In North America the term carnival usually refers to an event where you can eat cotton candy, win prizes, ride ferris wheels etc. However, in the Caribbean the word carnival is associated with a festive season which occurs immediately before lent: Acting on a suggestion of my friend Emile, who lives in France, I decided to introduce you to the Caribbean Carnival. It is quite fitting to do so because carnival and steel drums go hand in hand. As a matter of fact, it was carnival which gave birth to the steel drum. I recently met up with a carnival masquerade band leader- Lesel Dhanesar of Island Gems Mas Group www,islandgems.org who has given me first hand insight into the carnival culture and her involvement in Miami Florida's annual Caribbean Carnival.
Origins of Carnival
Like the cosmopolitan mix of peoples and cultures that shaped the island, Trinidad's Carnival has many influences. The Spanish and English colonial powers, French planters, African slaves, Indian indentured labourers, and the many other ethnic groups that settled here have all left an indelible mark on the festival. In 1783 the French brought their culture, customs and Carnival, in the form of elaborate masquerade balls, to Trinidad along with African slaves. The period stretching between Christmas and the start of Lent was a time for feasting, fancy dress balls and celebration for both the French and British. Banned from the festivities, slaves in the barrack yards would hold their own celebrations mimicking their masters' behaviour while incorporating rituals and folklore. Once slavery was abolished in 1838, the freed Africans took their Carnival to the streets and, as each new immigrant population entered Trinidad, a new flavour was added to the festivities. Today, our diverse culture has influenced the music, food and traditions of Carnival.
Read more about its origins here
Interview with Lesel Dhanesar
Mrs Dhanesar is a Trinidadian by birth who grew up in the US and has maintained close ties to her caribbean culture. She has been involved in the carnival planning scene for many years operating in different capacities. 2011 marks the year in which she teamed up with established band producer Giselle " De Wassi One" Blanche of " Wassi Ones". Having watched her growth over the years Ms. Blanche gave Lesel a chance to produce her own section within "Wassi Ones".
MD- "Tell me about the concept of the Carnival Band."
LD- " The Carnival band is a large group of masqueraders who dress up in costumes that represent an overall theme. Within the large group you have smaller groups of masqueraders, referred to as sections. Each section usually wears a different costume that adds to the theme of the band. For example, you may have a band whose theme is "The Wild West,". Within that band you will have sections dressed as maybe Sheriffs, or Horses, Bank Robbers, Indian Chiefs etc: Anything that might convey the overall theme of the band.
MD- "So its not necessarily something to do with musical instruments or singing?"
LD- "No, not in that sense of the word."
MD- "What was your theme this year?
LD- "It was called "Reflections of Life". The overall band had about 250 costumed masqueraders and my section had 55 revelers who wore yellow and green costumes"
MD- "What inspired the name of your band and how did yo choose its colors?"
LD- "Reflections of LIFE is a combination of all our lives GOOD and POSITIVE experiences. It is a mirror into your life, where you see images of your HAPPINESS
It reflects the Good and Up-Lifting times. Your LIFE and your REFLECTION belongs only to YOU.
The yellow represented sunshine and happiness and the green represented a healthy life."
MD-"Who helped you bring this vision to life?"
LD- "In addition to a staff of volunteers and well wishers, our costumes wer created by student designer Shauntel Joseph. Tiffany Alcantara and Peter Dhanesar were heavily involved in the planning and execution of bringing the band to fruition. We all did admin work, gathering of materials for the costumes, sewing, made phone calls, held fund raiser etc. I even transformed my home into a costume sewing shop"
MD- " How long did it take to get the project completed?"
LD- "About 7 months. We started in April 2011 and worked all the way up to Oct 8, 2011, the night before the big parade in Miami. It was down to the wire."
MD- " But you pulled it off?"
LD- "Yes we sure did. I was so happy that the masqueraders got many complements on their costumes. Altogether the production was well received. We had lots of fun partying in the parade and our goal is to make it to the stage where we are awarded points by a panel of judges."
MD- "How long are you on the road? The parade?"
LD- It can be anywhere from 7-8hrs. We follow an assigned parade route. During that time the masqueraders are dancing, singing, showing off their costumes, eating, drinking, lots of smiles and picture taking."
MD-" Lots of sore feet and hoarse voices too huh?"
LD- "Lol, yes that too."
MD " Are you gearing up for next year?"
LD- " Yes, I'll be brainstorming and visualizing stuff during the holiday season. During the spring of next year we will start the leg work of bringing the band to life"
MD- "Is Miami Carnival your final stop?"
LD " No. Ultimately I'd like to produce a section for Trinidad's carnival"
MD " Best of luck and continued success"
LD " Thank You"
If you would to be a part of the 2012 band, contact them at the info below:
Lesel-954 625 5668
Tiffany-305 482 1183