For at least the third consecutive year, revellers, masquerades and millions of spectators converged in picture-perfect weather on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway on Labour Day for the 50th annual celebration of the West Indian American Day Carnival Parade.
With temperatures at a high of 84 degrees Monday, the sight, sounds, pageantry, artistry and everything else West Indian exploded along the 3 ½ mile-long parade route that began at Buffalo Avenue and ended at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.
The cornucopia of colours and the potpourri of West Indian dishes that wafted the air brought the best out of West Indians, including over three million onlookers who converged for the annual extravaganza.
The ubiquitous police presence and extraordinary security did not prevent Caribbean nationals from revelling in what has been described as the largest parade in North America. Some spectators even ventured among the multiplicity of costumed bands to “get down” with masqueraders and revellers.
Jamaican Candace Manley, who usually plays mas in Hollywood, Los Angeles and recently moved to Brooklyn, said she could not resist playing mas on the Parkway.
“I’m just having fun,” said Manley portraying Glamorous from perennial band leaders Sesame Flyers, as she linked up, for the very first time, with Antiguan Latoya Jeffers, who played Bella with the band Ramajay.
“Our culture brings people together,” chimed in Jeffers, who has been playing mas in the West Indian American Carnival for the past four years. “I’m having fun, enjoying my culture, meeting my people, enjoying life. This is my culture.”
St. Lucian Beverly Francis, who usually plays with Karma Carnival Band, joined Messiah Mystic this year.
“Madness on the road, split in the middle,” she exclaimed, as she gyrated to pulsating Caribbean soca rhythm emanating from humongous boom boxes mounted on a nearby flatbed truck.
As she portrayed Boom Mas’s Empress of the Jewel, Darlene Price, 46, who was born in Guyana to a Guyanese mother and a Trinidadian father, said she was playing mas since 14.
“Oh God, having fun already,” said the Irving, Texas resident, who came to Brooklyn just to play for Boom Mas for the very first time. “I’m tired, but am playing. I will not stop doing this for anything.”
Natasha Carrington, who hails from East Dry River, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, said she has been playing with Kaios International for the past 20 years.
“I’m enjoying myself,” she said. “I’m representing Trinidad and Tobago, and living life.”
Flatbush, Brooklyn residents African American Angela Battle and Jamaican Kimmi Campbell played for Freaks Mas.
“We love it,” they said in unison. “It’s good for the culture; it’s good for Brooklyn.
A few yards away Grenadian Erica Paul and Guyanese Star Denny played for Antoine International.
Paul said it was “wutlessness (worthlessness), no behaviour (on the road),” reciting the words from a popular soca hit, while Denny said she was reveling in what she missed since childhood.
Trinidadian Annmarie Edwards, a supervisor of coordinators at Special Touch Home Care Agency in Brooklyn, brought along co-worker Panamanian Lydia Valmont to play for Ramajay.
“I’m a mas jumbie,” said Edwards, who began playing mas in her native land since she was 6, under her father’s guidance. “All I know is mas. After this Labor Day, I look forward to going to Trinidad and Tobago’s every year.”
“I love it,” Valmont said. “I look forward to play mas every Labor Day.”
Belizean Jelani Fernandez, Jamaican Deanna Findlay and Trinidadian Kenyetta Worrell teamed up for Suga Candy Mas.
“I feel good, I feel excited,” said Fernandez, while Findlay added: “I’ll be whining down all day.”
In portraying Dongolay Mas’s Crowned Eagle, Dominican Tamara Shillingford-Compas, said she has been playing “Queen” for the last three years.
“I love to play Queen,” she said. “I love our culture.”
Soca artiste Michelle Hillocks, who carries the sobriquet Hibiscus, came from Philadelphia to play for the Vincentian-owned band Mas Productions Unlimited, co-sponsored by the Brooklyn-based Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center.
“I feel good!” exclaimed Hillocks, winner of the Vincy New York New Song Competition in 2016, as a DJ struck up soca vibes. “Vincy people, you know we love we culture.”
But despite the pageantry, gaiety and revelry, police said four people were stabbed and one person was shot along the parade route.
Injuries to two victims in separate incidents were not life-threatening, police said; the conditions of the other victims were unclear.
The shooting victim, taken to the sprawling Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, was in stable condition, police said.
Monday’s grand parade climaxed five days of Caribbean carnival festivities, celebrated under the theme From A Dream to A Legacy, which began on Thursday, August 30.
It featured Reggae Unda Di Stars, starring Reggae Ambassadors Cocoa Tea, Ghanian Dancehall Reggae artist, Stonebwoy, and Brooklyn’s own Afrobeat songstress, WUNMI, performing popular hits like She Loves Me Now, FYAH, My Name, Come from Far and Fit Body.
The show was augmented with A taste of Marley magic by the appearance by Grammy award-winning artist, Stephen Ragga Marley, commemorating his father’s visit to the same Brooklyn stage where he (Bob Marley) debuted “Uprising” and expressed enthusiasm and support for WIADCA’s efforts in bringing the community together by promoting diversity and tolerance through music and culture in New York City.
Prior to the parade, over the last weekend a number of Caribbean artistes from Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines took to the stage to perform to the appreciative crowd.
“We’ve worked hard to make this carnival what it is today,” said Trinidadian Angela Sealy, chairperson of the Brooklyn-based organizing group, West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), in addressing the annual pre-Carnival Breakfast.
“We’re not paid; we’re doing this for the love of the culture ladies and gentlemen, 50 years of my life, and we’re still jamming,” added Sealy, who was among the original founders of Caribbean Carnival in New York City, flanked by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials.