One week ahead of the August bank holiday weekend, the carnival spirit was already spicing up as Leeds’ first Caribbean Festival of Arts and Culture took place at the Corn Exchange on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th August.
The free event, run by Leeds Corn Exchange veteran, Dean Cuffy, saw the ground floor of the iconic, Victorian building dedicated to all things Caribbean, in an effort to entice and educate the public a little more about Caribbean food and culture. Cuffy, as owner of the Caribbean Café in Kirkgate market, regularly holds cooking demonstrations and serves a varied menu of exotic and authentic Caribbean staples.
Members of the public were encouraged to come down and sample a range of traditional foods such as curried goat with dumplings, and a Caribbean cook up with chicken, saltfish and spices. Condiments such as BBQ and orange sauce, and jerk dry rub were on sale for visitors to try it themselves at home.
Whilst other Caribbean carnivals and events tend to focus on musical offerings from the region, Cuffy wanted his event to demonstrate a more well-rounded insight into Caribbean arts and culture. There were several stalls showcasing intriguing aspects of Caribbean life. One table displayed foods and ingredients, such as plantains, papayas, scotch bonnet peppers and yams. Visitors could also peruse a selection of educational posters and learn about topics such as the origins of Calypso music, the Caribbean climate, and the geography of the region. Those hoping to find the ragged, reggae beat could read up on the origins and history of the music and wouldn’t have been disappointed by the local reggae band from Bradford who took to the stage on Saturday evening.
The Caribbean Festival of Arts and Culture proved to be a timely and educational forerunner to Leeds West Indian Carnival, which is held annually on the last Monday of August, as Europe’s longest running authentic Caribbean carnival parade. With such a sizeable Caribbean influence, hopefully the Festival of Arts and Culture will continue to run in following years as a source of enrichment for local residents, and celebration of the distinct Caribbean heritage in Leeds.