For New Yorkers, neighbors and lovers of Caribbean fêtes far and wide, you’ve got a lot to look forward to this week. Yes, it’s time again for Brooklyn’s world-famous Labor Day Parade–A.K.A. the West Indian American Carnival Parade–and all of the tireless festivities that surround it. This year is a particularly special celebration: 2017 marks the Golden Jubilee anniversary of these festivities, bringing the party to the Crown Heights neighborhood for every one of those 50 years. In the days leading up to Monday’s early morning J’Ouvert bacchanal and the massive, million-strong parade down Brooklyn’s grand Eastern Parkway thoroughfare, there will be a series of star-studded concerts–reggae, dancehall, soca, calypso and more–and a heated steel pan competition behind the Brooklyn Museum.
For several months, members from all Caribbean nations have been prepping extravagant masquerade costumes for the parade, practicing sweeping steel pan arrangements every night and bringing Brooklyn’s party energy to a boil. To get a sense of what this week is all about, check out our 2016 program, Carnival in Brooklyn. Right now, we’ll give you a rundown of what to look forward to in this week’s festivities. All of the events, other than the Calypso Rose show at Stage 48, J’Ouvert and the Labor Day Parade, take place behind the Brooklyn Museum, with an entrance on Washington Ave. Head to the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) page (or one of the participating New York Caribbean restaurants) for tickets, which run between $35 and $125.
Wed., Aug. 30: Calypso Rose in concert
The Queen of Calypso, Calypso Rose will be taking the stage at Stage 48 in Manhattan with fellow Trinbagonians David Rudder, Angela Hunte, MX Prime and Ultimate Rejects, showing off the fruits of “Sweet, sweet T&T,” as David Rudder sings. Show is from 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Find tickets here.
Thurs., Aug. 31: Reggae Unda Di Stars!
To kick off the shows behind the Brooklyn Museum, this evening will be a lush lineup of reggae of many stripes. Up top on the list of “Reggae Ambassadors” is the legendary Jamaican reggae star Cocoa Tea, joined by Ghanaian dancehall artist Stonebwoy and Brooklyn’s own Nigerian-American Afrobeat/reggae singer Wunmi. This will be the first time the festivities have featured artists from the African continent. Tonight’s show will also commemorate the historic occasion of Bob Marley’s Labor Day appearance nearly 40 years ago. The West Indian American Carnival Day Association’s Rhea Smith says that this concert will honor the “memory of Bob Marley [who] in 1978, 1979, visited this very same stage behind the Brooklyn Museum for New York Carnival, where he debuted Uprising, the album…To commemorate, we will have Stephen Marley on behalf of his dad.” The concert will be hosted by the local Irie Jam Radio station and various DJs and presenters. Doors at 6 p.m.; Show from 7 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Fri., Sept. 1: Summer Jam: ‘Stay in School’ Youth Fest
This show will be a salute to the youth, featuring talent from the local community and beyond, including the young Broadway star Shahadi Wright, the Medgar Evers College Prep School Contemporary Dance Company, Bantingua Arts Academy, Ifetayo Cultural Arts, the Roxborough Police Youth Club from Tobago and much more. Showtime from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. FREE.
The “Real” Brass Fest
Friday’s late-night concert is going to be hot as can be. It’s a soca music spectacle with an endless lineup, featuring 2017 Soca Monarch Ricardo Drue (from Antigua), Lyrikal (Trinidad), Farmer Nappy (Trinidad), Problem Child (St. Vincent), MX Prime (Trinidad), Blaxx (Trinidad), and much more. Hosted by MC Wassy. WIADCA’s Rhea Smith says that “it’ll be like you’re transported right back home to one of the pan yards or one of the big jam sessions for Carnival.” Doors at 6 p.m., Show from 7 p.m. – 3 a.m.
Sat., Sept. 2: Junior Carnival Parade
Come out and support the kids! This will be a pint-sized version of the Labor Day parade, featuring the youth in masquerade, live performances and the crowning of the Junior King and Queen. The parade begins at Kingston Ave./St. John’s Place, continues to Franklin Ave./President St. and ends at the Brooklyn Museum. WIADCA’s spokesperson Smith says, “the kids are so excited to get their costumes, put them on and parade through the streets just like the adults do. The revelry is going to be awesome!” Parade is from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Panorama 2017 Steel Orchestra Competition
Panorama is one of the most exciting parts of this week of fun. Massive steel pan orchestras from across Brooklyn and Queens come together after a summer of practicing to present their stunning, orchestral arrangements of soca hits. The winning band takes the championship crown and a cash prize. This year there are 10 bands competing, including visiting bands from St. Thomas and Philadelphia. If you want to get pumped for this steel clash, check out the bands’ evening rehearsals throughout Brooklyn this week. For an in-depth look at the Brooklyn steel pan scene, hear our 2016 program, Carnival in Brooklyn. Doors at 6 p.m., Show from 7 p.m. – 3 a.m.
Sun., Sept. 3: Dimanche Gras Grand Finale!
Closing out the concert series is this very exciting show featuring the King and Queen of Calypso, the Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose, who have reigned over the calypso world for decades. Joining the royal pair will be calypsonians and artists David Rudder, Swallow, Ras Iley, Natasha Wilson, Dane Gulston, Boodoosingh Tassa Drummers and the Sunshine Band. This is not a show to miss! Doors at 6 p.m., Show from 7 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Mon., Sept. 4: J’Ouvert
J’Ouvert (from the French for “daybreak”) is the early-morning bacchanal that leads up to the Labor Day Parade. It’s a raucous, rowdy fête that starts sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning and sprawls across Crown Heights until somewhere around 10 a.m. The party is more or less informal, organized by J’Ouvert City International, but not technically sanctioned by the city government. There’s a loose parade that makes its way down Flatbush Ave. and Empire Blvd. from the Central Brooklyn Public Library to the middle of Prospect Lefferts Garden. Here you’ll hear endless music blasting from speakers or made by various small steel bands or rhythm sections on wheels, see wild costumes from oil-smeared, devilish “jab jabs” to frilly, Victorian-style European garb, and likely get splattered with some paint. Please be careful and attentive to heated situations that might arise: J’Ouvert has unfortunately experienced occasional acts of violence in past years, which has been a source of pain and controversy (which you can hear all about in our 2016 program). As a result, the parade has officially been pushed up to daylight hours, to begin around 6 a.m., although the festivities will certainly begin earlier. For more info, check out this rundown.
Labor Day Carnival Parade 2017
This is the peak of the festivities, the moment when a million-plus people come out to flood the streets with music, color and fun. Huge masquerade–or mas–bands come out in full force and opulent costumes, slowly dancing their ways down Eastern Parkway from the far eastern edge of Crown Heights to the Brooklyn Museum by Grand Army Plaza. Everyone is decked out in feathers, sequins, jewels and more, with some hardcore masqueraders sporting enormous, 15-foot outfits carried on metal frames and wheels. Each mas band is accompanied by mammoth sound systems carried on the beds of tractor trailers as they make their trek, ending at the judging stage in front of the museum. The Parkway is lined with hundreds of thousands of revelers, eating, drinking, dancing and having all kinds of fun. For some pictures of the parade, check out our photo gallery from 2016. This year’s parade will have some new features, including viewing stands for senior citizen along the parade route, a celebration of Brooklyn mas fashion and Caribbean-American Pride Unity promoting HIV awareness/education. If you can’t make it to Trinidad for the ultimate carnival, Brooklyn’s your next best bet.
Even Haiti’s former president Michel Martelly, A.K.A. Sweet Micky, came out to party last year:
WIADCA’s Smith says that they “hope that you will come out and enjoy all of New York Caribbean Carnival Week. We look forward to seeing you, whether you’re from Spanish-speaking islands, French-speaking islands, English-speaking islands or from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora; we want to see you on that parkway and behind that museum!” We at Afropop Worldwide hope to see you there too!