| What is CALABASH?
CALABASH is an African and Tropical Dance Night taking
place every Tuesday at the Devonshire Arms in Devonshire Road, Cambridge
(ca. 8.30 to midnight). Entrance is free.
CALABASH is the only regular Cambridge club
night dedicated to showcasing the best African, tropical and African-influenced
dance music. In practice, this means an enormous variety of musical
styles: from Congolese and Central African beats; to North African
percussions and Arabic melodies; to sweet and lively East African
tunes; to soulful Southern African vocal harmonies and funky rhythms;
and to West African drummings, strummings and soaring griot compositions.
Beyond Africa Calabash music includes all manner of Latin and tropical
styles (Caribbean, salsa and related, Brazilian, etc.) as well as western-pollinated
and diasporic crossovers from less exotic locations such as Europe
and North America. The overall focus at the moment, however, is on
sub-Saharan Africa with occasional extended forays into Latin, North
African and modern experimental electronic directions. We also try
to cater for specific audiences' tastes (hence let us know!), and we will
try to fit in the flow of our playing your favourite tracks if you bring
In some form or other
CALABASH, has been in existence
for over 10 years: some of its most memorable incarnations were called
Follow Your Bliss and Club Africa.
CALABASH is run by the N.I.C.E.R. DJs: Nick (aka DJ Skunk), Innocent (aka Inno), Catherine (aka Africathy),
(aka e-liz) and Rumba
John, who bring to the evening a wide-ranging and eclectic
mixture of expertise, specialisation and passion. The evening usually
starts with Rumba John playing a selection of mellow Congolese treasures
from the 60s, 70s and 80s between about 8.30 and 9.30pm. On occasion,
John may be replaced by others for this chillout session, in which case
the ‘theme’ may well differ. This early slot is followed by the DJ(s)
on duty on the night, and at this point the tempo starts to speed up as
we get into a dancing mood.
Run by Tony and Cathy, the Devonshire
Arms is a friendly pub located in the lively Mill Road area,
the most vibrant, artistically avant-garde and cosmopolitan part
of the city. Devonshire patrons enjoy the pub’s warm Afro-Caribbean
atmosphere, its pool table, the colourful wall paintings and the unique
music sessions that take place in the backroom.
What we are about
The immediate aim of Calabash is to provide the public
with an informal night during which to relax, socialise and – most
of all – dance and soak in these wonderful and uplifting sounds.
At a deeper (and more idealistic!) level, however,
we are also committed to fostering inter-cultural awareness and
understanding by promoting dance and musical performance in an accessible,
unchallenging and community-based way. Given our areas of interest
and expertise, we are especially mindful about the ways in which
African and Africa-related cultures have been stereotyped and discriminated
against over the centuries; also about the sometimes objectionable
reactive modes of behaviour that these unfortunate circumstances can
bring in their wake in the discriminated cultures. We are in other
words observing the past, and willing to learn from it and to use such
knowledge as best as we can in the present. Thus we are keen to contribute
in our own small ways toward the redressing of cultural misunderstandings
and incomprehension. Our activism, however, is not shaped by preaching,
recrimination or by formal politics, but simply by our intention to
display the bounties of different cultures to each other, and to let
them (as much as feasible) speak for themselves and interact with ourselves
and our audiences.
Why we are called CALABASH
Basic facts about calabashes
The edible Calabash gourd
is a vigorous climbing vine of the Cucurbitaceae family.
It grows in warm climates. The plant is sturdy and may be found in
the wild in many parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world. Not
prone to attack by insects and disease, it is easy to cultivate. The
many existing varieties produce fruits of different shapes and sizes:
naturally spherical, tubular and bottle-shaped fruits may all be further
varied by tying the growing gourd. Cross-pollination may also result in
the production of unexpected shapes and sizes. Calabash fruits are picked
when immature and may be cooked as squashes. If the fruit is left to
mature and dry out, it will form a hard wooden shell. Various functional
items are fashioned out of the dried Calabash gourd, which has found
myriad of uses over time: gourds are used for ritual and decorative
purposes, as vessels to use around the home, to store and transport liquid
and solid matter (whether food or otherwise), to manufacture musical instruments,
to make boxes, pipes and many other objects.
According to the Oxford English Reference Dictionary
(1996 ) the name indicates an evergreen tree, Crescentia
cujete, native to tropical America. This tree bears fruits in the
form of large gourds. Such fruits are also called calabashes. The
name also indicates the shell of this or similar gourds. (French
calebasse from Spanish calabaza
perhaps from Persian karbuz, melon).
What's in a name, Christopher Martyn Meade?
Like the music we play, Calabash gourd plants come
(at least originally) from milder climes and are both cultivated
and wild. They are hardy and resilient, and they are widely used throughout
Africa and other tropical and temperate countries. The fruits they
produce vary greatly in shape and size and happy occurrences of cross-pollination
result in ever more forms and configurations of colour and shape. The
fruits can also be artificially constrained to grow in the desired shape.
These wonderful vegetables may be consumed straight, or processed in
differing and at times quite sophisticated fashion to produce humble
or more stunning artistic creations. So do the styles of music we play.
Calabash fruits and Calabash gourds are useful and
friendly everyday consumables, down to earth when used in the kitchen,
but also providers of powerful contributions to social life when
turned into a variety of musical and percussion instruments, vessels,
or other (at times ritual) objects. Kept simply in their natural state
or intricately decorated, they may be seen to encode some of the most
powerful shapes and symbols across traditional cultures: as providers
of nourishment, as wombs, as repositories of seeds, as resonators and
rhythm makers, as containers of bounty. So it is with our music.