ORLANDO CARNIVAL CELEBRATES 28 YEARS
By Jason Walker
In 1987 an Orlando resident by the name of Johnson Gilbert along with other residents Mark Modeste, Gloria Chandler and Tina Stubbs started on a journey that would evolve into the largest Caribbean event in Orlando, Florida, the Orlando Carnival. The Carnival occurs annually on the Sunday of the United States’ Memorial Weekend at the end of May. 2014 saw one of the largest Orlando Carnivals that has ever been produced.
Occurring on that weekend, Orlando Carnival has been able to not just draw audiences from inside Orlando but also from far and wide, although there is Atlanta Carnival on the Saturday of the same weekend and Best of the Best on Saturday and Sunday in Miami. Sam Roberts, who is a part of the marketing and advertising firm for the Orlando Carnival, says that the Orlando Carnival is “ a Caribbean showcase event for all Caribbean countries, it’s different from a Jerk fest or a Chutney Festival that is more specific to a single Caribbean country”.
Roberts goes on to say that, “there are solid numbers that attend the parade and the subsequent Mas village. Roberts quotes that the numbers that attend “along the parade route is approximately 15,000 to 20,000 and in the park about 6,000 to 8,000”. He goes on to say that Orlando Carnival is “a Caribbean cultural, colourful and entertaining festival for the whole family.” He illustrates that non Caribbean persons in Orlando have also gravitated to the event by stating that “they love it, many join Mas bands and buy their costumes and play Mas.”
Now when it comes to Orlando, the casual observer thinks of Disney and Universal first as they are the biggest and most famous manifestations in Central Florida, USA. This works for carnival since the festivities and the aforementioned entities are geared towards the family. There are no working synergies between the two entities however they do share that concept.
Twenty Eight (28) years of an ongoing event must have an impact on the community it represents and as such, the event has come to mean something to Caribbean people in Orlando. A promoter during Carnival time shared information on this. Shabana Nadia Khublal is a promoter that presents the annual Flag Fete which has become one of the signature events at Orlando Carnival says
“Orlando Carnival is a great way to display our Caribbean Culture, heritage and showcase a little bit of the Caribbean to our American friends. Orlando Carnival is a great way to introduce our youth, many of whom were born in the USA, our strength, unity and culture.”
Alana Nunez-Bennett has been involved with Orlando Carnival from a very young age with parents that worked with founding members of the Carnival. Bennett is a masquerader of the Twilight Mas Camp and also works with the Band Leaders group. Her perspective on this is, “Orlando Carnival means EVERYTHING to me. It’s part of my soul as I love parading in mas, developing portrayals and building costumes. I am a proud Trinbagonian. Boy do I love meh country”.
Nunez went further went on to share what she sees as the highs and lows of the Carnival, “the lows, for me personally, was 2 years ago to a few months ago. The lows are due to an overall loss of respect of the culture and of ourselves.
The power struggle infects some and causes nothing but pain and destruction. The highs were the mid to late 90s to early 2000s. However, I’m proud to say that we are on our way back to the highs. This community is stronger than no other. And we have re-evaluated our purpose and forged new truths that will allow us to put on one of the greatest carnivals Orlando has ever seen in a few years. We’ve got a solid route; over a mile long, a great location for Carnival; Festival Field, returning bandleaders, the rise of new bandleaders, we have bands coming from out of state, artists in the park and J’ouvert at Bill Frederick’s Park at Turkey Lake. Orlando will be filled with events and patrons. This is definitely a year no one should miss out on.”
Nunez reminisces on how she got involved with Carnival by remembering the persons who inspired her to be involved, “some of my most integral persons are my parents; Gail and Albinus Nunez, the late Norman Huggins of Twilight Mas Camp and the Mas Camp members and my sisters Neuben and Tamara Nunez. These people showed me the beauty of carnival, the spirit behind the culture. That it’s more than just jumping up and waving. It’s a feeling so deep down in the pit of your stomach that you cannot attempt to ignore it.”
Khublal also spoke on the Carnival by stating that “the Carnival has been around for 28 years, and although Orlando, Florida is a destination for many, in my opinion, over the last 20 + years, the Carnival has not been as large as it should be. However, last year was one of the best Carnivals that Orlando has seen in many years. I believe that we are going to see an increase of number for 2015 and will continue to grow from here.” With persons in cities such as Atlanta and Miami saying that they might choose Orlando this year, she may be right.
One can find out more information on the Carnival by visiting www.orlandocarnival.org, Orlando Carnival parade of bands will be Saturday May 24. (All images provided by Google search)
Jason Walker is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today Magazine who has had an award winning journalism career that spans 20 years. He can be followed on twitter at www.twitter.com/jasonwalker_ or emailed at email@example.com
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Patriot, Jamaican, Caribbean, Pan African, Humanist, Radio Personality, DJ. I have worked over 20 years as a Journalist for Caribbean Today Magazine, WRFG Radio 89.3 FM, Cross Over Media and several media outlets in the Caribbean and the US.