Sun, 01/08/2012 - 20:42 — Gina Aimey-Moss

Coolest Caribbean People of 2011 - Part 1

2011 was full of highs – Bridgetown and the Garrison were declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO, Rihanna had her biggest concert in Barbados yet – and lows – Vybz Kartel got charged for murder, Trinidad and Tobago was in a state of emergency, and people still struggle with unemployment worldwide.

I thought it would be a good idea to start 2012 on a positive note by saluting the Caribbean people – whether they reside in their homelands or are a part of the Caribbean diaspora – who have made great achievements in 2011 or were simply the most fascinating West Indians of the year.

2011 must have been a good year because the list came out so long that I had to divide it into two parts! (We got suggestions from you guys on Twitter and Facebook, and some are included in this list.) Now, here is the first half of the coolest Caribbean people of 2011 in random order.

Anya Ayoung-Chee

2011 was good to this former beauty queen turned designer. From early in the season, Trinidadian Anya Ayoung-Chee was a favourite on popular US reality show Project Runway, a fashion design competition hosted by Heidi Klum. Despite learning how to sew only a few months ago, Anya impressed the judges with her raw talent and creativity. She took home the top prize with a very breezy, Caribbean line inspired by Tobago. Anya’s win was a major comeback for her since her sex tape scandal two years ago. With this gifted designer being featured in Marie Claire this month, 2012 is promising to be even better for Anya!

Anya Ayoung-Chee on Project Runway

Anya Ayoung-Chee on Project Runway (Photo by

Karen Lord

Karen Lord, a Barbadian speculative fiction writer, might not be a household name yet but she’s on her way. Winner of the prestigious Frank Collymore Literary Award two years in a row, her first fantasy novel ‘Redemption in Indigo’ has won the 2011 William L. Crawford Award and the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. It was also long-listed for the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award (Novel). Karen is truly an inspiration for young, budding Caribbean writers who might think their dreams are out of reach.

Karen Lord and her debut novel 'Redemption in Indigo'

The cover of ‘Redemption in Indigo’ (left) & Karen Lord

Melanie Amaro

Melanie Amaro is the first winner of the X Factor USA, earning the grand prize of a US$5 million recording deal. Simon Cowell had so much faith in the nineteen year old songstress that when she was eliminated he flew to Florida to get her back in the competition. Melanie was born in Miami but spent the majority of her childhood in the British Virgin Islands. Now that she’s a rising star, Melanie’s proud to hold the BVI flag high. “I love the BVI, it is my home. I will definitely promote the BVI. When people ask me where I am from, I am always proud to tell them I am from the BVI.” Check out her performance of ‘Listen’ below and this touching video where Melanie reveals her BVI accent.

Nicki Minaj

The vibrant and eccentric MC Nicki Minaj was born Onika Tanya Maraj in Trinidad and Tobago and grew up in New York City. Minaj started her rap career with mixed tapes and eventually got signed by Young Money in 2009. She released her first album ‘Pink Friday’ in 2010 and the rest is history. In February 2011, ‘Pink Friday’ reached #1 on the US Billboard 200. Her single ‘Your Love’ reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart, making her the first solo female rap artist to do so since Missy Elliott in 2002. Now this Caribbean-American star is nominated for three awards for the 2012 Grammys – Best Rap Album, Best New Artist and Best Rap Performance for her single ‘Moment 4 Life’ featuring label-mate Drake.

Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj performing on tour (Photo by tamtam7683)

June Ambrose

Antiguan-born June Ambrose is an iconic stylist in the American music industry. She has crafted the looks for many superstars, including Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige and P. Diddy. Along with being so influential in pop culture styling and running her branding company Mod Squad, Ambrose’s sense of style gets as much attention as her successful career and she has grown her own fan base. One of the awesome things about June is that she draws inspiration from her Caribbean background. “I’m from the West Indies, so when I go home to Antigua and I see Carnival and the pieces, it inspires me to do things like the costumes I did for Busta Rhyme’s ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’,” she told 2012 is going to be a big year for the wife and mother of two, who will be launching her own reality show on VH1 in March.

June Ambrose, style icon and fashion maverick

June Ambrose (Photo by Michael_Aaron)

Melodie Monrose

Despite having no modelling experience, Melodie Monrose of Martinique got signed at the age of 18. Since then, the gorgeous ingénue has created a stir in the fashion industry, often being compared to the legendary Naomi Campbell. After being signed by Wilhelmina Models, Melodie walked a whopping 49 shows in her debut season (Spring/Summer 2011). Melodie has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue Italia, Vogue Turkey, Dazed and Confused, Interview, V Man Magazine and V Magazine; she was also featured in the Fall/Winter 2011 Dolce & Gabbana ad campaign. In July, Melodie left Wilhelmina for Silent Models and continues to work in New York and Paris.

Melodie Monrose

Melodie Monrose in the Dolce & Gabbana F/W campaign (Photo by dolce & gabbana ads)

Kirani Jones

Kirani James is a Grenadian sprinter and the reigning 400 metres champion. Kirani displayed exceptional talent from a young age, winning gold medals at the CARIFTA Games and Commonwealth Youth Games as well as silver medals at the 2007 World Youth Championships and 2008 World Junior Championships. At the 2011 World Championships in South Korea, James won the 400m at 44.60 seconds, making him the youngest 400m champion (at 18 years old) as well as the first World Champion in athletics for Grenada. Just 9 days later, Kirani broke his own record at the IAAF Diamond League at 44.36 seconds. Have a look at his amazing World Championship win below.

I’m sure we’ll see this young athlete break more records at the Summer Olympics in London this year.

Cover Drive

When Cover Drive opened for Rihanna in her LOUD Barbados concert last summer, many Bajans never heard of them before but this Barbadian pop group has been making waves in Europe. Cover Drive is signed to British label Polydor and their first single ‘Lick Ya Down’ peaked at No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart in 2011. The band, consisting of Amanda, T-Ray, Bar-Man and Jamar, does a good job blending their sunny Caribbean influences with Euro-pop. They describe their feel good music as “Cari-pop” and it shows (they incorporate Bajan slang as well as soca and reggae vibes into their songs).  Their debut album ‘Bajan Style’ will be released this year. Check out the video for Cover Drive’s second single ‘Twilight’.

Check out Part 2 of the Coolest Caribbean People of 2011!

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