Tobago Jazz Festival
Tobago is the little sister to her twin island Trinidad, with a population of just 50,000 Tobago truly is the undiscovered jewel of the Caribbean. A short journey from the UK, you can fly there direct with British Airways in 8 hours. The island is only 40km long so nowhere is far from the airport. With average daytime temperatures of 28 degrees, and some of the most beautiful beaches, waterfalls, rainforests, wildlife, fine dining and home produced rum there is something for everyone in Tobago.
The island has a rich cultural history; the Caribs & the Arawaks were the natives before good old Christopher Columbus arrived in 1498. The island then changed hands between the English, French, Dutch and Courlanders. From the 1890s thousands of Indians immigrated to Trinidad and Tobago and these many influences are particularly noticeable in the fantastic cuisine which is a combination of Indian, African, Creole, Amerindian, European, Chinese and Lebanese influences.
Any time of year is a good time to visit Tobago, in February they have carnival, they have music concerts, fashion week, food festivals and many different sporting events throughout the year. We were visiting at the end of April when the annual Jazz festival takes place with musical entertainment throughout the island.
With hotels to suit every budget we chose to stay at the award winning Coco Reef in Crown Point 5 minutes walk from the airport and next to famous local beach Store Bay with it’s local craft and food stalls selling local specialities such as crab and dumpling, bake and shark or corn soup. At night you can walk to local eateries and bars, listen to soca and reggae and live African drummers whilst supping a rum punch, cocktail or locally produced lager.
After a few days relaxing on the white sandy beaches in the vicinity and walking to Pigeon Point Heritage Park, home to one of the most beautiful beaches on the island where we were able to paddle board and watch those more skilled than us wind and kite surf we ventured out round the island.
As with all the Tobagonians we met our guide Hans had extensive knowledge of Tobago’s history and was immensely proud of his island. We spent a couple of days with him touring the island and there is still so much more we could have done. We visited Fort George in the capital Scarborough where we ate at locally run small restaurant Blue Crab before setting out to Argyle Falls where we walked through tall bamboo before bathing in the refreshing waterfall. Next stop was the cocoa plantation where Miss Tina, great grandmother to 17 showed us round pointing out local fruit trees before showing us how the cocoa is picked and then dried and made into delicious chocolate which we sampled with fine locally produced rum.
In Tobago the government give huge resources to protecting the wildlife and natural beauty of the island, we visited the government owned Little Tobago, a small island just off the coast which is a wild bird reserve with stunning views before we ate in Gemma’s Tree House Restaurant, possibly my favourite meal of the holiday. Gemma’s is literally a huge tree house by the sea. The setting is a good as the food and we at e locally caught fresh fish, chicken, prawns, callalloo, yam pie, thanyia fritters and other delicious local delicacies.
We then headed for the rain forest The forest is full of birds and insects and we were able to observe humming birds and leaves that at first glance appeared to be walking until on closer examination we realized they were being carried by tiny ants. All you can hear in the forest is birdsong and the rustle of huge trees and bamboo. On the way back to our hotel we passed through the picturesque town of Charlottesville and visited Englishman’s Bay voted the 6th most beautiful beach in the world.
That evening after dining at the highly recommended Fish Pot restaurant our taxi driver received a call and rushed us to the beach to see something I will never forget– a 6 foot turtle (apparently she was a small one!) laying her eggs. The government pay people to patrol the beaches to protect turtles when they lay their eggs ensuring no-one comes too close or disturbs the turtles and records the location and date of laying in order that they can return when the eggs hatch in order to ensure that as many hatchlings as possible reach the sea safely.
The next day we visited the sea side resort of Castara, home to several eco hotels, stunning beach, another beautiful waterfall and on this day one of the Jazz Festival events was taking place so there were local food and craft stalls and a stage on the beach where local acts performed reggae and soca. We took part in ‘pulling the seine’ a local tradition which involves pulling in the fisherman’s net to the sound of soca music.
During out stay we took a glass bottom boat to Buccoo Reef where the snorkeling is amazing before heading to Nylon Reef – so named by Princess Margaret – a sand bank out in the ocean where you can walk around waist high in water. According to local legend this will make look 10 years younger.
The last 3 days of the Jazz Festival takes place at Pigeon Point so we were able to walk from our hotel and see acts such as Jennifer Hudson, Kool & The Gang, Jill Scott, Busy Signal and Miguel performing alongside local acts, which also included the great Soca Monarch Machel Montana. After the festival closed on Sunday all those who still had the energy to party headed off to local dance ‘Sunday School’ .
I cannot wait to return to Tobago and already have my flights booked, I have still to visit the Mangrove swamps, picnic on No Man’s Beach, go goat and crab racing and so much more.
Tobago should be on everyone’s bucket list.
For information on GeeStor Productions Jazz Experience 2016 trip to Tobago please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My First Tobago Jazz Experience – 2014
When I said I was going to Tobago Jazz Experience at the end of April the response I got was ‘I thought it was in May’. Everyone has heard of St Lucia Jazz but no-one has heard of Tobago Jazz outside of the Caribbean.
The Festival has been running since 2007 and has played host to many top artists including Sir Elton John, Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder, Baby Face, Diana Ross, Shakira, Rod Stewart and Whitney Houston. Last year’s line up featured our very own Emelie Sande, Dionne Warwick and India Arie. This year headline acts included John Legend, Earth Wind & Fire, Keyshia Cole, Brandy and Tarrus Riley.
Tobago is arguably one the Caribbean’s most beautiful and unspoilt destinations, 30 miles at its longest point with a population of just 50,000. Beautiful coconut palm fringed white sandy beaches, the turquoise and emerald waters of the Caribbean Sea, jagged cliffs with panoramic views of golden sandy beaches bordered by lush tropical vegetation. Quaint villages surround the island with a variety of exotic fruits and flowers lending colour to the landscape. All in all an idyllic backdrop to the 9 day festival featuring 9 music events, a sports day and goat racing all taking place at 8 different locations around the island. As with the St Lucian Jazz Festival do not expect to hear a lot of jazz!
The opening night on Saturday was a free concert consisting of established and emerging soca artists with headline act Tarrus Riley who gave his usual solid performance to a capacity crowd at the usually serene coastal village of Speyside. Sunday night took place in the hillside village Signal Hill. With a magnificent view of Tobago’s coastline, it was the perfect setting for upcoming talent to make their debut.
On Easter Tuesday all roads led to the coastal village of Buccoo which hosted the traditional goat and crab races. Skilled ‘jockeys’ race specially trained goats to win a year’s worth of bragging rights, while everyone has the opportunity to try their hand at (very slow) crab racing. Delicious food and fun activities are available at the venue, a great day of laughter and foolishness.
On Wednesday the Milford Road Esplanade hosted a “New Orleans style” evening with performers showcasing their talent simultaneously on several stages along the waterfront. You can enjoy a soothing repertoire of unplugged solo, duet and band acts whilst browsing stalls selling and abundance of options food, drinks and crafts.
Thursday took us to Northside Jazz at Castara Beach and evening of mainly local acts performing reggae and RnB. A beautiful setting but marred by the fact that every performer sounded badly out of tune leading us to the conclusion that they could not hear themselves. The acts were also performing to backing tracks, the event would have benefitted from a full (in tune) band. Despite this it was a great evening liming on the beautiful beach, sampling delicious local food and browsing stalls selling local arts and crafts.
The final 3 nights took place at the stunning Pigeon Point Heritage Park. You won’t find a more beautiful venue as you stroll beside the sea to enter the festival site. The site was spacious and did not feel crowded despite numbers hitting over 10,000 on the Friday night. There were ample food stalls selling a variety of food, arts and crafts stalls and amazingly well organised toilet queues!!
The sponsors VIP area was hosted by gorgeous ladies all dressed in matching black and white outfits and once they had shown you to your seats an endless supply of food and drink was brought to you. The whole are looked fabulous bedecked in black and white decor. We sat here on the Friday night which consisted of super star John Legend, Brandy and local act Dil E Nadan. Soca act Bunji, Faye Ann and the Asylum Vikings were billed to appear but according to the Trinidad Express returned home when there were no hotel rooms booked for them. Brandy was disappointing, she might have fared better had she done her usual Whitney tribute section. The crowd were clearly not feeling her, an old school reggae artist such as Horace Andy might have filled this spot better. A good MC was definitely needed for the night to bring the “legend” that is John Legend onto the stage. John was the artist the crowd had paid to see and he flawlessly performed all his top hits accompanying himself on the grand piano and the audience of more than 10,000 clearly loved him. His set had a very intimate feel despite the capacity crowd.
Saturday was Youthopia a night for young artists to perform, this is the 1st year that this event has been included and it is great that the festival showed so much support for emerging artists. There were some good solid performances but it was Jamaican recording artiste and Season Five winner of NBC’s reality singing competition The Voice, Tessanne Chin, singing many of her popular tunes such as “Hide Away” and “Redemption Song” that had the audience asking for more. More
The final night was the Beach Jazz Fiesta which included local act Genevieve who performed mostly covers but they were all of great songs! Keyshia Cole looked amazing, was full of energy and her DJ worked really hard getting the crowd moving and showed us just how much all the shows would benefit from a good MC. After 42 years in the business headline act Earth, Wind and Fire did not disappoint, with 3 members from the original line they performed a high energy set for over an hour consisting of a great selection of their many hits over the years. They had everyone in the crowd, young and old, on their feet, a great end to a fantastic week.
My only regret is that I did not have time to see more of this beautiful paradise so will have to visit again. We visited Little Tobago, a small island which the government owns and has maintained as a bird sanctuary, we climbed the beautiful Argyle Falls, visited the picturesque town of Charlottesville and the tranquil Englishman’s Bay, snorkelled round the coral reef and saw an abundance of tropical fish, walked in the eerie mangrove swamps and the highlight, outside of the festival for me, watched a 6 foot turtle say her eggs on the beach. And there was still so much left to see!
I will be back. , Tobago style is certainly what you get when you visit the island. Information on Tobago and the jazz festival can be found at www.tobagostyle.travel
The Island of Tobago – Live the culture!