By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
“You really can't calculate an hourly rate,” Medina says. “Every [design job] is a different problem. When you get involved in something, to get it to look how you want it to look you keep adding, stripping, and putting back. Sometimes you do extra details to sell the drawing, then when the band leader says, “I want that little extra,' you're past your budget. We'll try to accommodate you, so we just have to work around each other, try to manipulate it to try to get the best price.
“We design and produce and go up for the Saint Maarten Carnival. Their costumes are more elaborate than in Miami. Their costumes cost $50 or $60 for production. People pay here in Trinidad three times that. The average costume on the road is about $150 US; you start from there and go upward. West Indians who live abroad expect to get the same thing you see here in Trinidad, but they want to pay one-third of what they pay when they come here.”
Miami's players may complain but most agree that this year's Carnival has received the best promotion ever, and all indications show that attendance will exceed last year's 185,000. “We know from speaking to masqueraders and band leaders from other cities that this should be the biggest Carnival we've ever had,” Carl Montes predicts. “Carnival is a street parade. People are supposed to enjoy themselves. But this year New York closed down their Carnival at 6:00 [p.m.], so a lot of people are coming down here this year to enjoy Carnival. Yet they're going to find we've been stuck in back of a commercial area, which just isn't the same [as a more visible parade route].”
Carl Montes and his wife, Michaelle, commonly known as Mickey, are unique among Miami's Carnival crowd. They are Haitian. Not everyone in the Party Room Squad and the Party Room Kids (a junior band) is Haitian, but there are enough to give the bands a singular flavor.
This is the first year the Monteses have formed an adult band. Their two daughters, sixteen-year-old Erica and eleven-year-old Nicole, have been at the heart of the Party Room Kids for the past five years. The girls have helped cut out and decorate costumes, spray-paint props such as swords and scepters, and take phone messages. The Kids' queen costumes, designed by Carl and constructed by him, Mickey, and a seamstress friend, have won first and second places (different years) in junior band judging. Last year the band came in third overall.
Again this year the Monteses' family photos, school certificates, and other objects that accumulate in a busy home have been moved out of the way to make space on their long dining-room table for the piles of Carnival materials. All the sewn outfits are decorated by hand here. Finished costumes hang above the table next to a china cabinet.
The theme for both junior and adult bands is the same: Underground. As in Hell, and as in criminal underground, not a soft topic for kids, but Carnival thrives on the ghoulish and fantastic. The Underground costumes reflect a rebellious designer; there's the Mafioso outfit with black bowler-type hats, silver sequined vests, and pants instead of bikini bottoms. The other sections, variations on infernal themes such as Eternal Flames and Hades Realm, feature harem-pant bottoms, although Montes is making up a special bikini section for friends who complained the regular outfits were “too restricting.” Montes is the first to admit he intends his band members to be rebels.
A tall and genial man who works in federal law enforcement (he asked that his exact job not be made public), Montes says he is one of those masqueraders who can't get the Carnival out of his blood. Still, he doesn't feel completely accepted by the English-speaking West Indians who run the event. “One year we tried playing Sweet Mickey (Haitian konpa superstar) instead of soca,” he recalls, “and the kids in the band who didn't speak Kreyol, we told them what the songs were saying. So they were just dancing along and having a great time. But the judges did not understand the music. So I felt I can't really portray what I want from my country because the judges don't understand it. I'm still bitter but I'm not showing it. I've always placed every year, except for that one year I played Haitian music.”