Syncopated rhythms and chest-pounding bass echoed through Waverly and Clifton Park on Saturday, the first clue there was a party making its way down 33rd Street. Flatbed trucks carried stereos blasting Soca music. Masqueraders fluffed their feathers and put the finishing touches on their makeup. Revelers waved flags for Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. And everyone—including stilt walkers—danced in the street.
The parade kickstarted the Baltimore Washington One Carnival, a two-day event celebrating Caribbean pride and culture last weekend. Since it began 38 years ago as a backyard party, the live music and food festival has grown to now attract thousands each year. It’s now co-organized by the Caribbean American Carnival Association of Baltimore (CACAB) and the DC Caribbean Carnival Committee, who joined forces in 2012.
“Carnival/Caribbean Festival is very dear to me because as a young girl I participated in the same activities in my country of Antigua and Barbuda,” says Elaine Simon, president of CACAB.
She moved to the US in the late ‘60s—first to New York, then Baltimore—and in each city, attended Carnival to feel connected to her home and her community. She sees the festival in Baltimore as a cultural exchange, and a way to “preserve the customs, the legacy of the Caribbean art form of Carnival.”
María Sánchez, who took the beautiful photographs below, and I walked through the parade on Saturday to absorb the art, beauty and sensory overload. The crowd’s palpable joy and the blast of colorful costumes felt so refreshing I wanted to drink it all up. Tall feathers waved like palm leaves, and shimmering gemstones sparkled in the sweaty July sun.
The vibrant palettes, feathered headpieces, and music floating in every direction reminded me of the innumerable ways that people of Caribbean descent have helped build and shape the US from New Orleans to New York. Through their most famous exports—Rihanna, Grace Jones, and Stokely Carmichael come to mind—and communities on the ground, Caribbean culture has baked its music, art, cooking, and politics firmly into this country. (Nora Belblidia)
Photo Essay by María Sánchez