carnival parade

By Sam Bojarski

Lionel Balmir has taken part in the revelry of Brooklyn’s Labor Day Carnival celebrations since the 1970s. The dazzle of the costumes, the pulse of the music, and the joy of mingling with old and new friends during the signature parade on Eastern Parkway has drawn Balmir and millions of revelers hungry to experience the pageantry of the Caribbean abroad. 

“I used to be with my brother’s [konpa] band on the Parkway, on the trucks, until late at night,” said Balmir, 64, now a West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) board member.

Carnival-goers celebrate the afternoon in this 2018 photo. Photo by Kerby Jean

“The Haitian community is very, very large in Brooklyn,” Balmir said. “So we’re well represented at the Labor Day parade.” 

This year, no mas bands will parade down the Parkway with Covid-19 concerns reigning. Instead, carnival kings, queens, and revelers have to take a digital route and celebrate virtually.

WIADCA has prepared a Virtual New York Carnival 2020 series of free events since large gatherings are canceled due to the coronavirus. Virtual carnival events include a music festival featuring Tabou Combo and an all-day celebration on Labor Day. 

“We will not give in to COVID-19,” said WIADCA board chair Angela Sealy in announcing the virtual events. “We will celebrate our collective heritage, our joy and creative expressions in every way we can, safely.” 

Virtual programming rundown

WIADCA’s virtual carnival programming kicked off Aug. 28, with the International Youth Fest Caribbean talent showcase, and will run through Labor Day weekend and beyond. Recordings will be available after each event on the WIADCA Facebook page.

The Virtual Carnival Experience lineup of events. Courtesy of WIADCA

While the events are free to view, WIADCA encourages audience members to make donations. 

Labor Day weekend events include the virtual music festival on Sept. 4 and an all-day “One Love” Virtual Road celebration on Sept. 7. 

Performers for NY Carnival Brass Fest, which begins at 8 p.m. on Sept. 4, include Haitian konpa mainstay Tabou Combo, which has been performing for more than 50 years now.

Organizers will stream pre-recorded performances from these groups, including three songs from Tabou Combo, which just celebrated its 52nd anniversary, Balmir said.

Slated to run from 9 a.m-10 p.m. on Labor Day, the Virtual Road also features DJ entertainment and live performances. 

Weeks later on Sept. 26, WIADCA will host Panology, an event about the history of the steelpan percussion instrument featuring interviews and performances. 

Back to Love

Caribbean immigrants have celebrated Carnival in New York City since the 1920s, with WIADCA organizing events in Brooklyn for 53 years. The nonprofit has chosen “Back to Love” as the theme for this year’s virtual celebration. 

“We’re trying to bring back the love that we used to have, that we do have, for each other but we sometimes don’t show it,” Balmir said. 

Concern for fellow citizens involves following the COVID-19 guidelines laid out by local and state health officials, said Sealy.

To listen or watch the celebrations, log on to Carnival.nyc, Facebook or Instagram. But those who wish to join the Zoom party must wear costumes.

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *