Across Borough Hall Plaza, people stood transfixed.
In the background, the honky-tonk beat of steel drums could be heard, and on the steps of the august structure, garbed in elaborate, remarkably colorful costumes, a couple of dozen people stood –a living advertisement for the West Indian American Day Parade that brings upwards of two million celebrants to Brooklyn each Labor Day, flocking to Eastern Parkway for the party of the year, which this year will be held on September 2, with pre-parade events beginning on August 29.
The event – held on a muggy Thursday afternoon, July 11 — served as the official kickoff of this year’s parade, now 46 years young.
Since its inception, the parade has grown and grown, and today is a celebration of all things Caribbean: the compelling music – including soca, calypso, reggae and steelpan; the gorgeous costumes worn by participants, many of whom ride on elaborate floats; and the food – spicy, smoky jerk, soothing rice and peas, and the complex, perfumed flavors of curry.
“This is our festival. It is synonymous with who we are,” stressed Thomas Bailey, the president of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), which sponsors the bash. “It is a beacon of our contributions to New York and the United States.”
“This is the mother of all parades,” noted Borough President Marty Markowitz. “It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in New York City and one of the biggest parties in America,” held, as Markowitz said, in, “The proud Caribbean capital of America.”
This year’s parade, he added, “will be bigger and better than ever. As borough president, it will be my finale and I look forward to greeting everyone on the parkway.”
This year, among the events leading up to the parade will be the World Music, Soca Rhythm & Four Levels of Mas competition (August 29, at 8 p.m.); a “Stay in School” Youth Talent Show (which is free for children, August 30 from 1 to 4 p.m.); Brass Fest (August 30 at 8 p.m.); the Steelpan Panorama competition (August 31 at 7 p.m.); Junior Carnival (a masquerade parade and competition for the under-16 crowd, August 31, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.); and Dimanche Gras, which combines steelpan music with calypso and much more (September 1, 7 p.m.). All the pre-parade events are held on the grounds of the Brooklyn Museum.
Then, the parade itself will transform Eastern Parkway on September 2, Labor Day, running from Utica Avenue to Grand Army Plaza, beginning at 10 a.m. and wrapping up at 6 p.m. Besides the spectacle in the main roadway, there will be vendors selling a wide range of merchandise, including Caribbean food, off to the side, where the spectators stand.
Democratic Kings County Party Chair Frank Seddio, who has been involved with the parade since 1969, when as a police officer he helped organize the first one on Eastern Parkway, said that the event, “Represents the best of the Caribbean and gives us a great opportunity to see all of the contributions made by people of the Caribbean to New York and the rest of the country. It’s the largest Caribbean parade in the world, rivaling Trinidad and Rio.”
This year, for the first time, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce will be involved in the spectacle. “This is the beginning of a really great partnership,” said Carlo Scissura, the chamber’s president and CEO. “The business community is going to be out in full force. We will be putting together events and helping raise money. This is a worldwide parade and the Brooklyn business community should support a worldwide parade.”
For further details on the event, check WIADCA’s website, www.wiadcacarnival.org.