You know about Brooklyn’s West Indian Carnival Parade on Labor Day, but that’s not where all of the fun happens. In the days leading up to and lingering past the parade, there’s an untold abundance of concerts, nighttime boat parties around New York Harbor and parties on streets, in pan yards and at venues throughout Brooklyn and Queens. Among these are the series of concerts that the West Indian American Carnival Day Association (WIADCA) hosts in the parking lot behind the Brooklyn Museum. The lot is transformed by a giant stage, a row of food and craft vendors, bars under big tents and rows of seats. 2017 was a particularly special year, being the 50th anniversary of the formation of WIADCA; that’s 50 years running that the Labor Day Parade has marched down Eastern Parkway. Be sure to check out our photo essay of the 2017 Labor Day festivities.
Right here we have some photos of the concert series that preceded the parade, from the night of reggae music to the celebration of calypso. You can hop down to the bottom of the page for a full gallery of all the concert photos. All photos by Sebastian Bouknight.
Reggae Unda Di Stars
The series kicked off Thurs., Aug. 31 with Reggae Unda Di Stars, which brought artists together from across the reggae spectrum. DJ Calli B provided some seriously hot dancehall tracks in between performances. Ghana’s reggae/dancehall star Stonebwoy–the first African artist that WIADCA has hosted–kicked off the show with an upbeat set that showcased his insistent energy but suggested that his voice benefits from some of the post-production that goes into his recorded music.
The New York-based, Nigerian-born Afrobeat songstress Wunmi brought her signature style of fiery, funky grooves and far-out fashion to the stage. Backed by a strong band that includes Kunle Ade, son of King Sunny Ade, she danced around the stage and into the audience, singing songs with pointed lyrics condemning injustice.
In homage to Bob Marley’s historic 1980 performance on this very stage behind the Brooklyn Museum, debuting his album Uprising, the legend’s second son Stephen Marley gave a laid-back, rootsy performance. Marley, on djembe and vocals, and his small, largely acoustic band rolled through some of his own songs and many of his father’s hits like “Three Little Birds,” “Jungle Fever” and “Could You Be Loved?” The group did justice to the Marley name with a big sound and positive vibe and Marley’s voice, spacious and deep with emotion.
Closing out the night was the Jamaican reggae legend Cocoa Tea–“Sweet, Sweet Cocoa Tea.” The singer got lots of love from the crowd for his deep roots vibe, mellow voice and abundant charm.
“The Real Brass Fest,” Friday night, Sept. 1, was a frenetic night of soca, driving deep into the night. The lineup felt never-ending; every 10 minutes or so yet another soca star from across the Antilles came out and gave a exuberant, quickly moving set of hit after hit propelled by a rotation of DJs and backing bands. Many of the year’s big name stars were there, like Ricardo Drue, Problem Child and MX Prime. New York’s MC Wassy hosted the night with his inimitable hype. The sets backed solely by DJs were great, but the singers gained a lot of vibes when the full bands came out with their rich sound.
Although planned for Sat., Sept. 2, Panorama–the annual steel pan competition–was rained out and moved to Sunday afternoon. Besides the inevitable disappointment of a delayed concert, the move also prevented several of the bands from being able to perform, including the Philadelphia Pan Stars and the Wess Stars Steel Orchestra from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Then there were difficulties with the stage which resulted in the bands performing on the asphalt next to the stage, without amplification and on top of that, the organizers decided to not judge the event, taking away the opportunity for the top bands to walk away with not only the pride of winning Panorama but also the tens of thousands in prize money. Disappointments aside, the bands played marvelously. From a non-official perspective, the top three bands had to be Pan Evolution, D’Radoes USA and Casym Steel Orchestra, with fiery, huge sounds and dynamic, high-energy arrangements of some the year’s soca hits.
The final show, Sun., Sept. 3, on the eve of the Labor Day Carnival is Dimanche Gras, a multipurpose fête that brings together a mas’ costume competition and a spread of Trinidadian music with calypso as its crown. The costumes on display were magnificent, mammoth creations often a year in the making, many built to roll down the Parkway on wheels.
The beginning of the music portion of the night saw a young dance troupe from Tobago–the Roxborough Police Youth Club–and Boodoosingh Tassa Drummers, playing tassa, a Trinidadian drum style with East Indian origins.
The calypso lineup was the crown of the night, with major calypsonians Swallow, David Rudder, Lord Nelson and the Calypso King Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Queen Calypso Rose. Interspersed was the virtuoso steel pannist Dane Gulston and the soca pioneer Superblue, who really brought the heat. The performances were a lot of fun and often accompanied by the audience singing along with many of the old hits. Mighty Sparrow, who has lived in Brooklyn for decades, is getting on in years and mostly hung around his stool but his voice and sly charm is undiminished. Perhaps a result of poor organization or just disrespect, but the calypso queen of the world, Calypso Rose, was relegated to the last slot of the night and was only given a meager five minutes to perform. This was a big disappointment and Rose herself wasn’t shy in sharing her frustration with the audience. Her one song, however, was brimming with her signature brilliance.
You can find a full gallery of all the Carnival concert photos below: