A firebat shows spectators his moves. (Shelly Runyon photo)
|Last Saturday Boston celebrated Carnival with traditions from all Caribbean Islands. (Tony Irving phots)
The soca music blared out of flat-bed trucks stacked high with subwoofers and speakers last Saturday as the 37th annual Caribbean Festival wound its way through Roxbury to Franklin Park.
Behind each truck were hundreds of glittered, gem-stoned and fluorescent-feather-clad dancers gyrating to the beat, and shaking their tails and crowns to the sky.
Gina Patterson, 26, worked with a designer on her costume for the Trinidad & Tobago Social Club. She covered more of her head than anywhere else on her body, her hat spouting fuchsia, purple, pink and green plumes.
Gold wire and gemstones covered her top while feathers completed the bikini-sized outfit. Finishing the outfit was a two-foot long gathering of feathers that resembled a tail.
In all, the costume cost $400. She said she only felt kind-of naked: “It’s carnival; it’s only once!”
Thousands came out to watch Patterson and hundreds more dance, perform and compete in this year’s Trinidad-style Carnival. The Festival was founded and continues to be run by Trinidadians, but everyone is welcome. Flags of all Caribbean countries wave in the sky and people dress in costumes that range from militant camouflage, to simple representation of their flag, to the very ornate.
“All the young people, all the costumes, the great food, the ethnic jewelry, the natural products, the food from everywhere, — complete the festival,” Martine Bernard, 43, of Roxbury, said. “It’s fantastic. It’s a celebration of life; it’s beautiful.”
The Caribbean Festival was founded in 1973 by Trinidadian, Ken Bonaparte Mitchell. For 35 years he nurtured and watched it grow into a diverse event, full of activities for people of all ages. Mitchell passed away in 2008, and the Boston Carnival has had some ups and downs the past two years. Last year, the festival was almost rained out. It poured all day, and only the die-hard fans watched from the sidelines.
It takes the entire year to prepare for an event that spans a major part of the summer. Each production company has a Band Launch event prior to the main event. There’s a Kiddies Carnival the Sunday before the large parade, and then on the Thursday evening before the last Saturday in August, the Festival moves into full party mode with the King and Queen show.
The morning of the parade, Jouvert, or “day break,” begins at 5 a.m. The celebrating continues into the afternoon, when around noon, the parade assembles and starts to wind through Roxbury. At the end of the parade route near the entrance to Franklin Park Zoo, costume prizes are awarded and the party continues.
The area near the zoo is where festival-goers find the best food, said Bernard. “The vendors come from New York; they get here at four in the morning,” she explained. “There are all these grandmothers with great recipes.”
Franklin Park Zoo is also where the competition heats up.
“Once you get to the judging point,” said Eric Grant, 21, “that’s where they judge you to see who has the best costume.”
Grant was on the sidelines this year, but last year participated, paying $150 for one gold and black costume, as well as for four others.
“Last year I was kind of tribal,” he said. “My hat it had a skull — it was the warrior of the sun, and I had lot of fun. ”
With great big smiles, woops and wallops, everyone was out in the streets with one purpose: to have a good time and to celebrate the traditions of the Caribbean.
“Celebrating where we came from,” Dominique Blaides, 18, said, is important to her and her twin brother. They’re both members of Branches, a steel band that performs each year in the Festival, among other community events. To her, Carnival is about “the freedom of expressing who we are, and our country and just being able to say, ‘hey, this is who we are; this is how we celebrate.’ ”
In Trinidad, Carnival is a national holiday. For many, it begins a month before the official celebration with an extended vacation, nightly parties laced with soca music, calypso and steel pan bands.
Bernard called the Festival, the “biggest secret in Boston.” She said, “People just need to come out and celebrate with the Caribbean, why not? It doesn’t matter if you are from it or not.”
I can still hear the beats from the steel drums during last month’s Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival. Created in 1967 as part of Canada’s centennial celebration, the festival known as “Caribana” is now in its 41st year, and still very much alive. More »
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A month ago, it was “Blast Off,” by calypso artist Crazy, that stuck in the head of 17-year-old Dorchester resident Shaquan Gabriel. More »
In Trinidad, Carnival is a national holiday. For many, it begins a month before the official celebration with an extended vacation, nightly parties laced with soca music, calypso and steel pan bands. More »