carnival-in-the-gardens-2011_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

MIAMI — Three years after leaders of  rival carnival committees decided to combine their resources instead of competing against each other, neither camp is expressing buyer’s remorse.

Rather, the Miami Broward One Carnival, which merges the Broward Carnival Committee and the Miami Carnival Committee, has brought a sense of renewed cultural energy, unification and economic impact to South Florida, organizers say.

“It’s wonderful. It’s what the community needs and wants,” said Kathryn D’Arcy, a longtime board member of Miami Carnival Inc.

In South Florida, the West Indian community started celebrating carnival — the distinctive Trinidad and Tobago festival — in 1984, said Marlon Hill, counsel to Miami Broward One Carnival. Desmond Worrell, a former member of the New York carnival, came up with the idea. The first local carnival took place at Northwest 183rd Street and 27th Avenue in Miami Gardens, Hill said. Over the years, the festival moved to different venues, including downtown Miami, Miami Beach, Coconut Grove and Homestead.

By 2003, a couple of masquerade or “mas” band leaders who disagreed with the management of the event broke away from the Miami carnival and migrated to Broward, said John Beckford, a board member of the Broward Carnival Committee.

“For a half dozen years, you had a carnival in Broward and a carnival in Miami on the same Columbus Day weekend. The community became disenfranchised,” Beckford said.

“Some people would go to Miami’s carnival, other people would go to Broward. Families and friends were split,” added D’Arcy.

“Both sides had to find a way to come together and stop dividing the community. All of the board members from both sides came to be seated at the table, and now there is oneness and unification,” said Beckford.

The first unified carnival took place in 2009 at Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami. The separate carnivals used to draw about 20,000 fans each, but since 2009 the number has increased, organizers say. The expected attendance this year: 75,000. 

“The economic impact is about $40 million in a one-week period,” Beckford said. “And that only will continue to grow as the economy improves.”

Now, as the One Miami Broward Committee prepares for its third unified mas parade and party on Sunday, the only competition will be which of the 21 mas bands will win the $7,000 first prize. 

Colorfully costumed masqueraders decked out in feathers and beads will jump up along a six-mile route through Miami Gardens that leads to the grounds outside of Sun Life Stadium. They comprise the mas band, which can include hundreds of members who pay between $195 and $4,000 for their costumes.

The costumes are based on themes selected usually a year in advance. The mas bands, including Party People, Generation X, Party Room Squad, Fun Generation, Major Players, and China Mas,  invite members of the West Indian community to participate. Judges select the mas band that best portrays its theme.

Last year, Generation X won the top prize.

“Your costume must depict your theme,” said Alicia Gibbs, leader of China Mas. Gibbs, whose band has won first place nine times in the past 11 years, is looking for her 10th win this year. She has seven sections of band members representing a water theme, “What Lies Beneath.”

The members from each band dance to recorded music that blares from a flatbed truck that precedes them in the parade. The truck also carries all of the food and drink the masqueraders can consume throughout the parade and party that takes place at the venue. The food, drinks and entrance into the stadium are covered in the cost of the costume, Gibbs said.

Most bands are diverse, Hill said, and members represent several Caribbean countries. Although Trinidadians account for most of the participants, Haitians are increasingly joining the bands or are creating their own, Hill said. African Americans also are joining in, Gibbs said.

The Miami Broward One Carnival
will take place from 11 a.m.  to midnight Sunday, Oct. 9, at the Sun Life Stadium grounds in Miami Gardens. The parade of bands will move from Northwest 26th Avenue to Northwest 199th Street, then travel west to 27th Avenue, north to 203rd Street and east into Sun Life Stadium.