Trinidad & Tobago, the originator of Caribbean carnivals, recently kicked off the festive season. Lasting a week or even a few months, each island puts a unique spin on the traditional elements that include musical competitions (calypso, soca, steel band), beauty pageant shows (queen, teen) and, of course, elaborate parades that are truly a spectacle. These cultural festivities, which also provide the opportunity to eat lots of traditional food, are one of the main reasons that many people, including those in the Diaspora, continually return to the Caribbean. However, if for whatever reason you can’t make it to the region, below are three international Caribbean carnivals to consider attending.
1. Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival: Toronto, Canada
The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival is the largest street festival in North America, attracting more than one million visitors each year. Staged over three weeks each summer, the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival is a cultural fusion of music, food, and revelry as well as visual and performing arts influenced by the Caribbean. Revelers dress in elaborate costumes and take over the streets of metropolitan Toronto, dancing to the hypnotic sounds of Reggae, Calypso, Soca, Chutney, Steel Pan, Brass Bands and Hip Hop. Already home to a broad mix of cultures, Toronto welcomes thousands of visitors from the United States and other countries to this exciting celebration of Caribbean culture. This event alone is responsible for generating more than $400 million in annual revenue to the economy of Ontario. The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival was previously known as Caribana but was renamed in May 2011.
Carnival reveller at 2011 Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival. Photo: ©Flickr/ChrisCheung.
2. Notting Hill Carnival: London, England
The Notting Hill Carnival has been taking place on the streets of Notting Hill in London, England, since 1966. Held annually during the last August Bank Holiday weekend, the carnival is still growing in popularity, by some estimates attracting more than one million attendees in recent years. The event is led by the West Indian community but attracts people from various countries and cultures to enjoy the weekend of festivities. Festivities typically kick off on Saturday with an open-air event for the entire family, including a competitive performance by national steel bands. Sunday, the activity begins at daybreak with an exciting Jouvert to mark the carnival’s opening. Revelers dance in procession to the pulsating rhythms of African drummers, steel bands, and riddim bands. The early morning revelers will make way for the Children Parade, where the little ones will show off flamboyant costumes and dance along to traditional rhythms and steel bands. In addition to a diverse array of food from around the Caribbean, there will also be performances by visiting calypsonians and new artists from soca and other genres. The Notting Hill Carnival closes with the Monday Parade and Grand Finale, where as many as 60+ bands showcase their magnificent costumes and celebrate the rhythms of mobile sound systems or steel bands.
Carnival reveller at 2012 Notting Hill Carnival. Photo: ©Flickr/JanuszKaliszczak.
2. Labor Day Parade/West Indian Carnival: New York, United States
The Labor Day Parade, also known as the West Indian Carnival, is held on the first Monday in September each year, which is recognized as the National Labor Day Holiday in the United States. Staged in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn, New York, the event attracts between one and three million participants, which include representatives from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, Dominica, Haiti, Saint Lucia, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Central and South American countries such as Guyana, Suriname and Belize also participate. Possibly the earliest known carnival street activity in the United States, the West Indian Carnival was started in Harlem in the 1930s by Trinidadian Jessie Wardell and some of her friends. It resembled something more like an indoor costume party until the 1940s, when Wardell finally secured a permit to hold the first street parade. The event’s popularity has ballooned over the years, and it is now one of the biggest calendar events held in the city. It attracts thousands of participants and tourists alike to experience the melting pot of cultures, and especially the influence of Caribbean culture and traditions in the Tri-state area
A more traditional costume from 2011 West Indian Carnival. Photo: ©Flickr/KenStein.
Top Photo: Carnival reveller at 2011 West Indian Carnival. Photo: ©Flickr/KenStein.