By Lonnie Barlow, Organizer, PUSH Buffalo
“I estimate that there were at least 4,000 people inside this particular intersection, with thousands more behind them, and even many more thousands coming further behind them. I’ve never seen so much joy, happiness, and downright partying of this many people in an urban festival. The energy, the excitement, the music, the floats, the colors, the people, and the dancing, oh the dancing.”
– My review of Toronto Caribana, 1998
I had such a good time my first trip to the Toronto Caribana Festival in the late 1990’s, that I made it my business to go every year. I had heard so much folklore about the festival that I thought it was just a story like those who talked of “El Dorado” (the lost city of gold) or “Agartha” (the city inside the center of the earth). I figured, something like this could not exist; all the stories that I heard were just tall tales.
Not true. I went and was completely blown away. The experience reinforced the idea to me that people should be exposed to as many positive, next-level things at an early age as possible. And, be exposed to things that they may not necessarily see in their immediate community.
Coming from a poor African-American community in Buffalo only a short drive away from Toronto, I had never seen so many black people having a good time in a downtown/waterfront area of a very large city. Adding to that, they were having fun with people from other cultures including white (Canadian, British, American, Australian), Asian, Arabic, East Indian, and many others.
Caribana Toronto is North America’s largest version of the Carnivale Festivals that originated in the Caribbean Islands, in parts of South and Central America, and other places. Talking to a few people from the Caribbean who live in Buffalo, no one seems to have an exact time and place that the Carnivale phenomenon started, it’s just something that they do.
Carnivale roughly translates to “farewell to the flesh.” It is celebrated as almost a purging of the soul. One of the things that I found out is that it partly has its roots in the Western world from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. African slaves who were brought or enslaved within certain parts of the new world were excluded from the activities and celebrations of their European slave masters; one of the things they created in turn was the Carnivale celebration. Some of the Carnivale traditions were brought in with the enslaved Africans.
The festival itself is characterized by large colorful floats, big colorful outfits, all day dancing, and what I can only describe as warm-weather music. This includes Soca, Reggae, and Merengue music.
Although I haven’t gone for some time, Caribana is one of those experiences that one never forgets. This is why my eyes lit up when I first heard a few years ago that Buffalo was creating one of its own. Now, I knew it wouldn’t be as big as Toronto’s right away, simply because the one in Canada has been established since the 1960’s. But, I figured that it would be a nice addition to the cultural fabric of Buffalo, and that it could grow over time.
This is exactly what has happened. This year, PUSH Buffalo has joined on as an event sponsor, and (like last year) we’re marching in the parade. We’ll meet at the intersection of Richmond Avenue and Tidwell Parkway in Buffalo at 11am, this Saturday August 16th. The parade itself starts at 12 noon, and will proceed down to Lasalle Park where there will be performances and other activities. If you’d like to help out you can meet us down there or call us at 716-884-0356.
The festival itself is spread over 3 days, with a Friday evening boat ride, and activities at the park this Saturday and Sunday (August 16th and 17th). We hope you can come out and say “adios” to the flesh with us this weekend.