At the Gracie Mansion prelude celebration
for the upcoming West Indian American Day Parade, Mayor Mike
Bloomberg made a bold meteorological prediction for Sept. 1:
"I promise you the weather will be better than last year," he said on Aug. 12, before adding, "only because it couldn’t get any worse."
Despite last year’s heavy rains, approximately one million people showed up for what was the 35th annual parade and carnival. This year, organizers are banking on the mayor’s promise of better weather, in which case they hope to attract up to four million people to Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway. This year’s Labor Day carnival is dedicated to slain Fort Greene-Crown Heights Councilman James E. Davis, who was killed by a political rival on July 23 at City Hall.
The parade - the largest in the country and the largest single-day event in the nation - will begin at Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights at 8 am. The 75 floats and thousands of dancers, steel band musicians, masqueraders, and other marchers will make their way down Eastern Parkway toward Grand Army Plaza, with a reviewing stand set up near the finish at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library.
The parade will officially conclude at 6 pm, after the 23 costume bands - with each band consisting of a king, queen, supporting characters, and floor dancers, with some bands totaling almost 4,000 performers - and 18 steel drum bands have all strutted their stuff.
Each band depicts a chosen theme, represented in lavish costumes, vibrant movements and pulsating sounds, which may or may not be Caribbean in nature. But it’s who is beneath the expertly designed outfits that makes this parade unmistakably Caribbean, according to the president of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), Yolanda Lezama-Clark.
"The Caribbean part comes when they put on their costumes and ’jump up’ to the music," Lezama-Clark said of participants, who year after year have had no problem getting the party rolling.
Parade organizers trace the foundations of this mammoth event back to the 1930s, when a Caribbean-themed street parade was held around the time of the Christian observance of Lent in Harlem. In the early 1960s, WIADCA president Rufus Gorin transplanted the parade from Harlem to Brooklyn, and in 1968, his successor, Carlos Lezama, brought it to its current location at Eastern Parkway.
At some point the parade date was also moved to Labor Day, reportedly to allow for better weather. It has also since expanded into a five-day Caribbean performing arts extravaganza, and lately these events have taken on a greater element of cultural communication, beyond the parade’s established reputation as a great party.
Dr. Lamuel Stanislaus, Ambassador of Grenada to the United Nations, believes that at 82, he may have been to more carnivals than just about anyone. The event he is most looking forward to this year is the Kiddie Carnival Parade, which marches from Kingston Avenue and St. Johns Place to the Brooklyn Museum of Art at 200 Eastern Parkway at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 9 am.
"It is through the children we hope to have continuity," said Stanislaus, "so the culture remains."
Another highlight of this year’s parade should be the float from Haiti, according to Dr. Jean Alexandre, Ambassador of Haiti to the United Nations. In January, his country will be celebrating its 200th anniversary of independence.
"This year is going to be special because of that commemoration," promised Alexandre, who added that Brooklyn is home to the largest Haitian population outside of Port of Prince.
Events officially begin on Aug. 28 at 8 pm behind the Brooklyn Museum of Art with a masquerade competition of lavish costumes. Participants include the kings and queens of the bands, male and female characters, and a number of musical guests. Tickets are $15-$20.
(All pre-Sept. 1 events are held on the Brooklyn Museum of Art grounds.)
Friday night, Aug. 29, features a night of live Calypso music in Brass Fest 2003, with performances by Krosfyah, Invasion Band, Traffik, Cloud Nine, Burning Flames, Bunji & KMC and others, beginning at 8 pm. Tickets are $25-30.
Saturday night is the celebrated steel drum band competition, Panorama 2003. Competitors include C. Youth Panoramics, Women in Steel, Demstars, Marsicans, and more, a total of 16 bands in all. Show time is at 8 pm on Aug. 30 and tickets are $20-$25.
Sunday night’s event is called Dimanche Gras, which features a night of music, dancing and entertainment. Performers include David Rudder, Lord Nelson, Dane Gulston, Hunter from Dominica, the Sunshine Band, and more. The event starts at 8 pm on Aug. 31, and tickets are $25-$30.
The West Indian American Day Parade will begin at Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights at 8 am on Sept. 1. From Aug. 28-31 the West Indian American Day Carnival Association will host pre-Parade events at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, 200 Eastern Parkway at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights. For more information and a complete listing of performers, visit www.wiadca.com or call (718) 467-1797 or (718) 625-1515.