Brooklyn's West Indian American Day Parade is New York City's largest and the country's largest Caribbean cultural event.
A kaleidoscope of colors and a cacophony of adrenaline pumping soca rhythms are at the core of the West Indian American Day Carnival (WIADC) parade held on Labor Day along a several mile stretch of Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Commencing on the Thursday night with a display of costumes and climaxing with its Monday afternoon street parade, the WIADC is undoubtedly North America's largest Caribbean cultural event and NYC's largest parade But Carnival is also big business.
According to an impact study funded by Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in 2and the 003, the WIADC generated $86 million dollars for every 1 million attendees. Carnival now boasts over 3 million patrons and the economic impact generated via tourism, local purchases and sale of goods consumed along with mass transit use, exceeds $300 million.
Currently celebrating its 45th anniversary, The West Indian American Day Carnival is financed through grants from various New York city and state agencies, corporate sponsors, fund raising events and private donations; support is slightly down, says the President of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) Thomas Bailey. A former schoolteacher from Port of Spain, Trinidad who spent 27 years working in the collections area of the Dividends and Interest department at Merill Lynch until his retirement in 1999, Bailey was the secretary of WIADCA prior to being elected President in April 2012, following the December 2011 resignation of Yolanda Lezama-Clarke, daughter of the organization's founder, the late Carlos Lezama.
Thomas Bailey, the new president of West Indian American Day Carnival Association since April, says sponsorship and grants are down for this year's West Indian American Day Carnival in Brooklyn. (Photo: Pat Meschino)
"Because I was elected in April we only had 4-5 months to prepare so we fell back in applying for some grants and missed out on a few. Cutbacks within the funding agencies such as the New York State Council on the Arts have also affected us," said Bailey in an interview with Billboard.biz last night at the WIADCA office on Rogers Avenue.
Seated in a back room surrounded by photos of previous carnivals, as predominantly Trinidad born staffers sell tickets to this weekend's WIADCA sponsored events while answering incessantly ringing phones and numerous walk in queries, Bailey is regularly interrupted to attend to various tasks, all of which he handles quite calmly. "We also lost about 15% corporate sponsorship from what we had last year due to our late start and the downturn in the economy," Bailey continued. Some of WIADCA's largest corporate sponsors include Con Edison, Bacardi Rum, Moet, Western Union and Municipal Credit Union of New York. Their contributions help offset the expenses of staging the parade, Saturday morning's Kiddie's Carnival and four consecutive nights of events held behind the Brooklyn Museum on the weekend leading up to Labor Day, which Bailey estimates cost upwards of 2 million dollars.
Last night (August 30) WIADCA presented it's annual competition for the king and queen of the masquerade bands called Mas Mas and More Mas (in Trinidadian parlance mas, an abbreviation of masquerade, refers to the colorful costumes revelers wear on the Parkway as they rhythmically move or "chip" to the music); tonight's BrassFest, celebrating Jamaica and Trinidad's 50th anniversaries of independence (August 6 and August 31, respectively) will be headlined by reggae sing-jay Mr. Vegas and soca phenomenon Machel Montano, whose enthralling sets are by now a requirement for any carnival related event.
Saturday night's steel drum band competition, Panorama, features 11 steel bands, the majority from the New York area, vying for cash prizes; Sunday night's Dimache Gras will include veteran calypsonians Shadow, Black Stalin and Calypso Rose, concluding at 1 AM in time for J'ouvert morning, carnival's pre dawn celebration, where steel bands and their followers, often caked in motor oil, smeared in paint and/or baby powede, "chip" through the streets of Flatbush. By tradition amplified music is not allowed at J'ouvert, which provides an opportunity for steel band lovers to savor the nuances of the steel pan's capabilities, which occasionally get lost in the breakneck speed playing that is typical of Panorama.
"BrassFest and Panorama are our two biggest nights, Friday night's attendance is more than 3,000 people and Panorama much more than that," says Bailey. Although he couldn't quote an approximate figure regarding the revenue generated by these events, with the average ticket price approximately $45.00, these shows significantly offset operational costs and help to provide the cash prizes awarded to the winning steel band and the kings and queens of the mas bands (the 2011 steel band champions, Sonatas, earned $20,000 for their efforts). The WIADC revenue stream also benefits from numerous vendors who pay approximately $100.00 each to sell Caribbean food and drink specialties, crafts and other items behind the Brooklyn Museum and along the Parkway.
Forty-three masquerade bands are set to participate in the carnival parade, each accompanied by a truck upon which a sound system blares the latest soca hits. However Jamaican dancehall reggae is also be heard, as is Haitian compas and Dominican merengue. each a significant ingredient in the melting pot that makes The West Indian American Day Carnival such a unique experience.
"As soon as this carnival finishes we will start planning for next year, getting an early start to develop a year round program instead of just Labor Day weekend activities," says Bailey. "There are so many other things we can do in the community and we know a year round program will be very attractive to our sponsors."