Black Caribbean history and culture on parade at Carifiesta

Richard Burnett

Carifiesta is one of Montréal’s most colourful and exciting parades, featuring everything from steel-pan bands to participants dressed in costumes made of colourful feathers and bouncing fibreglass rods.

This year’s 42nd edition kicks off with the Junior Carnival for children on July 1, and culminates with the big parade in downtown Montréal on July 8. This year’s theme is “Unity” under Carifiesta’s banner slogan, “Many Islands, One People.”

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Rooted in slavery

Carifiesta is a tradition born of slavery in Trinidad and Tobago, when French colonial masters hosted huge masquerade balls three days before Ash Wednesday. Slaves got a day off and mimicked their masters at their own parties, a tradition that morphed into Trinidad’s famed Carnival.

That tradition migrated north to such cities as Miami, New York, Toronto and Montréal. This year, Montréal’s competing floats, known as “mas bands,” all “play mas” (as in masquerade). Participants in “mas camps” throughout the city “build mas” (stitch costumes and build floats). Each mas band must have a theme and at least 30 people in costume, many of which are made of colourful feathers and bouncing fibreglass rods.

“We want to shed light on the history of freedom from slavery,” says Everiste Blaise, president of the CCFA which organizes Carifiesta. “We have turned something bad and evil into something good and joyful.”

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Montréal on Parade

At press time, there were 11 Mas bands registered to take part in the July 8 parade, including the legendary Roots Cultural Association which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Mas bands at Carifiesta also traditionally compete in King and Queen competitions, which Blaize says he hopes will return in 2018. This year each mas band will compete before a parade-route jury in two categories: costumes and theme.

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Parties and parades

The Junior Carnival for children on July 1 will begin at the Bill Durnan Arena at noon and wind its way through local streets to Mackenzie-King Park in the Montréal borough of Côte-des-Neiges.

The July 8 parade will take place in downtown Montréal on Rue Sainte-Catherine, beginning at Rue Fort in the West End at noon and ending at Phillips Square. Some 280,000 spectators are expected to attend the family-friendly July 8 parade, which features colourful floats, plenty of soca music and festive crowds.

There are several Carifiesta weekend parties, such as Carnival Therapy on July 8 featuring popular Haitian performer Dro, multiple Carifiesta Takeover Weekend events from July 6 to 9, and the two-night Montreal Soca Music Festival (July 7 to 8) at the Soccerplexe Catalogna, starring performers from St. Lucia, Grenada and other Caribbean nations. Also, the 36th annual Jamaica Day showcases live music all day (including Mikey Dangerous, Shaharah and Vernon Maytone) at Parc Jean-Drapeau on July 8 from noon to 10 p.m.

The Legacy of Carifiesta

Everiste Blaize is proud that his parade educates and entertains at the same time. “We want our children to remember our shared history,” he says. “But Carifiesta is also a good time, as we celebrate how far we have come and look to the future.”

Click here to visit the official Carifiesta website and click here for the official Carifiesta Facebook page.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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