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By Sam Bojarski

A Sept. 1 ribbon-cutting by WIADCA board members, elected officials and community leaders signifies the start of Carnival 2020. Photo by Sam Bojarski

The coronavirus pandemic might mean no parade down Eastern Parkway. But it hasn’t stopped people from celebrating Carnival virtually.

“It’s a chance for us to represent our culture,” Flatbush resident and teacher Rita Joseph said, about the importance of Carnival. “We also have to adapt to our new reality with COVID-19.”  

The West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), which has planned Carnival celebrations in Brooklyn for 53 years, organized two virtual events for Labor Day weekend. NY Carnival Brass Fest on Sept. 4 featured Haitian konpa favorite Tabou Combo. Labor Day, Sept. 7, is the all-day “One Love” Virtual Road celebration. Tune in live on WIADCA’s website.

At a press conference, WIADCA board members and community leaders expanded on the “Back to Love” theme of this year’s Carnival.

“COVID-19 has upended all of our lives in ways we could not have imagined,” said Dominican-born WIADCA President Dr. Jean Joseph. She added that the unprecedented times also provided an opportunity to imagine new creative possibilities and showcase Brooklyn Carnival to a global audience. 

On Sept. 4, Tabou Combo contributed an electrifying performance of “Phénomène Tabou,” pre-recorded from the band’s 52nd anniversary celebration earlier this year. The group was also presented with a New York State Assembly Citation, awarded by District 42 Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte. 

WIACA board member Lionel Balmir said more than 6,000 people followed the Facebook livestream of Brass Fest. 

Tabou Combo is nearly as old as the nonprofit WIADCA, which is celebrating its 53rd anniversary.

“We tried to coincide the two anniversaries,” said Yves Joseph, a singer and manager for Tabou Combo, who has been in the band since 1968. 

According to Yves Joseph, Tabou Combo performed at its first Brooklyn Carnival in 1975. However, the band has not performed at the event for at least three decades, he said. 

“We’re used to mingling with the public, seeing people,” said Yves Joseph, of Teaneck, New Jersey. “Doing something virtual is kind of out of the ordinary for us, but what are you going to do, that’s the only way to do it right now.”

Even without a parade down Eastern Parkway, Flatbush residents found ways to celebrate Carnival in-person during Labor Day weekend. Some people held small gatherings in their yards. Others gathered with friends and family in Prospect Park. Throughout the neighborhood, vendors sold Caribbean flags, shirts and other festive items. 

On Labor Day, masqueraders will don costumes from their homes and join a virtual Zoom party. DJs and special documentary-style clips of past Carnival events are also part of the “One Love” Virtual Road celebrations. 

This year, WIADCA’s Carnival programming runs through Sept. 26, when the organization will host a Panology event that covers the history of the steelpan percussion instrument. 

“We’re trying to promote peace, unity and love, that’s what this is all about,” said Balmir, 64, who has participated in Carnival celebrations since he was 16 years old. 

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.

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