Mah' fuh so! - Caribana Historical Perspective
So Yu Going To... CARNIVAL Magazine
The CARIBANA festival derives its cultural heritage from the masquerading traditions of the Caribbean immigrants that settled in large numbers in Canada in the mid 1960's. The first CARIBANA festival was launched in 1967 as the Caribbean's contribution to Canada's Centennial celebrations. The cultural heritage of the people of the Caribbean was forged through the blending of many diverse influences.
In most Caribbean countries, the dominant influence is African, with significant contributions from one or more European cultures depending upon the particular island's political history. The many festivals of the indigenous people have also played a major role in creating the unique Caribbean carnival traditions.
The two common regional "Masquerade" traditions are Mardi Gras, celebrated just before Lent, and Junkanoo, which takes place between Christmas and New Year's . CARIBANA has its roots in the Mardi Gras tradition of the Eastern Caribbean, particularly in the Trinidad Carnival.
CARIBANA, now Toronto's annual summer Carinval for the past 25 years, has evolved to incorporate Masquerade groups (called "bands") from Jamaica and Bahamas (Junkanoo), continental Africa, non-Caribbean Toronto, as well as the fastest growing participating region, South and Central America. The masquerade bands depict themes ranging from historical events, political commentary, environmental statements, comedy, satire, and fantasy to the celebration of traditional festivals.
Nearly the entire year's preparation in the "mas camps" culminates in a spontaneous display of street theatre: a festival of music, colour, pantomime and dance. The Festival's events span two weeks. The highlight is the Carnival Parade with its live music, creative dances, elaborate floats, and equally creative costumes, showcasing over 40 masquerade "bands" parading along a prescribed route.
True to the Carnival tradition, the street comes alive with colour and music, attracting some 7,000 masqueraders and an estimated million spectators caught up in the spirit of this "peoples" festival. However, CARIBANA is much more than a parade. The Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), which organizes CARIBANA has over the years added many of the traditional events that complement carnival in the Caribbean in an effort to promote and further develop the cultural art forms, such as Steelband, Calypso, Folk Dance and Traditional Drumming.
Currently the CCC hosts a number of events including a free warm-up party and launching ceremony at Nathan Phillips Square, a Junior Carnival for children, a King & Queen Show at Lamport Stadium, a series of boat cruises, grand balls at local venues and a Caribbean Music Festival at Olympic Island.
CARIBANA FACTS - DID YOU KNOW?
Attendance at CARIBANA has grown from 1,000 spectators in 1967 to more than 1,200,000 in 1991.
The number of bands participating in CARIBANA 1967 was eight and has grown to more than 40 over the 25 years.
The first parade route began at Varsity and went along Bloor to Bay and ended at Harbourfront.
For the first time in 1991, the parade began at CNE and ended at Lakeshore and Parkside Drive.
The CARIBANA parade is the biggest single-day happening in North America.
At least 250,000 of last year's spectators were Americans who traveled to Toronto specifically for CARIBANA.
The Ontario Mas' Band Association was founded in 1988 and in 1992 changed its name to The Ontario Mas' Producers Association.
1974 was the first year the Junior Carnival was included in CARIBANA festivities.
In 1989, Eddie Merchant won Best Band of the Year for the 5th time.
In 1991, Louis Saldenah won Best Band of the Year for the 6th time.
Calypso music is a mixture of African, British, Spanish and East Indian influences. It dates back to Trinidad's first "shantwell".
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Reprinted by CaribbeanChoice.com. Inc. with permission from So Yu Going To... CARNIVAL Magazine, published by Ah Wee Tours Limited. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without express permission from the publisher. Copyright © Ah Wee Tours Limited. All rights reserved.