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Caribbean Carnival on Parade

2005 Carnaval San Francisco
by Jan McDermott

PARADE SEATING $20 ($25 if available at the gate) On Mission between 21st & 22nd Street facing the New Mission Theatre (East Side) Tickets can be mailed

Jan McDermott's last Carnival was Trinidad 2005 and before that the largest street festival in Canada. Toronto's Carijama in July 2004. She travels extensively, primarily to the great global Carnivals when she is not working as a RN for Kaiser SF. She is also a member of the CAC (Carnaval Advisory Board)


Roots of Trinidad Carnival

Trinidad is well represented in San Francisco's Carnaval. Veteran groups such as Mas Makers and Islands of Fire, as well as newer groups like Socaribbean, bring an authentic Trinidad Carnival experience to the streets of San Francisco.   In the beginning there was just Mas Makers Massive which split to form D'Midas & Associates (now Islands of Fire) led by Tomi Seon and All Ah We led by Susan Ludlum with Stephen Tiffenson electing to maintain the great tradition of the Band which has won more Grand Championships than any other.

Renowned Trinidadian dancer Wilfred Marks and partner Robbin Frey with Dance Kaiso will also be returning to the Trinidad Carnival festival forms after departing last year to give some life to cajun carnival of New Orleans with their 2004 production of "Calypso."  Also coming all the up from Los Angeles, and representing their fledging Carnival is the Carnaval band, 3NI. Finally, splitting from Mas Makers Massive and bringing a large band of Oakland school kids is Sistahs-wit-style & Associates [ .] 

Sound trucks blasting Soca anthems from recent and distant Carnivals, live drumming, multiple colorful costumed sections, racy moves, banners waving,  and easily some of the most spirited dancers in the parade make the West Indian Caribbean contribution to Carnaval San Francisco unmistakable. But how did the Island of Trinidad get started in Carnival?

Trinidad is an English speaking Island in the Southern Caribbean, quite close to Venezuela. For over 200 years, Carnival has been celebrated there. Even when drums were outlawed, people found a way to make music, using bamboo, hitting a bottle with a spoon, and finally inventing Steel Pan. Masquerade was featured, especially portraying the opposite of what one was. Rich people dressed as slaves; poor became masters and mistresses. There was great street theater. Men portrayed swashbuckling brigadier characters called Midnight Robbers. Devils and dragons performed intricate dances; poets, stilt-walkers, clowns, fancy Indians, and many more, all had their repertoires.

What distinguishes the Trini Carnival from that of Brazil and other places? One practical thing is that they speak English, and so it is convenient and easy to find the festivities and join them. My favorite thing about the Trini Carnival is that there are so many facets to it. Steel Pan is alive and well, and hundreds of groups compete every year. Thousand of musicians in hundreds of groups practice virtually every evening for 6-8 hours, for months, and the final competition is Carnival Saturday. Several of our long time Carnavalescos have participated, including Val Serrant, noted East Bay drummer; Bobbie Wallace, a percussion teacher and key Children's Carnival organizer, and Jim Sowers, former Carnaval SF King. The San Francisco parade has often had a Steel Pan contingent, such as Mo Love.

Calypso is a strong tradition of presenting scathing political or other opinions in a clever song. The Calypso Monarch title is given to the singer who wins the Calypso competition every year at Carnival time. Mighty Sparrow, who was our Grand Marshall one year, is a Calypsonian. The illustrious Sparrow won the Calypso Monarch title 11 times, and was the Road March King 8 times.

Artists, who begin their preparations immediately after the last Carnival, compete for the titles of King and Queen. Their costumes are so huge and ornate, they may have to be supported on several wheels. Mas Makers Massive, Islands of Fire, and Socaribbean are local groups which present such costumes here every year.

Soca is Carnival music; eminently danceable, sexy, and fun; not only is there a Soca Monarch (the competition is Carnival Friday), but besides that, the song that is played most often on the road during Carnival is awarded the Road March.

On Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the Contingents take to the streets bringing thousands of people in specially designed costumes. They dance to Soca, and don't stop till midnight. The contingents are quite competitive, and strive to outdo themselves and other contingents, to win the prizes.

When you see the groups presenting Trinidad here in San Francisco, this is what you will see. Trinidad can be proud: D'Midas, now Islands of Fire, won the Grand Championship many times as has Mas Makers Massive and even All Ah We has won the Championship once.

Puerto Rico in the Parade

Of all the Islands of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is one of the most important to the USA. Our history has been intertwined with theirs, and as a US Territory, they are very close to us. Yet, they have retained their own language and culture. Historically, Puerto Rican music has been influenced by Spaniards and Africans, who have settled in Puerto Rico for the last five centuries. One of the main styles of music resulting from this mix of cultures is called Bomba. The language and the costumes are Spanish, but the concept and the rhythms are African. Africans usually came to Puerto Rico empty-handed; but they had their memories, beliefs and rhythms. And they had their hands to make music with.

Bomba is intrinsically a three- way dynamic communication among the songs, the drumming, and the dancing. Improvisation is what makes it vibrant and alive. Singing, which is call and response, is also improvised, and both dancers and drummers can respond to the words they hear. Dancers, one at a time, approach the drummers, and direct a drum with the movement of their bodies or skirts. It's a three-way conversation.

All African based music has this improvisation, but Bomba features it in singing, drumming and dancing more than any other style I have seen in the Bay Area. There are instances of improvisation, for example, drum circles often converse with each other, creating a living sound entity. Or, dancers will improvise moves with each other, as in Salsa, where the man leads and the woman responds.

Relatively little Bomba is performed these days. Why? Probably, it's because Bomba is an active style; dancers improvise their moves on the spot, and the drummers respond to each move. Recorded music and performers provide music to dance to, and the dancers simply react to the beat.

Last year, Bay Area Boriquas presented Bomba in the San Francisco Carnaval Parade.

The Puerto Ricans have had Carnaval for many years. In Ponce, one of the strongholds of Carnaval, crowds gather in the evenings to enjoy music and entertainment. Strange characters called Vegigantes congregate and roam around. They are youths, dressed a little like clowns, with funny masks. They all have balloon-like paddles which they use liberally to spank any attractive young women who are in the park. Although the women scream and run, they really don't seem to mind, and the paddles don't hurt.

 Main SF Page > no frame|| 2005 News ||OVERVIEW
2005 Parade Contingents || May events || Festival || King Paulo || Queen Vanessa || King-Queen contest || CAribbeanS on Parade || CACHAO
aForum-SF || Fotos SF 2005 > Foto SF Links > aForum > events-aforum
GLOBAL MAGIC 2005: Age of Aquarius || Temples of Rebirth || drum