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Laura Dowrich-Phillips on Trinidad’s arts, culture, and entertainment | Q&A

Veteran journalist Laura Dowrich-Phillips chatted with Discover T&T about all things culture and lifestyle — from her favourite Trinidad festivals, fetes, and hangouts, to authors, artists, designers, and culinary treats

CAROLINE TAYLOR: There are so many traditions to explore within the Carnival season, from pan to traditional mas to stickfighting. How would you recommend someone compose their Carnival itinerary?

LAURA DOWRICH-PHILLIPS: It depends on what they are looking for. If they are here to party, then they must get their hands on a fete calendar that lists every single fete there is. From that they can determine which parties they want to attend, keeping in mind there are multiple parties happening simultaneously almost every day the closer to Carnival we get. If the person is seeking a more cultural experience, then they need to know which competitions are on, as most cultural events take place within the context of a competition. I would recommend that they include visiting communities such as Paramin where traditional mas is still alive to get a taste of the behind the scenes action — as well as calypso tents. If the person is interested in soca and wish to see the stars of Carnival, then Machel Monday or Kes the Band’s Tuesday on the Rock are musts.

Machel Montano performs at CIC Fete. Photo by Jermaine Cruickshank, courtesy Machel Montano

Machel Montano performs at CIC Fete. Photo by Jermaine Cruickshank, courtesy Machel Montano

CT: What are the must-do fetes on the Carnival calendar, and the best fete opportunities during the rest of the year?

LDP: Again, it depends on a person’s taste, age and budget. If you are looking for a swanky all-inclusive experience, any of the school fetes such as Fete with the Saints, Fatima All Inclusive, and Presentation College’s PREStige are definite must-dos — plus, the money raised goes toward the improvement of the schools so you’d be contributing to a charitable cause. Hyatt Lime, Beach House, Soca Brainwash, Kairi People’s Different, and Fall Out are quality all-inclusives during Carnival week. Early morning breakfast fetes such as AM Bush, Soaka, Black to Blue, Jam Nation, Breakfast Is, and Vale Vibe are high on my list of must-dos. The latter two are all-inclusives held on Carnival Sunday. For younger adults, Bacchanal Road, a Caesar’s Army fete where you are required to wear a costume and parade around a route, is a definite must. A great Ash Wednesday cool down is Candy Coated’s Blush in Tobago. Tobago is where the top parties take place during the year namely Island Crashers, three days of parties targeted to the 16 to 24 crowd and Great Fete weekend which sees performances by top local, regional, and international acts. Other party opportunities are: Caesar’s Army In de Paint dance on Independence Day, Cocoa Devil’s J’ouvert in July, Josie’s Jamishness in May, and Point Fortin Borough Day fetes. 

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CT: Of course, there are many other festivals year-round. Which ones are the most special for you, and why? Which ones would you recommend people experience at least once in their lifetimes?

LDP: Divali has always been my favourite festival because I grew up next to a Hindu family and one of my cherished childhood memories is going over to their house, eating what seemed like an unending supply of food on a soharee leaf and later helping to light deyas. My father would then take us driving through south and central Trinidad to see the display of lights. The twinkling lights in the dark is so pretty to see. I think everyone should also experience the spring festival of Holi, where people spray abir on each other. 

Divali in Felicity, Trinidad. Photo: Ariann Thompson

Divali in Felicity, Trinidad. Photo: Ariann Thompson

CT: For locals or visitors looking for the best nightlife across the island, what are your picks for the best hangouts, and why?

LDP: As I get older I prefer more sedentary activities preferably over a bottle of wine. Uncorked wine bar on Tragarete Road is a popular hangout. You can purchase a bottle and enjoy it in-house with friends. They also support local artists with an exhibition every month by a different artist. CSpot Sip n Paint studio in St Clair provides a fantastic way to enjoy an evening with friends painting and connecting over cocktails. Drink Lounge and Bistro is one of my favourite hangouts too. It’s a joint where many creatives hang out and they serve the most amazing meatballs and Sangria. I also love hanging out at Kaiso Blues Café because they are a haven for live music in a very intimate atmosphere.

Photo courtesy Cspot Sip n Paint Studio

Photo courtesy Cspot Sip n Paint Studio

CT: Fashion is a vibrant and growing industry. Which designers do you think are the most distinctive, and why?

LDP: I love the work of Shop Shari and Loud by Afiya with their distinctive use of prints and colour. Charu Lochan Dass, trading as CLD, creates elegant and sophisticated outfits. Christian Boucaud caters to the plus size market in her portfolio. Lisa Sarjeant-Gonzales (Lisa Faye) creates beautiful hand-dyed caftans and free flowing gowns in silk. For swimwear, Rebel is super sexy, and Tropix by Keisha Als plays around with different fabric and designs that stand out.

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CT: If someone is looking for classic or contemporary local writing — both fiction and nonfiction — who are some of the authors that you recommend, and why?

LDP:

  • Children’s Books: Aarti Gosine’s Her Magic Caves books are very engaging and provide children with local fairy tales; Jeunanne Alkins’ Hatch teaches children about the leatherback turtles and how to respect nature; Machel Montano’s Boy Boy and the Magic Pan teaches children about our national instrument and about the ability of culture to unify people
  • Maria Nunes: Her debut book, In a World of their Own, perfectly captures the passion embodied in those who are preserving our traditional mas
  • Aliyah Eniath: The Yard is probably the first book by a Caribbean author to centre on the life of a Muslim family navigating life in the Caribbean. Very compelling.
  • Angelo Bissessarsingh: The late author’s work capturing our history is perfectly captured in his books, A Walk Back in Time, Walking with the Ancestors, and Bridges of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • VS Naipaul: I favour his earlier work based on life in T&T, they are hilarious and timeless and scarily in many ways still resemble life today.
  • Michael Anthony: He has written several books but if you are yet to read Green Days by the River, get this. It recently got new life as a movie by Michael Moleedhar.
  • Sam Selvon: Lonely Londoners is a classic everyone ought to read.

CT: For art lovers, tell us a bit about the art scene in Trinidad. Who are the names they should look out for, and what are some of the venues they should head to?

LDP: The local art scene is a vibrant one with a diversity of art being produced. The Art Society based in Federation Park, Port of Spain hosts a number of exhibitions and pop-up shops. Horizons Art Gallery, Medulla Art Gallery, 101 Art Gallery, Y Art Gallery, and places such as Uncorked Wine Shop are good places to view local art.

Some of the names art lovers should note are: Halcian Pierre, Ozzy Merrick, LeRoy Clarke, Brianna McCarthy, Sarah Burrows, and Marielle Barrow.

CT: Who are some of your favourite creators of original jewellery?

LDP: Rachel Rochford, Bene Caribe, Cocoa Vintage, Shop Shari.

Shari Cumberbatch. Photo courtesy Shop Shari

Shari Cumberbatch. Photo courtesy Shop Shari

CT: The island produces some truly fine specialty culinary items, whether cocoa, or pepper sauce, rum, or bitters. What are some that you think both locals and visitors should make sure to try?

LDP: My list of faves:

  • Bertie’s Pepper Sauce and Pimento sauce
  • Twigs Natural tea
  • Gourmet Pop popcorn
  • 11 Degrees North sorrel wine
  • Chocolates (Cocobel, Brasso Seco, Bushe, and Cush Machel Montano)
  • Angostura Bitters
  • CGA flavoured coconut oils
  • Anything from Karibbean Flavours.
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About Laura Dowrich-Phillips

I have been a journalist for over 20 years. I am currently the Regional Lifestyle Editor for Loop News, a regional digital news platform. I also co-host a podcast called Music Matters which looks at the music industry in the Caribbean. I am passionate about positioning the Caribbean on the global stage and educating the world about the region I call home.


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Posted by Caroline Taylor

writer & editor • actor, singer, producer & director • egalitarian • animal & nature lover • island girl • water baby • perennial discoverer

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