Caribbean and other residents in South New Jersey and neighboring Philadelphia reveled in the rhythmic sounds of the Caribbean, took in the cornucopia of Caribbean colors and feasted on Caribbean delicacies, among other things, in picture perfect weather on Saturday during the 19h Annual South Jersey Caribbean Festival at Wiggins Park on the Camden, New Jersey waterfront.
In what was clearly the best weather for the festival in years — with temperatures in the high 80s, with no rain whatsoever and ample sunshine — the culture of the region was on fully display before enthusiasts and supporters.
The event – hosted by the South Jersey Caribbean Cultural and Development Organization (SJCCDO), headed by Philadelphia-based Kylla Herbert, whose late father, Nkem Tshombe, a native of St. Kitts and Nevis, founded the festival in 2001 — featured a wide range of cultural events, and showcased myriad Caribbean paraphernalia and food.
Brooklyn’s Tropical Fete organization was on hand, with stilt dancers and steel pan music; Brooklyn-based Alex Kwebena Colon and the Garifuna Ensemble offered bits of Garifuna culture through singing, dancing and drumming; the Philadelphia Pan Starz Steel Orchestra banged out Caribbean sounds; and Trinidad and Tobago Soca sensation Erphaan Alves revved up party animals.
There were also, among others, dance by Domination Dance, representing the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico; and reggae music from Jamaica, with Skilli Bangs, Ras Professor, GY Phya and Omaje.
In addition, carnival costumes were exhibited, with Camden resident Dr. Berdine Gordon-Litterean, who traces her roots to the Bahamas, making the rounds with her annual display.
“I represent my father by doing this for him,” said Dr. Gordon-Litterean, who mentors doctoral students at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, in a Caribbean Life interview.
“I come every year,” she added, taking in the sounds of the Philadelphia Pan Starz Steel Orchestra. “It’s a passion of mine. I love representing my Caribbean culture.
“I’m just blessed to have Caribbean blood,” Gordon-Litterean continued. “It makes me unique. I know my roots.”
Caribbean food also filled the air, with vendors, primarily Jamaican, servicing favorites, such as curry goat and rice and peas; oxtail; and stew chicken.
“This is a wonderful thing,” Philadelphia resident James Cordice, coordinator and founder of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Penn Relays initiative, told Caribbean Life.
“It’s a good thing for the family; get the kids together; expose them to the culture,” added Cordice, also a chef, among other things, who provides meals annually for festival performers.
“We have a lot of Caribbean people over here; so, we remind them of the culture,” he continued. “We have to remind the children that they come from a beautiful place — the Caribbean.”
Nearby, Jennifer Reyes of Burlington, New Jersey, who treks annually to the festival, took bites from a pound cake purchased from a Jamaican vendor.
“I have been coming for 12 years,” she said. “It’s a great day out here. You can always bring your family — great food.
“Spread the word,” she added. “I hope more people find out about it (festival).”
Trinidadian Neil Dudds, who plays bass with the Philadelphia Pan Starz Steel Orchestra, said the band has been playing for the festival from the inception.
“Nothing is more relaxing than coming in the park and play some music,” he said. “We never miss a year.”
Herbert, who has been coordinating the event ever since her father died in 2007, said she was “grateful for the increased and continued community support.”
“This year was one of the best yet,” she said. “The weather was perfect, which allowed families to come out and enjoy Caribbean culture on the scenic Camden waterfront.”
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