Assembling costumes for the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival is all about tradition.
The post-carnival scene at a rented Junction Triangle warehouse is something of a disaster. Half-empty beer bottles sit among unplugged hot-glue guns in piles of rickrack and beads. A black Singer sewing machine rests in a corner, alone.
Preparing for the carnival formerly known as Caribana is always hectic, but for Toronto’s Concept Costume Creators, this year’s lead-up was especially rushed.
“We only had about eight weeks in which to [make the costumes],” explains Sandy Judhan, a long-time costume maker who has been involved in the festival for about 30 years. Finding temporary warehouse spaces in which to assemble massive quantities of costume pieces is an increasingly tricky endeavour, and a logistical nightmare for the mas bands (that’s short for “masquerade bands”) involved. But what rises from the disarray is something spectacular.
Mas bands are the competing units behind the annual King and Queen competition held at Lamport Stadium the Thursday before the Caribbean Carnival’s big parade—though the glittery masquerades are also the main attraction of the parade itself. This year, there were 14 bands to be seen.
There’s some method to the madness. “There are two rooms,” says Whitfield Belasco, band leader for Concept Costume Creators. (His costume-making credentials go all the way back to Expo ’67.) “We keep the big pieces in the eastern room, and the smaller ones in the western room.”
Otherwise, it’s a bit of a joyous circus. Dozens of pieces must be assembled by a crew of volunteers with varying levels of experience. Headdresses are traced, stencils are cut, and pieces are sewn and glued together. It’s a labour of love done during after-work hours.
“People try their hands at different things,” says Judhan. “Sometimes they might not know how to decorate, but they know the basic cutting skills they have, so they will cut the stencils and other people will decorate. People get the opportunity to find what they are comfortable doing and learn as they go along.”
Every year, each band selects a new theme upon which to build their costumes. This year, Concept Costume Creators chose “Hope for the Future.” Judhan, a community activist and Toronto District School Board educator, says the band makes an effort to focus on costuming around a socially conscious agenda.
“In the past, we were gifted a beautiful planet by our creator, and humanity is fast-tracking toward destroying it,” says Judhan. “The king is a representation of all of the disruptive forces: corporate greed, global warming, things like that. Then the queen comes along, and she is the one responsible for the change of direction in the future. So, our consciousness has risen. We need to figure out how to leave a better place for future generations.”
The band’s procession is laden with symbolism. At the front is a sunrise, representing the dawn of a new day. At the back, a sunset. “It’s about fertility, growth, new beginnings, all that.” In between are the environment warriors (“they are the ones that skip around and make sure that people are in check”), the wings of peace (“they make sure that humanity finds a place where they can relate to each other in a civil way”) and, finally, “a celebration of all of us knowing what it takes to make this world a better world.”
For Judhan, costuming the carnival is an opportunity to remind people of the cultural and community-focused elements of the event. “We take in students to come help in exchange for their community hours, which they need to graduate. It’s an opportunity for young people.” She adds that, though she was born in Trinidad, her children were born in Toronto. Carnival presents an opportunity to keep island traditions alive on Canadian soil.
“It’s not just about a party or a fantasy,” she says. “It’s about the reality of what’s going on.”
Thanks to Moosehead for making this series possible.