TORONTO'S CARIBBEAN CARNIVAL
I must say, I think Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival this year was the best I have been to in years. When I went in 2010, I expected something like Miami or New York’s carnival (no, of course I was not expecting anything even comparable to Trinidad’s carnival). I was sorely disappointed. Not only were we not allowed to jump up with the masqueraders before they crossed the stage, there was a 9-foot-high fence obstructing the view! I thought that would be the last time I went to Toronto for this so-called carnival. However, two years later, I was convinced to give it another shot. Skeptical at first, I started to research the fetes so that I would at least have some fun during the weekend.
I was excited to learn that Dr. Jay (@socaprince) was hosting a fete that would have 14 of my favorite artists performing, including Kes the Band, Bunji & Fay-Ann, Nadia Batson and SASS, even the often excluded Problem Child. (Pause. Gather my thoughts. Lawd Geez, that man...hmmm. Wait, where was I? Right.) I immediately purchased two early-bird tickets online. Content that this purchase would legitimize the trip, I was ready to head to Toronto.
SHINE BREAKFAST FETE
On Friday night, I went online to find fetes/parties in the area. Why not? I was on vacation and should have fun from start to finish, right? There was a bit of Twitter buzz about Shine breakfast fete on Polson Pier so I decided to get tickets and go. Glad I did!
Upon entering, I saw the huge digital clock counting down to Last Call at the bar. With only fifteen minutes to go, the bar was my first stop. Two double rum and cokes later, I was on the dancefloor. One thing I can say about the crowd was that they were dressed to get on! No high heel shoes and tight dresses always in need of adjustment. The women were in shorts or leggings and FLAT SHOES!
It’s a good thing everyone was dressed to fete. The artists kept the crowd jumping all night. Super Jigga TC, performed “Action” to a very enthusiastic crowd. Don’t tell these chicks to wine and bend down low unless you mean it. The best point of the night was when “The Boss” Iwer George jumped off the stage and ran with a crowd of his fans from the front to the back of the club. Lastly, the “Bacchanalist” Kerwin DuBois closed the show and left the crowd still singing after he exited the stage.
Aside from the saltiest saltfish I’ve ever had in my life, the music, food, and crowd at Shine were fantastic. My Caribana weekend was off to a great start.
ON DE ROAD
Based on my experience in 2010, I was not looking forward to the parade on Lakeshore Boulevard. I was content to stay inside and wait for “Soca or DIe” that night. However, I was encouraged to go and so dragged myself unwillingly to the event. Knowing that there would be no vendors selling actual West Indian food, I packed my own damn food and took off.
I bought the ticket to go beyond the massive fence and actually see the bands and the masqueraders up close. Wise decision. Being inside of the parade meant hearing the DJs on the trucks, wining with the masqueraders while they were en route and then watching them cross “the stage” (judging point). Much better than watching the bands walk by me through a fence.
Did I mention how nice the costumes were this year? I was impressed that they were actually covering the women’s bodies. No simple bedazzled bikinis here. The costumes fit into clear themes and offered enough material, feathers or capes, to leave something to the imagination. Being the conservative woman that I am, I would actually play mas in Toronto!
SOCA OR DIE
Now I know there has been a lot of buzz about the “Soca or Die” fete on August 4th, and I have not heard Dr. Jay’s response to know his side of the story; however, I must say that I was disappointed in this event. I flew to Toronto in May 2012 just for “Foam Fete” and was very pleased with the event, the crowd, and even the security. I cannot say that the source of the problem at “Soca or Die” was Dr. Jay since he also promoted the highly-successful “Foam Fete.”
I will say this, this was a bad way to end my Caribana weekend.
Because this was the cause of my trip to Toronto, I was thoroughly excited to see Bunji, Fay-Ann, Problem Child (take a breath), Kes the Band, Nadia Batson and others. For weeks, I had been tweeting, posting, and talking about how amazing this fete would be. Not since Rama in Trinidad have I seen all of these acts at one event. Saturday, I was like a kid about to go to Disneyland. I was excited. I had my outfit planned and cut off time with distant relatives in Toronto just to get to this event. However, when I got to Wild Water Kingdom, the night took a sour turn.
There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people gathered together to go into the venue. This was to be expected since it was a well-advertised fete. After twenty minutes on what was supposed to be a line but resembled more of a mosh pit, I noticed that I was not much further up than I had been when I arrived. Being closed in with people smoking, drinking, and giving off a lot of body heat, I decided to let my fete partner hold my space so that I could step aside and get some air. I walked alongside the line to see how much farther we had to go before we could be inside the venue and I realized that there were only TWO lines to get through security. WHAT?! All of these people would have to be funneled into two lines? Clearly this would take way too long. Twenty minutes later, we had still not moved up very far and I could not take being in that crowd of people - who were getting upset and drunker by the minute - for so long. I opted out.
My fete partner and I decided to listen to the music and dance right there outside of the venue near the front of the line. That also turned out to be a good idea since, with all of the acts scheduled to perform, many artists performed a rather brief set. The music was good and I was fine with dancing outside for about an hour and a half. I left before the rain started that prematurely shut down the fete.
Obviously, the biggest issue was the line and getting through security. That portion was poorly organized. In Trinidad this year, the fetes had multiple entrances and at least six lines to get through security. This allowed people to move at a faster pace, limited people cutting to the front of lines and got everyone searched and into the arena quickly. Some folks have tweeted that the people who left or were not able to get into the fete should have arrived earlier. How would that have solved the problem? If everyone showed up at 9pm there would still have been the ridiculous 2-lane entrance. It will be tough to convince anyone that was there with me that night to go to another Dr. Jay event any time soon, but I am sure that we will. After all, he does keep me smiling up from 5p-8p on Soca Therapy.
AH LOVE ME CARNIVAL
All in all, I had a great time in Toronto. Feting, jumping, waving, wining, running, and smiling for two days is not a bad weekend at all. The only thing that was missing was food on the parade route. Seriously, what’s with the hot dogs and ice cream at a West Indian carnival parade? Shout out to Gossip Restaurant for your fabulous jerk wings and “Caribana dumplings” (fry bake in small balls).
I hope that New York can keep pace with Miami and Toronto carnivals that are now able to boast a safe and enjoyable weekend for patrons. Keeping things organized and having an open parade route makes for a smoother and better policed event. Big up Toronto Caribbean Carnival! I had a ball!
Update!!! Check out Dr. Jay’s statement regarding the situation at “Soca or Die.”
*Title inspired by “Love Me Carnival” by Problem Child and Patrice Roberts.