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Baby me, age 3, with two Carnival dancers (Brooklyn, NYC, 1987)
Named after the largest Caribbean carnival in North America outside of the Caribbean (held annually in Toronto and now called “Toronto Caribbean Carnival”), Caribana is my attempt to bring the Calypso and Soca music of Trinidad and Tobago to the large ensemble symphonic music stage. Though this music originated on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, they have become cultural staples of all Caribbean nations, with singers and songwriters from various countries adding to the rich tapestry of the tradition. Driven by layers of rhythmic percussion (known as “the engine room”), Caribana seeks to recreate the experience of immersion in the carnival experience – from the elaborate beaded, feathered, and shimmering costumes, to the flatbed 18-wheeler trucks blasting Soca and Calypso through their massive speaker systems, followed by people dancing shoulder-to-shoulder to the driving and infectious music, waving flags of their respective Caribbean nations in perfect rhythm to the driving and infectious music. This piece gives you a bird’s eye view of the festivities, swoops in and darts about, taking in individual scenes and sights, immersing you in the pulsing chaos of the moment, and finally making you one with the electrified crowd of revelers as you follow the music down the parade route.
As a proud son of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and ancestors born in the Caribbean nation of Guyana, South America, Calypso and Soca form many of my earliest and most endearing musical memories. There is not a family gathering I can recall that wasn’t (loudly) underscored by this music, be it a cookout, a holiday, a wedding, a repast, Saturday morning house cleaning, or car rides to and from Brooklyn. The creation of this work is the realization of a years-long dream to hear this music brought to the symphonic concert stage in a way that is authentic, and that integrates our musical cultural language with the idioms of the symphonic concert genre.
This piece is lovingly dedicated to my family and to the ancestors. Wave yuh flag!