Picture

Picture

Value and
Culture

The International Carnival Bible

For our children, nothing speaks louder than actions. One of  the most important lessons Carnival passes on to the next generation is "Diversity in unity" and the best example of this is San Francisco/ Oaklands Carnival celebration.  Each year we eagerly await CM Collins report for our special Winter/Spring issue which also includes a huge section on the great Trinidad & Tobago plus  Jamaica, St. Vincent, Martinique, Haiti, Panama, St. Lucia,  Orlando, Brazil, Nice, Cologne, and New Orleans as well as dozens of  colorful Carnivals photos and connection information.

Picture

SEEDS OF CROSS-CULTURAL RENAISSANCE
Rectangle
CARNAVAL SAN FRANCISCO '95
Rectangle
 

(As printed in the Winter/Spring '96 edition)

     It's Carnival Friday 9:30pm, the last holiday of Spring, typically known as May's Memorial weekend, so we ready to party, but our intrepid  publisher of these pages, Carlisle Hall , has missed the last San Francisco (SF)/New York flight triggering plan NCC--No Carl Carnival. "Chaos is cool for Carnival" says Carl's on schedule fellow NY Carnival ambassador Jerry Alexander.
     So off we zoom in my van with just the New York Carib scouting party of Jerry, a jaguar mechanic and fellow Carnival addict (we call em Carnavelescos in SF) plus Balcaran, a travel agent who wants to confirm reports that San Francisco-Oakland is a planetary peak point for presenting the unifying ideal of Trinidad island culture that people who celebrate life together find and "equal place for every creed and race." Still plenty of time to regroup before the Grand Parade on Sunday. Jerry cranks the volume on his soca cassette of '95 Trini hits and we head straight for the center of San Francisco where the "official" W Bal Ball is happening at a Holiday Inn.
     Here, the elegantly tuxed event producer, Mr. Henry Trim , demonstrates his Tobago hospitality and graciously beckons us forward, past the long line,  to become part of the impressively diverse array of  wickedly colorful carnival revelers gathered to partake in elixirs and a dozen dance performance companies celebrating peace through joy. We are now part of the Golden Gateway City's celebration of its 50th Anniversary as the birthplace of the United Nations. Just down the street at the great SF Civic Center, yesterday's movers and shakers formed the first small planet institution based on liberty and justice for all. Tonight it feels right for our community based but visionary Carnival movers and shakers to be making the right night  moves.
     United we dance. The recipe is always old and always new. The room is focused on the shapely, scantily clad women of all shades and ancestral traditions moving to the syncretic new world Afro-Brazilian drum rhythms. Our imagination captured, the alchemy of soul connection begins with the signature drum rhythms of the Clothes on Fire ( Fogo Na Roupa) bateria. Some call these familiar patterns fogolistic. The charismatic Mayan band leader, Carlos Aceituno can tap unmeasurable power and his many fellow percussionists wear Mona Lisa mystery smiles as they together ride the new beat waves and follow Ah-see-tune-o's subtle body commands. Technically imperfect but with awesome spirit, this Brazilian inspired multi-cult group is the favorite to capture the West Coast's top Carnival prize back from the Caribbeans on Sunday.
     Some say Carnival originated in Europe when the church conceded defeat in its effort to suppress pagan spring pageants and settled for a truce moving Carnival to a semi-winter Tuesday, forty days before its warmer spring Sunday holiday of Easter. Others say Africa, where the first children of Adam and Eve gathered together to create community rituals of celebration to honor the great cycles of the universe and the tribal and individual rites of passage amongst the threefold central pattern of being; life--death--rebirth deserves the esteem associated with being the first Carnival.  In SF we want to have room for all so we felt completion as the sixty member S:T Olof from Swedan came forth to perform new world Afro-Brazilian Carnaval song and dance.
     Centerstage were a great many sweet Swedish 16-year old blondes in skimpy, violet, glittering bikinis. As the sensuous samba beat awkwardly moved their firm, innocent bodies,  the power of the ancient spirit of Mother Africa seemed to resurrect the vitality of the Volvo culture that gave the entertainment world the 70's mega-star pop group Abba.
   
Next, an absolutely riveting appearance by our Carnaval '95 Queen, the dark, mysterious Brazilian Maria Souza of Aquerella who began by promenading until her fancy, fast Frenchman, C'95 King Jean-Luc Stora turned up the samba intensity dial till the high heat had us all sweating watching the two trade moves. The spectacular Aluadomar dancers featuring Rhonda Stagnero and Milanda Moore with the Oju Oba ( Mark Tapson) drummers were witty and playful with elegant textures and since they were joining C'SF greatest dance talent, Betho Filho for the parade their band moved to strong contender on my scorecard. A break in the action meant time to mingle before heading to the other side of the bay for Oakland's third annual Mas Maker Massive Caribbean Ball.
     At the door we found Oakland Carnival ambassador Odessa Pegus, producer/artist Debra Castro and long-time C'SF main man, Roberto Hernandez who after nine years at the helm had unexpectedly stepped down due to the proverbial  "burn-out." Roberto's vision of a 1995 Carnaval-San Francisco parade of peace to rival the world's biggest parade, the Los Angeles Tournament of Roses pageant had gone auto-pilot following a '94 trip with Odessa to Canada's biggest fest-for-all-- Toronto's Caribana . Carnaval politics is wicked, and a sabbatical was not negotiated so as we listened to him describe the entertainment production deals he was currently working it seemed odd to not have him in charge. Today, his old organization is struggling with high overhead and little initiative leading many to wonder how to bring the roar of RRRoberto back.

Playing the Triple Crown

     Future political potentials are much discussed as we go to press. Possibilities for Carnival  art ascension from "community based" to center stage on the growing "cross cultural"  and "new renaissance" art scene are about to become much enhanced with the election of the California Speaker Emeritus Willie Brown to Mayor of SF.  Odessa's cousin, second-term Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris has made major headway attempting to unite the balkanized Bay Area region by forming a regional marketing entity called Baytrade under the leadership of the three metro mayors of Oakland, San Francisco  San Jose (AKA Silicon Valley) and participation of the twelve counties. Now in its second year, Baytrade's ancient Egyptian 12-tribe model for harmonious synergy is indicating the enchantment signs necessary for a golden age of unity.
     As fate would have it, this young entity's annual meet and greet trade promotion occurs at the height of the Carnaval season in the merry month of May should anyone be interested in combining tax-deductible trade show commerce with fine Carnival culture. Many others should benefit from Willie's talents as well including his top special interest: children and youth  Long considered the most accomplished and talented black politician in the country, Brown had to be drafted to run for Mayor by the local Democratic machine who hope Willie will become a national force to counter Grinches stealing Congress at the expense of the inner Cities.
     Grandest grandmother of the local Carnival social scene is Willie's long-separated but still cherished wife , Blanche Brown. At her seventh annual Guede harvest celebration, the distinguished Mission district Afro-Haitian dance instructor described the high energy deity of the cross-roads who informs most of her work as "very mischievous, very sensual  and Guede likes to wear dark glasses" One might say that Wendy Paskin ,  the wife of "citizen" Mayor Frank Jordan was under the influence of Guede the trickster when she insisted Mayor Frank get in their Pacific Heights shower with two Los Angeles shock disc-jockeys a few days before Halloween. While having three emperors with no clothes appearing everywhere in the news was a lot of fun and may have gotten Frank a few female or gay votes, there's since been a strong surge to unify behind the leadership of Mayor-to-be Willie Brown.
     There is a regal air of nobility to the larger than life Willie Brown. Part of his mystique comes from a decades old mutual affection pact with legendary SF Chronicle columnist Herb Caen whose wit, wisdom and snobbery has made him the most influential post World War 2 San Franciscan. Unfortunately, his tendency to define SF as just the City and not the metro center has generated much ill will among the 9 out of 10 Bay Areans who do not live in "the City" itself. Now after many decades of fighting a losing battle with the global media capital of Los Angeles 400 miles to the south, the San Francisco Bay Area seems poised to once again capture its historic place as a capital city-state at the center of the blossoming Pacific Rim just in time for the eve of the third millennium. Never weak culturally or as a tourist attraction, the Golden Gateway City could become a center of trade capable of financing a multicultural art renaissance for a shrinking planet.

Caribbean-Oakland-San Jose Connection

     Halfway over the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge our van pulls off to see Yerba Buena/Treasure Island so can show my guests a semi-Carnival proposal to build a giant statue here of the late, great Bob Marley at a scale to rival the Statue of Liberty for a likely defunct 1999 World's Fair.  They're amazed that the Jamaican reggae star is even considered a Carnaval spirit. So our talk  turns to the new alliance between the Jamaican Association and defending grand champion , D'Midas California, based in Silicon Valley, who have managed to transcend the unfriendly rivalry between the two West Indian powers with an emphasis on positive vibrations. Strong leadership and mutual benefit are key as well. Top Trini D'Midas designer is Stephen Derrick , who is in town with fellow Jamaican Carnival promoter Byron Lee's daughter Danielle to oversee his title defense. The backbone of the D'Midas band is the Seon family, whose four main members, Tomi "Tabu" , his sister Jean, her daughter Debra and her husband Clint Copeland are now in the thick of the most serious test ever of their bright, optimistic D'Midas spirit.
     Got to pass the culture on and annual traditions work best. United Sisters backed by Ashton Craig's Panexstacy is a fine headline for the 3rd annual Oakland Caribbean Ball produced by Stephen  Colleen Tiffenson. The Tiffenson's together with co-conspirator Annabelle Goodridge-Lyons of Le Belle's Caribbean Restaurant have consistently invested the most time, energy and money in passing on Trinidadean creative arts to kids and the community. Most encouraging, is their unrelenting spirit to sell the event to the general public. All things in time. As such, they each wear many hats, for example Stephen is director, d'Fireman DJ and the most photographed male star in the parade. Famed percussionist Val Serant beat the drum to connect us with the ancestors and the four sisters made sure that if the spirits showed they'd find plenty of folks rising up. Be it Pentecostal or Peter Minshal Mas downtown Oakland needs more nightlife like this. Hallelujah.

 

The Inner Mission- a New Beat is happenin'

     To conclude my role of tour guide I take my guests to the top SF view spot known as Twin Peaks, despite the crowds and awesome views one can sense it is a earth power spot where the heavens exchanges energy with the underworld. Here the ocean fog is usually halted embracing the giant TV trinity tower which caps this central summit. This phenomenon provides the Carnaval district of the Inner Mission a warmer mean climate than New York City and one that's never too hot or too cold. In the Carnaval tradition of  bottom up community art, the district is filled with giant murals, cafes hung with local artist work and inexpensive good ethnic food to share cross-cultural ideas and inspirations.
     The birthplace of SF Carnaval is also the birthplace of the Bay Area. The Mission was recently voted the most funky town in the USA Signs of alternative, countercultural life are everywhere. Long the gateway neighborhood for immigrants, today's historic Mission district is  largely populated with families from Central and South America but the cool, young, well educated, art-attuned tribe which often precedes gentrification and higher rents is now very visible.
     San Francisco is a city of light and shadow and the Mission showcases this enchanting aspect. As a gateway metro neighborhood with two subway stations you can find a church and a bar on every block including one major tourist attraction, the original settlement's chapel built by the now extinct Alone Indians in 1776 and named after Our Lady of Sorrows (Mission Dolores). There is a gritty urban edge to the Mission and the City does use the area around the 16th St. subway station as a dumping ground for hobo overflow.
     San Francisco, famous for its compassion without wisdom,  has the country's 4th highest homeless population even though it is only the 14th largest City. SF's last skid-row district, the notorious Tenderloin is expanding in on the high-end tourist hotels around Union Square leading some to charge the SF Visitor's Bureau with conflict of interest in promoting Mission Tourism. But don't let hotel concierges and dull guide books intimidate you the Mission is happenin. Especially if you are here in the Carnaval month of  May when everyone including the many  dressed in black, 20-something, angst-ridden artists of the Mission have a little more bounce in their step and brighter smile on their face.
     Not long ago, the Mission's Catholic St. Paul's parish acted as launch-pad for ex-Mission performance artist, Whoopie Goldberg to become a star in the hit Disney movie, Sister Act. A might well be Trinidad  Tobago story of redemption through faith, hope and compassionate connection with others brought about through the collective expression of song, dance and story. In May, our earth mother's most glorious month, it is much easier to look beyond the ragged Mission edges where the poor are getting poorer and its many immigrants, scapegoat of the nineties,  seem like they have too many kids.
     Carnaval-San Francisco's greatest statement is multiculturalism or diversity in unity. The fuel for the vision belongs to the Bay Area's recent immigrants who gift back to the dominant culture the country's native optimistic vision of itself. These traditional celebrations of life act as the antidote to the hopelessness inherent in being a meaningless part of a machine culture with few values beyond  bottom line profit enhancement. Here in the vibrant heart of the City, there exists a healthy respect for mysteries yet to be revealed through respect for other cultures and the cycle of life. Even local agnostics too fashionable to revere the hemisphere saint, the Lady of Guadeloupe, are still expected to pay homage to another similar icon, Frida Kalho the Mexican artist whose brooding self-portraits have made her a twilight goddess of the second millennium.
     "Elegba is the god who opens or closes the door." says Ruben Texidor the proprietor and Santeria priest of the beautiful Oya Nike botanica storefront on Valencia Street as he readies his large band for a stunning parade debut and tribute to the trickster Elegba. Tricksters are divine messengers or soul guides. Valencia is the cross-cultural cafe bookstore street which runs parallel to the Carnaval boulevard of dreams, the Mission Miracle Mile. The so-called "Home of the Miracle Deal" and metro center for the many working class immigrants of the Bay Area.
     Saturday afternoon, near the 16th St.subway station, who should tap me on the shoulder but Mr. Carnival Ambassador himself, Carlisle. "Have you seen Patricia Aguayo " he asks abruptly. Apparently he is being avoided by the producing organization's Chairwoman who has seized control of Carnaval with Roberto's departure.
     We talk about Oakland Caribana festival on Monday, which is more of a cast party picnic and  a nice kick-back place to talk shop about arguably the hemisphere's fastest growing cultural export, Caribbean Carnival. "All things in time as the carnival spirits are with us." he says in response to my political analysis of the stalled out growth of Caribana. Then Carlisle slowly descends the escalator to the BART train which will return him to his downtown hotel.

 

Joy in the Present

     That night the legendary Queen of Calypso, Calypso Rose blew the roof off at a packed Caribbean Gardens in Burlingame near the airport. Promoter Orvin Miller from Guyana has created one of the more successful soca-salsa-samba or "African Latin" clubs in the Bay Area and he plans to expand his Carnival profile by entering a Calypso Rose band in the '96 parade. "I'm from the old school so I like the sweeter stuff." he commented regarding on the superb performance by the great lady.
     First lady Hillary Clinton another symbolic Queen of light, at least for local liberals was said to be available to lead the parade but discussions were emphatically nixed by parade artistic director Marcus Gordon for fear of complicating his months old project to have a Polynesian football lineman of the local World Champion 49er s be the parade Grand Marshall and help debut several blocks of Pacific Islander music and dance.
     One advantage of being the greatest multicultural show ever celebrated is there are always some elements bursting forth. At a time when the lack of music and arts programs in the schools has resulted in many pathetic thirty minute Bay Area parades the '95 parade nearly doubled the number of musicians with an emphasis on hand percussion. The bared Brazilian breast so abundant during the local triumphant '94 World Cup campaign gave way to more artful but still tantalizing attire. Still it's there, Balcaran managed to spend most of the parade documenting the route of "spiral girl." a solo painted nude. The ritualistic and mystical Andean (Bolivian) and Aztec (Mexican)  troupes continued their centuries old traditions with new players and forms.  Coming in special from the Bahamas was Ju-Ju band to accompany Miss Bahamas. An inspired original tribute to the Beatles by Samba do Coracao called Imagine was a major crowd pleaser . The most extravagant production ever seen in these parts was by float builder Carnavelesco Kip Farris and his Rio style band Batu Pitu performing Quale.
     Kip's artistic temperament is displayed through his passion for Carnaval and the flamboyant free expression of his own floats. Thanks to a commission to build floats for the chase scene in the '95 film Jade , our C'SF got a largest ever 200' float accented carefully with many of the parades sexiest dancers all dressed in the band's signature primal colors of red, white and black. Big names Roberto Hernandez, Benny Duarte , and Jose Lorenzo were part of a samba jazz funk big band backing the parade's biggest voice, Sistah Nedra.
     This was good enough for the Best Brazilian title and second overall. Oju Oba with Betho Filho  manifesting a dream of a Golden Buddha doing a Passion for Peace ended in a tie with Fogo na Roupa for third overall who portrayed an Afro-Brazilian legend with Divine Buzios . It is an understatement to say that trials and tribulations marked the journey for the Grand Prize Winner performing Ebony Ivory one world one peace.  D'Midas knows the virtue lies in the struggle not the prize. As such they were a match for the many barriers placed between their smiling faces and the judges. In the 24 hours before the parade, their giant truck, the driver, and both the main and back-up amps quit. Then as they neared the judging TV broadcast arena several hours late their Queen Debra was hugged too enthusiastically causing the collapse of her costume and more seriously, her knee.  Asked to comment on the dreadful disasters Debra defiantly smiles and states, " You'll only get positive statements from me. The spirit is in us to carry our culture forward."
     The next day, at Oakland Carnival, Carlisle Hall is a picture of satisfaction as he spreads his good word through this Carnival gospel magazine. "When the rhythm is right you feel it with all your senses." he remarks.

Rounded Rectangle
To Top of Page

100796-1400

Questions or comments regarding this service?
[Home] [Calendar] [Highlights Jan-Jun] [Highlights Jul-Dec]
Line