T&T at 50: Washington DC

The Mighty Sparrow
By John Blake in Washington DC
(The writer is the presenter of WHUR’s Caribbean Experience Show)
It was a fantastic event on Saturday 18 August as Trinidad and Tobago nationals from the Washington DC area celebrated 50 years of Independence at Yard Park.
The event had been organised by Trinidad’s embassy in Washington and some private companies.
Trinbagonians and other members of the Caribbean diaspora streamed into the park, hungry for a cultural celebration in the absence of DC Caribbean Carnival earlier this year.
Caribbean DJs built the atmosphere by playing Trini hits from the past 50 years, as the large crowd sang along and danced to the musical contributions.
Trini talent showcase
Then it was showtime, with stars showcasing a mix of Trinidadian music, including Soca Chutney singer Raymond Ramnarine, soca’s Destra Garcia, the band Kes and singer Benjai.
And there was the Calypso King of the World, the Mighty Sparrow.
I don't know if it was just me, but I seemed to develop a growing need for some Trinidad roti, as I lingered in a park saturated by the aroma coming from the food vendors.
To work off the food, Destra seized the energy of the moment by hitting the stage without waiting for an introduction and belting out hit after hit, complete with her famous “Jiggle it” demonstration.
She had the crowd moving to the left, right, back and forward - reminiscent of Nigel Lewis.
Sparrow seemed equally determined to capture the moment as he hit the stage with his classic song, Our Model Nation.
This put the entire park in a clearly patriotic mood, with time to reflect on how far their mother country had come from 1962.
The crowd would not let Sparrow leave the stage until he delivered more of his legendary classics.
At this point, there was a pause in entertainment as the Trinidad and Tobago ambassador to the US, Dr Neil Parsan, took to the stage.
50th Independence honorees were the Mighty Sparrow, DC Caribbean radio hosts Von Martin and Neil Mattei and me, your unbiased columnist.
On a personal note, this award was particularly special for me, not only because I was among my peers, but because it coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Caribbean Experience radio show.
I met listeners of several generations, including many second and third-generation American-Caribbean listeners, who expressed their gratitude for what we provided over the years.
I certainly heard enough from listeners to realise that we contribute to filling a cultural void that keeps us connected to our Caribbean people within the diaspora.
This year was the first time DC failed to host a carnival since its inception 19 years ago. Many see it as a sign of austere times.
But as I mentioned in my earlier article, carnival celebrations held in other metropolitan cities are not free events. We, therefore, have to provide financial support for our culture as a Caribbean people.
The alternative is for that component of diaspora life to die a natural death.
It is also hoped that the area politicians recognise and harness the energy, creativity and financial revenue to the city that is so sorely needed.