August 7, 2020

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Toronto Caribbean Carnival retains spirit of celebration, neighborhood solidarity alive in face of pandemic

“Being in right here and it is empty is simply heartbreaking. There would [normally] be a variety of vitality occurring proper now,” Candice Dixon says as she and her husband, Dwayne, stand in the midst of a desolate warehouse area.

It is the location of their mas camp, the place individuals would usually collect to prepare and distribute costumes forward of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

Lengthy-time masqueraders, Candice and Dwayne Dixon have labored for the previous two years to begin their very own mas band, SugaCayne, in time for 2020. Costumes have been designed, areas have been leased, themes and ideas tirelessly labored over.

That each one got here to a halt when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and Toronto went into lockdown.

“At first I used to be like, okay, two weeks … I am going to deliver some stuff residence and work on just a few items. After which it grew to become very actual that it wasn’t taking place, and it was a blow,” Dixon says.

For the primary time in 53 years, Toronto Caribbean Carnival (beforehand referred to as Caribana) won’t be held the best way individuals have come to realize it: a vibrant multi-day pageant with events, live shows, the King and Queen competitors and the Grand Parade attracting greater than 1 million individuals.

One of many costumes new mas band SugaCayne would have debuted at Toronto Caribbean Carnival this yr. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The primary Caribana was held in Toronto on Aug. 5, 1967. It was organized by a bunch of distinguished Caribbean neighborhood members as a tribute to centennial celebrations and the custom of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, the place it is a celebration of emancipation of enslaved peoples.

When the choice to cancel this yr’s festivities because of the pandemic got here on April 8, carnival organizers promised to discover a “non-traditional” technique to mark the weekend.

They’ve held digital occasions, within the type of make-up workshops, exercise and cooking lessons, and events and panels over Zoom and Instagram stay. The primary occasion on Aug. 1 is a day-long get together with DJs, performers and revelers from world wide referred to as The Digital Street.

  • WATCH: Watch the characteristic about how Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival is dealing with the pandemic, Sunday Aug. 2 on The Nationwide at 9 p.m. ET on CBC Information Community and 10 p.m. native time in your CBC tv station. You too can catch The Nationwide on-line on CBC Gem.

Denise Herrera-Jackson, head of presidency relations for Toronto Caribbean Carnival, says the objective was to spotlight the various contributions by members of the neighborhood that always go unseen, and keep the spirit of celebration.

“We went by it diligently making an attempt to create occasions that may proceed to characterize what was occurring. And the extra necessary factor I feel we discovered was bringing in what occurs within the background of this pageant,” says Herrera-Jackson. “Who have been the artisans? Who have been the designers speaking to them? How do you do it, you already know? So bringing that back-story upfront was very crucial.”

Denise Herrera-Jackson, who handles authorities relations for Toronto Caribbean Carnival, says organizers wished their digital content material all through the month of July to spotlight the various Caribbean artists and companies that contribute to the festivities. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Neighborhood influence

However digital occasions cannot make up for the cash Carnival brings in, with 1000’s of vacationers coming into the town yearly to participate. Organizers estimated that it contributes $400 million to Canada’s GDP yearly, the majority of that coming from lodging, transportation and meals and beverage providers.

Jackson says it is small Caribbean companies which might be feeling it probably the most.

“What in regards to the individuals who do our doubles and roti and issues like that — what are they doing? They’ve clearly been additionally impacted,” Jackson says.

For unbiased occasion organizer Rebeka Daybreak, not having the ability to maintain her widespread annual Cozy Caribana get together this yr is a large loss, not only for herself however for everybody concerned.

“Promoters are shedding cash, the small individuals just like the door ladies are shedding cash — so many small little items that we do not actually think about,” Daybreak says.

She had spent months placing issues in place for Cozy Caribana, figuring out venues usually guide up quick as a whole lot of events compete for Carnival attendees. With Carnival on maintain this yr and companies struggling to remain afloat in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Daybreak worries that the losses incurred this yr may have lasting results.

“I feel it is actually necessary that we form of focus our eye on some kind of Caribbean infrastructure within the metropolis, in order that we are able to have our personal little piece of one thing that we all know is not going to vanish in a yr, two years or 5 years,” Daybreak says.

Canadian musicians and artists are additionally grappling with the ripple impact of not having Carnival this yr, which implies no events or live shows to carry out at.

For Wendy Jones, the month of July is normally crammed with the rhythmic sounds of metal pans and performances all through the town on Carnival’s largest phases. Jones has been enjoying metal pan for the reason that ’70s and is the chief of the Pan Fantasy metal band orchestra. Her instrument of alternative: the six bass.

“Once I’m behind my bass, I am in a distinct world. I am in a distinct world as a result of I am having fun with the music.”

Wendy Jones and some members of the Pan Fantasy metal pan band pose exterior of their ‘pan yard,’ the rehearsal area the place they observe and organize their performances for Toronto Caribbean Carnival. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Throughout carnival season, you will discover anyplace from 80 to 100 metal pan gamers out and in of their warehouse headquarters, often known as the Pan Yard.

“That is the primary yr in all of the years … that we have not performed on the street [in a parade] or performed within the pageant itself,” Jones says, including that it has been emotional to be other than the group. “The band is not only right here to play, it is a household. And since we’re a household it brings us all collectively.”

Jones says they’re utilizing know-how like Zoom and on-line chats to maintain the band linked and the music going, with hopes they will be again collectively in particular person subsequent yr.

“We’ve not stopped rehearsing, so that offers us a possibility to come back collectively and simply work with one another in that context.”

Wendy Jones, chief of metal pan band Pan Fantasy, describes the emotional influence on the neighborhood of Toronto Caribbean Carnival being cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 0:25


One of many methods revelers and artists are getting by this uncommon summer time is by sharing reminiscences of Carnivals previous.

Wanna Thompson and Martika Gregory, each Carnival fans and content material creators, began the hashtag #CaribanaCyahDun. Beneath it, individuals have shared pictures and movies of previous Carnival costumes, in addition to enjoyable scenes from events and being “on the street” within the parade as a reminder that whereas this yr could also be totally different, the custom does not finish right here.

“Caribana Cyah Dun is mainly prefer it’s not right here, nevertheless it’s not over for us. We’re nonetheless right here. We’re the individuals of Caribana, we’re individuals of Caribbean tradition,” says Gregory.

“So although the parade is cancelled as a consequence of COVID, we’re nonetheless right here. We will nonetheless take part in our personal approach, digitally or in any other case.”

“It is a actually good thing to see individuals within the component. I feel mas permits individuals to overlook about their worries and stress for the day or the few hours that we’re on the street,” provides Thompson. “You already know, I like that we’re on the street in all these movies that spotlight that. However you are feeling unhappy too, as a result of we’re not having it this yr, clearly.”

That feeling is what many in the neighborhood name ‘tabanca,’ the precise disappointment and longing that comes on the finish of Carnival or when one isn’t in a position to take part.

When Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival needed to turn into a digital celebration as a consequence of COVID-19, Martika Gregory and Wanna Thompson began the hashtag #CaribanaCyahDun for individuals to share pictures and movies of previous Carnivals. Gregory talks about what it means to really feel ‘tabanca’ about this yr’s uncommon Carnival. 0:38

Carnival’s historical past of resistance

Alongside the stress and isolation that the pandemic has introduced, the current deaths of unarmed Black and Indigenous individuals, and the protests which have adopted, are another excuse why Carnival revelers want they might have the chance to come back collectively as a neighborhood.

For Dwayne Dixon, Black resistance and Carnival go hand in hand.

“What’s the identical is the trigger, the aim, you already know. The rationale why we play Mas to start with, you already know, it is about celebration,” says Dixon. “It is about liberation. It is about emancipation. it is about freedom. And that is what we’re preventing for at this time, mockingly sufficient.”

Carnival originated in Trinidad and Tobago as an evolution of French settlers’ masquerade balls that may be held between Christmas and Lent. When Africans on the island have been emancipated in 1838, they created their very own masking traditions, often known as Canboulay, and used it as an act of defiance and resistance towards the British authorities, which had outlawed African drums and masquerade. And the custom continued.

Candice Dixon, artistic director for brand new Toronto Caribbean Carnival mas band Suga Cayne, talks in regards to the origins and the significance of Carnival. 1:22

Toronto’s Carnival continues to be held in the course of the August lengthy weekend with the intention to coincide with Emancipation Day for enslaved individuals of African descent in Canada.

Bringing these roots and connecting them to the present battle is what Wanna Thompson needs she may’ve seen at Carnival this yr, and what she hopes to see subsequent yr.

“I really feel that with all the pieces taking place this yr, particularly witnessing what’s taking place in America and likewise our personal injustice in Canada, I feel it will have been a strong show of freedom [and] resistance,” says Thompson. “Identical to, you already know, we’re right here in solidarity by our costumes, by the music we’re chanting. We’re right here.”