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Introducing… The Re-Education of Carnival by Da Community

Da Community present the Re-Education of Carnival, a series of four events designed to explore the significance of carnival, its profound impact on the British creative landscape, and recognising its importance within the Afro-Caribbean diaspora…

Da Community (DC) is a creative collective, challenging the notions of an individualistic and competitive creative industry. They achieve this by fostering connections, collaboration, and community among London’s young creatives. Comprising singers, rappers, poets, photographers, artists and more, the group brings together a variety of skill sets to organise immersive events, including the one I’m talking about today.

Following their uber-successful takeover of Orii Jam, London’s biggest underground jazz movement, back in December, DC are continuing to ride off the good energy, continuing their mission.

DC x Orii Jam, December 2023.
Photo: Hermela

The first event in the Re-Education of Carnival was in January. A Calypso Cypher delving into the history of ‘Kaiso’ (commonly known as Calypso), carnival and oral storytelling. The experience took us on a journey from West Africa to the Caribbean and our current seats.

Not your typical live music event, we were welcomed by sets from DC DJs Saiming, DJ XHNWAV & DJ Vibes, taking us on a musical journey through today’s latest tracks to Lord Nelson’s ‘Mi Lover’.

Following this, we were treated to a keynote talk from Tobago Crusoe, a Calypso musical legend who quickly informed us that what we know as Calypso today is truly ‘Kaiso’, with the name, like many other things, being colonised. Through a fusion of sweet string melodies, and engaging and provocative songs, Tobago took us on a journey through the history of Kaiso music, detailing its variants around Africa and the Caribbean. He emphasised the importance of oral storytelling in traditional Afro-Caribbean culture. With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Tobago shared, “Out of the womb of Africa, Kaiso music was born. All eyes were glued to Tobago as he explored the functions of Griots and Kaisans (people who sing Kaiso music), telling stories that make political and social commentaries as well as spreading general information about significant events.

Tobago Crusoe
Photo: Tolu Elusade

DC successfully provided a platform for a speaker who uplifted the traditions of folk songs, tying in musical history with songs made up on the spot, reminiscent of a modern-day cypher or freestyle. The room smiled as Tobago teased the audience with songs made up of events in that very moment, a practice of exemplo which we would now know as improvisation.

A particularly gripping moment sent the room into somber silence as Tobago beautifully sang from the perspective of a slave, demonstrating the power of Kaiso in telling stories that convey emotions and connect us to our ancestors. Using humor and wit, Tobago masterfully played with metaphor, call and response, and lyrical dissonance to give us insight into the foundations behind the Calypso and Soca music we hear today.

Towards the end of his talk, Tobago left a challenge and plea to the younger generation: “Keep the culture alive but understand where it came from.” The audience rose to the challenge as we segued into the cypher part of the event, where we were invited to spit on top of Calypso tracks.

Photo: Tolu Elusade

This experimental event proved different from any live music I have seen before. People were able to take the messages they learned, and the feelings they felt, and implement them into engaging Kaiso-inspired performances. The concept of ‘clashes’ and ‘verbal wars’ Tobago spoke of, we saw in the playful jabs rappers took at each other. It was clear to see the parallels between music then and now, and my favorite moment of the night was witnessing Tobago freestyle with a rapper, closing the rift between generations.

Photo: Tolu Elusade

Nayana.AB, the driving force behind the event, shared her perspective on the night, describing the need to “change the narrative” of carnival with a lot of people who attend carnival not truly understanding its roots. Nayana emphasised the importance of dispelling misconceptions by aiming to educate attendees in a fun and digestible way that allows the intermingling of generations.

Joey Hoang

Feeling the FOMO? Worry not. We’re now counting down the days to Da Community x Purelime Carnival Takeover, next on the table is a Speaker’s Corner, where DC invites you all to join a conversation with creatives, academics and musicians. Led by Phillip Beckles-Raymond, a Trini creative, anti-disciplinary economist and transgressive educator from the University of West London, this space will be more than just a conversation, implementing a rhythmic backdrop infused with steel pans and drum beats, showing that within the culture, it’s important that the drum stays beating.

Sign up for a free ticket HERE.

Words: Tumi Mary Ogundamisi

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