By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer
From three blocks away you could hear the syncopated sounds of the steel drums and the resonant rhythms of reggae wafting down Atlantic Ave. and SW 5th Ave., from Libby Wesley Plaza, filling the twilight with music and anticipation.
The music, courtesy of the Caribbean Waves Steel Drum Band and the Milagro Center Steel Drum Group, set the tone for a night of festivities for the city’s first annual Frog Alley Caribbean Festival, which went off without a hitch on Sat. evening May 12, despite the ominous presence of threatening skies.
The smell of conch fritters and jerk chicken permeated the sultry night air. Kids and adults alike danced on the plaza and in the street.
At 7:00 p.m., a crowd gathered as the Junkanoo parade began down SW 5th Ave., a celebration of live music, dance and costumes, a tradition with its origins in the Bahamas.
“This is a celebration of the community and the Frog Alley Caribbean culture,” said Kristyn Cox, the West Atlantic Redevelopment Director for the CRA, one of the sponsors of the event.
Frog Alley is the neighborhood from (SW 7th Ave. to SW 3rd Ave., up Atlantic Ave. to SW 4th St.) and derives its name from the frogs which would come out to mate after a heavy rainstorm, according to Cox.
A collaboration between the CRA, the West Atlantic Avenue Redevelopment Coalition (WARC), the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Spady Museum, the Office of Economic Development (OED)and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the festival celebrates the culture and heritage of the Frog Alley residents.
The area was traditionally home to many immigrants from the Bahamas and the Caribbean who came to work, among other things, in the pineapple fields.
Delray Beach native, Patricia Wright’s ancestors were one of those families who settled in Frog Alley two generations ago from the Bimini Islands.
“I was born and raised on SW 5th Ave., in a house that is still standing,” she recounts. Now, chair of the Legacy of the Frog Alley Ancestors, she’s working to preserve the area and create a historic district.
Along with members of her church, St. Matthews Episcopal Church, Wright was manning one of the busiest food booths on the avenue. Crowds were lined up knee-deep for their homemade Bahamian conch fritters, ($5) conch salad ($10) and coconut candies ($2).
Nidia Almeida, former store manager at the BCBG shop on Atlantic Ave. was there with her ten-year-old son, Johance.
“It’s Mother’s Day,” she said. “We wanted to come out and enjoy this celebration together- a free, fun and family-oriented event.”
Vendors such as Stacy Rolle, a resident of Freeport, Grand Bahama, were selling jewelry and handmade straw hats, wallets and purses custom-made on the spot. She came specifically for the festival and says she hopes to be invited back next year.
Haitian-American artists Katiana Jarbath and Jason Fleurant, who goes by the name Ja Fleu, were selling their art.
Jarbath’s acrylic on canvas portraits of Haitian women represent their beauty and empowerment and likewise, Ja Fleu, who took up full-time painting after the 2010 Haitian earthquake inspired him to express his feeling visually, was live-painting and selling original caricatures and stories, based on family and friends.
“I love the sense of community here,” says Jarbath, a first generation American. “It’s great to see the connections between people.”
Up on stage, Haitian-born writer, Flose Boursiquot, (LetItFlose.com) 26, of Lantana performed her spoken word poetry – “Let’s fall in love in a tiny studio apartment with aloe growing on the walls…” – from her two collections, “Loudmouth,” and “Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe,” an homage to Malala Yousafzai, the 15-yr. old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban in 2012.
Local restaurants such as Sweets Jamaican Restaurant and soon-to-be-officially opened Caesars were doing a brisk business selling jerk chicken and ribs.
For kids, there was face painting, an educational scavenger hunt, sidewalk Jenga and cornhole toss.
By 9:30 p.m., the crowds had thinned and the evening wrapped up to the smooth and relaxing sounds of Ft. Lauderdale-based Pan Paradise, a jazz, calypso, reggae and Sosa band.
If the enthusiasm of the crowd is any indication, there will be more Frog Alley festivals to come.