Caribana: Wikis


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Caribana parade participants, 2006.

Caribana is a festival of Caribbean culture and traditions held each summer in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Annually Caribana draws hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the globe to Toronto's lakeshore. Caribana is a Caribbean Carnival event, that has been billed as North America's largest street festival, frequented by over 1.3 million visitors each year for the festival's final parade.

The entire Caribana event, which is one of the first Caribbean Carnivals along with those in New York City, Notting Hill and Boston to be held outside of the Caribbean region, brings in over one million people to the shores of Toronto pumping an estimated $250 million into the local economy.



Caribana was introduced to Canada by immigrants from the caribbean. Much of the music associated with the event, such as steel pan, soca (calypso), etc. originated in Trinidad and Tobago. Caribana has expanded to include the carnival traditions and music of many Caribbean nations, notably reggae, which originated in Jamaica. Caribana reflects the Carnival events that take place in the West Indies, ranging from Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and all West Indian Nations.

While Caribana runs for two week, the culmination of the Caribana event is the final weekend which is punctuated by the street Parade of Bands. This weekend traditionally coincides with the Ontario statutory holiday Civic Holiday.

Like other Caribbean carnival events, Caribana attracts spectators, celebrities, musicians, and "Mas" players from all over the world including North America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia to meet in Toronto from mid-July until the first week of August annually.

After the Caribana event, many Caribbean people will start making their arrangements to do it all over again at the next Caribbean Carnival event held elsewhere in the world.


Caribana has run annually since 1967, and was originally performed as a gift from Canada's West Indian community, as a tribute to Canada's Centennial year.. In previous years the main Caribana events have been run by a nonprofit Toronto-based organization named the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC). Its board members are mostly made up of expatriat-Caribbean nationals living in Canada. In 2006 the Caribbean Cultural Committee ran into financial troubles and due to lack of financial accountability it was fiscally cut off from the City of Toronto, pending that it gets its financial house in order. During the RIFT the body claimed that it legally held the trademark for "CARIBANA" and in response the Toronto Government fronted the money to put on the Carnival event however it was forced to temporarily change the name to the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (Caribana) Festival. The festival itself is under audit by Revenue Canada along with a criminal investigation by the RCMP into alleged fraud and misappropriation of funds.(TCC)[1]

Main event

The festival is highlighted by a massive street parade, which is held the first weekend in August. It consists of costumed dancers (called "Mas players") along with live Caribbean music being played from large speakers on the flat-bed of 18 wheeler trucks. The genre played is mainly Soca, Calypso, and Steelpan, but you can also find floats which play Chutney and Reggae. The parade was originally modelled after Trinidad and Tobago's own Carnival and similarly it has activities and events, such as a King and Queen of the Bands Competition, and a two-day Caribbean art festival on Toronto's Olympic Island, along with many individual music and cultural events.



In addition to the main parade, the Caribbean community also celebrates a smaller pre-dawn parade known as J'ouvert (Pronounced "Jou-vay"). In Caribbean French-creole this means "day open" or morning. The J'ouvert portion of Carnival is the more rhythmic part of the Carnival celebration and is usually featured with steel bands, and persons using improvised musical instruments. It is not usually accompanied by any singing, but will have a lot of whistles and other music makers. Spectators and or persons "playing Mas" will occasionally get themselves covered from head-to-toe with mud, flour, baby powder, or different water-colored paints in the tradition of the Caribbean-based J'ouvert celebrations. In many instances everyone in the band is supposed to resemble 'evil spirits' while parading around at night. There are some common characters[1] that are a part of Afro-Caribbean folklore[2][3] and include things like Red Devils (people covered in red paints), Blue Devils (people covered in blue paints), Green devils, Black devils, Yellow devils, White devils, (usually people throwing baby powder or flour.) or people just covered in other concoctions which are supposed to resemble mud[4] or oil.[5][6] Albeit a little messy, it is supposed to be about having uninhibited fun while parading around town just moving to the rhythm of the music and trying to resemble what evil spirits might partake in at night. Given it is messy, spectators shouldn't wear expensive clothes to/for J'ouvert. If it is a warm night a pair of "short-pants" and a white T-shirt should be enough to take part in the event. Persons not wanting to risk any chance of the paint sticking to their skin can opt to cover their entire body with a thin layer of baby-oil which will keep the water-based paints from dying their skin or hair.

After sunrise the J'ouvert finishes, most people will go home to shower and then change into their better clothes or costumes to take part in the main parade hours later.


Leading up to the main parade climax, a number of Caribbean music artistes will make an appearance to Toronto where they will perform in many smaller parties held around the city by the resident Caribbean community. These parties are generally called "Fêtes" (Pronounced "fett") which is a French-creole Caribbean word meaning Festival. These Fête will usually begin in June-July and will be carried out on the weekends leading up to the parade. Many popular sites including:,,,,, or which are all based in Ontario make up a bulk of the online Caribbean music industry and actively promote the area's fetes. Together, they tend to promote the bulk of the Caribbean events/traditions going on in Toronto.

Each Fête held will tend have its own theme. A "Wet Fete" means usually there will be a bubbles machine at the venue which will soak party goers while they dance the night away to up tempo Soca music. The "You must wear-white Fete" means you're supposed to wear nothing but white clothing where all sorts of black light effects will make everyone's clothes a dazzling part of the party's light show. The "Mad hatters ball Fete" is a fete that you're supposed to wear your craziest head-gear/hat that you can find.


The bands are the most important part of the main Carnival parade. The bands are actually in competition with one another during the parade. They must pass a judging spot which will rate each band section for its costume design, energy of masqueraders, creativity of presentation and so on. Work on the costumes begin soon after the previous year's celebration and usually takes one full year to complete all of the costumes. Each section of the band will tend to have a series of regular costumes that are purchased by people that want to participate in the parade. The amount of costumes usually depends on the size that the band-leader had in mind, the band leader may make anywhere from between a dozen to several dozen costumes made in the same design. Some of them will follow a theme like a Soca song released, a current event, or something to connect with the parade's spectators.

For each section you also tend to have two really large costumes which is known as the King of the band and a slightly smaller piece known as the Queen of the band. These will incorporate part of the design of the many masqueraders costumes which parade just before or just after them. The tradition of King or Queen of the band comes from Trinidad and Tobago where the person willing to spend the most on the costume would wear the king or queen of the band costume to showing off their wealth. The King and Queen's costume takes in a lot of skill in wire-bending and weight distribution so as to not crush the person pulling the full weight. In many cases small circular holes will be carefully punched through the King and Queen's costumes so as to cut down on wind-load while the person wearing the costume parades down the street.

A band leader may make several different sections each with a different costume in order to show off their talent and increase their odds of having at least one of their sections win a prize by the judges.

Some of the bands participating in Caribana are: A Fantasy Garden, A Taste of The Caribbean, Afropan (a Toronto based mixed race steel-pan band), Beyond The Horizon, Carnival Is Colour, Colours In the Wind, D'Spirit of Carnival, Exotic Species, Future & Back, Guilty Pleasures, Mas Jamboree, Precious Jewel, Sea Fantasy, Temptation, The Awakening, Toronto Revellers and Carnival Nationz.

Audience participation versus Masqueraders

One challenge that all Caribbean Carnivals including Caribana are facing is how to strike a balance between audience (crowd participation) and the needs of costumed masqueraders. In many cases masqueraders have paid money, to buy their costume and to play mas with a band. The draw of the crowd comes in the form of the Caribbean musicians that might be singing live upon the top of a truck. This in many cases leads to fans at the side of the road wanting to join the procession with their favourite artist. This presents some problems to the Carnival. One common problem is overcrowding. This usually leads to the costumes becoming stepped on, or bent by non band members as they swarm around the truck. The crowd also poses challenges when the masqueraders are trying to get to the stage in order for band judging. All of the Caribbean carnivals have tried to determine the correct balance that keeps the crowd from becoming over-anxious in not being able to party with their favourite musicians and in keeping everyone safe under conditions where these big wheeled trucks are running very close to many people.


In common practice with the rest of the world, money also partly drives the competitiveness in the Caribana carnival. The bands are judged based on their creativity in design and appearance. The music chosen during previous years of Caribana is also a competition for prize money. The songs which are played by each truck during the festival are part of the Roadmarch competition. Many artists in the Caribbean live partly off any prize money winnings, going from event to event and therefore will try very hard to attend the events with the largest prize packages for Roadmarch. Some prizes are cars and other perks.

Carnival developments

  • In early 2006 Toronto municipal government did not renew the funding for the Caribana Cultural Committee (CCC) which has organized the festival in past years citing recurring accounting problems. Instead, the funding was given to the Toronto Mas Band Association which organized the festival in 2002. Due to an ongoing dispute about the ownership of the trademark "Caribana", the 2006 festival is being promoted as "the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (Caribana)". This distinction seems unimportant to most Torontonians, who continue to call the festival simply "Caribana."
  • In September 2004, the Consul general of Trinidad and Tobago pledged to work more closely with the city of Toronto to jointly promote Caribana and to provide direct-knowledge on how Toronto can more effectively grow the festival.[7] Trinidad and Tobago holds an annual Carnival celebration of their own from December until Ash Wednesday, on which Caribana was originally based.

Industries and sectors which stand to benefit from more collaboration with Trinidad and Tobago include Toronto's tourism product, the hotels, storeowners, caterers, airlines, transport services and the business community.


  1. ^ "Old-Time Carnival Characters (ARCHIVE)". Trinidad Investment and Development Co. (TIDCO). Retrieved 2009-07-31.  
  2. ^ [ "Trinidad & Tobago's Folklore and Legends The Mayaro Soucouyant (ARCHIVE)"]. Paria Publishing. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  
  3. ^ "Of Myths Folklore and Legends – The Story of Lougarous and Soukouyants". TheDominican.Net. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  
  4. ^ "Artiste: 3 Canal, Song: Mud Madness". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  
  5. ^ "Photo of some "Blue Devils" during the 2007 Cricket World Cup-In the Caribbean". Flickr. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  
  6. ^ "Artiste: 3 Canal, Song: Blue, 1997". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  
  7. ^ The Trinidad Guardian -Online Edition Ver 2.0

See also

External links



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