Inaugural music festival brings world stage to Rupununi’s doorstep

“What you’re looking for is right in front of you,” Namvula said.

That, as well as the fact that I didn’t want to give up one of the few seats available at the front, made me skip Desmond and his jazz at the poolside. May Desmond and the jazz gods forgive me.

But Zambian music? Namvula, I had never heard of Zambian music? Never heard! But like the rest of the crowd at the Rock View resort, I was intrigued and then enthralled as, under the silvery moonlight of the Rupununi, Namvula, as the organisers promised, created an intrepid new world where the folk and urban traditions of her Zambian homeland combined with London’s vibrant eclectic music scene, but here, under a silvery Rupununi sky. Namvula eventually roped in Desmond, who joined in for a performance.

Ukrainian musician Iryna Muha picking a carambola
Ukrainian musician Iryna Muha picking a carambola

Thus began the inaugural Rupununi Music and Arts Festival at the Rock View Lodge at Annai, North Rupununi.

It was something new; such a festival has not been held in the Rupununi before. Zambian and Ukrainian music, a tabla/dholack artiste, jazz musicians. Such a lineup seemed to be, at first glance, questionable, but on the first night, musically, the gamble paid off.

Ukraine might be in the news for all the wrong reasons but on Valentine’s Day in the Rupununi, the red-haired Iryna Muha stole the show. The petite Ukrainian artiste, who sings in the style of the traditional Eastern European folk singers, seemingly made everyone fall in love with her. It was not because it was Valentine’s Day. Her style, personality and talent crossed language barriers to introduce something new to everyone and make them like it. Ukrainian music, or Iryna’s version at least, is fun and of the sort that you would likely skip to when no one’s looking. But it is also varied, sometimes mournful and melancholy, with similarities to native American music. It was a learning experience too as Iryna gave bits of background about her country.

But it was not only London-based artistes. The festival is also incorporating local indigenous culture groups, other Guyanese performers, Brazilians, Africans and an American alternative rock band. Not to mention the incomparable flautist Keith Waithe. If you didn’t like something, there was always something else, including the famous Dakota Bar.

From the start, given the location as well as eclectic lineup of artistes, it was a festival that was supposed to be different and it was. Even Prime Minister Samuel Hinds joined in the celebration, dancing under the mango trees to the delight of his wife and the assembled crowd.

The festival was not only about the music but the experience. Like Sydney Allicock away from the staid trappings of the National Assembly in a vacquero outfit that he seemed born to wear, whipping a rawhide whip.

Or meeting Iryna picking carambolas and having a delightful chat with her. It is her first time in South America, she said, and she loves it here. “Just travelling here is magic,” she said, gushing about the beautiful country and friendliness of the people as compared to other countries. “Here people are just friendly and it’s so lovely,” she said, praising the weather also.

Iryna noted the importance of the festival to local people, not only for jobs but also as a window to the world. She explained that she grew up in the former Soviet Union and “we were not allowed to go out of the country.” She eventually left Ukraine when she was 24 and New York was an eye-opener for her. Thus, she said, experiences like these are important as they teach about other cultures and for the locals, it gives them a chance to have an open window to the world.

“Having the world coming to your doorstep is very important,” Iryna said.

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