Getting Ready for Carnival in Brooklyn

Keelah Chung portrays “Lost Queen,” designed by Drillz International. It is one of 12 sections featured in “Coming to America.” (Photo by Photo by Nelson A. King via Caribbean Life)

In the weeks leading up to the West Indian American Day Carnival Association’s 50th annual Labor Day carnival, which includes the West Indian Day Parade, Caribbean Life and other outlets have been covering the popular celebration with articles about participants and performers, related events and changes to this year’s festivities. Find below a roundup of the stories.

Included in the carnival parade for the first time will be “The Mas in Fashion — A Fashion Parade Against Human Trafficking,” reports Nelson A. King in Caribbean Life. According to designer Janice Lawrence-Clarke, who is president of co-organizer JLC Productions, the effort aims to “one day stop human trafficking and help in rebuilding strength and confidence in innocent, abused and exploited young women from Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.”

A steel band competition featuring groups from the metro area will be part of the weekend festivities leading up to the parade. D’Radoes Steel Orchestra, based in Canarsie, has won the contest for the past three years. Reporter Alexandra Simon notes in Brooklyn Reporter that its closest competitor also comes from Brooklyn – Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra, which finished in second last year.

Also based in Brooklyn is Suga Candy Mas, which looks to win first place for Small Band after placing second for the past two years. The group, now in its third year, is adopting the movie title “Coming to America,” starring Eddie Murphy, as Belize-born band leader Maxine Magdaleno tells reporter King of Caribbean Life.

“This year is WIADCA [West Indian American Day Carnival Association] 50th anniversary, and it’s a celebration; so, we have decided to reiterate the [title of the] movie as a tribute to the carnival committee because of the popularity of the movie.”

She added that they have masqueraders from around the world, including “Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Belize, Jamaica and Guyana.”

King also profiles “Haiti Royalty,” an all-female band with 75 masqueraders of Haitian, Trini-Haitian and Martiniquan descent. It will be part of Kagie 22’s production, which was founded in 2002 by band leader Karina Gilles as a TV show “to touch base with the community and [to] create linkage with organizations that can fulfill communities’ needs.”

Meanwhile, a Crown Heights nursing home held its own festival for some 80 seniors who would not be able to join the Labor Day parade. The participants designed their own outfits and participated in a makeshift procession route.

As for the day of the carnival, the city announced this year that J’Ouvert (which means “daybreak”), the pre-parade festival, will follow a new schedule – it will start two hours later at 6 a.m. The change comes following the shooting deaths of Carey Gabay, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015, and teenager Tyreke Borel and graduate student Tiarah Poyau in 2016 during J’Ouvert. There will also be increased security measures in place for the events. Officials announced the changes last week, report Nelson A. King for Caribbean Life and Stephon Johnson for Amsterdam News.

In a story for Caribbean Life, Alexandra Simon speaks to organizers and participants who praise the new hours, including Yvette Rennie of J’ouvert City International, which was “created to bring light to the benefits” of the event.

Steel bands and revelers will continue to enjoy the dark and clear parts of Labor day morning as scheduled, and parade activities will continue as follows. “The concept is still there and it will still be in the pre-dawn hours because it’s still a little dark around that time,” said Rennie. “When the bands are coming into the formation area, they will have time to enjoy themselves in the darkness, but the kick-off of the costume and steel bands will be in a little light.”

Rennie emphasized that the decision to change the time “came from our groups not the precincts — we made our decisions collectively and worked together.”

Devil rising: Many of the costumes depict devils, or Jab Jab as they are more commonly known in Trinidad and other Caribbean islands. (Photo from Philip J. Bell via Caribbean Life)

Philip J. Bell seeks to portray the beauty of J’ouvert amid the coverage it has received. After not finding any visual documentaries on J’Ouvert in Brooklyn, the director set out to make one himself, as he tells Simon in a separate story.

“I wanted to promote the positive aspect of J’ouvert,” said Bell. “My main goal more than anything is to try to capture the beauty of it, and provide context for what it is.”

In the 15-minute film, he follows several J’ouverts in Brooklyn over the years, highlighting revelers, music, masqueraders, and most importantly, the history and origins of the event.

Watch the documentary at Vimeo.

An Aug. 28 concert at Medgar Evers College promoted unity ahead of J’Ouvert with hippies and hip hop lovers in attendance, writes Simon.

Youngsters from his organization danced on stilts in colorful, carnival-like gear as steel drum bands and other acts took the stage at the “Love Yourself” concert. It was organized by local pols, including Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D–Fort Greene), as part of the increased safety measures being implemented ahead of the Sept. 4 festival that precedes the annual West Indian American

A BKLYNER story on J’Ouvert and the West Indian Day Parade includes a podcast from the Brooklyn Historical Society on Carinval in the borough and “what it means to the Crown Heights community.” 

BRIC TV headed to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum for a carnival kick-off event during which “participants shared thoughts about the past, present and future.”

Finally, The Wave covered the first Rockaway Caribbean Carnival, which was held on Aug. 19 and had more than 3,000 in attendance. The festivities were described as the “long-held dream” of state Sen. James Sanders. The carnival was organized in partnership with the West Indian American Day Carnival Association and other groups.

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