In the dark days of slavery, Carnival offered release. For two days and nights before Lent every year in Trinidad, sorrow gave way to bacchanal as the horrific face of reality was hidden by the mask of fantasy. Now, less than a month after the terrorist attacks, Carnival's music and masquerade offer release again. The last stop on the Trini-style Carnival circuit that runs from the islands through Europe and North America, Miami Carnival attracts visitors from around the world, especially from New York City. While some New Yorkers who planned to attend the event this year have canceled, says Miami Carnival host committee chairman Selman Lewis, many more -- including those who lost loved ones in the tragedy -- have requested that the masquerade go on. "It's a celebration of life," he explains. "Here is an expression of freedom -- you can't take that from us.
"It is also an industry," Lewis adds. Miami-Dade's struggling tourist economy desperately needs the roughly 100,000 visitors the event has attracted in the past, but how many will arrive this year depends as much on the maneuvers of our local officials as it does on the mood along the Carnival circuit. Last year New Times reported on the lack of support for Miami Carnival as well as the infighting among organizers that has kept the event out of the local spotlight. More public funds were raised this year, but the infighting hit an impasse: This weekend the Miami Carnival host committee will sponsor a parade at the Opa-locka Airport while the Miami Carnival Band Leaders Association, made up of the "mas bands" or large groups of costumed masqueraders, has planned a separate parade through downtown Miami, ending at Bicentennial Park.
Four years ago the general consul for Trinidad and Tobago stepped in to unite the two factions, which had been holding separate carnivals from 1995 through 1997. Ruby Allison Limere, leader of the Major Players mas band and general secretary of the Band Leaders Association, complains that the host committee did not fulfill the agreement that representatives from four bands would serve on the board. "The people from Opa-locka had their meetings and never called us anymore," she says, "so we found that was disrespectful. They don't know our needs."
The band leaders believe the downtown location will give their painstakingly created costumes higher visibility in the community. Those costumes, Limere says, will attract the crowds. "People might go to the fetes [see "Music"] in Coconut Grove, but they're looking to see the [costumes] and say, Oh, this band lookin' good.'"
The Opa-locka Carnival features trucks bearing big-name West Indian celebrities, including calypsonian Mighty Shadow and soca queen Alison Hinds. "This is the most live music we've had at the parade," boasts host committee member Francis Ragoo. Out-of-town mas bands and costume designers, such as the celebrated New York-based Swami, will participate in Opa-locka. The downtown carnival will have a more local flavor, with hometown mas bands accompanied by six or seven steel-pan bands. Following the parade performances are scheduled by soca groups Code 868 and Jam Band for Bicentennial Park. Despite these differences, the band leaders agree with the host committee that the primary goal of carnival is release. The band leaders named their event Miami World Carnival 2001: Celebrating Life.
The Spanish word for release is descarga, which is exactly what the organizers of the monthly Songwriters in the Round have planned to mark the one-month anniversary of the tragedy. Like many other members of the organization, Elsten Torres of the rock band Fulano found himself moved to compose in response to the attacks. Although born in Cuba, Torres grew up in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood before moving to Miami in 1994. In an acoustic showcase with other top Miami-based songwriters, Torres will perform his song "Life in America," featuring a chorus that poses the question: "Will it ever be the same?"
Songwriters in the Round president Ellen Moraskie, whose day job is with music-publishing giant Warner/Chappell, found that many of the songwriters she works with wanted to respond to the attacks. "Why don't we just get everybody together and make it a benefit?" she says the Warner/Chappell writers asked at a meeting a week ago. Warner/Chappell writers such as Jorge Villamizar (lead singer for Bacilos), Raul del Sol, Olgui Chirino, and Fernando Osorio will be joined by surprise Latin artists from other publishers in conjunction with the Red Cross. Such has been the response that SWIR will suspend the usual open mike. Says Moraskie: "We have so many people who want to perform at the benefit, we won't have time for everyone."
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