‘Bacchanal’ re-launches original Jamaica Carnival

Byron Lee album cover.

Calypso and soca music lovers in Jamaica will go back to the future on April 3 with the re-launching of Jamaica Carnival.

Missing from the cultural calendar since Byron Lee, its founder died at age 73 in 2008, it seemed as if his brainchild died with him.

Not so said his daughter Julianne Lee.

After an eight-year hiatus, Jamaica Carnival is set to return next year and Sunday, a sampling and reminder of the hey- days will reintroduce the pageantry and revelry Lee relentlessly promoted on the island.

“It is not the actual carnival,” the benefactor and director said of this week’s launch, “It is just a teaser of introduction of what is about to come.

“We will be parading through sections of the corporate area on that day… the day daddy dubbed as ‘Carnival Sunday,” Lee said.

Originally staged April 1990 to maximize celebration of Easter, masqueraders paraded through the streets of the capital and reveled to the sounds of eastern Caribbean music at Port Royal and uptown areas of New Kingston.

Prior to the premiere event, via radio broadcasts, Lee invited diasporans and visitors to attend the latest Caribbean cultural event.

A kiddie carnival, concerts headlined by the Mighty Sparrow and a Road March debuted the colorful celebration.

With help and promotion from WLIB-AM, New York’s first 24-hour Caribbean radio station, listeners and tourists flocked to the island to join in the fun.

South Florida’s WAVS-AM with its huge Caribbean listening audience also managed to convince more than a few to board then national airline Air Jamaica for the after-Easter bacchanal.

Both stations presented live broadcasts from the island to stateside listening audiences.

And although criticisms from the church focused on the Resurrection Day spectacular, crowds were not discouraged from traveling to Ocho Rios’ Chukka Cove for the kick-off to the week-long fete.

Reportedly, the myriad activities attracted large numbers with crowds swelling from the first year’s approximately 1400 masqueraders to more than 1.2 million in 1998.

Unique from Trinidad & Tobago’s annual, Jamaica Carnival integrated its own reggae music often featuring Beenie Man, Admiral Bailey and others to complete the nightly lineup.

A wet fete in Port Royal featured reggae as well as other music genres to the beachside event.

In 1993 Eddie Chai introduced steel pan music to the presentations but reportedly “up to this date has not received the acceptance of the general public.”

Similarly, the T&T practice of an Ole Mass festivity did not win fans and quickly faded to obscurity.

With the assistance of the Trinidadian Jouvert Band Mudder International, jouvert was added and seems to have gained traction.

“The growth being as phenomenal as it was, caused even the naysayers to stand up and take notice, thus forcing the organizers to form a National Committee in 1996 to oversee the staging of the annual carnival,” Caribbeanchoice.com stated.

With the emergence of many local designers participating and mas’ camps opening prior to the actual events, carnival “has done the same for the Jamaican population as it has done in all other countries — united the population, created jobs and is also increasing the tourism industry.”

“The vision of the late Byron Lee, a true nation builder, was to use music as the medium to unite people regardless of race, color or creed,” Lee’s daughter added.

“It was his dream to bring the carnival experience to every walk of life in Jamaica for everyone to enjoy, not just uptown Jamaica.”

Lee, known as the Dragon also founded a band popularly known as the Dragonaires. He died Nov. 4, 2008 at the UWI Hospital after battling cancer.

“We always knew that we were going to carry on the legacy, but the first two years were just too painful and the years that followed we had very tight budgets. We want to ensure that it is of the standard that daddy left,” Lee’s offspring explained.

She emphasized that everything had to be in place before a comeback was finalized.

The decision to re-launch Jamaica Carnival, Julianne said, is not only dedicated to recognizing her father’s legacy. She said the re-launch is “a commitment to continue the carnival tradition that he brought to Jamaica.”

“Byron’s vision was the ‘Jamaicanizing’ of the Trinidad soca. We are using this year as a promotional teaser for the launch in 2017.”

“The vision is clear, the timing is perfect, and the energy is right for the return of Jamaica Carnival.”

“The purpose of this promotional teaser is to send a clear message that brand Jamaica Carnival is back and the Dragon’s vision lives on.”

In the meantime, carnival lovers in Jamaica began celebrating earlier this week and on April 1will have a jouvert fete culminating with a Road March on April 3 when Destra, Kes The band and others revel in Oracabessa. Organizers of Bacchanal Jamaica are the sponsors to offer a regional and scale-down carnival. For more information, check www.bacchanaljamaica.com

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