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Caribbean Carnival marks 50th anniversary

Masquerade bands march, back at full strength

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Caribbean Carnival marks 50th anniversary
The Best on the Road Award went to EP Costumes and Associates’ four-section presentation “Jubilation: Carnival is We.” PHOTO: YAWU MILLER

“It’s been four years since we’ve been on the road,” DJ Raymond Toussaint said from his perch above a wall of loudspeakers on the 18-wheel sound truck, which led the D’Horizon masquerade band as its members approached the judging stand for Boston’s 50th Caribbean Carnival.

“Let’s represent for Mr. Andy. This is D’Horizon!” Toussaint exclaimed.

The passing of D’Horizon band leader Andrew Williamson two years ago was a blow for the masquerade band, but the members rallied around his memory, with a giant reproduction of his image gracing the sound truck.

Eddie Phillips, EP Costumes and Associates PHOTO: YAWU MILLER

Masqueraders in the five sections of the band, whose 2023 theme was “We Rise,” wove themes of triumph over adversity into their presentation, a common sentiment in this year’s festival, which came after three years of disruption.

In 2020, Carnival was canceled as the nation was on lockdown during the early months of the COVID pandemic. In 2021, a slimmed-down Carnival was held on a shortened route on Circuit Drive in Franklin Park. During the following year’s Carnival, some masquerade bands sat out in protest of what some say is overly tight control and lack of inclusivity in the Caribbean American Carnival Association of Boston (CACAB), the nonprofit that oversees the festivities.

Nicole Flynt, D’Horizon PHOTO: YAWU MILLER

This year, Shirley Shillingford, who has helmed CACAB for the last 31 years, said the Carnival is bouncing back.

“It’s worth celebrating after all the challenges we’ve been through,” she said.

Turnout was somewhat light for the Carnival. Some attributed the smaller-than-pre-pandemic crowd to a 7:30 a.m. shooting Saturday morning that disrupted the traditional sunrise J’Ouvert parade, which takes place the morning of Carnival. Eight individuals were wounded during the shooting and four suspects were apprehended. In response to the shooting, City Council President Ed Flynn called for the cancellation of Carnival, drawing angry responses from Boston’s Black community.

By Saturday afternoon, the events of the morning and of the last three years seemed far from the minds of the masqueraders who made their way through Grove Hall. Those included District 7 City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who fielded her own masquerade band in 2018 but this year marched with a contingent of campaign supporters.

Osvaldo Rivera, D’Horizon PHOTO: YAWU MILLER

Asked why she didn’t march at the head of the parade with the other elected officials, Fernandes Anderson said the sound trucks and masquerade bands are where the action is.

“I want to be with the people,” she shouted over the blaring soca beats. “I want to celebrate our culture. Besides, what are they listening to up front?”

Covered in paint and soap suds sprayed from the back of a deafening sound truck, District 4 Councilor Brian Worrell jumped with the Suave band.

Others lost in the swirl of color and sound included yoga instructor and community activist Nicole Flynt, who wore the feathers and sequins of D’Horizon.

“I’m 50 this year,” she said. “It’s the 50th year of Carnival and the 50th year of hip hop. 1973 was a good year!”

Individuals from D’Horizon picked up multiple awards, but the Best on the Road Award went to another legacy masquerade band: EP Costumes’ four-section presentation titled “Jubilation: Carnival is We.”

EP Costumes and Associates, named for the former T&T bandleader Errol Phillips, also saw masquerader Dacia Tamara Shillingford-Compas (Shirley Shillingford’s daughter) awarded first place in the Queen Competition.

Phillips said the band’s theme is tied to the masqueraders’ re-emergence after more than three years off, due in part to the COVID pandemic.

“Everything has been on hold,” Phillips said. “We’ve lost lives. But now is a time to celebrate.”

 

Wilma Clouden, Clouden Productions PHOTO: YAWU MILLER

D’Horizon came in a close second to EP Costumes and Associates, Shillingford said. In third place was Misfit Carnival Boston.

Valissa Williamson, creative director for D’Horizon, said she and other masqueraders had mixed emotions returning to Carnival this year. Seeing Andrew Williamson’s visage hanging from a banner on the sound truck was encouraging.

“It was great to see everyone on the road and to experience all the love we got,” she said. “We cried a lot, just seeing [Williamson] on the banner looking after us.”

Boston’s Caribbean Carnival is the third largest in North America, after those held in Brooklyn and Toronto. Many masqueraders who played in the Boston Carnival will continue on to Carnivals in Worcester and Cambridge.

Osvaldo Rivera, who played masquerade with D’Horizon and won the Carnival’s Best Individual Award, said he’s planning to travel to Tokyo in September for the Japan Soca Weekend. But Boston is where Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican and Brazilian heritage, first played masquerade.

“The experience is different here,” he said. “It’s a real competition.”

Caribbean Carnival, masquerade