Many Caribbean flags were in the air as the region’s music lovers gathered to celebrate the first-ever Caribbean Music Awards on Thursday night (Aug. 31) at Kings Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn, which is also known as New York’s “Little Caribbean,” making it the perfect location for the historic event.
Music legends and icons in the making walked the red carpet to celebrate the contributions of new and veteran artists in genres like Dancehall, Reggae, Kompa, Soca, and Calypso. With so many genres of music emerging from the Caribbean, an award show exclusively dedicated to the music of this region was long overdue.
Given the event’s theme of honoring icons, it was fitting to have musician, producer, and three-time Grammy-winner Wyclef Jean as the night’s host. Jean and a group of vibrant dancers walked the carpet with high energy, giving a taste of what to expect from him during the show. The Haitian superstar, who spent a part of his youth in Brooklyn, discussed the significance of the Caribbean Music Awards.
“This marks an important historic moment,” he exclusively told REVOLT. “The Caribbean Music Awards created a bridge to unify all Caribbean artists and show the world that [we] are strong in numbers, as well as leaders of the culture.”
As a leader of the culture in his own right, Jean is ensuring that Caribbean music receives recognition globally. “It’s about time that Caribbean talents get the credit that we truly deserve as trendsetters, [and] get the proper respect that we have earned [as] the keepers of culture,” he added.
As an industry vet with over 30 years in the game, Jean also explained how the Caribbean Music Awards will influence the music industry: “The Caribbean Music Awards will have a great impact on the industry for years to come. For one night, my 18-year-old daughter and generations to come will be able to see and appreciate all of the great Caribbean talents that they are listening to, all under one roof, like we do in our other award shows.”
Amongst the great Caribbean talents being honored at the ceremony were longtime legends like Elite Icon Award recipient Beres Hammond and Humanitarian Award recipient Buju Banton. The award ceremony also paid tribute to the late Haitian singer, Mikaben, who tragically passed away in 2022.
Additionally, the beloved singer and songwriter David Rudder received the Elite Calypso Music Award, while Soca trailblazer Machel Montano received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
On the red carpet, Montano shared his thoughts on receiving such an honor after 40 years in the game. “I feel very fortunate, very blessed, and very lucky to still be alive and to get an achievement award for a lifetime and I’m only halfway through it,” the icon told us.
Other talents on the carpet were Reggae/Dancehall artist Kranium and Kees Dieffenthaller of the renowned Soca band Kes. The former had great feelings about attending the inaugural awards ceremony. “I feel amazing, I feel free,” he told REVOLT. “Once you get a taste of [Caribbean culture], you get addicted.”
Dieffenthaller, who later took home the People’s Choice Award, described Caribbean culture as “freedom.”
“I think [there’s] a free-ness that we have. We encourage you to be you,” he said. “You don’t have to fit into any mold. It’s really actually just about you having a good time.”
Dieffenthaller may have been foreshadowing because the Caribbean Music Awards were nothing short of fun!
As soon as the show started, the audience was transported to Carnival. Hot 97’s DJ Young Chow started the party along with an opening performance by the Queen of Soca Alison Hinds. The festival vibes continued as Bajan singer Rupee took the stage. As if the energy was not high enough, Jason “JW” Williams and the colorfully clad Karnival Bounce Crew brought more excitement to the stage. The awards were held on the 61st Independence Day of Trinidad and Tobago, so the night definitely called for a celebration.
Jean made his entrance to the stage dancing while draped in a gold ensemble. “I’ve been to the Grammy Awards, MTV Awards, all kinds of awards around the world. This [is] the only award show [where] I’m so comfortable,” the host told the crowd. “They steal our culture and they change the name of it. They call it Pop. Tonight we’re taking it back to the Caribbean, we’re getting our just dues tonight!”
He went on to present the first award of the night, Best New Artist (Soca), to Trinidadian singer Tempa. Because of the many Caribbean genres of music, multiple awards of the same category were assigned to winners by genre. Kabaka Pyramid, Chronic Law, and Viking Ding Dong won Impact Awards in Reggae, Dancehall, and Soca. Along with Tempa, Samora and Valiant took home Best New Artist awards in Reggae and Dancehall.
Crowd-favorite and the Queen of Dancehall Spice took home the award for Female Artist of the Year in her genre. The Jamaican hitmaker’s success is undeniable and on the red carpet she encouraged up-and coming-artists to prioritize consistency.
“Just remember that prayer and work conquers all. In this industry, you got to know how to work smart and always be true to yourself,” she told REVOLT. ”They either love you for who you are, and that’s just what it is.” Later on, Spice took the stage again to announce the Artist of the Decade winner: Vybz Kartel.
Collaboration of the Year Award (Reggae/Dancehall) winner Skeng accepted the award for his collaboration with Nicki Minaj titled “Likkle Miss.” That honor was presented by R&B sensation Mya, who had just come back from Kingston, Jamaica to attend the evening’s festivities.
The pop star, who has collaborated with the likes of Beenie Man, Jean, Sean Paul, Spice, and Bounty Killer, has been connected to the Caribbean since she was young. “I have a long childhood spent in the Caribbean since I was about two years old and it’s about love,” she said to us. “It’s a place that I retreat to often to go reset and get my mind right, get my body right, and go create and bring love back into the world.”
To accompany the night’s incredible winners and nominees, the party continued with Jean taking the stage again. With a guitar-in-hand, the multi-faceted artist performed with Teddyson John, Jada Kingdom, and Nailah Blackman. Other performance highlights include a spirited performance from Male Artist of the Year (Dancehall) Ding Dong. He performed alongside the winners of the Caribbean Music Awards’ dance challenge. His energy was contagious as the crowd sang along to his top hits like “Happiness.”
One of the most special performances of the night was the tribute to the Lovers Rock giant Beres Hammond. The tribute began with a performance of Hammond’s “Step Aside” by Performer of the Year (Dancehall) winner Dexta Daps. Kranium, Toni-Ann Singh, and Romain Virgo continued the tribute with a set of Hammond’s hits, “Sweet Lies,” “Standing In My Way,” Rockaway,” “Double Trouble,” and “I Feel Good.”
“Finally, I am seeing something that’s so beautiful tonight. Caribbean people coming together like this,” Hammond said as he received his award. He was also presented with recognition for his achievements from the New York City Council.
Another outstanding moment of the show was the presentation of Machel Montano’s Lifetime Achievement Award by Doug E. Fresh and International Stephen. “Je m’appelle Machel Montano and I belong to the Caribbean,” he said in his acceptance speech. His tribute included performances from Angela Hunte, Skinny Fabulous, and Farmer Nappy, featuring hits like “Day One” and “H.M.A.”
The Caribbean Music Awards started as a party, so it certainly had to end with one. The finale featured sets from Massive B, Shaneil Muir, Skeng, and many more. Doug E. Fresh and Vicious took the stage to perform “Freaks” and Dexta Daps, Baby Cham, and Wayne Wonder closed at the ceremony. Would it be a party without hearing “No Letting Go?” You know they had to perform that to end the night on a high note.
From the vibrant performances to the joyful participation of the crowd, pride was the theme of the inaugural Caribbean Music Awards, and rightfully so. A region that has provided decades of musical contributions and inspiration deserves its own night.
“We’re gonna see you next year, stronger, better,” Jean said as the ceremony ended. It’s more than safe to say that we’ll be tuned in.
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