My Plan To Fix Caribana in Toronto

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We all know about its fair share of problems over the years. This is my plan to fix Caribana (a.k.a. Carnival) in Toronto. It is about answering two key questions:
1: “What Exactly is Caribana?” and
2: “Where Should We Do It?”
By: Darren Baptiste

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Before we dive into these solutions, let’s go on a journey together first …
It’s the first Saturday morning in August. Life is good, everything is cooked and curried. Your band is scheduled to leave at 10, so you hustle to get down to the route for 11. You spend a half hour to find your band. Then another hour getting your body makeup and costume just right.
The whole time, the DJ’s playing tunes on the truck. So you’re wining and enjoying yourself. Your best friend is playing in the same band, in another section, but you all lime together until it’s time for the road. Around 2 pm the MC gets serious and announces the magic phrase: “get in yuh section”. Now, the DJ ramps up the tunes to get your blood flowing. As you cross the stage, the DJ is playing the tune that will surely be the most popular of the day, the one that will be crowned the Road March. You and your whole crew are in the zone. This is carnival!
But hold up. Stop the record; pump the breaks. There’s a problem here. This isn’t how Carnival in Toronto has been going lately. Our Toronto festival needs some fine tuning, and here’s my two-tiered prescription on what to do.


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A Parade vs. A Festival

If you miss this point you will misunderstand everything I am about to say. Carnival is a festival.  A two-week celebration. Most people forget that. What happens on that Saturday is not a parade. So let’s stop calling it that. So many of the issues and complaints would instantly clear up if we got that terminology right. The Santa Claus Parade, Labour Day Parade, Easter Bunny Parade and Pride Parade — now they really are parades. Good for them. That’s not what Carnival is. What we do: we hold a street festival, we play mas, we free up, and fĂŞte, and hold a carnival. Call it what you will, but a parade is very much the wrong term for it.
Parades imply spectators getting a seat, and watching while the scripted show plays out in front of them. Order is vital. Santa must come last, so that everyone knows to go home after he comes on. A parade, in the way it’s understood here in Toronto, is all about the spectators. Carnival however, is ALL about the participants.

 The Santa Claus Parade, Labour Day Parade, Easter Bunny Parade and Pride Parades.
Carnival is a Festival not a Parade.Darren Baptise
The people playing mas, playing pan, or just chipping down the road — those are the people having all the fun. The mere fact that spectators can manage to glean any measure of enjoyment from merely watching us — well that’s just a coincidence. Really it is.
The day is designed for the revelers. The very first time you put on a costume and come down the road playing mas, you’ll ask yourself why in the world you waited so long. Now, back to the fĂŞte for a moment before we get to my second and final prescription for fixing Toronto’s Carnival. Once your section passes the judges, down go the standards into a huge pile that seems like a bonfire in waiting. Some of those fancy wings from the ladies on the front line disappear as people get ready to really free up on the road. For the next few hours your band slowly inches its way down Lakeshore. You like it when the truck drivers act like they getting paid by the hour. The truck is moving slowly enough for people to jump on and off occasionally, despite the endlessly repeated threats from the MC. You have enough time to walk over and push a five dollar bill through the fence for a little boy to run and buy you some doubles. The food truck in the back of the band is nice, but you can only eat so much pĂ©lau in a day.
The music shuts off as the truck rolls up to the sour-faced and culturally unaware police officer insisting it’s the end of the road. You find the rest of the crew, and try to figure out if you should try and walk back up to catch the band behind you.
It’s after 5 now, and the sun in starting to cool. A nice breeze is blowing in off the lake. You finally obey your tired legs and sit by the side of the road. You’ve been jumping and moving your waist for the last 6 hours. The music’s been sweet. Good food. Nice drinks. And your mas crew, both new and old-timers, are the best.
Now let us compare this scenario on the road to what it’s like for someone who’s driven up from Ohio to sit in a soccer chair and watch from behind a fence. That’s a rhetorical question for the reader.
And finally we get to a huge topic, with a dead simple solution …

What Happened to Caribana

My Plan to Put the Festival Back on Course

I say let’s rent the whole of the Exhibition grounds for the entire weekend. The site is more than capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people. And it’s designed for ticketed entries. Reduce the cost of entering the festival to just a toonie per adult. Boom. Lots of people and lots of revenue.
Instantly the policing costs of the festival are cut right down. No special (read expensive) road closures will be necessary. And we can fête all night. If they can occasionally let bars on Richmond Street serve ’till 4 am, the Caribana Festival Grounds should certainly get the same treatment.
The bands would still move about the many roads within the Ex grounds, and we can have more judging sites spread about for variety and options, just to keep things lively.

Pan bt Black MagicThis year they started a notion of a blocko on the grounds, but most people didn’t seem to know about it. Under this new plan, all day long we can have a dozen DJ crews and live bands throughout playing the music the people want. And they’ll already be on the inside.
Imagine the food building filled with curries, and chutneys and jerk and guava and coconut and fish and …

Remember the glory days of the island picnics? Olympic Island, I loved it to bits. Two-hour waits for ferry boats, not so much. If we rent the Ex however …
And hey, with all that action, maybe we need a $5-weekend pass.

Either way, that my friends this is how we put the fête back in the festival.
What do you think, would you support this plan?
Leave a  comment below and let me know. ~ Darren

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