Currently in its 19th year, the Cayman Arts Festival is well known for bringing talented singers and musicians from overseas to perform here.
Perhaps less known is how the Cayman Arts Festival has nurtured local artists, both from a musical educational and showcasing standpoint. This has never been more evident than during the first four events of the 2023 Cayman Arts Festival.
Even the reception for sponsors hosted by Governor Martyn Roper and his wife at Government House on the eve of the first event featured local talent in the form of the Cayman Arts Festival Elite String Ensemble, a group of talented students from John Gray High School who played music with impressive precision – including difficult classic pieces – non-stop for an hour.
“Helping to nurture, develop and showcase local musical talent is one of our key objectives,” said Cayman Arts Festival Executive Director Marius Gaina. “This is not only beneficial to the students in their education, but also helps establish a stronger musical foundation for the Cayman Islands. Many of the students we interact with go on to study music or voice at universities around the world, perform with churches or join the Cayman National Choir and Orchestra. Some will even go on to become professional musicians or singers.”
At the first festival event this year on 4 February, the audience at the Harquail Theatre was treated to a hour of exceptional jazz music that, in addition to acclaimed American jazz pianist Jon Weber and bassist Pat O’Leary, included the local talent of Beneil Miller, Chris Williams, Alejandro Ramos and Samuel Rose.
The next two concerts focused on singing and visiting vocalists Natalie Douglas and Gabrielle Stravelli, who were so impressed by the vocal talents of some of the students they met while leading master classes at Clifton Hunter and John Gray high schools that they invited four of them to perform at the Cayman Arts Festival. The audiences at the Cabaret concert in the Westin hotel ballroom and Douglas’s concert tribute to Ella Fitzgerald were treated to solos by young students Mia Groves, Shantoya Garwood, Jhenelle Colquhoon and Dylan Levy, all of whom received rousing applause for outstanding performances.
Although the first three events all featured both local and overseas talent, the fourth event was entirely focused on Caymanian talent – which is in keeping with the Cayman Arts Festival approach to the “Music at the Library” events. Held monthly in the original portion of the George Town Public Library, these popular, hour-long “hidden gem” concerts held at 6 p.m. feature local musicians, local singers and local poets. On 9 February, as part of the 2023 Cayman Arts Festival schedule of event, Swanky Kitchen Band played a rollicking set of music that had the sell-out crowd on its feet dancing at the end.
Swanky lead-man Samuel Rose thanked the Cayman Arts Festival for the invitation and noted how the festival was creating a positive impact by supporting local musical talent.
“It’s such a good thing,” he said of the Cayman Arts Festival’s work with students and its commitment to also showcasing young local talent. “We didn’t have these opportunities when we were young.”
By Alan Markoff