*title taken from Like Ah Boss by Machel Montano
Toronto Caribbean Carnival (Caribana)
Every year over one million people flock to Toronto for the largest street parade in North America. This celebration of West Indian culture and pageantry, commonly called Caribana, takes time and money to produce. For months leading up to the event, band leaders are busy designing and creating costumes, organizing registration websites, and booking deejays (and even soca artists) to keep the street party moving. I flew to Toronto to play mas last year and heard that organizers were taking steps to keep out those who would crash the parade of bands (read more here) so I encouraged friends to play their first Caribana mas this year.
For those of us who spent the money to play mas on Caribana Saturday, it was upsetting to see non-masqueraders disrupt what should have been a wonderful ending to an epic Toronto Carnival season.
My friends and I flew in from New York on Wednesday night to make sure we could take part in as many events as possible. Our party weekend began with Icebox Entertainment's annual party on the River Gambler on Caribana Thursday. The music, the food, the vibes, and the people made for a great event. Patrick Anthony of Nuphoric Music was wildly entertaining as the emcee while D'Bandit, DJ Stephen, Back to Basics played music that had that boat rocking. At one point DJ Stephen stepped out from the deejay booth and called for us to surround him and jump up together as one large circle of new friends. This was an epic start to the weekend. My feet were killing me afterwards, but a quick shower revived me enough to head over to Cabana Pool Bar for the next big event.
SOCA OR DIE
I bought my ticket to Soca or Die as soon as the tickets went on sale. I've had a ball at other S.O.D. events and when it was announced that DJ Crown Prince was coming in all the way from Dubai, I knew that party was not missing me! Well, apparently that party was not missing about a thousand other people. By the time we arrived, people had taken over the large open main deck and were starting to fill up the balcony area. Talk about ram! I was sure that New York's Supa Roy was going to get me severely mashed up when he called for all those people to palance.
It felt like we only blinked before it was Friday morning and we had to pick up our Indian Gyal costumes at the Saldenah Mas Camp. Thankfully, the new location on Midland Avenue is easy to get to by train so the commute out was no problem. We ate our yummy Pop Shop cake pops (exclusively for those in Dr. Jay's mas section) as Yvette demonstrated how we were to wear each piece of our beautiful costumes. With costume boxes in hand, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for our day parties.
FLARE- A Food-Inclusive Event
Although some of my friends opted to go to Daylight with Machel Montano at Sound Academy, I invited one of the newbies to her first soca party. The daytime food-inclusive party atop Surrender Nightclub downtown was the perfect introduction to the music and dance before she hit the road. We ate our callaloo, chicken, and salad downstairs before going up to the roof to party. The intimate space was great for a daytime lime, but not ideal for a jump-up party. This did not seem to be a problem since many of the attendees preferred posing to dancing.
I danced with drink in hand as soca and reggae music were played by my favorite deejays, including Trinidad's own Artiste Team. The day party allowed us to have fun without overexerting ourselves the day before playing mas. We grabbed a few sweet treats from the King's Pastry boxes on the way out and we made our way back to the hotel to rest up for the parade.
Saturday morning was finally upon us and we were all excited. After hours spent adjusting bands, mixing drinks for the road, and getting our faces painted and bejeweled by Brooklyn Beauty Addict, we were ready to head out. Luckily, the Saldenah team communicated the assembly information and truck lineup via Instagram, so I did not get lost this year. We arrived at the CNE Grounds in time to get our boxes of chicken and rice and water bottles to fuel up for the jump up. Deejays and emcees were already aboard their trucks and entertained us as we ate. The parking lot lime was a great way to get us ready for the road.
Let me say, marching through the streets with the Saldenah mas band was fan-freakin-tastic! The deejays were great and helped me keep my energy up as we paraded down the Lakeshore. This was the moving street party that I was hoping to experience last year.
However, this party was crashed by several non-masqueraders who decided that they wanted to cross the stage with us. My mood changed as more and more stormers appeared.
Unlike what was stated on social media, there was actually a lot of compromise. Marshals politely asked non-masqueraders to move to the side while we were being judged and deejays even paused the music to ask them to party behind the truck, but all to little effect.
I later spoke to spectators and some who admitted storming in the past and was told that they felt there was nothing else to do during the parade. "There's no real food out here besides hot dogs and ice cream. Who wants that at a Caribbean parade?" I was also told that there was no music outside and it's hard to watch the party moving down the Lakeshore and not want to be part of it. I get that. Playing mas is great, but as someone who was on the other side of the fence many times, I was never so brazen as to jump with the masqueraders as they crossed the stage, fight for food I did not pay for, and disrespect the masqueraders and servers who called me out for it. By the time we bent the corner onto British Columbia Road, the stormers overtook the parade and some of my friends decided to drop out of the mas at this point. Party done.
This was probably for the best as I found out later that there was an altercation near the grounds that caused people to panic and even more people rushed onto the parade route.
Saldenah Sunday Boat Cruise
One might think that after spending hours on my feet the day before, I would want to take it easy on Caribana Sunday. Well, that's not DysChick. I wanted to keep the party going and the Saldenah Boat Cruise is a nice post-Carnival cool down event...that is, unless you book DJ Crown Prince and Back to Basics. Then it turns into a jump up that includes a conga line moving from the top of the boat, down to the bottom level, then to the outside, then back up the steps to the top of the boat again. Not exactly a cool-down event, but certainly one that cannot be missed!
With so many things to do during the Caribana weekend (including the Irie Music Festival, a low cost after party that featured Bunji Garlin and was open to the public) I am not sure why people feel that storming the parade is the only way to enjoy Caribana.
Carnival is about fun and celebrating Caribbean culture in unity. I realize that seeing big deejays and artists on the road is hard to resist and some people cannot afford to play mas. However, we can take a jump up together on a boat ride, lime in a rooftop party, and palance together in a fete. But if you really want to be part of the parade, don't storm the road. Purchase your favorite costume from any of the bands, meet me on the Lakeshore, and leh we play ah mas!