Glitter, sequins and soca: Carnival brings color to Roxbury
Roxbury turns out for the sights, sounds, ambiance of Boston Caribbean Carnival
Playing masquerade with Soca & Associates for the second year in a row, Samuel Trotman seems singularly un-phased by the hot sun and the unwieldy heft of a 12-foot-tall steel-framed costume, with yards of brightly-colored fabric, feathers and sequins.
On the web
Boston Carnival website: http://www.bostoncarnival.org/
SOCA and Associates Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SOCA.and.ASSOCIATES/?fref=ts
D’Midas Boston facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dmidas.boston.1/?fref=ts
To the uninitiated, Caribbean Carnival might appear nonsensical, with thousands of mas band participants and spectators dancing behind flatbed trucks bearing walls of speakers that blare out soca tunes with enough bass to vibrate Trotman’s sequins from a distance of 30 feet.
But Trotman and his fellow mas band members enjoy every moment of it. During this year’s annual Caribbean Carnival, they’re given license to let loose, all color and character, flair and fun. The yearly parade culminates in a competition between the masquerade or mas bands during which they are judged on the costumes and overall presentation as they dance to Trinidadian soca music — a blend of African rhythms, calypso and reggae influences.
A woman with a large pitcher of beer and a bag of plastic cups pours one for Trotman, who is looking on while two assistants from the Dorchester-based mas band adjust the shoulder straps on his costume. A business owner by day, he explains the allure of Soca & Associates.
“They treat me like family,” he says, as two men lift the costume back onto his shoulders. “My costume was broken. They just fixed it.”
Trotman has played mas since he was a child. He moved to Houston for work, but found he missed Caribbean Carnival. He now runs a tax preparation service in Hyde Park. This year, he won first place in the individual male category at the annual Kings and Queens competition, one of many Soca & Associates players to place in the pre-Carnival event held at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center. The band also dominated the parade this year, with its eight-section presentation, “Bijoux: Glitz and Glamour.”
In keeping with the theme, the costumes are extra-heavy on shiny surfaces, including rhinestones, sequins and glitter. The gold glitter covers Trotman from his shaved head to his golden sneakers.
Before he gets underway again, the shimmering Trotman receives a visit from another bearer-of-libations. Unlike the beer lady, this one pours a liquid that looks suspiciously like rum from a yellow plastic duck-shaped decanter directly into Trotman’s mouth.
“They keep me happy,” he beams, before launching off in the direction of the sound truck.
As is the case every year, Carnival starts with politicians and city officials, sans glitter, leading the parade. Mayor Martin Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans answer questions from reporters. Almost all of them about crime. None of them about Carnival. Walsh, Sheriff Steven Tompkins, state reps Liz Malia and Dan Cullinane city councilors Ayanna Pressley, Tito Jackson and Anissa Essaibi-George march at the head of the parade.
The Save Our Public Schools float urges a “no” vote on Question 2 (charter school expansion). Keen political observers posted anywhere along the parade route (and anyone with a working nose) may pick up a strong public sentiment to vote “yes” on another ballot question which would legalize an unofficial Carnival tradition.
In a few moments, the political component of the parade is over. The sound trucks are fired up and the crowd swells with enthusiasm. After all, it’s the masquerade bands that have Roxbury residents lining the streets.
Wilma Clouden, a D’Midas and Associates mas player, shows off her award-winning, gravity-defying costume, featuring a lime green insect-like alien creature towering ten feet over her shoulders. D’Midas won this year’s competition with its superb costumes and otherworldly theme: “A Space Fantasy.”
Dynasty International fills the streets with brilliantly-hued feathers, continuing their longstanding tradition of Native American cultural appropriation. New to the tradition, seven-month-old Noah Lewis sleeps through the din like only a baby can as his mother Josie and an accomplice push his wheeled teepee up Warren Street.
“What I thought was special this year was that Cumm Cross Productions came back,” said Michael Smith, whose website chronicles Boston’s Caribbean Carnival, from band launches to after parties. “We need them to stick with it.”
Last year, Cumm Cross and the long-dominant T & T Social Club both sat out, thinning the talent pool considerably. This year, the Cumm Cross resurrection appeared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Barbados’ independence from British colonial rule with brilliant blue and yellow costumes bearing the colors and trident from the island nation’s flag.
In a near tragedy, D’Horizon’s king failed to materialize by the oh-so-early 1 p.m. start time, apparently suffering complications from early morning revelry. But all is not lost! In the spirit of Carnival, costume repairman Patrick Daniel steps in, gamely dragging along the 18-foot-tall orange dragon, whose head magically bops to the soca beat.
Daniel, visiting from San Antonio, Texas, has been designing, assembling and repairing costumes for D’Horizon since his boyhood. For a dyed-in-the wool mas player, dancing with a 100-plus-pound steel framed dragon is, apparently, not a big thing.
“This is in the blood,” he says, grinning.
If you missed this year’s Boston Caribbean Carnival, many of the same mas bands will be appearing at the Cambridge Carnival Sunday, Sept. 11. And this time, we might see the real D’Horizon king. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.