Bankra Caribbean Folk Festival highlights the many variations of a common culture

Bankra Caribbean Folk Festival highlights the many variations of a common culture
Sing and dance: Performers sing folkloric tunes at last year’s Bankra Caribbean Folk Festival in Jamaica, Queens.
Jordan Burgess
By Alexandra Simon

The cultural creatures are reawakening.

The third-annual Bankra Caribbean Folk Festival returns to Queens June 3 for a celebratory homage to the folk history of the region. Next month the rapidly growing event will feature something new for guests and will introduce puppet-sculptures that will bring the mythical characters of the Caribbean to life, the festival organizer said.

“We are expanding the popularity of festival with an effigy park,” said Andrew Clarke. “It’s going to be a large-scale puppet display and people will readily identify all the mythical folk characters they grew up hearing about.

Colorful sculptures of folkloric creatures, such as Trinidad’s “djab-djab,” will be at the festival for viewing, and Clarke says it will be an educational experience for festival-goers on the origins of the characters, which he hopes will reconnect them to their roots.

“The showcase will have puppets with a bit of background information about it and what island it came from,” he said. “What we want to show is how similar and connected we are as a people. We are from different islands but we grew up hearing about the same characters — just different names.”

The festival is one of the rare times that folkloric parts of Caribbean culture are acknowledged on a larger scale rather than just a minor aspect of it, said Clarke. And in this multi-cultural affair, there is an opportunity for every country to share that.

“Whenever folk singers perform we are always the warm up-act or on the small stage — never is folk given main stage to showcase at it’s highest level,” said Clarke. “That’s the reason we give folk artists this platform, and we bring all islands to represent to show how diverse Caribbean culture is. We try to showcase the length and breadth of that by incorporating a lot of different islands.”

He also says even though officially this is only the festival’s third year, the informal celebration has been around much longer before its growing popularity transformed it into a street fair. With the expansion to a sanctioned street festival, Clarke says he looks forward to the newcomers it will attract and the continued growth of it.

“The folk festival celebrates Caribbean folk culture in it’s finest form and now we are going to be a street festival,” he said. “We know the attendance will be such a diverse array of folks and we’ll get them just off of Jamaica Avenue — they’ll hear the music and find out about the Bankra Caribbean folk festival.”

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