Bahamian music and food are highlighted at this year's Carifest celebrating the country's 50th year of independence. | Courtesy DaNoiZ Photography

Indigenous Bahamian music will echo on King Street at 4 p.m. July 1 as the Charleston Carifest parade journeys toward Brittlebank Park. Following the parade, the park will erupt in family-friendly festivities in honor of National Caribbean American Heritage Month. 

“Carifest is a celebration of the Caribbean,” said Loran Shelton Beck, the festival’s Carifest president. “In 2006, President [George W.] Bush signed a proclamation making June National Caribbean American Heritage Month, so our goal is to educate people, bring awareness and showcase the contributions of Caribbean Americans to the United States — to our adopted home.”

In celebration of the Bahamas’ 50 years of independence, Charleston Carifest will spotlight the island country in all its splendor by bringing Bahamian music, cuisine and culture to the Holy City. Events take place at various locations June 29 through July 1. 

Shelton Beck

Charleston Carifest is part of South Carolina Caribbean Culture and Heritage organization founded in 2006 with a mission to “unearth, study, preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the Caribbean,” according to its website. Each year Carifest focuses on a different Caribbean country, territory or region. Past celebrations have centered around the Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Guyana. 

This year’s festival kicks off with an educational symposium and opening reception at 6 p.m. June 29 at the College of Charleston’s Wells Fargo Auditorium downtown featuring presentations from Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell, Consulate General Anthony Moss and Bahamas Ambassador to the United States Wendall K. Jones and others. 


“The people of the Bahamas and the people of [South] Carolina have much in common,” Jones told the Charleston City Paper. His presentation will cover the roots and contributions of the people of the Caribbean in America. 

“Ours is a brilliant legacy and a rich culture — something which we should hold on to and celebrate,” he said. “The people of Charleston have a common heritage with their brothers and sisters in the Caribbean who have enriched the American experience.”

Malika Pryor-Martin, chief learning and engagement officer of the International African American Museum, will moderate the symposium, which will detail the Bahamas’ road to freedom, Shelton Beck said. 

“The symposium will cover [the Bahamas’] connection and contribution to the United States, and we’ll highlight some of the natives that have contributed significantly.”

On June 30, Carifest’s all-white party, Fête en Blanc, will take place at Founders Hall at Charles Towne Landing in West Ashley. Tickets for this event start at $80 on

Performance troupe the Atlanta Junkanoo Group will lead the July 1 Carifest parade that begins at the corner of John and King streets and ends at Brittlebank Park. The vibrant procession includes colorful masqueraders and dancers with a marching band. Junkanoo is a well-known Caribbean street festival celebrated with Caribbean dance, music and costumes, similar to Mardi Gras in the U.S., Shelton Beck said. 

Carifest’s Bahama Takeover Cultural Explosion at Brittlebank Park begins at
3 p.m., but the party really starts when the parade makes its grand entrance. 

The event includes indigenous cuisine, artisanal vendors and live performances from Bahamian artists such as Da Mighty Pencil from Nassau, Bahamas; Nishi L.S.; FanShawn; Julien Believe; and The Chromatic band. Entry into Brittlebank Park for the Cultural Explosion is $15 to $20. During the event, festival goers can make Junkanoo hats, participate in a pineapple eating contest and watch a straw basket weaving demonstration, Shelton Beck said. 

Carifest brings the atmosphere of Carnival, a Caribbean street festival that represents freedom from slavery.

“When the slaves became free from their masters, they took the celebration out in the streets, and that’s why it’s important to have the parade,” Shelton Beck said. 

“The parade signifies the period when everybody became equal — when people were parading as one in the streets of the Caribbean. Carnival can be found in the Caribbean in different months, you can jump on a flight and go to the Virgin Islands and participate in that Carnival, or you can go to Trinidad and participate in that Carnival — it’s spread out all over. As Caribbean people, wherever we go, we start a celebration.”


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