December 08, 2019

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Caribana line up; more than just a number

Caribana line up; more than just a number

Caribana has been one of those “migrant” Carnivals that I have been hearing about for several years, though I have yet to experience it myself. From what I gather it is the Canadian equivalent of Labor Day in New York. All the islands coming together to celebrate the fact that though they may be miles away from their homeland in a foreign country they still managed to hold on to some element of their culture, allowing revellers who may not have the inclination, finances or option to return “home” for Carnival the opportunity to still enjoy a semblance of such.

So it was with much interest that I read the following email I received which highlights the politics and semantics behind Caribana that many people are oblivious to. The author is from Toronto and though there is no solution offered to what is obviously a growing problem, much more so as more and more bands enter the competition, I am publishing the email in it’s entirety to bring the issue to light and hopefully open the floor to discussions. At the very least we on the outside will have a greater understanding of the problems facing those masqueraders and band leaders for Caribana :

Now, this is me speaking strictly as a masquerader when I say that in order to have a really good time on the road you need to be in one of the first 3 or 4 bands. The route is relatively short, it takes place along the lakeshore and is basically a highway similar to the foreshore in Trinidad . The first half of the route is covered with 6 or 7 feet tall temporary fencing to keep non masqueraders to a minimum. This gives mas players an opportunity to play mas for a while without being totally overrun by stormers. It also gives onlookers that chance to see the beauty of the mas before there are 10 stormers for every costumed person.

About halfway down the route, there are the normal 3 feet high police barricades and the kids jump them and join the band. Kind of like back in the day when you cross the Savannah on Tuesday evening, security would chill out and anybody could take a jump. I have no issue with this. The problem is once the first big band hits the half way point, everyone jumps up with them until the end of the route, then they are inside the barricades, so they head back up the road to the beginning of the route to meet the next band. At this point, a few hours have gone by, but the last half of the bands still haven’t entered onto the route yet, so they hit the road and are immediately met by huge crowds of stormers.

It’s like “Where’s Waldo” to try and find a costumed masquerader

Most of these guys were born here and have no respect for the mas, also its not like in Trinidad if security asks you to leave the band and you refuse, they can put you out, and if you put up a fight you will have 5 or 6 ignorant muscle men beating the hell out of you, that doesn’t fly here. Also, the last bands usually don’t even get onto the road until 5 or 6pm. Imagine hanging around an assembly area for the whole day waiting for your turn to hit the road. Not to mention that Machel is playing in band #3 so all the teens will hop the fence from early. And as soon as Machel reach the end and the truck locks off the music they are heading back up the road to hit Carnival Nationz where the young chicks are. By the time Callaloo hits the road as number 7, there is very little order, and everyone has been drinking for 2 or 3 hours. At least they might still have some time. Everything after that is a write off.

This is what happens to your band if you get stuck in the last few positions of the parade, towards the end of the day …… notice its still very bright out

I feel really bad for the new bands who have to start at the back of the parade and work their way up over time (you think it is luck of the draw that Saldenah is always among the first few bands? I think not.) True, Carnival nations won band of the year their first year(even though they started last), but keep in mind that the judging happens in the staging area before they hit the road. Nationz had to literally push their way through the crowd of “onlookers” at the beginning of the parade. And were completely overrun the entire route.

The band leaders can’t really fix the problem. They can’t throw men back over the fence once they are in. And the government has put us on one long straight road, which mandates that someone is going to be first and someone will be last. Its not like they open up the entire city and each band can gather in a different location and everyone can start at once which would thin out the crowds; the youngsters will follow Machel, the IT girls will be in Nationz and the aging people who still feel they sexy will play with Saldenah and everyone will be in their own area.

Toronto isn’t about to open the entire city to us, so that not going to happen. I don’t know what is a good solution. In Brooklyn they don’t have this issue. They have a small army of cops who provide crowd control. They are scattered every few hundred meters along the route and stormers are kept to a minimum. Toronto has neither the will nor the manpower to provide this. Also, we don’t have such an ethnically diverse police force which I think helps in Brooklyn. This more of a rant on my part, as I don’t have any solution really. This is a topic that every veteran Toronto masquerader is aware of, but an issue that first timers may not know about and that could give them a bad first impression of mas in Toronto.

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