Caribana in Toronto

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Intoxicating smell of exotic spices, bright colors and rhythmic music, beautiful chocolate bodies in fancy costumes, a thunder of steel drums and frenzied rhythms of samba, rumba, cha-cha-cha, salsa and reggae – you might think you are in Rio De Janeiro, but the tall silhouette of the CN Tower looming in the background gives it away – you are in Toronto, Canada.

This is Toronto Caribana – a succession of festivals, concerts under the open sky, exotic parades, competitions and carnivals. For two weeks, usually from the end of July to the beginning of August, Toronto dramatically transforms from a northern and reserved city into a sultry, sizzling and exhilarating party of the Caribbean community.

Caribana is a carnival of different cultures, it is more than just an ordinary holiday. It breaks down the artificial barriers between communities, such as class, nationality and wealth. Caribana is a celebration of the material and spiritual emancipation.

This unique annual festival in Toronto has been running since 1967, and it continues to bring together hundreds of thousands of spectators and participants, as well as tourists from different countries.

Toronto Caribana is based on Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and incorporates its traditional art forms – masquerade, steel drums and calypso music. But it’s not limited to this tradition – many other members of the Caribbean communities living in Toronto – Jamaica, Brazil, Cuba, Barbados, Dominican Republic and others – brought something to the table.

Caribana was created in 1967 by the Caribbean people. In 2011, the festival was renamed into Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto, but it preserved its unique purpose – bringing together the voices of various Caribbean communities and breaking social barriers.

While Caribana includes many events, its highlight is the Caribana Parade. The parade traditionally starts at the Exhibition Place and stretches along the shore of Lake Ontario for about 4 kilometers through the Lake Shore Boulevard.

On this day, Downtown Toronto slightly darkens by the dark-skinned bodies, swaying rhythmically to the beat of drums. Exotic tunes, calypso, steel pan, rhythmic reggae and salsa emanate from the decorated trucks and platforms. All of this twists, spins, and mingles with ritual dances of rumba, samba and lambada.

If you prefer to watch the parade at the Exhibition Place, you will need a ticket, which costs around $20-$25, which is quite affordable. But you can easily catch a glimpse of the parade for free, if you line up along the Lake Shore Boulevard.

Among other Caribana highlights you might want to visit are Junior Carnival and King and Queen Show.

Junior Carnival traditionally takes place at the Yorkdale Mall (Jane & Finch). It’s a mini-version of the main Caribana Parade, designed specifically for children. On this day, kids dress up in colourful costumes and dance for competition.

The culmination of the Caribana festival is the King and Queen show, that takes place at the Lamport Stadium. The show showcases the creativity of the Caribana Parade Mas bands.

During this show, the band leaders compete for the titles of the King and the Queen. They are judged based on the design of their costumes, their enthusiasm and overall performance, and this is an unforgettable and colourful spectacle.

So if hearing the rhythms, songs and sounds of unfamiliar languages and dancing rumba and lambada is something you want to do on your next vacation, Toronto might be just the place for you!

You can learn about other festivals and live music events on Toronto travel guide written by Svetlana Rubejov.

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