If you haven’t already read it, you might want to start with Kadooment Day Part 1, which describes Grand Kadooment Day, part of Barbados’ Crop Over festival. There are lots of photos too.
My Grand Kadooment with Jump Promotions
I’d been generously invited along to document the day by Renee Ratcliffe, the designer and co-leader of the Jump Promotions ‘band’.
I arrived at the National Stadium at 7am, not entirely sure what to expect. It was already quite busy, with people gathering in their different band groups.
I’d not actually met Renee before, but it didn’t take me long to find her; the phrase ‘larger than life character’ could have been invented for her! Renee sorted me out with my band wristband (to get me inside the moving security cordon and allow me unlimited food and drink), and I left her to get on with helping everyone get into the elaborate costumes she had designed.
I grabbed a few shots of people preparing, then decided a spot of breakfast was wise. Jump Promotions had laid on a fantastic buffet breakfast for all the band members, which was very welcome. As was the gazebo, where lots of us sheltered during the intense but brief shower.
Entering the stadium
Our band entered the stadium at 9.15am; unlike similar events, with Kadooment Day the bands are judged at the start of the parade, not the end. After going round the track, our band paused to show off its costumes and dancing to the judges.
Jump Promotions is one of the larger bands (of which there are at least a dozen), and was split into seven smaller sub-themes, each with its own costumes and colours.
The band’s sponsors were the Lucky Horseshoe bars and the Barbados National Lottery, and so our over-all theme was ‘Happy Go Lucky’ – so some sections were dressed as leprechauns, another section had casino games as the theme, some 3 wishes Aladdin’s lamp, and so on.
Everyone did their thing for the judges and the assembled crowd of dignitaries and tourists, then sauntered out of the stadium to regroup for the start of the parade through the city.
I found myself with Renee on the way on out, and we had a quick chat, before I dashed off to the front of the parade to find a good vantage point for photographing the band moving off.
A tragic event
There was a bit of a delay, and at one point the crowds had to part to allow an ambulance through, but eventually we all set off. Progress was very slow, with the trucks carrying the sound systems moving at a snail’s pace.
Initially the mood was jubilant, but soon there was a palpable sense that something wasn’t quite right. Senior police officers appeared, talking to organisers, but still the procession continued.
After a while, the MC of our band made an announcement, but with the loud music and crowds, it was impossible to hear. It was perhaps half an hour later that I heard that ‘Renee’ had died in hospital that morning. I’d just been talking to Renee, so I didn’t think for a moment it could be her, but sadly I was wrong.
It transpired that Renee had been taken ill just after leaving the stadium, just moments after I’d been chatting with her, and despite being rushed off in the ambulance, Renee had passed away at the hospital very soon after.
I found it hard to take in – my only contact for the event, someone I’d been talking to just moments earlier, had just passed away. The timing – at the start of something she was clearly massively passionate about – heightened the sense of the unreal.
It was announced that the band would continue on the parade as a tribute to Renee; I guess anything other would have been unthinkable. Again, perhaps it’s a cliche but I think in this instance, with her love of Kadooment, it’s true to say ‘it’s what Renee would have wanted’. And let’s face it, having hundreds of people having a fantastic party whilst wearing our creations is the sort of celebratory tribute most of us can only dream of.
It was agreed that the band would continue in silence for a certain time out of respect for Renee. I spoke with some very upset people, some of whom had known Renee since the formation of the band many years earlier, but without exception they said she would want the party to continue.
And continue it did. The music started back up and I think what started out as a party turned into a true celebration. A celebration of a life of fun, love, friendship and creativity.
Parading through Bridgetown
After leaving the stadium, the parade headed off towards the centre of the capital through some narrow and winding roads. We wouldn’t reach the end point on Spring Garden Highway for another five or six hours.
The heat and humidity were already high by 10.30am. In a rare moment of sense, I decided to be sensible and drink only water until at least half way. Not an easy thing, given how many strangers were offering me rum and beer every few minutes.
The streets were lined with spectators, the vast majority of them Bajans not tourists. Most available vantage points were occupied, and lots of people were having their own parties in their yards. Every now and then someone from a band would stop to wuk-up with a bystander, or get showered with water.
Our sound system and MC kept everyone’s spirits up in our band with some banging Soca tunes blasting out. Anytime anyone in our band wanted a drink, they just had to pop back to the articulated lorry at the back of the group that acted as a mobile free bar. This was the same for all the bands.
The whole atmosphere was incredible. Young or old, fat or thin, black or white, Bajan or not, it mattered not one bit – everyone was so friendly and full of energy and good times. I’ve been to Notting Hill Carnival many times, but this was a different league of fun and craziness!
The rum flowed
Although I was there to photograph and video the event, there was no way to avoid being totally caught up in it. Every few minutes I’d find myself being wuk-up by some woman from in front or behind, or sometimes both at once.
Eventually, around the halfway point I gave in and accepted a Mount Gay rum and coke. It rejuvenated me, and opened the flood gates – by the time we reached Spring Garden Highway, I was as well oiled as most of the other participants!
I spotted someone I knew watching from the roadside, so took a welcome break to sit and chat with her for ten minutes, before catching up with my band for the final leg.
The last part of the route runs near the beach, where quite a few boats had moored to watch and party. The parade finished at Spring Garden Highway, where everyone who’d finished was milling about, drinking and chatting.
Our band was by no means the last, and more bands kept arriving for a couple of hours. I said goodbye to my new friends, and doubled back to capture some of the other bands completing their processions, before stumbling off to get a bus home to bed, exhausted, around 12 hours after starting.
Even without the passing of Renee, my Grand Kadooment would have been unforgettable. The tragedy mixed with the joyful celebrations made it doubly-so. It’s a day I will never forget, with some wonderful memories, and I wouldn’t have been there to enjoy it if it weren’t for Renee.
The following evening I attended an informal memorial gathering for Renee at the stadium. There were hundreds of people there paying tribute. You can read a tribute to Renee Sheppard-Ratcliffe by her aunt here.