Your alarm goes off, you peer out of one eye thinking if I don’t get up now I’ll be late.
Maybe you love your job, and are growing in your role, but you’re tired.
Maybe you’re in a transitionary period, and going to work is simply that. Work.
Or maybe you’re somewhere between those extremes.
There are a myriad of things happening at home, with your partner or with your family, which confront you, pushing and pulling you on a daily basis.
But all that aside, what you know is next week is carnival, and you’re going to fete.
This is a pretty familiar theme in soca music, the respite of carnival, the welcome relief that comes from jumping up on the road, with your friends, and even with complete strangers.
I think for many this is exactly what carnival is. A break. A moment to quiet the mind, and to seek reprieve from the day to day grind.
I appreciate that there are different versions of the event, and I acknowledge that my outlook on Carnival is shaped by my experience as a Jamaican living in Canada…
I am a Jamaican who grew to love soca long after her love for reggae was formed, and a Jamaican who sees and recognizes that a lot of this love is shaped from embracing the differences, but recognizing the similarities of the West Indian experience – and how this is manifested in the Carnival experience.
When I think of West Indians, it’s hard to overlook our pride.
We are proud of the things in our culture that make us special and unique – and this can’t be discounted.
But across the Caribbean, our people have shared experiences.
We know what it is like to have a history of colonization and slavery.
We know the stories of our beautiful isles trading hands between the French, the English and/or the Spanish.
We also know about Independence.
We know about curry and jerk, we know about rice and peas (or peas and rice), plaintain and the beauty and marvel of mango season.
We know about the emigration of our nationals from our homelands in the 60s and onwards. If this is not your story, maybe it’s the story of your brother, your aunt, your parents. Regardless, it’s a story you know far too well.
And you likely know that when we’re abroad, we see our cultural similarities a whole lot more than we did before, recognizing our mutual understanding on many fronts.
Carnival can spark a lot of discourse in the West Indian community about shadeism, classism, and it’s accessibility to those by whom and for whom it was made for. All of which are important conversations to be had to preserve the carnival experience. Let’s not forget that Carnival in its current form was meant to address “inaccessibility”.
Carnival was created after our black ancestors were basically shunned from the festivities of the Europeans.
Carnival to our ancestors was an outlet – a means to embrace themselves and their own culture, in a free and open setting, after being uninvited to and unwelcome at the pre-lenten parties and galas of the colonizers.
Eventually it was our Carnival that prevailed, that spoke to the masses and was supported by the people.
That freedom that Carnival represented then is still palpable “on di road” whether abroad, or back home. You feel it as the music pulses through your veins, as you smell the food from the nearby stalls and street vendors, as you see the smiles of the faces of the revelers. As you say hello, and “get on bad” with people you may otherwise never have met.
It could be the Freedom to belt out in the most unfiltered version of your accent and dialect, in the middle of the street downtown Toronto when the day before the representative at Subway corrected you when you said you wanted “coo-coom-bers” on your sandwich (since when is it queue-cum-bers?).
Or it could be the freedom to defy and ignore standards of beauty and size promulgated by the media.
Or it could be that moment that you share with yourself dancing on di road, where you temporarily forget the problems that plagued your thoughts yesterday.
So what does Carnival really represent?
In my mind it epitomizes Freedom.
But also Pride.