De Big Fete

By Lennox Borel


‘Carnival is coming. Tell Doreen and Irene we go wine down Toronto.

Dis fete have calypso. Dis fete have steelband. Dis fete have rum for so and plenty women also’

These are the words of Dave De Castro who won the Calypso Monarch title in 1968 with his song “Caribana De Big Fete”.

Since 1967 the festival has morphed through several incarnations from Caribana to the present day Toronto Caribbean Carnival. Everyone still calls it Caribana. The foundational elements are still Mas, Pan and Calypso. Mas has always been the showcase of the festival. The unparalleled Grand Parade winds its way down Lakeshore Boulevard, a panoply of colour, a blend of bikinis and beads, more feathers than a gaggle of geese, exquisitely beautiful costumes, masqueraders gyrating and jumping up to the extremely haunting music, calypso, soca, reggae and chutney.

A stalwart of the Mas fraternity is Louis Saldenah. For more than four decades Louis has been actively involved in the festival. He has been awarded the prestigious of Band of the Year 21 times. After arriving from Trinidad & Tobago in 1970, Louis followed in the footsteps of his legendary father, Harold, producing the most visionary, creative, artistic and inspirational costumes to the delight of hundreds of thousands of Canadian and foreign spectators.

Louis’ Mas camp leading up to the parade is a hub of creativity, where many hardworking volunteers including his trusted, reliable lieutenants like Hayden Hardin work tirelessly manufacturing the incredibly beautiful costumes. Louis, cell phone in hand, struts around the camp like a general directing the production.

Perhaps the greatest strides have been made over the years in the calypso art form in Toronto. It is axiomatic that wherever there are Trinis in the Diaspora there will always be calypso. Calypso is an integral part of the festival. The tents are open early. The calypso aficionados are salivating for the clever lyrics and the haunting music. The bards are always willing to acquiesce.

Calypso stalwarts like Tara “ Macomere Fifi” Woods, Joel “Connector” Davis, Patrick “Panman Pat” McNeilly, Henry “King Cosmos” Gomez are still titillating our ears with ethereal,  musical, rhythmic sounds, and at times, scandalously witty lyrics. In a couple of weeks Connector will defend his crown at the calypso finals.

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival will not be complete without steelpan. The Ontario Steelpan Association (OSA) stages a phenomenal show called Pan Alive during the festival. There are two bands that “own” Pan Alive. They are Pan Fantasy, led by Wndy Jines and Al Foster, and Afropan, affectionately known as the Peoples’ Band, led by Earl La Pierre jr.

Afropan has existed for 50 years, while Patrick “Panman Pat” McNeilly’s name has been synonymous steelpan since the inception of Caribana.  Some of the steel bands perform in the grand parade.

Finally, credit must be given to the festival administration (FMC), the dedicated volunteers, the generous sponsors, and the spectators from all over the world without whom this festival will not be the overwhelmingly resounding success that it usually is.

Viva Caribana!