“I love a parade, the tramping of feet,
I love every beat I hear of a drum.
I love a parade, when I hear a band
I just want to stand and cheer as they come…” (Arlen/Koehler (1931))
There is something about that vintage Cotton Club song that rings so true. Although I am in a different time, place and culture than the setting for that familiar refrain,I feel that the sentiments are exactly the same!
On Saturday January 19th, I joined a small crowd of enthusiastic photographers near the starting point of the Opening Parade of Mas Domnik 2013 in Roseau. We were a diverse mix – visitors, members of the Dominican diaspora, expatriates, residents, families, couples and individuals who seemed to share in the excitement of the colour and pageantry of one of Dominica’s best known traditional cultural festivities. I have previously written about its history and origins, which you can refer to here.
Although the event got off to a late start, it was definitely worth the 1/2 hour wait. Dull,overcast skies and a cool light breeze eventually gave way to warm late afternoon sunshine – the perfect backdrop for a brilliant panorama of Carnival sights and sounds.
As the parade got underway, a large assembly of indigenous Kalinago people, accompanied by drummers traditionally called a
lapo-kabwit (goat-skin) band sang and danced with energy and enthusiasm as they followed directly behind the Carnival Queen and King (see first photo above).
Then came the mysterious and marvelous Sensay masqueraders, decked out in traditional fashion as per ancient African customs. I really admired the skilful creation of these costumes and the organized manner in which they presented themselves to the awed crowd.
By this time, I jumped up on a solid concrete plant stand (without disturbing the greenery, of course) so I could get a better perspective on the bands and their participants. Early on in the parade, every group was accompanied by drummers, which I mentioned above. This was the original way that revelers ‘marched’ through the streets during Carnival ‘jump-ups’, before the advent of hi-fi’s on trucks and electronically amplified bands. Dominica’s Carnival offers spectators the best of both worlds, in terms of musical accompaniment, and this year is no exception.
There is always some sonorous steel pan music, as well. Sweet sounds from a group of young people filled the air as they played on their melodious pans. Then along came fathers and sons, who kept pace with their cleverly crafted traditional home-made toy trucks. Everyone admired their designs as the fathers proudly coached the young boys on the route.
This was followed by a sequence of pretty girls of various ages who were decked out in seemingly royal splendour.
These young ladies are involved in various competitions – The Princess Show, the Teenage Pageant and Miss Dominica. These spectacles draw very large crowds!
I am always entertained by the ever-popular flag wavers. This year was no exception. I really smiled as I watched the little ones in training and then the older girls – who really put on an athletic routine that does require considerable skill and coördination.
After this point, shimmering, shining, sparkling and sometimes sexy costumes appeared ‘on the road’. And that is what Bacchanal is all about! By-standers definitely got a taste of what would come in the Street Jump-Ups, Parades and festivities on the forthcoming Carnival Monday and Tuesday (February 11 + 12). I have `jumped`with a costume band several times before and I can assure you that it was lots of fun!
There was also a serious side to this festive affair – the St. John Ambulance group reminded everyone not to forget the sensibilities of life.
Towards the end of the parade, some of Dominica’s big bands put in an appearance on the big Hi Fi trucks. Most memorable to me was the music of WCK, a long-standing group with a big following. As they went by, they relentlessly repeated a key phrase from a popular song: `Pass the bouyon`. Now if that seems boring to you, then you`ve never been in a Carnival band! Bouyon is a type of Creole music that was created in Dominica several years ago. Its infectious rhythm is well beyond toe-tapping. You just absolutely cannot help but move every part of your body to the beat. I can assure you I did just that – and so did every single person I could see on the street. By the time that music had infused my heart, I was more than ready to jump-up for sheer joy!
And then the band turned a corner and continued along the parade route – now packed with people. I headed away from it and made my way to the bus stop for home – knowing fully well what I would be doing on Carnival Monday and Tuesday in the streets of Roseau!