Black Caribbean 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 43rd edition kicks off with the Junior Carnival parade for children on June 30, and culminates with the big parade through downtown Montréal on July 7.

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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.

“Our parade is important because it reminds us of our Caribbean history and culture,” says Everiste Blaize, president of the CCFA, which organizes Carifiesta.

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Montréal on parade

At press time, several mas bands and trucks featuring everything from steel-pan bands to deejays spinning soca music were scheduled to take part in the July 7 parade. Because of budgetary restraints, there are no King and Queen competitions this year, nor a parade-route jury. There will, however, be a VIP booth at the corner of Peel Street and René-Lévesque Boulevard, where mas bands will showcase their costumes and perform their routines.

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Parties and parades

The 7th annual Junior Carnival parade for children will begin at noon on June 30 at Van Horne Park (close to Plamondon metro station) and wind its way two blocks over to Mackenzie-King Park (close to Côte-Sainte-Catherine metro station) in the Montréal borough of Côte-des-Neiges.

The big July 7 parade will take place in downtown Montréal on René-Lévesque Boulevard, beginning at Guy Street in the West End at noon and ending at Bleury Street. More than 250,000 spectators are expected to attend the family-friendly July 7 parade, which features colourful floats, plenty of soca music and festive crowds.

Carifiesta weekend parties include Jabday Meets Delinquents J’Ouvert on Friday, July 6 and, as part of Montréal’s Week-ends du Monde series, the 37th annual Jamaica Day showcases live music all day, including Juno Award-winner Blessed, Dan “Fiyah” Beats, Fiyah Flames Band, The Fitz Patrick Sisters and others. Jamaica Day will be hosted by King Shadrock at Parc Jean-Drapeau on July 7 from noon to 11 p.m. and will kick into high gear after the Carifiesta parade winds down.

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The Legacy of Carifiesta

Everiste Blaize is proud that Carifiesta educates and entertains at the same time. “This is a fun opportunity for our children – as well as the wider community – to learn the history of carnival and its origins,” says Blaize.

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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