Lemme tell you something/about Labor Day in Brooklyn / Everybody jumpin’/ Labor Day in Brooklyn/ Everyone was seen jumpin’ up like mad/ Just like the Carnival there in Trinidad….Nobody can watch me and honestly say/they don’t like to be in Brooklyn on Labor Day!
—Mighty Sparrow, “Mas in Brooklyn”
Take it from the King of Calypso himself, Brooklyn’s Labor Day Carnival festivities are not to be missed. Brooklyn’s Carnival is, by some reports, the largest in North America, drawing upwards of two million people to the beautiful Eastern Parkway thoroughfare that runs through the largely Caribbean neighborhood of Crown Heights. Many travel up from the Caribbean just to take part in the weekend’s nonstop parties, concerts and, of course, the dazzling parade of masqueraders (mas’ bands). Though we’ve heard that things have changed since the days when Sparrow wrote his song –the event is much more heavily constrained by the city and police department–the brilliant bacchanal is still alive.
The parade itself begins at 11 a.m., but the party gets started the night before, running through the night into the early morning as an even-rowdier event called J’ouvert. Where the daytime parade is flashy colors, feathers, dazzling costumes and soca hits blasting from speakers, J’ouvert is dark and messy: paint splatters, tar, oil, powder, fiendish jab jab costumes, and steel bands on wheels. The parade honors the radiance of the sun and all things that flourish under it; J’ouvert pays respect to the night and all the things that come alive in it. Between them, they allow space for revelers to let loose in whatever way they choose, to be free for those few hours of the year. Both are thoroughly lubricated by free-flowing alcohol and fueled by vendors selling jerk chicken, bakes and curries along the street. The energy that flows free during that one day brims over from the determined routes, spilling out across the whole neighborhood, transforming the streets into the joyful fête that made Sparrow sing those words.
Here we have for you photos of the day, from sunrise to sunset, from J’ouvert to the mas’ bands’ final flourishes before the judges. All photos by Sebastian Bouknight.
For the whole, deeply complex story of Carnival and J’ouvert, including the significant world of steel pan, give a listen to our most recent program, Carnival in Brooklyn. Keep your eyes out for more photos, interviews, and playlists to come.
Labor Day Parade