Original ChewCrew (L to R from top): Djata, Riddla, Kofi, TanZ, Omega-9, Beatnik and Renalda

Early Days

Chewstick began in December of 2003, when a group of artists based in Bermuda came together out of a life-long friendship and history of collaboration, to put on an event to share artistic talents. This event was the beginning of the Neo-Griot Movement and what has become an intensely creative, spiritual, and uplifting collective focused on the exploration and refinement of human expression in every facet.

Since Chewstick’s inception it has staged regular open-mic jam sessions at its Neo-Griot Lounge developing a large family of artists and socially conscious souls. This event has led to the release of their own magazine entitled “Paradise Now!”, a spin-off TV show called “Tanzaoui Takes”, invitations to perform in various stage, TV and radio shows, production of a half-time show for the world-cup qualifying match and being featured in local publications UMUM magazine, Showoff Magazine, the Royal Gazette newspaper, and international magazine Black Radio Exclusive. Chewstick’s appeal is very broad, attracting every strata of society from the streets to the offices. Chewstick’s youngest member is sixteen and the oldest is 65 (so far!).

Because of Chewstick’s diversity and reputation as the premier live entertainment event for Bermuda, it has hosted some of the biggest names in the entertainment scene both local and beyond, including: Matthew Knowles, Howard McCrary, Lykke Li, Lisa Vaughn, Serpent Fly (Leslie Helpert), Kid Koala, Natasha Bedingfield, Dead Prez, American Idols Jennifer Hudson and George Huff, and local legends Ras Giorgis, Joy T. Barnum, Mishka, Magma, Julian Hall, Flookie, Shine Hayward, Ital Foundation and our very own superstar board member Heather Nova.

Birth of The Chewstick Foundation

Around 2006 it was becoming more and more apparent that Chewstick was creating a movement that was much more than just a show or a simple jam session. People we’re buzzing about the inclusive feel of the vibes, the freedom of expression that is difficult in any small community and the family like atmosphere that was being developed by the artists involved. This increasing momentum and lack of an “official structure” started raising the question of “What is Chewstick?”. Chewstick Founder Gavin Djata Smith started researching the way forward investigating the pros and cons between Corporate, Non-Profit, Grassroots (informal). His investigations took him far and wide gaining much needed insight from elders, experiences, advisors and the Bermuda based Centre on Philanthropy. A formal Non-Profit model was seen as the best way forward and The Chewstick Foundation officially became Registered Charity #857 on May 10 2009. Ultimately the best aspects of the three options explored have been implemented with Chewstick having aspects of a Corporation (events, services, sales etc.) with all revenue generated being put into The Foundation community programs and initiatives, while maintaining a loose grassroots approach to community development.

The Chewstick Foundation was blessed to receive a generous grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies shortly after their Registration which has lead to the implementation of initiatives and programs that we’re previously only dreamed of. Since that time we have been able to employ Djata as full-time Executive Director as well as part-time staff to keep The Foundation growing and moving forward.

The Future

The Chewstick Movement has come a long way since the early days yet still has some pretty ambitious plans for the future. In the immediate future look for Chewstick to develop its staffing capacity to further strengthen The Foundation and contiue the growth of the youth and community programs. Beachfest, The Neo-Griot Lounge and International Tours will be further developed while adding new initiatives and programs to the mix. There is no doubt that the future looks bright and if you would like to get involved in any way please give us a shout.

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