D’Midas International carnival band debuts costumes for 2014 Boston Caribbean Carnival
Deejay Shawn Noel’s outdoor sound system blasted soca tunes loud enough to make conversation on Seaver Street impossible. Stretched across the porch of Rudy Osborne’s two-story house was a large banner announcing Zulu Nation as the theme for D’Midas International’s 2014 Caribbean Carnival presentation.
The banner, and the party in the paved-over corner lot of Seaver and Erie streets, marked somewhat of an unofficial opening of carnival season — the first major band launch of this year’s carnival season.
The purpose of the event is to showcase the carnival costumes and theme and to persuade carnival enthusiasts to put down a deposit for a costume and join the band.
While some carnival participants go from mas camp to mas camp, comparing costumes to decide which band to join, D’Midas has a critical mass of devotees who return summer after summer to enlist in the band. For the D’Midas faithful, the band launch is just another party.
Count Diane Joseph among the faithful.
“From the time I could walk, my mother has been in different mas camps in Boston,” said Joseph, a sophomore at Salem State College. “When I came to D’Midas in 2008, Rudy welcomed me with open arms.”
By 2012, Joseph was leading the band’s children’s section. This year, she helped organize the band launch and modeled one of the Zulu Nation costumes.
The Zulu Nation theme is a bit of a departure for D’Midas, which in past years has opted for more colorful presentations. This year’s costumes feature more zebra and leopard prints, silvers and gold accents, cowrie shells and, of course, feathers.
“Feathers are a big part of carnival,” Joseph noted.
Among the costumes sitting on bent-wire forms, Joseph points out a white one with red and black accents.
“You can’t be a Trinidadian band without red, white and black,” she said.
Boston’s Caribbean Carnival has its roots in the Trinidad carnival, a traditional pre-Lent celebration that takes place in February. The Boston carnival was founded by Trinidadian American Ken Bonaparte Mitchell in 1973.
In its early years, the Carnival procession marched through the South End en route to City Hall Plaza. Since the 1980s, Carnival has taken place in Roxbury with the parade route following Warren Street from Martin Luther King Boulevard to the intersection of Blue Hill Avenue and Columbia Road.
Bands are judged by a panel flown in from Trinidad on their costumes and performance.
Many of the bands that march in Boston’s carnival also attend carnivals in Cambridge, Worcester and other cities.
While the carnivals themselves are the culmination of months of work, after a short while in a mas camp, it becomes clear that the work itself is a form of entertainment.
Osborne’s spread includes a paved-over corner lot that abuts his house, a garage that’s been converted into a workshop and a larger outdoor workshop with a roof constructed of plywood and blue plastic sheeting to protect the band’s large costumes from the elements.
During the band launch, the area was converted into an outdoor party space, complete with a deejay spinning soca, trays of hot food and an assortment of beverages befitting the festive atmosphere.
“Every night in the summer we’re here all hours,” said Joseph. “We do everything together. We eat, we drink.”
“I’m drinking juice,” she added quickly.
While the D’Midas camp was heating up, a new band called Mirage was also holding its band launch on Dakota Street in Dorchester. Mirage is a break-away group from IMas, which split off from Cumm Cross Production.
The new bands are a good sign for carnival, according to Michael Smith, an electrical engineer whose Boston Carnival Village website has a comprehensive listing of Boston’s carnival bands, information and events.
“People can’t stay married for very long because everybody has a different idea about what they want to do in carnival,” he said. “We’re seeing new bands. I think its going to be very colorful.”
Smith also noted an increase in the number of Trinidadian live bands booking shows in the Boston area this summer and a profusion of deejays, several of whom took turns deejaying during the band launch.
While deejay Shawn Noel fired up the crowd, Joseph suited up in a Zulu-themed warrior costume, complete with speak and shield, and prepared for the presentation. And as spectators signed up to play mas with D’Midas, Joseph’s workload for the summer expanded.
But the prospects of long nights attaching rhinestones and cowrie shells to costumes doesn’t phase her.
“I’ve always been into this,” she said. “There was never a part of my life when I didn’t want to do this. It’s my culture.”
Boston’s Caribbean Carnival will be held on Saturday, August 23. The Kiddies Carnival will be held August 17 at White Stadium in Franklin Park and the King and Queen show will be on August 21 at the Reggie Lewis Center.
The Worcester Caribbean Carnival will be held August 24; Cambridge’s carnival will be held September 7.
For live entertainment listings and other carnival-related events, visit www.bostoncarnival.org.