CARNIVALESQUE CULTURE AND HAPPENINGS AROUND THE GLOBE
Rio’s Famous Carnaval always happens in February or March: summer in the southern hemisphere. In Mediterranean Europe, where The Tradition originated, that’s late winter. In Canada, the UK, and the northern United States, the weeks leading up to Lent are generally too damned cold for extended outdoors partying. By way of compensation, the next couple of months will be marked by shindigs inspired by the festivities of other lands. None of these gatherings boasts an ancient pedigree, yet each brings a blast of tropical exuberance to cities where warmth and sunshine are often hard to come by.
In many Commonwealth countries, Emancipation Day (August 1st) commemorates the date in 1834 when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. In Canada’s largest city, it is known as Simcoe Day, in honor of a colonial administrator who advanced similar legislation some 43 years earlier. Regardless of nomenclature, the day coincides with the Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival
Billed as North America’s largest street festival, the bash has occurred each summer since 1967, when the Caribbean Cultural Committee (later the Caribbean Arts Group) was founded. That first event incorporated costumes sent by the government of Trinidad & Tobago to the World Expo held that year in Montreal. In subsequent years the celebration, known as Caribana, grew in scope and duration, even as legal and financial difficulties mounted. In 2006, the city government shifted control to the Festival Management Committee, an arms-length entity intended to foster fiscal restraint. Five years later, the name was officially changed to the ScotiaBank Caribbean Carnival Toronto. The current sponsorship arrangement dates from 2017.
Budgets and branding aside, the Caribana name is still used by many local revelers and the masses of visitors who flock annually to the shores of Lake Ontario. More than 1 million spectators are expected for the Grand Parade on August 4th, but things formally commence with an opening church service on July 8th. Other activities include a Kings and Queens pageant, a calypso showcase, and a lavish Carnival Ball on July 27th, which will benefit the SickKids Foundation’s Caribbean initiative.
In the town where Lennon met McCartney, it’s a safe bet that Polythene Pam, Eleanor Rigby, and a certain lovely meter maid will always give The Girl From Ipanema a run for her dinheiro. Yet Liverpool has long been a major international port, hosting Britain’s oldest black community and insuring exposure to influences from around the world.
The city was designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2008. That was also when the Liverpool Carnival Company (a registered charity) was established. The first year’s night-time parade attracted some 30,000 people; the popularity of the annual Brazilica Festival has flourished continuously since then.
The 2018 iteration takes place on the 14th of July. If you’ll be in the area, and are lucky enough to hop a “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, you’ll be well positioned to see what happens when Scousers meet samba.
For many Londoners, the swinging summer of 1966 is best remembered for England’s first – and so far only – World Cup championship. For our purposes, the lasting significance derives from the inaugural Notting Hill Carnival . Within a decade, the event came to embody the social fractures of the United Kingdom in the era between the end of World War II and the rise of Thatcherism.
These days, the Notting Hill district is considered one of the capital’s most upscale and desirable neighborhoods, but that was hardly the case in ’66. Attracted by the area‘s cheap rents, West Indian migrants brought the festive customs of their homelands, but were often subjected to racist assaults and the hostility of officials. So called “Sus Laws” permitted the detention of individuals on the mere suspicion of criminal intent. The 1976 Carnival was patrolled by some 3000 police officers – a tenfold increase from the prior year. When a Caribbean youth was accused of being a pickpocket, simmering tempers exploded in a volley of bricks and bottles that left 160 people in hospital.
Two young white rockers, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon, were on hand that day. They were key figures of the burgeoning punk scene, but also had an appreciation for Jamaican rhythms. The Clash’s debut album, released a few months later, featured cover art inspired by the riot and a rendition of Junior Murvin’s classic “Police and Thieves”. Hearing that version, Bob Marley was soon inspired to compose Punky Reggae Party .
Things have been considerably more peaceful in the 21st century. The Notting Hill Carnival may not enjoy universal support, but it has been embraced by Britons of all backgrounds, and was memorialized in NW, a novel by the brilliant Zadie Smith. It is now a fixture of the Bank Holiday weekend; things get stirred up beginning on August 26th this year.
Alexander Hamilton was a native of Nevis, and the links between NYC and the Caribbean stretch back to his time and beyond. Marcus Garvey did his most important work after moving to the city in 1916. Around that same time, the standardization of calypso was driven, in part, by New York-based record companies. By the 1930s, international enthusiasm for the genre attracted the attention of legendary journalist Joseph Mitchell. In a New Yorker profile of Wilmoth Houdini, Mitchell detailed a raucous get-together organized by a group of “convivial, homesick West Indians called the Trinidad Carnival Committee”.
The affair described took place on Lenox Avenue in Harlem. By the 1960s, the center of gravity had definitively shifted to Brooklyn. That’s where one finds the headquarters of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association. The massive parade on Labor Day (September 3rd) always garners a lot of media attention, but WIADCA also hosts a series of Events on the grounds of the Brooklyn Museum.
Neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Brownsville and Flatbush are home to numerous mas camps, where artisans and designers create dazzling and daring costumes. The biggest borough also has a surprising number of panyards, where steel orchestra players and arrangers refine their chops throughout the spring and summer. The specific forms are clearly inspired by T&T, but the celebration is beloved by folks from across the Caribbean, and from mainland countries such as Panama and Guyana. Increasingly, the Kings County bacchanal even attracts party people from that most exotic of islands: Manhattan.