***Disclaimer: The official name for Caribana is The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival. Scotiabank doesn’t even have the rights to the name, “Caribana,” but it’s one of those things that just stick. Kind of like how no one in Chicago calls The Willis Tower by its current name, we still say Sears Tower. So… yo mama named you Caribana, I’mma call you Caribana.***
Picture it, Toronto, 2011. I was attending my first Caribana parade and first spotted the masquerade players in person. Enraptured by the twinkling jewels and glamorous feathers, I decided right then and there: I HAD to play mas one day. Of course, this goal was a distant one and I never thought in a million fried plantains years it would actually happen. But…
In a conversation with Veteran VSBer and dear sisterfriend, Keisha Brown (now developing a brand as Amy Juicebox) told me she was going to play mas this year. (Editor's note: "Amy Juicebox" is an interesting name) My soul squealed and knew this was my chance. Why not have my first masquerade experience with one of my closest friends?! And whoop, there it was.
First, we had to pick a band to play with. This part wasn’t difficult because KB had a friend that she dubbed her mas guru. This mas guru had cemented her loyalty to one band: Team Saldenah, founded by the infamous Louis Saldenah. And to up the ante, this year’s band theme was The Chronicles of Machel Montano. Pretty sure that last sentence made every Soca Head cream themselves. It was kind of a big deal. We then picked costumes in May, an experience of which, I was blessed to have the Toronto insider-access in KB so she could see the costumes in person. We all decided on the same costume theme, which was pivotal because the specific costume theme determines which sub-group you play in (under the band) and these are called, “sections.” We ended up picking the “Jumbie” section.
After that was a countdown of sorts, which included a mix of growing excitement and diet/exercise trials and tribulations. And then… the weekend was here.
Thursday, July 30: I flew into the airport and met up with fellow #TeamVSB member, Shamira! I was excited to meet her in person, as I am with all my VSB family. She’s super pretty and hilarious. We then went to KB’s crib and headed out to our opening Caribana weekend party, hosted by #BAREGYAL. It was a non-touristy gritty spot, which I’m always here for when traveling to get the full local nightlife experience. When I tell you this night was a glorious sweatbox of dancehall, soca, AND trap music?? We got our entire lives and never stopped dancing. It was TOO LIT. Pretty sure Shamira got lifted by a dude onto the stage to dance at some point.
Friday, July 31: This day was pretty chill for me since KB and Shamira had to work. So, I decide to explore a part of the city by my lonesome, which is actually a favorite pastime of mine when visiting an unfamiliar place. I went over to the CN Tower and Harbourfront, both of which looked beautiful in the summer. I met back up with Shamira and we went to a Mexican spot and chatted over margueritas until KB got back home. That evening, we went to a Doubles & Roti spot where we met up with Shanae’ and OG_Humble_One. This was a VSB community extravaganza for sure! That night, we split up where Shanae’, Humble, and Shamira went out. KB and I stayed behind because we had a lonnnnng day ahead of us.
Saturday, August 1: THE BIG DAY! We got our makeup done by a professional makeup artist at around 6am and then got ready. This was the moment where we debuted our costumes to the social media public. We had decided to keep them secret from EVERYONE until the day of the parade. Also, let me mention that traveling via public transportation in our costumes was an unforgettable experience. People stared and asked to take pictures with us. Shit, we felt like celebrities. I ain’t even gonna lie. My Leo self was here for ALL that attention and I’m sitting here beaming thinking how I’m in some tourist’s photo album right now all because I donned some a bra/panty combo, glitter and feathers. We then headed to the mas camp grounds where we met up with other Jumbie section players and were greeted with coconut water. Also, KB and I had a cool moment where we appeared on CP24, a Toronto news station. MAMA I MADE IT, EH? Ok, corny joke. Anyway, we then went to gather around our respective band trucks where we waited until we hit the road. The band crew passed out water and jerk chicken/rice meals, which I appreciated and devoured. Next thing I knew, it was time to jump in! GET IN YO SECTION! Let me say right now that playing mas is certainly a marathon, not a sprint. That shit takes stamina. All day marching and wining. It was SO fun dancing and reveling in our fabulousness, but that glaring sun ain’t no joke!
It was also interesting to compare/contrast my Caribana experience as a regular parade frequenter vs. a mas player. My first visit to Caribana, I definitely stormed (i.e. ambushed the area where the masqueraders play/march) the parade with my friends at some point. From the view of a masquerader; however, I realize how storming can be an annoying practice. Now, storming is fully ingrained in this parade’s culture and I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing. It can be fun dancing with the non-costumed folks, but I definitely think storming shouldn’t be allowed until after the band/costume judging competition so that the costumes are preserved. Overall, it was an amazing experience and I would totally do it again. In fact, I’m already semi-planning on playing mas again next year with MORE friends. I’ve never felt as empowered, sexy and supported as I did playing mas. That night, after comforting my distraught feet, we went out to have a late dinner, which was fun!
Sunday, August 2: We had initially decided to attend a day party but we ended up chilling around KB’s house just eating delivered pizza and talking shit. And honestly, I preferred it. Mainly because a horrible thunder/hailstorm erupted and it was great to just sit around and talk with the VSB family, all of which are hilarious and fun people in their own way. We then got all glammed up to head for the grand finale Sunday night party. As an aside, the big closing parties are held on Sunday night because the next Monday is a Canadian holiday. Unlike the previous more casual parties we attended prior, this was truly the party to stunt. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is Carribean culture so it STILL ain’t a wallflower-posted party. We just show up in heels and end up in fold-up flats or barefoot. Because… all the dancing. We went to the ICON: Power party and the OMGSOFAHNTAKEMYPANNIES Omari Hardwick was in attendance. And because Jesus loves me, Omari said, “Hey Baby!” to me on his way out, shaking my hand. I actually fainted, dramatically after screaming to KB, because I have little to no sense. This night was also filled with lots of sweaty dancing. I know, at one point, a Jamaican dude I was dancing with pulled me aside to a corner to have a slow-wine session. I’m also pretty sure he didn’t want to let me go but, ya know… I gotta share the cheeks, I mean, wealth. (Editor's note: TMI) We partied hard until about 4 or 5 in the morning, had a failed attempt to get drunk food at a 24-hr McDonald’s that ran out of food (Girl, WHAT??), went back home to eat our leftover pizza and called it a D-A-Y. Or maybe, a M-O-R-N-I-N-G.
Monday, August 3: KB’s Birthday!!! This was my departure date, but since my airport was so close to the Harbourfront, I tagged along with KB and her Mini-KB to hang out along Lake Ontario, eat super yummy Oxtail/rice & peas, and reminisced about the past few days. And just like that, I was on a plane back to Chicago.
There is always this super surreal feeling when you’ve done something you’ve always wanted to do. I can’t quite describe it perfectly, but I’d say it’s a mixture of awe and joy, sprinkled with dopesauce. For me, this year has been a year of taking chances in many ways and I’m glad this was one of them.
So, what’s next after jumping up the streets of Toronto scantily-clad? Well, changing all of my avis to pics of me in my costume, of course. Hell, even my LinkedIn profile pic too.