Arts & Culture

CaribMask festival in Raleigh showcases Caribbean culture

CaribMask Caribbean Carnival celebrates the area’s melting pot culture; it takes place Saturday in Raleigh.
CaribMask Caribbean Carnival celebrates the area’s melting pot culture; it takes place Saturday in Raleigh. RDACA

Raleigh’s City Plaza will transform on Saturday, as Jamaican, Bahamian and Trinidadian chefs show off their respective cuisines, masqueraders don elaborate costumes and island bands parade.

CaribMask, now in its third year, aims to showcase as much of Caribbean culture as possible – though, as Raleigh/Durham Afro-Caribbean Association executive committee secretary Candice Alick points out, there’s a wide variety to be celebrated.

“The Caribbean is just a melting pot of cultures,” she says. “A lot of carnivals in the Caribbean, you might see a lot of what you might call Indo-Caribbeans or Afro-Caribbeans, but there are all types of Caribbean people because of their mixed heritage.”

Different islands were settled by different nations, she says, and the traditions, too, vary by location.

That inclusivity is at the core of the RDACA: While CaribMask focuses on the Caribbean, the organization itself has a wider focus. After all, islanders aren’t the only people involved. Like the region they’re celebrating this weekend, this group is a melting pot, too.

“The great thing about our organization is our organization is not just for Afro-Caribbeans,” Alick says. “When we say Afro-Caribbean Association, it’s actually for people from the African Diaspora.”

This weekend’s focus includes people from Guyana, Trinidad, The Virgin Islands, Barbados and the Bahamas – a handful of Caribbean islands Alick mentions with sizable local populations.

This presents a set of challenges in organizing a festival. With every island or country having its own set of traditions – and with everyone thinking their island is the best, Alick says with an understanding laugh – being as inclusive as possible was tough, though necessary.

So CaribMask will feature a flag ceremony and vendors from all over. Main stage headliner Skinny Fabulous is from St. Vincent – though, true to carnival tradition, anyone can get involved in the music.

“We say if you want your island or your country to be on display, make a troupe – make a band – so your country is completely represented,” she says.

The word “band” takes on a different meaning in a carnival setting. Some are steel drum bands, while others are DJs or instrumental bands riding on large trucks, followed by masqueraders. These bands, mas bands or troupes make up CaribMask’s parade. There are also several motorcycle clubs involved, as well as Raleigh’s Helping Hand Mission Band. Last year, Alick says, there were four bands. This year, there will be at least 10.

CaribMask is growing in its third year, though the RDACA is only getting started when it comes to organizing cultural festivals.

“It was our first,” Alick says of the CaribMask series. “You’ll see some more events that showcase African heritage as well as African-American in the next three to four years.” The executive committee, after all, has had members from Zambia, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and – in Alick’s case – Atlanta. For this group, CaribMask may be only the beginning.