The Gods shone mightily on the South Jersey Caribbean Festival (SJCF) on Saturday, as the threatening inclement weather held up until the conclusion of Farmer Napper’s one-hour performance at Wiggins Park on the Camden Waterfront in New Jersey.
But, even with the heavy clouds over the festival — which returned after last year’s hiatus, amid the COVID-19 pandemic — patrons were offered “an infusion of Caribbean culture genres,” including a Haitian Flag Dance by the Afro Caribbean Dance Center in Willingboro, NJ, according to festival coordinator Kylla Herbert, president of the organizing group, South Jersey Caribbean Cultural and Development Organization (SJCCDO).
She told Caribbean Life on Wednesday that, besides the 2021 International Soca Monarch Trinidadian Farmer Nappy’s sizzling performance, several Caribbean musical acts were on hand for the 21st annual festival, the premiere cultural event that brings Caribbean culture, dance, food and a live concert to the South Jersey and Philadelphia region.
Performers included Latin Band Orchestra LA 95, which performed salsa, merengue and Cha-Cha-Cha, representing Puerto Rico; Abena Amory and Mzs Quanny, representing St. Kitts and Nevis; artistes from the Ghetto Pot Movie soundtrack, representing Jamaica; and the Philadelphia Pan Stars, representing Trinidad and Tobago.
“We also had Shortmus Productions, representing St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Herbert, whose late father, Nkem Tshombe, the founder of the festival, was a native of Nevis, part of the twin-island federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. “They brought the color and splendor of Caribbean carnival with their masquerade costume performance.”
Herbert said children’s activities, community information, health resources and giveaways were also part of the “free, multi-cultural family festival.”
She said Farmer Nappy, who headlined the six-hour-event, is celebrating over 30 years in the soca music industry and has a rich legacy as one of soca’s top entertainers of all time.
Herbert said Nappy gave “an energetic performance”, singing, among his hits, “Back Yard Jam,” “Hookin Meh” and “My House.”
“This year’s festival was extra special because we missed our 20th year celebration due to COVID-19, and most people were on lockdown for a very long time,” Debbie “Jazzy” Agbessi, a SJCCDO member, who also served as co-Mistress of Ceremonies, told Caribbean Life.
“To finally get out and celebrate our Caribbean culture as a unified front was an awesome experience,” she added. “We truly are better together.”
Denise Willoughby, another SJCCDO member, said the festival is one of her favorite events to attend.
“My family and I have attended this festival for over seven years,” said the Camden native. “We look forward with excitement to celebrate this amazing, unique and breath-taking event due to the richness of the Caribbean culture, history, food, artifacts, music, vendors, attire, entertainers and, most of all, the atmosphere of feeling the vibes when openly celebrating the West Indian culture with family and friends.”
Willoughby said she was also “extremely impressed” with the history of the “Moko Jumbies” or stilt dancers, stating that they are “thought to [have] originated from West African tradition [and] brought to the Caribbean.”
“South Jersey Caribbean Festival is a Caribbean fun-filled day, rain or shine,” she added. “The memories will last a life time!”
Herbert, who was presented with a plaque from Cheryl D.B. Murphy, of the Jersey City West Indian Caribbean American Carnival Association, said she was “grateful that we had the opportunity to have the South Jersey Caribbean Festival this year since COVID-19 prevented us from having the festival at Wiggins Park in 2020.”
She said a small committee of eight planned the festival in less than two months, and that sponsors provided free activities for the kids, including face painting, moon bounces and photobooths, and sponsored Farmer Nappy.
Herbert also said that festival attendance was “great,” despite the forecast of mid-afternoon heavy rain and flash-flooding.
“We were blessed that the rain subsided until the end of show — after Farmer Nappy finished his hour-long performance,” she said. “Attendees were engaged and enjoyed interacting with the performers on the concert stage.