Scenes like the above parade from 2019 will not be part of this year’s August Emancipation Festival, which has been scaled back due to Covid-19, but some less-crowded celebrations are nevertheless scheduled to proceed. (File Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

The colourful feathers Kay Williams was wearing attracted lots of attention during the August Monday Parade, and for good reason.

Ms. Williams was the Queen of the Band for the Treasures of the BVI troupe.

“I have the biggest piece of the troupe,” she said. “It was made in Trinidad.”

Queen of the Band Kay Williams shows off an elaborate display of feathers. (Photo by: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

Though she’s enjoyed Festival on many previous occasions, this was her first time donning the special outfit, and she noticed she was getting more attention than before. But she just wanted to have a good time alongside her daughter, who was also a part of the troupe.

“I’m happy that the sun came out so we can party,” she said.

For more than two weeks, the Virgin Islands was filled with excitement and entertainment during the 65th August Emancipation Festival. Starting Friday, July 26, the festival village in Road Town was vibrant with sound, colour, food and drinks. With 28 booths set up in a semicircle around the main stage, each night until Aug. 6 featured activities in the capital. Carnel Clyne, chairman of the Virgin Islands Festivals and Fairs Committee, attended almost every event and said that “everything went perfect for the 65th.”

“It was a whole lot of pressure: We had to step up to the plate and make things happen,” he said, but added that he felt his committee, which came together after the Feb. 25 election, did a good job even though it had only a few months to prepare.

He said he was also relieved that the festival was free of major adverse incidents.

“Overall I would give it two thumbs up: A-plus. It was spectacular in my view,” he said. “I think for the short space of time we did really well.”

Festival opening

A torchlight procession preceded the grand opening of the festival village on July 26 with performances by local artists. The following day, Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan performed for thousands after taking the stage around 2:30 a.m.

Headliner Popcaan, a Jamaican dancehall artist, performed to a crowd of thousands during the second night of festival. (Photo by: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

Throughout the following week, residents and visitors enjoyed Latin and Zouk night, a Cultural Night, VI All Stars Night, another Cultural Mix, and eventually the calypso competition on Aug. 1.

That day, six calypsonians sang songs that praised Virgin Islands culture and resilience following Hurricane Irma, in addition to others lambasting government.

The satirical acts garnered plenty of applause, but eventually it was King Paido, with his uplifting song “Bring Your Culture On,” who went home victorious and $7,500 richer.

“Whenever I step out on stage I leave it up to the judges, … but thank God I came out on top,” he said after winning. “Thanks to all my fans who supported me.”

Though the village was never packed with onlookers during the show, a sizable crowd watched throughout the night, a few revellers danced right below the stage, and cheers rang out from all across the village.

Despite King Paido’s hopeful tune carrying him to victory, the comedic numbers — from performers like Lady Liberty, the second runner-up — were Tranquil Smart’s favourite part of the evening. Apart from being funny, Ms. Smart liked that such performances conveyed citizens’ concerns about government’s functions.

“I think it will make them think differently,” she said, referring to government officials.

Reggae Night

During International Reggae night on Friday, Aug. 2, the party didn’t kick off until about 1 a.m. as most of the afternoon and evening were rained out. People took their time getting to the festival village, and many of those who left early returned later for performances by Tarrus Riley and others. Many in the lineup were artists from here or the United States Virgin Islands, including Shine I and Revelation.

Kelton Cudjoe, a native of Barbados, came just to see reggae performer Shine I.

“I remember he came to Barbados and it was raining hard but I was still there, dancing. So you could tell how much I like he music,” he said.

The show lasted until around 4 a.m. and the music continued the next day with International Soca Night.

With performances by OMG, Explainer, Rupee, Freezy, and DJ Dre, crowds lined up to party throughout the night.

When Mr. Killa came onstage and performed his hit “Run Wid It,” where he encourages people to “pick up something and start to run with it,” people in the audience did exactly that. Some picked up the person next to them, others picked up random objects, and one person even picked up a garbage can with a person inside.

On Aug. 4, Bria Ashley Smith, 26, was crowned Miss BVI, just in time to make her grand appearance at the August Monday Parade the next day. (Photo: PROVIDED)

On Aug. 4 at the Multi-purpose Sports Complex, Bria Ashley Smith, 26, was crowned the 65th Festival Queen and 44th Miss BVI. In a competition against four others, the government information officer breezed through five categories: introductory speech, swimwear, talent, evening wear, and questions.

Organiser Alesia Hamm was pleased.

“The young ladies were a de- light to work with,” she said. “That’s the most important thing of the entire process. It was a smooth ride.”

Nevertheless, she acknowledged that hosting the show was not easy.

“There are always challenges when it comes to organising a pageant,” she said. “However, you just have to pick yourself up and keep going.”

The Miss BVI Pageant was preceded by the Prince and Princess Pageant and the Junior Mr. and Mrs. BVI Pageant.

“These pageants are a must,” Mr. Clyne said. “It trains young men and young women to be- come real ambassadors of the British Virgin Islands and represent us internationally. Every country is unique and they’ll be able to bring the unique flavor of the BVI to the international shows.”

Miss BVI will compete in the Miss Universe competition in December. Until then, residents will see her around as an ambassador making special appearances alongside the other pageant winners.

Road Town parade

A young woman dressed up for the August Monday Parade as part of the Treasures of the BVI dance troupe. (Photo by: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

The day after the Miss BVI show, cars and troupes filled the streets of Road Town for the August Monday Parade, which included more than 30 floats this year, including recent pageant winners and several dance troupes.

Crowds lined the road from the Peebles Hospital to the Road Town roundabout, with a majority hanging around near the ferry terminal and its restaurants.

Merrilyn Maduro headed to the parade directly after the Rise and Shine Tramp.

“I got up and went to the j’ouvert and I’ve been up since then,” she said.

Ms. Maduro shared her secret to maintaining energy despite the four-hour delay to the start of the parade.

“I’m not drinking any liquor,” she said. “Everybody likes a different party. I like to enjoy, but I don’t like to feel tired at the end of the day.”

Another attendee, Daniella Petrova, was excited to see the dancers in the troupes.

Though she’s no stranger to the Caribbean, it was her first time celebrating in the VI.

“Me and my friends, we came here just to enjoy the atmosphere,” she said. “It’s my first time in the carnival area. It’s very chill. It’s very exotic.”

Following the Road Town festival were the East End and Carrot Bay celebrations.

Nothing cancelled

Organisers said no events were cancelled this year. The only challenge was weather. And though it rained at times, that didn’t deter people from participating in concerts, events and tournaments throughout.

“Everything, all these festivities, are starting from scratch,” Mr. Clyne said of the post-Irma celebrations. “They’re starting over again. We had to buy new material. Our storage containers got damaged, so the stuff we would’ve used, we re-purchased them: all the electrical stuff, lighting, pipes, and more.”

Thankfully, Mr. Clyne said, these purchases won’t have to be made again next year.


Coined “A Cultural Vibe as BVI Festival turns 65,” the August Emancipation Festival holds significant importance in the history of the territory.

The formal abolition of slavery here occurred on Aug. 1, 1834, and a public holiday is celebrated over the first Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of August each year.

Emancipation freed a total of 5,792 slaves in the VI, according to the government’s website.