- Soca 2019! -

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Toronto Masqueraders Association (innaugural town hall meeting)

On Thursday I attended the first town hall meeting for the Toronto Masquerader Association.

This group is being spearheaded by a small group of highly impressive, young, intelligent, well spoken ladies who have a passion for carnival.
I was really impressed with the meeting. It started and ended on time, there was a clear agenda and it was an excellent first step.
Everyone was represented. There were about 6 bandleaders (TMBA), two reps from the Festival Management Committee (FMC), The Ontario Steel Band Association (OSA), The Organisation of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA), and the Caribana Arts Group (CAG).

All of these groups were in the same room having an orderly discussion and nobody was shouting or cussing. Actually, everyone was on their best behaviour and differing opinions were raised and respected. I give full praise to our moderators for setting the tone.

So basically the point of the meeting was to introduce the current skeleton board (lots more positions are still to be filled), to announce a mandate for the group, gather some input to create a mission statement and vision, and to have a question and answer session.

In a nutshell, the mandate is to represent the interests of masqueraders and collaborate with all the involved parties to foster year over year small wins with the goal of building an awesome festival and parade. (that's paraphrased). A large part of this entails re-educating the public about how a parade works.

The Q&A largely revolved around the crowd control issues. The bandleaders expressed that we need much more support from the police, as private security couldn't do the job. They contrasted our levels of policing to those in Brooklyn for Labour Day. Someone also commented that the security in other North American carnivals is provided by the city at no cost to their festivals.

The FMC pointed out that it would be great if we had such support from our city and police force, but kind of categorised it like a "wish". I took it to mean that as festival managers, they had to deal with the reality of budget cuts and a lack of will from the politicians and the police leadership to take a more active policing roll.

What struck me about this group was that it was formed by young women, and their huge concern was security. The CAG chair asked the TMA board what incidents in this years parade contributed to the decision to start this group now.
The response made me uncomfortable and sent silence across the room. Two of the newly formed TMA board members went on to describe two separate incidents where they were manhandled, verbally assaulted and threatened with violence on the parade route by male non masqueraders.

The large majority of masqueraders are women, so its no surprise that this group is lead by women and their large concern is security. We are failing to protect their safety. The really sad part is that they need protection from largely young men from our own Caribbean community.

Some people said that the Toronto police take a hands off approach because the former festival administration had preferred private security and volunteer marshals for crowd control (mind you this was almost 20 years ago (1994-1995) when the festival was much smaller). This ignores that the police and the city seem to have no inclination to take a more active role at this time.

One thing that I learned at the meeting was the police opened barricades along the route to ease the congestion on the sidelines. Apparently, there was overcrowding and there was the danger of people being crushed against the fences.

This begs the question, if we get a thousand officers lining the route, and kick all the non masqueraders out, what have we provided for the hundreds of thousands of spectators to do?

If everyone lines up along the route, they can only see the parade maybe 2 or 3 people deep, what does everyone else do? (perhaps some will get a costume and participate?) It makes me realize that we not only need to secure the route, but we also need to manage the crowd outside of the parade and have different attractions to disperse this crowd along a bigger area.

I think that we have outgrown one long straight route.

The festival is faced with some really big issues and there are no clear answers. But, all interested parties including the general public were in a room together (when was the last time that happened? Has it happened?) and at least they were listening to each other, so that is a good start. That's the first win.
I'm eternally optimistic that we can figure out how to make this thing work. We have unique issues that will need unique fixes. The group has realistic expectations in that they aren't expecting everything to be fixed overnight. They understand that change of this nature takes time, and to aim at this point for small victories over time.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bring Caribfest back petition

Barrie's Caribfest was cancelled yet again just weeks before it was scheduled to happen. Please sign this petition to show your support for the festival and comment about the injustice of denying the city this cultural event. 
Bring Caribfest back!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The death of Toronto's regional carnivals

 The empty parade route for CariVaughan
Melville Ave. was blocked off and had spectators waiting

I know there are funding and political issues which stand in the way of co-operation, but Toronto's regional carnivals are dropping like flies.
Hamilton done, Brampton (west fete) done, Barrie can't get a permit for anything that is worth the drive to Barrie, and after Vaughan's dismal showing Sun. Aug. 4, their future is in doubt.
I don't want to sound like I'm dissing CariVaughan, it's just that there were two masqueraders who showed up for the parade. I heard the stage show part of the afternoon was good, but we didn't stick around long enough to see it.
Vaughan Citizen article

I know that we, as Toronto masqueraders are spoiled. For the last 10 years or so, we have grown accustomed to having multiple opportunities to play mas for the cost of one costume. For a while there, we used to play mas 3 weekends in a row... it was fantastic.
A few people I know (including myself) just didn't bother this year. With Hamilton and Barrie gone, it just didn't make sense to spend $200 on a costume just to be overrun by stormers two hours into your day. That's $100 per hour. Caribana bandleaders, please understand that allowing these regional carnivals to die affects you also.

I try above all else to be positive about the festival, I root for the underdog trying to give the new bands some coverage. I really want to see this thing grow and flourish because we love it. These guys in Vaughan looked like they spent some money, I counted about 10 police cars blocking off the route. It was a long parade route with all these residents waiting sitting on their fold up chairs to see it. So either they had big support of the city or somebody was footing the bill for paid duty officers. They had many vendors and performers. Maybe they didn't have a budget to pay Toronto band leaders to come up and bring a few big costumes. You would think they would have been willing to foot the cost of a U-haul and some gas. 

Some bands throw these appreciation fetes after carnival, yeah we appreciate this, but if you want me to feel appreciated, forget about renting a club to throw a fete, just load up some of your big mas and drive up to Vaughan. We don't need beer or food - maybe some water, but that's it. The organizers had 2 music trucks, so you didn't have to incur any costs there. Maybe they don't have the budget to pay you thousands of dollars the way Hamilton promised, but THIS would make me feel appreciated.

Yeah I know the Sunday after Caribana is a kinda strange date to choose... please don't make that mistake again CariVaughan if you survive the year.
These carnivals have no hope for survival without the support and participation of Toronto Mas bands and Toronto masqueraders.

Masqueraders, you don't want a last lap? You mean to say nobody couldn't throw on a costume and take a jump in Vaughan? Whappen to allyuh? Didn't you know it was happening? It was odd, because I saw you all last year, even in the pouring rain a few of us showed up. ---> CariVaughan 2012
We had beautiful weather on the Sunday. Again, yeah I know it was the day after, and you only got a few hours of sleep after being at Machel. I don't know why they thought that was a good idea. Maybe they figured the tourists were still in town? Or people would be fresh from the carnival vibes? Hamilton and Barrie didn't happen though, so it could have been Aug 10 or today, Aug 17.

If we don't attend these events and spend some money, they will die. Then we will be stuck with just Caribana, and it's a lot easier to overlook some of her issues if we know we have another chance to take a jump the next weekend.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Our visiter blogger friends' take on Toronto and Caribana - Toronto Caribbean Carnival

  • We have been venting too much lately, so here is a nice feel good post from a tourist.
    This review is from our carnival friend Caiso Queen who lives in the US and visited Toronto for the first time to attend Caribana. We met her through the blogger community surrounding Trinidad Carnival Diary.

    Toronto is an absolutely beautiful city. Extremely clean and well manicured. Obviously the economy in Ontario is booming as there was so much construction going on everywhere. I stayed in downtown Toronto and spent most of my time walking through the city observing the sites, eating at different restaurants and drinking at different pubs. Food and drinks are reasonably priced, however shopping for clothes and shoes is a huge NO NO.....way more expensive than in the U.S. I did very minimal souvenir shopping too.
    Toronto has the BEST and YUMMIEST hotdogs I have ever eaten. For $2.50 the hot dog meat was nice and plump and grilled and the hot dog bun lightly toasted. I must have eaten at least 4 hotdogs.... 1 a day.
    I went to the local liquor store LBCO I think. Umm Johnny Walker was ridiculously expensive. $54.95 for a small bottle. So we ended up drinking sky vodka. (our booze taxes are around 50%, it's how we pay for healthcare)
    The parade:
    I really, really appreciate the effort and expert design of the costumes. I was expecting to see mediocre designs at best, but the majority of the costumes were of great quality, very well made, color combinations on point, lots of back packs and collars and uniquely shaped headpieces. Bravo to all the designers!!
    What I did not like on most costumes was that frilly feathered butt piece that's used I guess to give coverage to butt area. I thought it looked tacky, like a tail.... very ugly. (oops, them is some fighting words)
    I also noticed that lots of sections within bands were chipping to NO music. That would have surely pissed me off.
    The parade itself I felt was not very organized. I think it would have made more sense to have the judging point located further into the route instead of at the stadium. Because once the masqueraders crossed the stage early on it seemed as though everything just went chaotic after that.
    I also wish that paying spectators were able to line the streets instead of being separated by high fences. Luckily we were smart enough to stay inside the barriers and followed the bands from the inside.
    Because of the high fenced barriers I noticed it was very difficult for emergency personnel to transport the sick and drunk out of the band and to the ambulance. Not a cool idea at all to have such high fences on both sides of the route like that.
    All in all I give the parade a 7 out of 10. Mostly because the costumes were all so beautiful. It was tough being a spectator as I'm used to being a masquerader. Would I play mas in Toronto... Sure! And definitely with Carnival Nationz because I loved their costumes the best.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Is it time to give up on the Lakeshore?

Is it time to give up on the Lakeshore?
I don’t mean move the parade from the Lakeshore, absolutely, Carnival belongs on city streets the same as ALL other parades. But we know that no downtown BIA (business improvement association) wants US on THEIR street, thus, it’s not happening.
We are trying to secure a huge stretch of hi-way and it’s pointless. We can’t lock the fences together for safety reasons, we don’t have the budget to put cops along the entire route, and the people who are storming are determined to circumvent any control.
I think the FMC and TMBA have accepted this and are in the process of giving up on the Lakeshore.
What was the point of the wristbands?
In the heat of the afternoon when the masses wake up, and reach downtown, and decide they are going to storm the route, everyone knows that you can’t stop them. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars erecting fences that they just open and walk through. Is it pointless? Not exactly, there are lots of people who stay behind the fence, but then again, those people would be inclined to stand orderly on the sidewalk even if there was no fence. They understand it’s a parade.

I think management decided they are going to control what they can: the Exhibition grounds. The EX is already setup to be locked down. There are easily defendable boarders with only a few points in and out. They can charge admission, to get some much needed revenue and it’s owned by the city.
So, you have to let masqueraders, media, volunteers, big pappys and band entourages in for free … then you can charge everyone else. How does the gateman tell who belongs to these free groups? We’ll give them a wrist band.
This works well, you can have a nice controlled environment where masqueraders can go un-molested and photographers can take decent pics someplace other than the judging point (see our picture improvement over last year? (It wasn't because Tony showed me how to use my camera) :)

Big mas isn’t trampled, we can set up fancy cabanas for the well heeled, we can make some money and the mas bands can drastically curtail their security budget. Did you notice the reduction in paid band security and the absence of ropes or plastic fencing? 
And for the masqueraders who feel they can hold their own with the sweaty masses, they are free to leave the confines of the CNE and continue down the Lakeshore. There is no more Hamilton or Barrie, so who cares if your $500 frontline costume gets crushed? What were you going to do, hang it on your bedroom wall?, take it to Miami? (tongue planted firmly in cheek)   

Allyuh, don’t get me wrong, I’m actually not criticizing management. If you can’t control the Lakeshore and the PEOPLE want a giant blocko, then give it to them. Carnival is a fluid thing that morphs to reflect the society it is portraying. It’s not Trinidad, Barbados, Brazil or even 1980’s Toronto. We have to recognize the new reality. We have hundreds of thousands of visitors and 2nd or 3rd generation Canadians who have no understanding of, or interest in playing mas or spectating. They want to party on the road.

It’s not just me getting old and crotchety, shaking my fist at the youn’uns. In the days following the parade there was this facebook group that formed about bringing a change to the parade. They have gotten about 300 members in 3 days and it is largely made of masqueraders who were not satisfied with their road experience.
I don’t pretend to speak for the group or take credit for their ideas. A lot of them liked the CNE experience and the longer route within its walls. If we could make this longer and spend more time there, perhaps make another circle, I think that would go over well. You could also expand the entertainment at the bandshell to occupy the masqueraders who don’t want to continue onto the Lakeshore and to entice more paying spectators into the CNE.
Once the parade within the Exhibition grounds is over, the music trucks could proceed down the Lakeshore along with any masqueraders who want to join them and let the street party begin.
Whether you want to see it or not, that is what is happening after 3 or 4 pm anyway.

The bands can decide whether they want to send their big mas down the road. They just have to send the music trucks, and a few hard core winer girls, that will keep the crowds satisfied.

I heard that 5 bands didn’t make it onto the Lakeshore this year. It’s not really as bad as it was in previous years, they didn’t miss much. In the past, not making it onto the road meant you were standing around all day and never got to parade. This year, they paraded and were judged in the CNE and didn’t get to be overrun on the Lakeshore. 

If we can make the EX jump up, into a 3 or 4 hour circuit maybe that is enough. At the end you have some entertainment in the CNE or you can go continue on the Lakeshore. Turn the CNE into a smaller more intimate experience, dare I say more like what Barrie was before they ran into an unwelcoming city council. At the same time, the masses who we still want to attend, can be entertained on the Lakeshore by music trucks and all the food vendors.

There may not even be any need for all that fencing on the Lakeshore, we can take the money that is going to the fence company and use it to secure the CNE and add to the entertainment lineup.
As we can get more people paying to enter the CNE, we can drop the prices, as $20 is really too high. I understand that not that many people are paying yet, but when we start to get a crowd we will need to reduce that price. We really are not trying to separate the people based on finances, we are looking to segregate based on intentions. Especially for the youth the price has to be minimal.
We want the people who will watch the mas in the EX, and the people who insist on crowding the bands to stay on the Lakeshore.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Can we stop stormers?

Can we stop stormers?
I've been pleased to see that there has been a lot of great discussion this past week on Facebook about the increasing storming problem at our carnival. ---> Time For Change Toronto Carnival  Blame is mainly being placed on the FMC, Scotiabank, non Soca trucks, and the Toronto police.

But I say blame history.

I don't know when storming first became a real issue, if it was when the parade moved to the Lakeshore, or before that.  As long as I've been playing mas, which started in 2000, there have been people crashing the parade. Bands have tried fences or ropes to keep them out, which was met with a small amount of success. This year, there were no security people using fences or ropes. Is that because they decided not to waste the money on it anymore since they eventually get infiltrated? Or since this wristband policy was in effect they hoped it wouldn't be necessary? I'd really like to know.

You can't change history. It's a very difficult thing to tackle, changing other people's behaviours. Damn near impossible actually. In fact, you know what they say: you can't change someone, you can only change how you react to them.
People know they can storm Caribana. They expect to. They plan their trip to Toronto, or locals gather their crew and trek down to the Lakeshore with the intent of jumping in on the parade.

When I first heard the term "ghettobana" being used, it just solidified to me my fear about the nasty reputation it now has. It's basically a street party. A free for all. Where young & not so young guys feel they can do more than ogle women in bikinis, they can jam on them and grab them. That is what our carnival has become. I've read many comments in the past several years online from guys bragging about how many women they jammed on, and worse. Basically there are plenty of assaults happening on Lakeshore. I'm sure all of us masqueraders have been grabbed inappropriately throughout the years.
And female stormers, wow. Just take a look at many of the outfits they wear, I don't know if it's their warped way of "fitting in" or standing out apart from the costumes. Many think it's about being as scantily clad as possible and they ho it up. They clearly feel compelled to compete with the costumes. Why it doesn't occur to them to wear a costume baffles me.

So we can't suddenly tell people they can't storm the parade. The high fencing doesn't work to keep the determined out, they just collectively open them and bust in like a herd. So you say well, have security then, all along the fences to ensure they don't open them and come in. Or police officers. This is one of those examples of how something sounds right in theory, but in practice, it doesn't work. You have to imagine how that would play out. Fights would of course ensue. Spectators far outnumber security or officers. And police officers carry guns. That's all we need, gunfire, and a stampede of people locked in and pushing get out.
No thank you.  Btw, you CAN'T lock the fences/gates. They MUST be able to be opened in cases of emergencies. EMS crews are always carrying masqueraders out.

So that leaves us to change our reaction to them. I think we can expand upon the CNE. Two years ago when we started the circle, I didn't quite understand or like it, as there were hardly any spectators. But after this year, with more people legitimately inside the CNE (meaning, they paid), I see the value of it for the mas bands. We get to parade around and go before judging unencumbered. We should add to that by parading around more of the CNE. Give the bands more opportunity inside the secure CNE with spectators who paid to watch us. That way, masqueraders will feel they've gotten a more positive parade experience. After, if they want to then take their chances with the masses on the Lakeshore, they can. Or they can stay within the CNE and go watch the show. The CNE is able to be properly secured whereas the Lakeshore, being a public street, isn't.

I think the wristbands were meant for the CNE. How were organizers going to implement the wristband policy on the Lakeshore? The answer is they weren't. That would mean having security all along the route, which is impossible (see above).   

So can we stop stormers? No, I don't think so. But we can change our parade.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Caribana 2013, Part 2 - The experience

I'll get right to it, my Caribana 2013 was bittersweet.
Starting with the sweet, I really liked my entire costume. When I saw it backstage at Toronto Revellers launch, I just knew. I hadn't seen an entire costume that did it for me up to that point. Loved the mix of teal and coral, the headpiece, and all 3 different options. Registering online was easy peasy, I was contacted immediately about which options I wanted. All emails and phone calls with section leader Candice were responded to quickly, and in a friendly & professional manner. The costume was as advertised at the launch and on their website, with the minor exception of some white feathers and gems on the teal feathers on the headpiece.  We were given a different necklace, but I was told we'd get one, and was not expecting the ones on the models at the launch. Included were perfectly matching feathered Ardene earrings. My comfortable bottoms & bra were also from Ardene, very well made.

The weather was perfect for the parade, not too hot or humid. I enjoyed walking around the CNE, seeing you all, taking pictures and meeting new readers. So many costumes looked sensational, and some favourites that stood out for me were TO Revs Diamonds are Forever, and The Spy Who Loved Me; TK's Butterflies and Tribal; CNz Mandarin Fish, the Flasher Wrasse headpiece, and Yellow Nudibranch; and Sally's Eternity and Utopia. (However, I didn't see all sections in all bands.) It was wonderful to see so many masqueraders play traditional mas in Revellers - Golden Eye, Octopussy, and Moonraker. Impressive mas that reminded everyone about the history of the culture in amongst the BBF.

There was plenty of icy water on an open trailer, which was easy for masqueraders to access. Volunteers also walked throughout the route handing out bottles of water. I went to get lunch after 3 while we were at the start of the Lakeshore, and thankfully there was no line up at all. It was a decent sized portion (that I couldn't finish) of tasty chicken and peas & rice.

After 3:00 on the costume pick up Thursday, Candice called to let me know the costumes wouldn't be ready until after 9:00 as materials had just arrived. I was heading over to the camp after work in Mississauga anyway. There were about 10 people ahead of me, and one came after me. I waited 3
½ hrs for my costume. It didn't make sense for me to leave and come back later, as I live in the west end. So I stuck it out and got it at 1:00 a.m. That's certainly the longest I've ever had to wait for a costume. A wristband wasn't included in with my costume, so Candice had it delivered it to me Friday evening.    
As much as I loved the style of my headpiece, it slipped off a lot. Yes, I tried securing it on with combs, but even in a slight breeze, it would fall back off my head. (It's not like I was jumping up either.) I don't know what it is with my head and headpieces!!! I just can't wear the headband style. I need the very secure "helmet" style (for lack of a better word).
I didn't have my mas mate with me this year, as Trini-in-Toronto decided not to play. Even though he was there, he was in work mode taking pictures, so he wasn't a reveller. There's a difference. There is such a short amount of time to actually jump up in your band after judging, so that was a downer.    
Bunji says it best: nobody want to dance by theyself, everybody want to dance on somebody.
So that's the bitter. Oh, but wait: stormers. You know the stormer issue is so major and was particularly bad this year, that it's just going to have to wait until Part 3 because we have a lot to say about it... 
He was one good natured cop I tell ya. 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Caribana 2010 slideshow

Mardi Gras, Hamilton

Mardi Gras, Hamilton

Blog Archive

J'ouvert 2008!

J'ouvert 2008!

Mardi Gras 2010

Buublenut, Megan & Karabana at Caribana 2007!

http://www.westindiantube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=bcbeece3d9128ae855 a7


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