John Arnold on Tobago’s arts, culture & festivals

John Arnold of the THA’s Department of Tourism spoke to Discover Trinidad & Tobago, and invites visitors to discover the cultural diversity of Tobago

We aim to raise awareness and visibility of the arts and culture of this island to show people just how much there is going on here. Yes, we have a beautiful environment, but we also have some very exciting, and talented people as well.

This is a new Tobago we’re talking about, proud of its heritage, culturally vibrant, and we are showcasing that with an increasing number of events. April’s Plymouth Jazz Festival [now the Tobago Jazz Experience] was established and attracting stars of the quality of Sting, Diana Ross and Elton John.

Janelle Monae performs at the Tobago Jazz Experience. Photo courtesy the THA

Janelle Monae performs at the Tobago Jazz Experience. Photo courtesy the Division of Tourism & Transportation

There is the International Gospel Festival in September, with Prosperous and other premier Caribbean gospel acts; August’s Tobago Muhtadi International Drumming Festival at the Dwight Yorke Stadium; and Buccoo’s ever-popular Easter Goat and Crab Race Festival.

The annual Tobago Heritage Festival, running for two weeks from mid-July to 1 August, represents a wonderful opportunity for the people of the island to celebrate their culture, and is now 21 years old. And we have food festivals like the Blue Food Festival held in Bloody Bay in October, and May’s Tobago Culinary Festival. And not forgetting Carnival of course, which is a great social occasion and a fantastic time to be in Tobago.

Charlotteville Harvest Festival. Photo courtesy the THA

Charlotteville Harvest Festival includes a re-enactment of the cocoa dance. Photo courtesy the Division of Tourism and Transportation

These annual events have not just come about by chance: each one has been created to be developed and sustained. As well as the yearly festivals, we have a weekly folk theatre, Itsy Bitsy, that has just opened. It’s being run by Annette Alfred and will highlight the heritage folk arts of the country every Tuesday night from 7.30 pm. There will be an assortment of tambrin music, jig, folk dance and reel, as well as some permanent heritage exhibits on display.

I think as Tobagonians we need to appreciate our heritage, and the fact that elements of our culture we take for granted, like storytelling or Sunday Harvest, are actually very special. How many places in the world, for example, could you drive through a village and call into any house on the street for food and drink? That is Sunday Harvest—it’s a wonderful tradition of community and giving.

The thing about Tobago is, culturally, whatever you want [is here]. There’s a nightclub, there’s reggae, there’s jazz music, Café Iguana has an African drumming night—whatever you’re looking for you will find.

So yes, Tobago is naturally beautiful and tranquil, but it is also a very vibrant island in terms of its culture and performing arts.


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