | View all posts by Corinne Mah

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About the author

JahWorks.org contributor Corinne Mah is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and publishing specialist who has a passionate interest in Caribbean music and dance. You can e-mail her at cm@corinnemah.com.

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