Its first edition attracted nearly fifteen thousand visitors on each of the two nights, almost half of them from off island. While waiting for my flight back to Berlin via Amsterdam, I met a guy from Dallas who told me that he had surprised his wife with a trip to the festival to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Journalists had flocked to the event from Holland, the US, Brazil, Suriname and other countries to experience the festival and explore this island, which lies close to the Venezuelan coast. Part of the attraction is historic. The center of Willemstad—once the hub of Holland’s busy slave trade, and still full of Dutch colonial architecture and housing as well as the oldest American synagogue in continuous use is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
|Historic Waterfront in Willemstad|
Like many jazz festivals today, the event in Curaçao presented a lot of R&B, Latin and African music, in addition to jazz, of course. The opening band at Willemstad’s World Trade Center were Cuba’s veterans of son music Sierra Maestra, still featuring a few of the musicians who founded the band back in the mid-70s. They played the only indoor venue, the Celia Stage, named after the legendary salsa singer Celia Cruz, the godmother of salsa. New York’s Latin music queen La India performed a bit later on the Sir Duke Stage in front of about a thousand people and backed by a fantastic orchestra. Meanwhile, the third and biggest venue, the Sam Cooke Stage, was filled with thousands of fans for guitar legend George Benson. He delivered his usual mix of commercial vocal ballads and first class grooving guitar jazz.
Another local act was the band Tumbao Cubaçao, formed by natives and immigrants from Cuba who delivered an interesting fusion of rhythms from both islands. Two completely different shows closed the first evening: the solo performance of Raúl Midón, who displayed once more his incredible talents both as a singer and a guitarist, and soul veteran Lionel Richie who drew the expected huge crowd.
From Austin, Texas, the eleven-strong Grupo Fantasma came through with an exciting fusion of salsa, Latin-rock and funk that got everybody dancing. And the festival’s only artist from Africa, Cameroonian bassist and singer Richard Bona, delivered—incapable of disappointing—another amazing set with a particularly interesting medley of compositions by Bona’s former employer Joe Zawinul. The young singer Giovanca was born in Holland where she still lives, but her parents come from Curaçao and she feels at home both in Europe and on the island to whom she dedicated a beautiful song sung in Papiamentu, the local vernacular that everybody speaks in addition to the official language Dutch and, in most cases, English and Spanish too. The festival closed out with UK’s pop super-group Simply Red on their farewell tour.
As no major problems occurred and the whole event was almost sold out, the organizers announced that there will be a second Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival in 2011.
- Wolfgang König