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Miami Carnival Puts Caribbean Music and History on Display

Even the pandemic can't keep the Miami Carnival down.EXPAND
Even the pandemic can't keep the Miami Carnival down.
Photo by Oliver Scott

Caribbean arts and culture take center stage October 8-11 during the 36th-annual Miami Carnival. This year, the free festival takes its long-running tradition of showcasing the Caribbean diaspora through performance and educational programming online.

The event has certainly grown accustomed to rolling with the punches. It grew to a reported 30,000 attendees last year, despite the challenges it faced from 2003-2007, when Broward County decided to throw its own carnival at the same time, posing a logistical challenge for producers, as well as attendees.

“It really caused a division in the community,” says Asa Sealy, who sits on what is now the Miami-Broward Carnival board of directors. “People would call their friends to say they had arrived at the Miami carnival, and their friends would say, ‘Oh, wait, we’re at the Broward one.'”

Once the two parties merged, there was no stopping the growth of the event. The greater scale also enabled the festival to shine a light on individual islands and allowed for the participation of the other cultures and communities that make up Miami.

“It’s grown as a product and as a brand, and for us, most importantly, it allowed us to be even more inclusive,” Sealy sats.

Trying to match the vibrancy and energy of the festival in a digital setting was not an easy undertaking for the organizers, but the four-day celebration is set to tell a riveting story of Miami’s rich cultures.

“We don’t want to act like the energy is easily duplicated, but we’ve put together a program to really showcase the uniqueness of Miami through live segments and narrative performance,” Sealy notes.

Get ready for plenty of colorful costumes during the Miami Carnival livestream.
Get ready for plenty of colorful costumes during the Miami Carnival livestream.
Photo by Stephen Choo Quan

The festival will stream from the North Beach Bandshell via Miami Carnival's Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube pages along with some filmed segments at local restaurants and cultural hot spots. Kicking things off at tonight at 6, Trinidadian host Giselle “The Wassi One” Blanche, a mainstay musician on the carnival circuit, will lead the celebration, introducing the first night’s musical lineup, including DJs Eternal Vibes, Stany, and Cool Blaze, who will be spinning a mix of soca, dancehall, and more.

Friday, October 9, will be all about the chromatic percussion steel band tradition, featuring drum ensembles Steel Away, Melo Groove, Resurrection Steel, and headlined by Hummingbird Medal winners the Trinidad All-Stars.

A live costumed dramatization of the Canboulay story is the main attraction on Saturday, October 10. The performance, led by a cast of Miami Carnival’s junior masqueraders, will depict the history of carnival, which includes riots by the descendants of freed slaves on Trinidad and Tobago in response to a crackdown by British police.

“We wanted to educate the kids, especially the second- and third-generation kids, on their history and create that connection to the Caribbean culture," Sealy explains. "I think our organization has a responsibility to creatively do that. This year being virtual has actually allowed us to go into this idea more, rather than just the pageantry. We have a captive audience, and we want to use that. Highlight and appreciate where we’ve been and where we come from."

The festival will culminate on Sunday, October 11, with a virtual carnival runway show featuring the vibrant costumes carnival has become synonymous with, as well as a grand finale concert. Musical guests include Nailah Blackman, Eddie Charles and the A Team Band, Marzville and his Band (Barbados), Ricardo Drue (Antigua), and Motto (St. Lucia).

For all those still eager for the chance to dress up and participate in the festivities, you still can. Attendees can take part in the livestream by contacting the organizers via the festival’s website.

"The Caribbean culture of South Florida is so rich and wonderful," says Joan Hinkson, Miami Broward Carnival chair. "We love the fact that we can spotlight and celebrate a narrative such as Miami Carnival, allowing for the global community to join us virtually in this outward expression of culture."

Miami Carnival. Thursday, October 8, through Sunday, October 11; miamicarnival.org. Streaming on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

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