The road march is the big event at a West Indian carnival, no matter where it takes place -- Port-of-Spain, London, or New York. Last year in Miami, dozens of flatbed trucks fitted with huge speakers and trailed by groups of costumed, dancing revelers, young and old, circled the streets around Hialeah Park during the Miami Carnival parade. Although by no means quiet, it was a peaceful celebration, and a most important day for many of South Florida's West Indian residents. Nevertheless, this year the Hialeah City Council refused to close off the streets for the fourteen-year-old procession.
"There's nowhere in the world where you have a carnival without a street parade," says Marlon Hill, spokesman for the United Miami Carnival Management Committee. "It's the nucleus of the carnival. That's where the public can get involved." And so this year's Miami Carnival '98 Caribbean Mardi Gras parade has moved. It will now take place Sunday in Opa-locka, where celebrants will gather in their costumes (some of them twelve to fifteen feet tall) and dance all day and night. Twenty-four masquerade bands, or teams of partiers, will participate, donning colorful outfits with themes such as French Sailor, Out of This World, Atlantis, the Wonderful World of Clowns, and Oriental Extravaganza.
In addition to the outrageous apparel, there will be music -- loud, proud, and lots of it. DJs will spin soca and reggae, and live bands will perform on the trucks. This year's lineup includes both local bands and well-known names on the soca scene, including Burning Flames, and particularly Trinidadian star David Rudder. Several steel pan orchestras will also march in the parade.
Carnival festivities begin Saturday at noon with a Junior Carnival Parade. A steel band competition commences at 5:00 p.m., followed at 9:00 by a competition to choose the carnival's kings and queens. The steel pans and percussion instruments will sound again starting at 3:00 a.m. Sunday, partying on till dawn.
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Many Miamians of Caribbean descent have spent months preparing for the carnival, but it's not too late to join in. Contact one of the masquerade bands through the carnival Website (caribmardigras.com), or just show up the day of the event. Bands will have extra costumes on hand for late arrivals.
"It doesn't matter what profession or ethnic background you're from," stresses Hill. "The carnival is for the people and by the people. It's a real grassroots celebration."
-- Judy Cantor
The Miami Carnival '98 Caribbean Mardi Gras begins Saturday, October 10, at noon at Opa-locka Airport, NW 139th Street and 37th Avenue. The parade starts Sunday, October 11, at 10:00 a.m. at NW 151st Street and 22nd Avenue; the route continues to NW 37th Avenue and Langley Road. Admission is free. For other carnival events, consult caribmardigras.com or call 305-653-1877.