Thursday, June 27, 2019

Cajuca Mas Arts Celebrates Caribbean Tradition & Emancipation for Toronto Carnival

Living in Canada, many of us have to make an effort to ensure that we keep the soul of our culture and traditions in the forefront of our daily routines. Through the foods we eat, the music we listen to, the places we shop, and the environments and people we surround ourselves with, maintaining a cultural presence is something that takes time and thought. Without it, even the most important elements and significant activities can get lost in the daily grind.

We're spoiled, fortunately, living in Toronto. Not only are we the most multicultural city on earth, but we also know how to celebrate these cultures in style. From the Taste of the Danforth's seasonal infusion of Greek culture, Indigenous Arts festivals, Salsa on St. Clair, to AfroFest, we have been blessed with an abundance of events that allow us to explore, dine, and revel in the spirits of our neighbours and fellow community members.

Toronto's Caribbean Carnival, now in its 52nd year, is a big one. It takes up a good portion of the downtown Lakeshore core during the Civic Holiday long weekend, packs hotels, and injects the city of Toronto and the GTA with an abundance of events, tourists, and cultural activities. We've become accustomed to the street parade, to the public appearances, and the beautiful costumed women and men who frolic for televisions cameras in vibrant colours and intricately designed elements of masquerade.

While there are usually around 10 bands that officially compete in the Carnival's Grand Parade for the coveted "Band of the Year" title each season, there are also a number of Guest Bands that participate as well. The bands can feature members of a sponsor team, or instrumentalists, dignitaries, or other organizations.

For costume designers Jackie and Clarence Forde from Cajuca Mas Art Producers, this year they are introducing a special Guest Band called Dingolay, featuring "Ol' Time Carnival, Mama 'dis is Mas" as a tribute to the traditional masquerade of the Caribbean, and the characters and presentation that accompanies it.

Their mission: to engage, educate, and entertain, while having fun, celebrating tradition, and maintaining an outlet for their creativity and passions.

Clarence & Jackie with Stephen Weir
Jackie and Clarence have been building mas together since 1990, originally with Wallace Alexander's TrinCan group, followed by Nip Davis and Associates (Black Sage), and then with the Toronto Revellers up until last year's carnival season. It was a recent conversation with a young lady about playing mas that triggered Jackie to take her passion to a new level. The young lady spoke only of makeup and drinking, and excessive behaviour on the road, without making mention of the true heart of carnival. That evening, Jackie and her husband Clarence had a heated discussion about the future of carnival, and decided to expand the efforts of Cajuca Mas Arts to include their own mas band.

Clarence has roots in designing mas from the Caribbean, U.S./Canada and Hong Kong, and was rewarded for his innovation from the Ontario Science Centre in 2010; Jackie is a trained artist by nature. Together, and with the sponsorship of the United Steelworkers and public grants from the Toronto Arts Foundation and the Ontario Arts Council, they have been able to use their combined gifts to tell a "larger, more relevant story" during the carnival seasons.

Over the past few summers, Cajuca Mas Art Producers has taken part in a range of celebrations across Toronto, aside from the Grand Parade. This summer, they will continue to feature their costumes and creations at a few key events as well. Only July 9, they will be a part of the official Toronto Caribbean Carnival launch taking place at City Hall. On July 20, they will be on display at the Bob Hunter Greenspace as a part of the Arts in the Park initiative through the Toronto Arts Council. July 26 will feature an appearance at the official Toronto Police launch of the carnival, and that evening they will participate in the "Beyond the Mas" carnival ball taking place at the Riviera Banquet Hall.

This hectic schedule of events has become customary for Jackie and Clarence, and a part of the energy they love to engage with, and invest in as a part of their natural annual routine.

"Originally, we resisted the idea [of being a Guest Band in the parade], as the road experience can be chaotic and counter to telling a story," said Jackie. "But in our capacity as a Guest Band, we precede the competitive bands and show the attendees to the festival parade where carnival began: from a celebration of freedom and emancipation."

For Cajuca Mas Arts, the reason of the season is the celebration of Toronto Carnival around the weekend of Emancipation Day, as well as Simcoe Day in Ontario. These are elements of the carnival festivities they hope to keep in the forefront, and as an important part of the day's messaging.

"[Toronto Carnival] is constantly evolving," said Jackie, who admittedly isn't a fan of the "beads, butt-floss-and-features" style of costuming. While many enjoy that very element of the parade, she prefers to see a balance of traditional mas with the modern features.

The story of emancipation is at the forefront of her hopes, through the new Guest Band, and continued appearances across the city. Jackie, Clarence, and their team hope to show the greater Toronto community that carnival is more than just a street party, but that it is a culmination of the sacrifices and suffering and journey of people of all histories why we have the freedom to now dance on the streets.

"My biggest hope is that the organizers develop a clear, radical, and tangible vision for the festival, engage sponsors worthy of putting their name on it, and look to improve the overall experience for a visitor or attendee to an event," said Jackie. "I also hope they place the right people in the key positions to make all decisions needed, and not just what they can afford at the time."

She also hopes that innovation and creativity are recognized and awarded in the Toronto Carnival community. With the same designers, costume concepts, and bands repeatedly winning year after year, she believes it can be demotivating, and also destructive to the art form. The Ontario Science Centre's award for innovation, is one method of recognition that Jackie feels is unbiased, and studies the design and construction of mas...rather than "last name" or "band alliance."

Dingolay will be the last Guest Band to appear on the parade route this year, and also the first band to appear before the competition bands. Jackie is pleased with this "sweet spot" as there will be no later-afternoon stormers to content with and enough media coverage to share the artform with the city's spectators. Being a part of this band is a great opportunity for costumed masqueraders to participate in tradition, and of course have lots of fun.

"If you are a Jab Jab, you will have a bucket to make noise, whistles, devil wings, horns, body paint, and more," said Jackie. "You can play yourself and have a ball! Same for the Dame Lorraines, Jammettes, Sailors, Baby Dolls, Midnight Robbers, and other characters."

Participating with this band will include an experience that is more interactive than just "wining down the road," and while in character, participants have a great opportunity to engage with spectators and really PLAY a mas!

On the road with the band will be some of Toronto's premier calypsonians like Joel "Connector" Davis (who is also this year's "Face of the Festival" along with Nadelle Lewis), as well as King Cosmos, Keith Pascall, and the Hummingbird Drummers. Club Carib and their dancers will also perform as Jammettes, along with performers in the stick fighter and moko jumbie roles as well.

"Our special performer, Joan Alexander is our irreverent 80+ Midnight Robber, extolling her wisdom and history to all," said Jackie, excited about this year's production for the road. Also joining the band are Toronto Carnival celebrity bloggers Kara and Shawn King of Karabana, and De Cocoa Panyol, who will be on the road in costumes and capturing the activities for their online audiences.

Funded by the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council, the Dingolay costumes are "made of lightweight muslin cotton, designed to be cool and airy." The Guest Band participation fee for "Ol' Time Carnival, Mama, 'dis is Mas" is $60 and includes costume, music, and snacks on the road for parade day. Music will be provided by DJ Miss Tempo, with a range of costumes to select from: Dame Lorraine, Jab Molassie, Pierrot Grenade, Moko Jumbies, Midnight Robber, Baby Doll, Jammette, Stick Fighter, and Fancy Sailor.

"This is not just a band experience, it is an immersive cultural experience to be enjoyed and celebrated," said Jackie. "Our motto is, and always will be: Engage, Educate, and Entertain!"

Registration is available through the Cajuca Mas Arts Producers website dingolay.ca, and in persona at their headquarters located at 776 Brimley Road (St. Peter's Church), in the Upper Parish Hall from Monday to Friday between 4pm and 10pm. Jackie and Clarence can also be reached via email at playmas@dingolay.ca, or via phone at 416-561-0988.




Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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