Caribana Vs Everyone

In Carnival by Writers Room

Kermeisha, Toronto 

In your time playing Mas, what does it mean to you, and how has your relationship with Mas evolved? How do you feel about Carnival at home vs in Toronto? 

I’ve only played Mas for Caribana once. I remember leading up to that time, I had been nervous/excited/anxious about doing it because I’ve never done it before in my home country although I’ve always wanted to. So when the time actually came I had the time of my life! I hadn’t been home in a few years so that experience was the first time in a really long time I felt such a strong connection to my roots. I felt so free, and happy, and in my element. And I know it partially had to do with my love for dance as well, but my love for dance also stemmed from my cultural background so it kinda all went hand in hand.

Although I did have a really good time, there are a number of reasons why I didn’t continue doing it each year.

1. It was extremely expensive — my main reason for not continuing.

2. Although I felt connected to my roots, the overall feel of the experience wasn’t as natural, I guess, as I expected. The experience felt a bit watered down. Almost like Caribbean culture was more for display than actual enjoyment. I had been to see the parade before I actually played Mas. The excitement I felt that first year wasn’t the same feeling I got from the experience when I actually played Mas. To me, it seems like with each new generation of people the cultural experience becomes more and more watered down. Hopefully that makes some sort of sense, lol.

3. Violence & police presence: Although safety is always a concern because, as you can imagine, violence is sometimes much worse back home, the police presence in Canada makes me feel more uneasy than safe. Being in a country where you are directly affected by issues surrounding racism, police brutality, carding, etc., and with Caribana being one of the largest annual gatherings of Black people, I am personally extra aware of police presence.

Makaila, Richmond Hill 

What does playing Mas mean to you, and how has your relationship with Mas evolved? How do you feel about Carnival In Trinidad vs Caribana?

Hmm, ok. I don’t feel like I’ll be able to do this justice with my answer. Playing Mas has become a tradition I’ve looked for, from since I was old enough to do so. My parents have brought me to every Caribana from since I was young, it was always a fun event to go to with my family to celebrate my culture. Now, my family comes to watch me play Mas every year. It’s really special to me. I guess I’d say it’s the one time of the year I can truly embrace my culture and be myself.

Carnival in Trinidad vs Caribana, I’d say it’s different. The vibe in Trinidad can’t be replaced. Understandably so because Trinidad is the Mecca of Carnival. But Caribana does do a good job with trying to bring out the same vibes. 

What do you mean by “truly embrace my culture and be myself”?

Meaning I can be 100% authentic. I don’t have to worry about what people watching me will say in terms of my actions etc. I grew up and currently live in Thornhill, so the way I act and go about in my neighborhood is not the same way I would act around my friends, family etc. I’m hoping that makes sense. 

So in the parade, I’m surrounded by people like me. People of Caribbean heritage. Even things I say to a random person in the parade, I wouldn’t be able to say to a neighbour, because they wouldn’t understand. 

An alien shows up in the middle of Caribana. What do you think they may not see….is there a more nuanced understanding of carnival that you think aliens might not understand? 

A lot of people actually look at it as scandalous. An excuse for people to walk around in skimpy outfits. But I think to truly understand Carnival you have to look into the history of it. Every island has its own origin story behind it, and Toronto is a melting pot of various nationalities, including Caribbean’s, and this birthed Caribana. 

For example in Trinidad, the two-day Carnival happens on the two days before Ash Wednesday. 

I actually asked my aunt to come from Jamaica to Trinidad so we could spend some time together. So we went to church together the day after Carnival to get our ashes. I look at Caribana as Toronto’s way of showing appreciation for the Caribbean culture. We have about a month of celebrations leading up to the grand parade and I feel like that’s so important for the Caribbean community. It makes us feel seen. 

Julianne, York. 

In your time playing Mas, what does it mean to you, and how has your relationship with Mas evolved?

Heyy!! I’ve only had the pleasure of playing Mas once so far but I’ve participated in Carnival since high school. Mas and Carnival as a whole, to me, means familiarly, togetherness, and triumph. Earlier into my Carnival experience, I was like the typical westerner in the sense that all I saw were parties and beautiful costumes and a giant celebration. But as I took it upon myself to gain an education on the history of Carnival in different islands and the origins of Caribana vs Trini Carnival vs Crop Over vs SpiceMas, I was able to appreciate my culture and how it has evolved and how my people celebrate and remember our ancestry.

Carnival brings a pride like no other to me, especially being a Canadian, in the sense that I don’t even know what it really means to be Canadian, as that differs coast to coast and city to city. Being in Toronto, it is both a mosaic [and] a melting pot, it’s amazing when I get to see myself highlighted and revered in such a large capacity. 

Although, with new knowledge comes new frustrations with folks who do not understand or care to understand the rich history that is attached to it, and they continue to regard it as simply scantily clad women, loud music, and an excuse to get intoxicated in public. It’s frustrating because if I can take the time to research and adapt my behaviour, why can’t they.

Lol, this turned into a think piece but my relationship with Mas and Carnival evolves every year, even from my experiences of storming the road to when I was in a band last year. I’ll never look at stormers the same, but I also can acknowledge there are levels to storming (entering the parade without paying to be apart of a band) and those same people who don’t care to learn about the culture (which there are TONS of them) become the worst and most destructive on the road. Overall I love it and it runs black through my veins.

Lol…turned into a think piece…lol