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BARBADOS - music

Congaline ten years later – where is it really going?

Web Posted - Fri Apr 23 2004

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the inaugural Congaline Street Festival. Back in 1994, it was a week-long “mini-Carnival” with a jump up along the South Coast of the island featuring T-shirt bands, free concerts on Dover Playing Field each night, calypso releases and a beauty show among its attractions. That was then. Ten years later, the “Congaline Street Festival” has evolved into the “Congaline Music Festival”, a three-day series of concerts on Dover Playing Field whose profile has become so low that this year rumours were circulating about its demise. While the music festival idea is not a bad one, the increasingly low profile has made me wonder whether Congaline has much longer to live.

While I was one of the main objectors to Congaline in its original form, as the years have passed I have recognised that the May Day T-shirt jump up was actually a good concept and the carnival had the potential to become a really big event. In those early days it was very well promoted and the presence of calypsos for the carnival also aroused interest. Even though many calypsonians did not release songs for the event, some memorable songs came out of it and by the time May Day came around, people had their sentimental favourites. It also to, some extent, attracted artistes, and bands like Spice, Splashband, Krosfyah and Square One also produced music. I remember in the first year, the Congaline Road March went to Duke Check ED Shirt with “Throw Up Yuh Hand and Wuk Dah Waist”, and at that time Duke Check was a man more known for his humorous calypsos in the then Untouchables Calypso Tent. How many people remember that Krosfyah’s “Pump Me Up”, one of the group’s biggest hits ever, was released for Congaline in 1995? Two of Lil Rick’s earliest calypso hits, “Ruff Wuk” (1997) and “Highway Contractor” (1998) were also Congaline songs. I believe the festival began to die when the artistes stopped producing music.

Complaints from the major bandleaders about the growing presence of T-shirt bands in Kadooment led to the establishment of Congaline, but some of those same bandleaders got involved in the Congaline T-shirt jump up as well.

The T-shirt bands were also a good way for young people and community groups to get bands on the road, and eventually as they grew stronger they moved on to bigger ventures. A classic example of this would be Power X 4, which now does very well at Kadooment with its costumed bands, but began life in the Congaline T-shirt jump up. The route for the Congaline jump up was also shorter and less challenging than that for Kadooment, and of course it was much cheaper to join a T-shirt band than a costumed one. Unfortunately, the National Cultural Foundation’s takeover of the event from 1996 coincided with the South Coast Sewerage Project and the route was changed almost every year until the jump up element was discarded.

The concerts on the Dover Playing Field were a good idea, especially since they featured artistes performing in different genres. In the first year, the organisers also took advantage of the fact there was a United Nations Conference going on in Barbados at the time and invited some of the participants in the activities surrounding the conference to take part in the event. Since the change in focus, the event has attracted some overseas-based artistes, for example, reggae singers Jimmy Cliff, Glen Washington and this year Luciano. This is a foundation that the organisers can build upon, especially since other islands such as St. Kitts and Dominica have established music festivals which attract some of the biggest names from all around the world. Yet, for this to work, the local artistes have to raise their standards and as many of them as possible should be exposed to the spotlight. The music festival has a lot of potential and if we do more to arouse people’s interest in it, the festival could become big enough to rival its Caribbean counterparts, as the Barbados Jazz Festival has done.

Still, does it make sense to keep the Congaline name when nothing in the current festival remotely resembles a congaline? In all fairness, the name became irrelevant when the music and the T-shirt band parade disappeared. Ideally, Congaline should have died immediately after that and if the NCF wanted to continue with an event at this time of the year, they could have taken a two-year break and come up with an all- event along the lines of next weekend’s music festival.

Compliments of the Barbados Advocate.



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