How did you first become interested in creating events celebrating Caribbean culture?
My father is a professional jazz and blues pianist and my siblings all play instruments, so my whole life our house always reverberated with rhythm. Throughout my life I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to and live in New Orleans and eight Caribbean countries and soak up a varied and holistic view of Caribbean culture. All of the exposure to Caribbean culture formed the foundation for my future endeavors.
Why is it important to you to promote Caribbean culture in New Orleans?
Since its inception New Orleans has been widely considered as the northernmost city in the Caribbean, due to its location and status as a major trading center. This Caribbean vibe can be felt in New Orleans’ spicy culinary menagerie of flavors, infectious music, bacchanalian Carnival, hot, sticky weather, gaping potholes, colorful linguistic stylings, colorful French colonial architecture and the general festive culture and laissez le bon temps rouler attitude. So I don’t feel as if I am so much bringing Jamaican and Caribbean to New Orleans but rather shedding light on something that’s always been here.
What would you say is the most fascinating part about Caribbean history in New Orleans?
To me personally, as a reggae fanatic and New Orleanian, the most interesting historical aspect is New Orleans’ relationship with reggae music. In the 1950s, radio waves carrying tunes from Fats Domino, Jelly Roll Morton, Champion Jack Dupree and Professor Longhair glided across the Caribbean Sea to Kingston. The sweet sounds of New Orleans fused with Jamaican mento to produce ska and rocksteady, the precursors of reggae. If anyone is curious, check out Ernest & Jackie’s version of Fats Domino’s ‘Sick and Tired.’
Who are some Caribbean artists/musicians based in the area you’d recommend to readers?
Alexey Marti, a world-class Cuban born percussionist, has a phenomenal band that creates absolutely infectious rhythms. Ambush Reggae Band, Higher Heights and the Claude Bryant and the AllStars come to mind as the top reggae bands in the city. DJ T-Roy is the Reggae Don Dadda in New Orleans. DJ Raj Smoove, the greatest DJ in the world!
Outside of the Marley Gras Jerk Chicken Festival, what are some events you organize to celebrate Caribbean culture?
We put on the NOLA Caribbean Festival Experience, which is four days (June 20–23) and consists of eight events including Caribbean pool parties, and a Caribbean Carnival parade. We also put on the NOLA Reggae Fest (October 19) which is going into its second year and Soca Fête Festival (2019 date TBA).
The Marley Gras Jerk Chicken Festival will be held on Saturday, February 9, at Central City BBQ.