In Britain, October is Black History Month, when we celebrate our culture in music, poetry, dance, art, discussion and much more. In faraway Seychelles, it’s the month for the Festival Kreol, when everything connected with the country’s rich Creole culture is celebrated in song, dance, theatre, debate and traditions – not forgetting food, of course!
This year, the festivities climax on Saturday 28 October, when Carnival will light up the centre of the country’s pretty little capital, Victoria, which boldly bills itself the ‘Capital of Creole World’ and the ‘Melting Pot of Cultures’.
The Carnaval International de Victoria was introduced in March 2011 as a way of boosting tourism to these beautiful islands in the Indian Ocean. As Seychelles hadn’t seen a full-blown masquerade on the streets since a one-off event in 1972, no one quite knew what to expect.
It proved an instant success: the Seychellois took Carnival to their hearts and the world’s media flocked to Victoria to feast their lenses on the astonishing multicultural spectacle that unfolded every year. More than half the country’s population donned masks, wigs and their best outfits to watch a wonderful display of local and overseas groups, including London’s own Notting Hill Carnival Road Show. The crowd showed their appreciation of the costumes, dance moves and steelpan music (from CSI Steelband) and soon Notting Hill had its own fan base in Seychelles. Strains of soca even began to seep into the local sega music.
The love went both ways: it’s hard to imagine any visitor failing to be seduced by Seychelles and the Seychellois themselves. Unsurprisingly, tourist arrivals shot up spectacularly; Carnival had put this scattered collection of 115 jewel-like islands firmly on the international tourism map.
For six years the Carnaval International de Victoria attracted masquerading groups from an astonishing range of countries and traditions – India and Indonesia, Brazil and Bhutan, South Africa and South Korea, to name just a few. Under the glorious equatorial sunshine of Seychelles, Carnival Day provided living proof that more unites the world in culture and mas than ever divides us.
This year there’s been a change of approach. Some in the country were concerned that the carnival’s success was sidelining the older Festival Kreol, which for more than three decades has featured its own parade, Laserenad. So for 2017, the carnival has been creolised as ‘Laserenad Enternasyonal’. The aim, it seems, is to take the event back to its roots in line with this year’s theme, ‘Fyer mon Lidantite’ – Proud of my Identity.
So how international will the carnival element be? We can expect to see groups from other Creole territories in the region – Mauritius and its dependent island Rodrigues, the French island of La Réunion, and Madagascar – along with participants from India and South Africa, both of which have close historical and cultural links to Seychelles. However, by no stretch of the imagination can South Korea and Israel be called ‘Creole’ nations or part of the western Indian Ocean region. As for Notting Hill, we understand that negotiations are still taking place – so watch this space!
Soca News has been given an exclusive preview of the Festival programme, which runs from 7 to 31 October. While most events take place on the main island, Mahé, this year Praslin and La Digue will have their own celebrations too. The venue for many events is the Creole Village (CV) outside the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Victoria.
Highlights include, on Saturday 21 October, the fashion designers’ showcase, Fon Lanmal, at the Reef Hotel and a celebration of Creole dances at the CV. There’s the delightful traditional wedding celebration, Tifin, in Beau Vallon on Sunday afternoon, while in the evening listen out for ‘musical animations’ at the Creole Village these carry on every night through to Tuesday 31. If your Creole is up to it, there are several theatre shows at the ICC, including the intriguing-sounding Bal Dan Simityer on Friday 20, and some serious-minded workshops on the Creole language (various locations). Fortunately, food and art need no linguistic skills, so all can enjoy the sale of food and crafts at the CV and an art exhibition at the smart new Carrefour des Arts down by Victoria’s ferry terminal.
On Saturday 28 October, the carnival parade – Laserenad Enternasyonal – sets off at 3pm and is followed by an open-air Creole dance in Freedom Square, a park in the city centre. A concert by Joseph Louise at the ICC brings the evening to a close. On Sunday everyone will be heading to the beautiful curving beach of Beau Vallon for Dimans Kreol Borlanmer – in plain English, Creole Sunday by the Seaside. It’s a giant seaside picnic, with music and lots of stalls selling delicious local food.
Finally, on Tuesday 31 October, there are two Creole dances – Bal Asosye – that both start at 8pm and carry on far into the night, one at the ICC and the other at the Reef Hotel. For those who prefer their entertainment slightly less hot and steamy there’s a big music show, Vibrasyon Kreol, at the Mini Stadium, starting at 9pm. Seychelles has a great many talented musicians and knows how to put on a good show, so this is definitely the one to aim for.