Students share Caribbean culture with U. community
University students experienced Caribbean culture Saturday with food, dancing, fashion and performances by international reggae artist Shaggy, as well as many local bands.
The West Indian Student Organization celebrated its 35th annual Caribbean Day with a carnival-themed party outside the Paul Robeson Cultural Center on Busch campus.
WISO was founded in 1973 to bring together the Caribbean students at the University who did not have a large presence at that time, said Novlette Harris, vice president of WISO.
“It’s the biggest event of the year,” said Harris, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “We attract a lot of non-RU students too because it’s really just a celebration of Caribbean culture. You’ll never see another event like this on campus.”
Caribbean steel-drum musicians Ekklipse Steel Band, a Jamaican group from Rockland County, N.Y., comes to the event every year. Richard Nathan founded the band ten years ago to teach his children about their culture and then started recruiting other children to join the band, said Ekklipse Captain Jevaun Grant.
Grant said he did not want to stop performing even after he left Rockland County to come to the University, so as a part of WISO, he invited his band to come perform.
“Music is very important, it’s what brings everybody together,” Grant said. “There can be poverty and war going on throughout the Caribbean, but music is the one thing that we can all unite under.”
The main event was Shaggy, said Selica Blagrove, WISO president. Getting him to perform was surprisingly easy.
“We have a booking agent for the club, so we contacted Shaggy’s agent and he was free today, so we got him,” said Blagrove, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
The international sensation not only sang some of his songs, but performed covers of other Caribbean hits. At the end of his performance, he danced with the crowd to “Harlem Shake” by Baauer and “Where Have You Been” by Rihanna.
WISO’s booking agent Briana West, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she brought Brooklyn rappers Hood Heroes ENT to the University because she believed they have a distinct sound and a message that the Caribbean day goers would enjoy.
Another big star of the day was not a person, but food. One of the vendors featured was Twinklebones Catering from New York, which specializes in Caribbean and American cuisine.
Wendy Mayers, who runs the business, said she made the decision to include foods such as jerk chicken and pork, curry shrimp, plantains and rice and peas because everyone can identify with these foods.
“Food is majorly important,” Mayers said. “I just want people to come and experience it and experience all that Caribbeans have to offer, because it’s a lot.”
The main part of the festivities focused on the all-day Caribbean fashion show, which ran throughout the whole day. The models were students who auditioned a month ago and have been rehearsing weekly leading up to the main event.
“Our culture is vibrant and our clothes display our culture and who we are. It’s who I am. It describes me because my style and culture is different than everybody else,” said model Anita Mambia, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.
Each segment featured different local designers such as Bag Ladie INK and clothes ranging from casual day wear to swim wear.
The celebration also featured several dance troupes, such as Cheese Bandits, Chaos Theory, Team Flee, Twese Dance Troupe and WISO Dance troupe. Each dance group performed to certain songs that paid homage to Caribbean music and its successors.
“It’s so important because the whole culture is about parties and fun and uniting through music,” said Chaos Theory Dancer Ayana Phoenix, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. “I feel like it’s a great way for African-Americans to bond with Caribbean-Americans.”
While the event focused on the culture and arts of the Caribbean region, student volunteers representing Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital had a booth set up for free testing for the human immunodeficiency virus.
“We see that HIV is an epidemic and affects a lot of people — especially in the New Brunswick area,” said Ayana Moxey, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “They aren’t getting tested even though the testing is free, so we’re just trying to get the word out there, so more people will get tested.”
Jenetta Greaves, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said at the end of the night, she left the Caribbean Day festivities excited and content.
“I thought it was amazing. I had a lot of fun too,” she said. “My favorite part was when Shaggy performed. He had the whole crowd bumping.”