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Images and the mood of Barbados’ Crop Over festival, Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival and Haiti’s Rara are taking centre stage in Brooklyn this weekend.
That’s happening because America’s largest cultural festival is taking place during the next four days, culminating on Monday along Eastern Parkway with some of the Caribbean’s best-known entertainers, including Mikey and Statement of Barbados; Zouk And The Gang of Guadeloupe; the Mighty Sparrow and David Rudder from Trinidad and Tobago; Problem Child of St Vincent; and Tarrus Riley of Jamaica taking part in the grand celebration that attracts more than a million spectators.
“We are going to have a very successful festival and we are looking forward to the Trinidadians, Barbadians, Haitians, Jamaicans, Guyanese, Vincentians and people from all over the Caribbean, enjoying themselves,” Bill Howard, the new President of the West Indian American day Carnival Association, (WIADCA), told the WEEKEND NATION.
So as designers put the finishing touches to the colourful costumes for Caribbean revellers, Howard is vowing to broaden the festival reach.
At the same time, the Association is grappling with the long-term threats that are expected to confront the celebrations it has been sponsoring for about half a century.
“We want to change WIADCA’s culture to make carnival more inclusive,” added Howard, who has taken over the leadership after two years of internal problems that raised questions about the carnival’s prosperity and indeed its survival.
“Immediately after the more than a million people have left Eastern Parkway, we are going to begin planning for next year and the years after that,” Howard said in an interview at Culpepper’s, the Bajan-owned and operated restaurant that is several blocks away from the “Parkway,” where the costume bands, individual revelers, spectators, vendors will spend most of Labor Day enjoying the sights and the sounds from the Caribbean.
“We want to open up the parade and the festival to every West Indian island and therefore, make it as much a part of Haiti, Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados and the other countries as it is in Port of Spain,” was the way Howard put it.
The carnival began last night on the grounds of the Brooklyn Museum with Caribbean Woodstock: A Celebration Of Light featuring some of the region’s leading entertainers including Statement and Mikey.
Today, WIADCA is staging a youth programme encouraging the children to “stay in school” while allowing them to present their musical and other talents on stage.
Later, the organisers are hosting a “brass fest” that features top flight musical performers. Tomorrow, the popular Kiddies Carnival Parade will hit the streets of Crown Heights beginning at Kingston Avenue and St John’s Place and ending at the Brooklyn Museum.
It will be followed by Panorama that features the artistry and musical skill of the steelband players who are competing for the championship crown and prize money.
Dimanche Gras, the penultimate item on the programme before Monday’s extravaganza is carded for Sunday evening and it will feature the King and Queens of the bands.
The icons of Caribbean music, including the Mighty Sparrow, David Rudder and Lord Nelson are scheduled to appear.
Then it’s time to hit the “Parkway” on Monday, shortly after the carnival breakfast that attracts many of New York’s elected leaders, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, both of whom will be grand marshals. They will be joined by Kenneth Thompson, Brooklyn’s new District Attorney.
As the public figures make their way down the parade route before midday, the adjoining streets will be a hive activity with revellers, spectators, vendors and others taking in the sights and sounds.
Another group will find comfort in apartments and private homes that line the route, shouting their approval, shaking their waists and moving their feet to the musical beats that have made soca, calypso and reggae an important part of the global musical scene.
Tens of thousands, perhaps as many as 200 000 visitors, will flock to the City from across North America and the Caribbean.
It’s that influx of tourists that makes the West Indian carnival such a lucrative festival on the City’s cultural calendar. It injects as much as US$100 million in the City’s coffers.
“The carnival brings in millions of dollars into The City and it is important that its message gets out to everyone,” Howard said. “The staging of the various events is an expensive undertaking, costing more than $1 million.
“The City is asking us for a three-to-five year business plan to indicate where the carnival will go from here,” he explained.
“That plan is going to be crucial. This year we are going to have five Haitian bands in costumes and the involvement of participants from Guadeloupe. We have had inquiries from a number of African countries.”