Words by Jesse Serwer—
The Soufriere Hills volcano eruption that devastated Montserrat 17 years ago left its capital city, Plymouth, uninhabitable, and ultimately (along with Hurricane Hugo) contributed to the shrinking in half of the island’s population. Naturally, the aftereffects on Montserrat’s carnival, known locally as Montserrat Festival, have not been positive. But, as the country gets set to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence at this year’s festival, things are looking up. Led by U.S.-based bandleader Dudley Skerritt, the Waka Waka Mas Band aims to restore the Festival (Dec. 14-Jan. 1) to its pre-eruption glory, with a presentation called “The Treasures of Alliouagana” (Alliouagana is the Carib name for Montserrat, while waka waka means “do it” in Africa’s Fang language).
Set to showcase during the New Year’s Day parade that is the Festival’s climax, the presentation, it is hoped, will encourage Montserratians to return home, and also non-Montserratians—particularly those from neighboring islands—to join in the celebrations, and ultimately provide a much-needed boost to an economy still struggling to recover from the events of 1995.
“I have such fond memories of being at the street parade trying to keep up with the people dressed up in vibrant costumes and the revellers enjoying themselves to the songs of Cepeke and other calypso artistes,” Skerritt says. “This a chance for those who participated back then to bring back the glory days — pre volcanic eruption and pre Hurricane Hugo — and for those like myself who were on the sidelines, we can finally take part, to create new memories and at the same time remind the youths about our culture.”