Written by: David Lawrence
With Caribbean-style carnivals on every continent and in many major cities around the world, Miami’s carnival has risen to be one of the best over the years. Scheduled annually for over the Columbus Day weekend in Florida’s beautiful city of Miami, it’s not difficult to see what gives Miami Carnival its uniqueness and special place in the hearts of so many carnival lovers.
Unlike most other carnivals, Miami’s is not a street festival; the entire parade of the bands takes place at the Miami-Dade County Fair Exposition grounds. Instead of the masqueraders meeting up with their bands at different locations, they all assemble at the Fairgrounds. Under strict security, only the masqueraders and preapproved personnel are allowed to enter the parade route. Here, the beginning of the parade is transformed into a ‘Carnival Village’ or ‘Garden of Masqueraders’ with a beehive of activities but instead of bees, we see human butterflies sipping on high-spirited beverages, munching on food, adding final touches to their costumes, and readying themselves for the parade. With music blasting, they dance, laugh, make new friends, and memories to last a lifetime.
On the parade route, unlike most other carnivals the masqueraders are free from the intrusion of spectators and pesty loafers for the entire journey. The freedom to move through the band with relative ease is one of the major attractions for playing mas in Miami as stated by many masqueraders. So although some of the bands are large, the masqueraders who have paid a pretty penny for their costumes can play their mas as they please. And of course, there are all the trimmings that are standard today: unlimited drinks, an adequate supply of food, and Alist DJs pumping out the best in soca music with instructions to egg on and indulge the masqueraders in their fantasies.
The bands begin their stage-bound journey in the early afternoon with some continuing way into the night; this year 18 bands were scheduled to cross the stage. As per the judges, the band of the year was Ramajay Mas with Dingolay Mas and GenX being 1st and 2nd runners-up respectively.
But ‘Parade of the Band Day’ is not only for masqueraders, but there’s also a lot for spectators to see and do. As the masqueraders make their way to the stage the spectators are able to see the bands in all their glory as they put on a show to impress the judges and onlookers.
In the Fairground the atmosphere is festive with the sound of the Caribbean punctuating the air as the music trunks slowly make their way across the stage. Scores of food tents offering Caribbean food, delicacies, and beverages to satisfy the appetites of the gathered.
And from early evening into the night the ‘After Party Concert’ grabs the crowd’s attention with upcoming and top soca artists performing with live bands. This year’s event was headlined by Bunji Garlin and Fay Ann Lyons with a delegation of artists from Barbados: Allison Hinds, Edwin Yearwood, Rupee, Lil Rick, Lead Pipe & Saddis’ and from the Antigua & Barbuda’s delegation: Ricardo Drue, Claudette Peters and others. Also performing were Olatunji, Skinny Fabulous, Pumpa, and Teddyson John with his band, just to name a few. So, for the moderate price of attendance, the spectators are treated to a top-rated soca concert as a bonus.
But Miami Carnival is much more than a one-day affair. The day before the big ‘Parade of the Band’ is the celebration of J’ouvert where thousands of people donned in paint, powder, and mud reveled at the Central Broward Park from late morning well into the afternoon. Most of the bands who bring out pretty mas also have a J’ouvert section; this gives the DJs and their technical team the opportunity to get things right for the following day. One of the most impressive things about this event is the thousands of people in attendance. This is not a spectator affair for all who enter the arena will be drawn into the Mele and will leave ‘stink and dutty’ after having a time of their life.
Still growing in size and stature is the Panorama competition. This year saw 5 Steel orchestras from Florida competing for bragging rights of Panorama champions. They all delivered tremendous performances which drew thunderous applause from the audience. The event concluded with a fiery guest performance by Hells Gate Steel Orchestra of Antiqua. Lauderhill Steel Orchestra was once again declared the champion Steelband.
It is important to note that Miami Carnival did not reach this status by chance; it’s the result of consistent planning and hard work. A representative from the Miami-Broward Carnival committee can be seen at the other major carnivals promoting the Miami carnival. A special mention must go out to the committee’s media section headed by Yvette Harris with the able assistance of Renee O Conor. They know the importance of using social media in promoting and getting coverage of their carnival out to the world and hence created a network of both large and small media outlets towards this objective. It is a simple concept when people see how much fun others are having, they long to be there.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Miami Carnival and already plans are being made for a spectacular festival. So be there or you will be sorry when you see the coverage of what you have missed.
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