Who can resist the awesome spectacle of Caribana’s annual King and Queen competition? This year was no different. Trills and screams of appreciation along with long, loud applause from the crowd greeted the men and women who presented the magical costumes that extended metres high into the evening sky at Lamport Stadium last weekend. Competitors danced and pranced, seemingly oblivious to the weight of the towering creations.
The organized but still frenzied offstage preparations belied the final splendour, as the many pieces of each male and female individual and king and queen presentation were assembled up to mere minutes before they were to appear before the judges and the standing-room only crowd on the pleasantly cool evening of the competition.
Dexter Seusahai, who was the 2009 king, took the title again this year with “Predator Returns”, a black, green and silver creation that had the crowd roaring approval. This year’s queen, Pat Horsham, with the glittering silver “D’Chandelier – A Portrait in Crystal” is from the very popular Mas-K Club. In fact, Louis Saldenah’s Mas-K band almost swept the titles having also won male and female individual titles.
“D’Chandelier” gave meaning to the word spectacular, and with a million strands of silver tinsel fluttering in the evening breeze was my personal favourite, until Betty Toni with the dynamic “Fire On Ice”. Toni was also from Seusahai’s Tribal Knights band. “Fire On Ice” took second place, however all the costumes were stunning.
Amid the glitter and soca there were other moments of drama – or comedy – depending on your point of view. The night’s most memorable moment came when the king costume that threatened to outdo them all, a complex creation complete with a pair of horses and a chariot, titled “Spirit of Ramses” ran into trouble. The wheels literally fell off the design. There was a thousand-throng gasp as the presentation threatened to go off the rails, but the presenter soldiered on and determinedly completed his presentation to the encouraging applause of everyone in the stadium.
Yet, as wonderful as the King and Queen competition is, and as warm as the crowd was, with old friends meeting and greeting, sharing a fun and loving atmosphere, the true beauty of the grand costumes find their context within the Caribana parade itself. Surrounded by the revellers in their costumes and the hundreds of thousands of onlookers the bigger costumes are in their element.
For those who missed being there this year it would be well to book the time off in anticipation of next year’s festival. For those who were there, there is no mistaking the feeling that comes with the parade. The soca and calypso rhythms blaring from the super-tall speakers mounted on trailers are so loud that they pull your heartbeat from your chest. In effect, it feels as if your heart is locked into the music. Then, when all the sequins, multi-coloured feathers and sparkly rhinestones that envelop the masqueraders also envelop you, you are transported to a place that almost doesn’t feel like Toronto. Standing any place along the Caribana Lakeshore Boulevard route is like being taken on a trip to someplace else. As the mas’ crowd leaves you in its it wake, the revelers leave behind a trail of those same multi-coloured feathers, bits of sparkly braiding and sequins and an excitement to have the experience happen all over again. And if you wait just long enough (and sometimes it feels like a long enough wait) whether it is Jamaal Magloire’s Toronto Revellers, Whitney Doldron’s Mas Players International, or Whitfield Belasco’s Pleasure Players, you hear the pounding beat of the next band approaching and the feeling rises again.
There is nothing that can compare with being part of a massive assembly of folks of all hues, backgrounds and ages whose only purpose is to have fun and enjoy being together. Same time next year!
A note on the after-party…
Context is everything. A group of people all decked out in bikini-styled costumes and feathers look so right when they are chippin’ and wine-in’ through Exhibition Place and down Lakeshore Boulevard on the last Saturday in July. But put a few of them in a subway car a few miles away from the party and the rest of the passengers, the ones in their everyday clothes, just can’t stop staring. Cue the calypso.