By: Tony Best
After weeks of uncertainty ad expression of fears about the ability of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association to stage a colorful and imaginative Caribbean carnival as it has done for more than 40 years, the organization lived up to its promise of organizing an extravaganza that made West Indians proud.
And Harry Belafonte, the internationally famous entertainer and human and civil rights campaigner whose roots are firmly planted in the Caribbean was not only in attendance but served as an eloquent grand marshal, along with Christine Quinn, the City Council Speaker and Machel Montano, Trinidad and Tobago’s reigning 2012 Road March King and Soca Monarch.
Little wonder that pride in Caribbean heritage overflowed along Eastern Parkway on Labor Day.
The festival, by whatever name it is known in the region --- carnival in Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent or Crop Over in Barbados – is a festive occasion for millions and the 45th annual West Indian American Day event wasn't any different. It certainly brought out the most imaginative expression of the culture of the island-nations and coastal states. It put the best in Caribbean creativity on stage down the Brooklyn thoroughfare.
As the home of the largest Caribbean population outside of the region itself, Brooklyn welcomed the two-million plus revelers and spectators with open arms and the weather more than just cooperated. It ensured that the atmosphere was right and the elements were picture perfect.
Monday’s event which brought down the curtain on the five days of merriment and the presence of Belafonte, who sang the first few lyrics of the trademark Day-O were a fitting prelude to the Labor Day costume band parade that began with a breakfast attended by many of New York State’s most powerful elected officials, including the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, the Mayor of the City Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, New York Assembly Nick Parry, Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, City Councilmembers Jumaane Williams, Dr. Mathieu Eugene, State Senators Eric Adams and Kevin Parker, as well as Councilmember Leroy Comrie, Deputy Majority Leader of the Council.
The tone was set by colorful costumes, the pulsating sounds from the Caribbean and the effervescence of revelers and those who lined the route. You heard and saw it in the bouncy music from all over the region, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Haiti, Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Sty. Kitts-Nevis, you name it. Of course, it was also present in the wiggle of the behind as men and women bounced up on each other and danced. That’s the essence of carnival.
Carnival did something else that is distinctly Caribbean: the calypso, reggae and steel band music were integral parts of the celebration. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, pan music is a gift from the Caribbean. So are soca and reggae and their inevitable fusion with the other genres. Carnival, pan music, reggae and soca are national symbols of the Caribbean.
If they are inextricably linked so are the joys and the color associated with them. When they come together in an exhilarating mixture the result is a magnetic appeal that attracts and holds people’s attention and becomes a kind of an unshakeable grip on their imagination. That’s why it is so difficult to understand why carnival and its organizers, the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, don’t receive more support state and local financial assistance from Albany and City Hall.
Many of the public figures who spoke at the breakfast urged visitors to spend some of their money in the City because their expenditures result in taxes to City’s treasury. More city and corporate financial support can mean an even better carnival experience and that in turn can lead to more taxes. That doesn’t require rocket science to figure it.
Carnival is a sound investment in talent and can bring bigger returns to the City and the state. Let’s hope that Councilmember Speaker, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Mayoral candidate William Bill Thompson can help change the thinking at City Hall and the state capital.
We are hoping that the message gets through to those responsible for allocating state funds, even at a time of great austerity and when the national economy is grinding to a halt.
Tragically, two people lost their lives after the carnival was over but like most things these days, some news organizations sought to link the senseless acts of violence with the carnival. What a pity!
WIADCA must begin now to plan for next year’s carnival season and put all the wheels in motion to ensure its success.