Over 3 million people on Labor Day converged on Brooklyn’s sprawling Eastern Parkway for the largest Carnival parade in North America under the ubiquitous eyes of the New York Police Department (NYPD).
In their attempt to avert any killing or violence that marred last year’s parade, police kept a most watchful eye on masqueraders, revelers and parade-goers, as they jammed the 3 ½-mile-long parade route from Buffalo Avenue to Grand Army Plaza and Flatbush Avenue.
The extraordinary police presence and restrictions, however, did not prevent masqueraders and revelers from getting down in the spectacle, capping five days of the annual festivities that began on Thursday.
The artistry and musical talent, along with a cornucopia of colors and a potpourri of delicacies, augmented the gaiety, as masqueraders and revelers gyrated to hypnotic soca, reggae and zouk music blaring from humongous speakers or disc jockeys mounted atop huge flatbed trucks.
Under humid and overcast skies – the early morning showers held up well during the 12:00 noon to 6:00 p.m. parade duration – vendors sought to make “a killing,” selling mouth-watering Caribbean foods, drinks and paraphernalia.
And all took pride in adorning in and waving their respective national colors on a day in which almost everyone called him or herself West Indian.
“Yes, today, everybody wants to be a ‘wanna-be Caribbean-American,’” said Assemb. Nick Perry, the Jamaican-born representative for the 58th State Assembly District in Brooklyn, at the pre-parade breakfast at the Lincoln Terrace Court on Buffalo Avenue.
“I spoke with all the prime ministers and chief ministers from the Caribbean, and they want everyone to be Caribbean-American,” he added in jest.
After taking part in J’ouvert, the early morning festival that precedes the extravaganza on Eastern Parkway, Trinidadian Gail Yvette Davis, headed for the Parkway with her Pagwah band, portraying “The Rebirth.”
“This is our culture and heritage,” she told Caribbean Life, flanked by her fellow Trinidadian masqueraders, Owen Sandy, Jerry Brown and Anne Marie Millen.
“We’re continuing to express ourselves,” added the Port-of-Spain (Trinidad’s capital) native. “It’s a communal thing.”
A few yards away, Claudia Bready and her nieces Cherise James and Kerestie Sparman jumped with L & B Productions.
“I’m a veteran of it (carnival),” said Trinidadian Bready, who has played in the West Indian American carnival for the past 12 years. “I love carnival. I love it. It’s in my blood.”
As D’Midas International chipped up north, Curtis Baptiste, portraying “Mr. Midas,” exclaimed: “I love it! This is where I release a lot of stress.”
Portraying “Drunken Creole” in Barokeete, U.S.A., Grenadian Annie Morris said she felt “wonderful.”
“Excellent!” she added. “It’s a ‘We Caribbean thing.’”
Sipping a mixed drink from a large plastic bottle, Haitian Olivia Theodore, portraying “Exotic Species” in Ramajay, said she was having “a really good time” for the first time on the Parkway.
“It’s good,” she said, flanked by her Trinidadian friend, Chandra Gamble. “We love it. Big up the Trini and Haitian Possés.”
Vincentian Phyllis Wyllie-James, band leader for Devine Mas, said her 10-member band was “jumping” with Bajan Paradise.
“This is great!” she said. “I was doing mas for years, but I decided to come on my own this year.”
Miriam Malcolm, portraying “Egyptian Flame” with perennial champions Sesame Flyers, said the carnival de-stresses her as well.
“I love it,” said the Fyzabad, Trinidad native. “It’s a sense of freedom. I get to release the stress. I love soca music. Soca is my life.”
Trinidadian Soca Monarch Machel Montano, Caribbean folkoric legend Harry Belafonte and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn headed the parade as grand marshals.
“I feel very honored to be a grand marshal,” Montano told the pre-parade breakfast. “The greatest Machel Montano fans are from Brooklyn. Brooklyn has played a major part in my life.
“I thank you for giving me the honor and the privilege of sitting next to Mr. Harry Belafonte,” he added.
In receiving a standing ovation from the audience, which included “Who’s Who” in New York politics, Belafonte said it was “a great honor to be standing here at the age of 85.”
“This parade is the greatest representation of a people, of a culture, on the face of the earth,” he said, ending his brief remarks – to enthusiastic response – with his popular, “Day O.”