Two decades since the beginning of Cayfest, the National Festival of the Arts promises to highlight everything the public loves about the local arts scene. Evolved from a lineup of past events like Chalk Fest, Music Unplugged, Dance Vibes and Café Cayman, an integrative festival over the course of three days has emerged, and for the first time features local and international Grammy award-winning talent.

Feb. 25

The National Arts & Culture Awards Show kicks off the celebrations on Feb. 25. Each of the awardees has made significant contributions to either the development of local arts and culture or to the preservation of Caymanian cultural heritage.

This year’s ceremony is a glitzy black tie affair at the Harquail Theatre, attended by the 20 awardees and special invited guests. While this event is not open to the general public, it will be filmed and aired on local channel CIGTV.

Look for the signs.
Look for the signs.

CIGTV will cover all the excitement at the show, highlighting red carpet fashion, the Foundation Journal book launch, behind-the-scenes footage, live performances and of course, the award presentations.

Feb. 26

Day 2 of the festival is a cultural explosion with Dress for Culture during the day and the Cayman Islands Folk Singers in concert at the Harquail Theatre at night. Dress for Culture attracts corporate entities, students and individuals wanting to support artistic programming by wearing something that represents the place they call home.

At night, anyone with a love of music will be taken on a journey to the heart of Caymanian music with the Cayman Islands Folk Singers.

The group’s repertoire is filled with lively songs by the late great musical icon “Aunt” Julia Hydes and other Caymanian kitchen band artists, along with classic folk songs from the Caribbean region.

People are encouraged to don their native dress for 'Dress for Culture' day.
People are encouraged to don their native dress for ‘Dress for Culture’ day.

Feb. 27

To wrap up the Cayfest weekend, every aspect of arts and culture is on display at the Red Sky at Night festival on Feb. 27.

In 2013, Cayfest combined all signature events into an eight-hour festival on the grounds of the FJ Harquail Cultural Centre. The crème de la crème of the arts community, as well as up-and-coming names, unite to create a magical atmosphere for all.

This year, the festival will present a very special feature. Two-time Grammy award-winning electro-jazz cellist, trombonist and composer Dana Leong will grace the Harquail stage for two performances. Regarded as the world’s top electric cellist, Leong is an American Musical Ambassador, Stanford University graduate and World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader.

Cayfest always features colorful costumes and performances.
Cayfest always features colorful costumes and performances.

In addition to those illustrious titles, Leong is set to work on a special musical project with Cayman’s very own Grammy award-winning producer Jason Gilbert, who will also perform on the Red Sky main stage. Together, the two Grammy winners will collaborate to produce a musical work inspired by the late Aunt Julia’s repertoire.

Red Sky event highlights include five stages featuring bands, solo artists, rappers, poets, dance troupes and actors; Astro Avenue returns this year with stargazing, creative stalls with handmade jewelry, craft and thatch products, local films and regional films from the Traveling Caribbean Film Showcase, a special kids zone with fun educational activities, a bevy of food vendors serving local and international cuisine, desserts and fresh juices, and finally, the newest addition, a festive backyard experience with dominoes, drinks, and local soul food named “Big People Place” going late into the night.

So mark your calendars and come out to the most inclusive, longest running and biggest arts festival Cayman has to offer. Red Sky at Night, artistic delight!

1-RJ_Kessler_IMG_1021Dana Leong

There is a great buzz surrounding the appearance of Leong at Cayfest, and despite his busy schedule, he managed to answer a few questions about his love of music and how he hopes to inspire the youth of today to become the musical ambassadors of the future.

Weekender: How old were you when you first picked up a musical instrument?

Dana Leong: I started playing the piano when I was 1 year old. My mother (Sumi Nagasawa) used to appear regularly on TV in Japan, so naturally she was my first music teacher.

What is it about the cello that draws you to it?

I love the cello because it has a warm organic vibration that can open up your mind and your body! I also like that it is an imperfect art and I find comfort in knowing that it is a lifelong commitment.

Someone's not too sure about having her face painted.
Someone’s not too sure about having her face painted.

What other instruments do you play?

I play 11 instruments (cello, trombone, bass trombone, trumpet, bass trumpet, flute, piano, drums, bass, flute and synthesizers/drum machines) and I love it. It gives me the perspective to write music from every angle.

You clearly make playing a classic instrument such as the cello (albeit, an electric version) look “cool.” Looking at some of the hip-hop artists you’ve worked with, like Kanye West and Sean P. Diddy Combs, do you feel it’s good to show the younger generation that they can take up such an instrument and yet still be involved in the popular music genre?

Absolutely! Not only do I want the younger generation to realize they can make an instrument cool or fun, I really want them to realize that the biggest rewards come from being loyal to your own vision even when it means going against the majority.

Creating beautiful bags by hand.
Creating beautiful bags by hand.

What is your favorite kind of music to play?

I love to play music that creates emotional reactions. When I was 17, I had the amazing opportunity to play in Barry White’s orchestra. When I saw the electrifying effect he had on the audiences, I knew that was what I wanted to do too.

WK: What are you looking forward to most about your trip to the Cayman Islands?

DL: I am looking forward to my very first trip to Cayman Islands to connect with people there and to make new music (and possibly petting some stingrays). I hear that the celebrated music producer Jason Gilbert is there these days too. Perhaps you’ll be hearing something new coming from a collaboration of Dana Leong and Jason Gilbert soon.

Early bird tickets are on sale now at Funky Tang’s, Foster’s Food Fair (Strand), Health Care Pharmacy and the CNCF offices. Prices range from $5 to $15. Group rates and special package deals available for anyone purchasing tickets to both Red Sky and the Cayman Islands Folk Singers in Concert.

Call 949-5477 for details or visit for details.

Shilpa Tagalpallewar is a well-known regular at many of the island's craft markets.
Shilpa Tagalpallewar is a well-known regular at many of the island’s craft markets.