A Caribbean Afro-diaspora street party
Caribbean Carnival features traditional bands, innovative upstarts
Spectators observing the mélange of African-themed, Colonial-era and indigenous Caribbean American-inspired outfits on Warren Street may have missed a major world event that apparently led to the Children of Wakanda marching in this year’s Boston Caribbean Carnival.
“After a global revolution, we decided to create a utopian society in Wakanda where all Afro nations came together,” explained Tania Anderson, the Cape Verdean-American mastermind behind the upstart carnival band. “That’s why we have a multitude of African and Caribbean people. We even have Mardi Gras costumes.”
Children of Wakanda is the newest entry into the evolving Boston Caribbean Carnival lineup, and one of many that breaks from the traditional Trinidadian masquerade band vernacular while incorporating elements of the tradition into its brightly-hued costumes.
Djenaba Reynolds, a Georgia-born Haitian-American masquerader with Children of Wakanda, assembled a feather headdress bejeweled with blue, gold and green rhinestones that could have come straight off any traditional carnival costume. But from the head down, her costume, designed by Anderson, looked more like a creation from an avant-garde fashion show than the rhinestoned-bikini ensembles that have come to dominate carnival in recent years.
The Wakandans shared the road with Misfits, another upstart now in its second year of playing mas‘ in Boston’s Caribbean Carnival. Other standouts included La Boue (aka Engine Room Section) and Branches Steel Band.
Of course Carnival wouldn’t be Carnival without the multi-sectioned Trinidad-style masquerade bands with scores of color-coordinated players. Socaholics and Soca & Associates were the two entries this year that fit that bill, scooping up the awards in the King and Queen ceremony Thursday. The bands dominated the road Saturday, with brilliant, multi-colored sections of masqueraders and 15-foot high steel-framed costumes that swept bystanders off the street.
“I think both did very well,” said longtime Caribbean Carnival Association of Boston President Shirley Shillingford of the two dominant bands. “Soca & Associates is a longtime player. Socaholics is a newcomer and is making their mark in Carnival.”
With just two major bands, Carnival this year was smaller than in past years. But with the new bands, there’s promise for the future, said Michael Smith, whose website Boston Carnival Village serves as an information hub for carnival.
“Each of the new bands brings their own perspective,” he said. “When other islands get involved, you see other perspectives. It’s the beauty of Boston Carnival, as opposed to everywhere else.”
In addition to Anderson’s pan-African presentation, Boston’s Caribbean Carnival has a strong Haitian-American contingent as well as mas’ players from Honduras and Panama.
“It’s powerful to see all the descendants of African people coming together as one,” said District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey, who walked the parade route with supporters. “It’s a wonderful expression of what it means to be of African descent.”
Smith cautioned that the all-Trini judging panel should broaden their criteria for evaluating bands in Boston, given the pan-Caribbean-and-beyond presentations that are emerging on Warren Street.
“The criteria we use for judging bands is Trinidadian,” he said. “We shouldn’t be holding everyone to Trinidadian standards.”