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CARIBBEAT: Bond between the city and the New York Caribbean Carnival is long and strong

2019-08-31

A masquerader and a NYPD officer with mobile orange security barriers at last year's New York Carnival Parade in Brooklyn. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Like many long-term relationships, the bond between New York City and the New York Caribbean Carnival is complicated — but in a good way.

This is a fruitful decades-long connection that has coped with city crime, haters and other obstacles, but has grown stronger and more solid with the passing of time.

Participants of a 1948 West Indian Day Parade in Manhattan march along on Seventh Ave. in Harlem.
Participants of a 1948 West Indian Day Parade in Manhattan march along on Seventh Ave. in Harlem. (Fred Morgan/New York Daily News)

After a penultimate concert on the Brooklyn Museum grounds tonight, the five-day carnival event, now presented by the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, culminates tomorrow with a parade. It’s a colorful procession of elaborate carnival costumes, music and a street fair of Caribbean food, beverages and more along Brooklyn’s tree-lined Eastern Parkway.

The parade runs down Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, beginning on Schenectady Avenue and ending at Grand Army Plaza, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

And is far from a new relationship. The Caribbean carnival has been connected with the city since the 1930s.

Started by Caribbean immigrants and first held during traditional carnival time in February, these early pioneering participants weathered harsh winters by holding the first carnivals in heated upper Manhattan ballrooms and other indoor locations.

Participants march along Eastern Parkway in the annual New York Caribbean Carnival Parade last year.
Participants march along Eastern Parkway in the annual New York Caribbean Carnival Parade last year. (Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News)

The Manhattan happening was moved to the more temperate Labor Day holiday about a decade later — taking carnival outdoors in Harlem with parades of masqueraders.

Under new management, carnival relocated to Brooklyn in the 1960s and has grown to be one of New York’s largest annual events — with estimated crowds in the millions.

The city-carnival connection has also grown over the decades — strengthening in part from the event’s sizable economic impact. Millions of designers, revelers and eventgoers buy costume materials and completed outfits, rent cars and trucks, visit tourist attractions and restaurants, go shopping and, basically, spend big bucks around Labor Day.

Feathers, sequins and other decorations are a big part of the celebration of Caribbean pride.
Feathers, sequins and other decorations are a big part of the celebration of Caribbean pride. (Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News)

An old 2004 study estimated the carnival’s economic impact at $154.8 million annually.

New York’s unions are also a big part of the Labor Day event. Representatives of the subway and bus-running Transport Workers Union Local 100, which has a large Caribbean-American membership, proudly march each year. Hordes of politicians have also been marching regularly — because of the large numbers of potential voters present and the event’s occurrence just before primary elections.

Sen Chuck Schumer gets a hug during his 2018 march at the New York Caribbean Carnival.
Sen Chuck Schumer gets a hug during his 2018 march at the New York Caribbean Carnival. (Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News)

Among other carnival supporters and sponsors are the Brooklyn Museum, Con Edison, Macy’s, Caribbean Airlines from Trinidad and Tobago-based Moneygram and the California-based Gilead biopharmaceutical research firm, the Moët Hennessy wines and spirits importer and the Ashley Stewart plus size women’s clothing company.

WIADCA collaborations with international entities — such as the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the numerous Caribbean diplomatic consulates in the city — has broadened and enriched the carnival-city bond.

New York's Caribbean community has held annual Carnival celebrations since the 1930s, first in Harlem and then in Brooklyn, where festivities happen on Labor Day. Each year the costumes seem to get more and more impressive.
New York's Caribbean community has held annual Carnival celebrations since the 1930s, first in Harlem and then in Brooklyn, where festivities happen on Labor Day. Each year the costumes seem to get more and more impressive. (Craig Ruttle/AP Photo)

However, the difficult times in this relationship revolve around crime. From the 1970s to the 1990s, when the city suffered from crime, so did the carnival. Patrons were too often victims of attacks from criminals and gang members.

But with input from the Mayor’s Office and the NYPD, positive changes were made to keep paradegoers and participants safe.

Changes included limiting parade hours, denying vendors permits to sellers of alcohol, instituting increased safety measures for trucks and floats and having NYPD officers assigned to parade vehicles. So, the carnival was made safer while maintaining its valued cultural integrity.

There's no shortage of skin along the parade route.
There's no shortage of skin along the parade route. (Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News)

Last year, police reported no major incidents at the carnival parade or the preceding J’Ouvert festival held nearby. But, unfortunately, there are haters — some allegedly in the ranks of the NYPD — who slander the Caribbean event, and even its costumed participants, instead of confronting the issue of crime in New York.

The police-focused “Thee Rant” website — which has attracted some vehement carnival critics – has negative post headings this year, such as "2019 “J’Ouvert West Indian Day Parades Over/Under,” designed to make light of possible violence at the carnival and J’Ouvert.

Enthusiastic spectators — young and old — line Brooklyn parade route every year.
Enthusiastic spectators — young and old — line Brooklyn parade route every year. (Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News)

In 2011, some NYPD employees faced disciplinary action for posting racist or derogatory parade comments on Facebook.

But as in years past, tomorrow on Eastern Parkway there will be blocks and blocks of NYPD cops along the route enjoying the event, taking great pride in their parade assignments and doing their jobs without a hint of dissent — countering the haters and keeping the decades-old carnival-city relationship going strong.

Visit wiadcacarnival.org or call (718) 467-1797 for information.

Calypso Rose performs at Gobi Tent during the Coachella this year.
Calypso Rose performs at Gobi Tent during the Coachella this year. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella)
Calypso Rose heads carnival show

Tonight’s “Sunday Night Mas - Dimanche Gras: An All White Affair” is the last concert of the five-day New York Caribbean Carnival, but the event — which stars international music star Calypso Rose — is special and well worth the wait.

Starting at 6 p.m. tonight, on the grounds of the Brooklyn Museum, the event also stars performers Lavaman and Tallpree. It features the amazingly elaborate masquerade costumes of the “King and Queen of the Bands,” traditional Ole’ Mas’ costumes, the Kaisokah Moko Jumbie stilt walkers, Caribbean Cultural Creations (of Universoul Circus), recognition of the 2019 Panorama steel band winners and other presentations.

Rose, now 79, will be taking her legendary talents to this carnival event after continually taking her show on the road — and spreading calypso music worldwide.

Born Rose McCartha Linda Sandy Lewis in Tobago, Rose gained fame as a pioneering female calypsonian. Early on her career, she spread calypso music and grew her fame by performing with reggae’s Bob Marley and the Wailers band in the 1960s and 1970s.

Rose has also won numerous music awards in Trinidad and Tobago and other countries. In 2017, after wowing French music fans with recent recordings and performances, she captured the prestigious World Music Album of the Year title at the Les Victoires de la Musique French music awards recognizing outstanding achievement in the France’s music industry.

“Yes, man, I’m working so hard; spreading the music all over the world. Retirement is not in my book for now,!” said the entertainer back in March before a Manhattan performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village.

This New York show came a month before she made history again — by, at 78, becoming the oldest performer in the history of California’s popular Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival and the first calypso to play an entire set of music for eager festival patrons.

For information and online ticket purchases, visit wiadcacarnival.org or call (718) 467-1797.