Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I doh know bout you but I come out right now to get on bad, bad, bad, bad!

That was really not my intention on Saturday, August 1, 2009. After all, it was Emancipation Day (August 1, 1834 enslaved Africans in Canada were freed from chattel slavery). I had overslept after a really long day on Friday which began with attending a commemoration of Emancipation Day and ended after attending the community reception to recognize Thando Hyman-Aman's appointment as the first principal of the Africentric Alternative School.

I was late for the reception because I took my grandchildren (4 year old and 1 year old twins) and it is a time consuming task getting small children dressed. We missed the bus at Finch subway station because of an insensitive bus driver who drove out of the station even as he saw me running, pushing a stroller and hanging on to the hand of a 4 year old, trying to catch the bus. It took a while for the next bus to arrive and after the reception (which I left after 11:00 p.m.) it was back home to get the babies to bed.

Naturally, I was worn out. (Twenty years ago I could handle this without breaking a sweat.) So there I was on Saturday morning not sure whether or not to make the effort to attend the Caribana parade. The thought of babysitting for the day soon propelled me (don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore my grandchildren) to get out before I ended up spending the day with small people who demand constant attention. And it was Emancipation Day!

I arrived at the CNE where the parade starts, intending to sit in a very ladylike manner and make some notes. I planned to observe the colourful costumes of the mas players, the elaborate and intricately designed larger costumes that require the wearers to be skilled at maneuvering their way along the parade route.

Then the first band was announced, Into D Wild, by bandleaders Alicia and Errol Achue. I diligently noted the information in my notebook and admired the usual pageantry that is Caribana. Then I heard: "I doh know bout you but I come out right now to get on bad, bad, bad, bad!" All the years of training by lovingly overprotective parents and grandparents who felt that properly brought up young ladies should not wine especially in a public place, just flew out of my head.

The next thing I knew, without conscious thought (just in case my father is reading this article) I was on my feet and just could not control the feet, waist, hips and shoulders from moving in time to the beat. It was the drums that did it! At least I think I heard what sounded like some djembe drums. I even tried to get past the security guards (who were very gracious but would not allow me past the barricades even with my media pass).

Good thing, because I could not do much flouncing in the confined space under the tent where I sat with some dignitaries. Imagine what would have happened if I had been allowed to get out onto the parade area.

Things just went downhill from there because Faye Ann Lyons was encouraging me to jump up, get on bad, wave my hands, rags and flags in the air. Honestly, I resisted because I did not have a flag. This is the second year in a row that I was remiss and neglected to take a flag to the Caribana parade even though I have several Guyanese flags of various sizes, plus an Ethiopian flag, a Ghanaian flag and a Jamaican flag.

I could have taken any one of them to wave and no one would have been any the wiser. There were some comic moments during the time it took for that first band to go past the judges; one reveller was carrying what appeared to be a paper mache giraffe about four feet tall, tied to his wrist.

There were also some frustrating moments; one incident in particular threatened to derail my enjoyment of the music. A group of White men who seemed to think it was appropriate for them to occupy more space than anyone else, parked their oversized media equipment and ignored security and police when instructed to move. This group endangered several of the larger costumes (a piece of someone's costume broke) as the mas players maneuvered and tried to get past the obstruction.

Several spectators commented on the disrespect these men showed to our culture. I figured that it must be an extremely powerful group since they even ignored the police request/direction, but since the police officer was not White, they could ignore his authority, White skin privilege trumps African wearing police uniform. I gave some serious thought to leaving after this display of White skin privilege but it was Emancipation Day, the music was amazing and I refused to let their over inflated sense of superiority and privilege ruin my enjoyment of my culture.

So I enjoyed the parade and when the last band went past the judges I really did intend to catch a bus or streetcar back to the subway station. Instead, like the children who followed the Pied Piper of Hamelin, I found myself following the sound of Destra Garcia singing about 'Bacchanal' onto Lakeshore Boulevard. Fortunately, unlike the children of Hamelin, in spite of getting lost on Lakeshore Boulevard, I eventually made my footsore, weary way back home.

Veteran African-American actress, Diahann Carroll, in addressing the aging process has entitled her autobiography The Legs Are the Last to Go but in my case the legs were the first to go. However the waist, hips and shoulders are still doing well because even as I sit and write this article blasting Destra Garcia's 'Bacchanal', they are thankfully working very well.

Cause when the music hits the brain...

Written in August 2009 and I am looking forward to Caribana 2010 in spite of the City’s and Scotiabank’s attempt to “own” Caribana. It is our festival and we need to take ownership in every way.

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