People in Schenectady’s Central Park were walking with an extra bit of rhythm in their step on Saturday, as it would have been impossible to escape the beat of the Carama 2011 Caribbean Cultural Festival.
Among the hundreds of people going through the narrow row of vendors who made up the heart of the festival, the most distinctive person was Schenectady resident Coco Ford. Painted head to toe, Ford had been decorated to resemble the Barbados flag, with blue and yellow and a trident on his chest.
The proud Barbados icon could be seen all over the festival, as Ford ran amongst crowds and also helped lead a small parade of girls who marched and danced in skimpy attire that represented the colors of other Caribbean countries. “I like fun, I like laughter, I like pleasure and food,” he said.
Ford, a self-described Barbadian, said he enjoyed showing off his roots, but acknowledged that his friends wouldn’t let him keep the paint full-time. “They won’t let me [roll] like that,” he said.
Cassandra Steward of Schenectady, the artist who did the paint job, added, “He would if he could, but I’m not allowing it.”
Steward said she liked how the event brought a variety of cultures together and highlighted the fact that there were girls dressed in American, Trinidad and Jamaican flags, among a sea of others. “So far everyone is loving it,” Steward said in the late afternoon.
One of the big attractions at the festival was the Caribbean food being sold from three stands.
Ronnie Lee, 48, of Menands, hadn’t been to the festival in a long time, but before he checked out the festival he sat down with some Jamaican Escovitch, usually made with a firm white fish fillet. “[It’s] excellent,” he said.
One of the people preparing food was Rose Marie Coleman, owner of Orchid’s Jamaican-American Restaurant in Schenectady. The happy chef was kept busy in the afternoon, serving food. “A lot of people make Jamaican food, but you got to make it from the heart. Make it with love and that’s it … not too spicy,” Coleman said. “I don’t just make it for Jamaicans … Everybody eat my food and love it.”
All of her food was moving on Saturday, including the most familiar Jamaican dish, jerk chicken. “Everyone wants to try something new,” Coleman said.
Dressed in a shiny bikini and a headdress was Natasha Julien of Schenectady, who was one of the co-directors who organized the girls in the parade through the park. With an abundance of energy she sang along with the blaring music emanating from a makeshift parade float and shook emphatically to the heavy bass beats.
“It’s fun for the girls,” Julien said. “And [it’s] something to look forward to every year.”
As for her limitless dancing potential, the Trinidad and Tobago descendent said, “I never get tired,”
The main critique of the festival was that some people had expected a livelier event that was more timely. Gwen Thomas of Schenectady said she wouldn’t be back next year, which was a shame because she lived near the park. “This thing is so unorganized,” she said. “It is pathetic.”
Orchid’s owner Coleman agreed that the festival has not reached its full potential, and her dreams for expansion include a lot more reggae music.
“We’re not organized like that,” she said, comparing Saturday’s event to gatherings in New York City. “If they do it every year and expand it, make it broader … it would be so beautiful.”