The Toronto Caribbean Carnival, more commonly known as Caribana was definitely one of the events that contributed to my definition and experience of Toronto as a youth.

Recently, I attended the Caribana parade for the first time in four years and even though quite a bit had changed within the structure and administration behind the event, I had a great time and felt a sense of pride and gratitude for my caribbean, Haitian and African roots.

I felt a great deal of positive energy and happiness as I walked through the parade, photographing those that played mas as powerful soca music reverberated throughout the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.

During my parade journey, I made a number of new friends, I had some of the best jerk chicken that I have experienced in months, the mas band costumes that I captured were some of the most impressive that I had ever seen and I got to show a friend from South Korea a part of Toronto that embodies the city’s cultural diversity.

However, Caribana has become a much different animal than the one that I grew up with.

caribana_2015_by_ajani_charles_002Firstly, it is now sponsored by Scotiabank (in conjunction with the City of Toronto and a number of corporate sponsors).

Secondly, the influence of Scotiabank and the involvement of a multitude of corporate sponsors has certainly diluted the the original ethos and spirit of the festival. It has resulted in cultural appropriation on a number of levels and a lack of profits for the caribbean communities that define and contribute to the facilitation of the event and approximately half a billion dollars in revenue.

Most of the individuals that played mas at this year’s Caribana were undoubtedly unaware of many of the detrimental changes that have occurred. As such, many of its original founders and board members have been doing their best to raise awareness about the current state of Caribana (for the last decade or so).

One such outspoken leader is Lennox Ferrell,  who happens to be one of my family’s friends and a mentor of mine.

caribana_2015_by_ajani_charles_003In the documentary “What Happened To Caribana” featured below, Ferrell and his colleagues provide a glimpse at the complex series of events that have taken place over the last decade that have affected the not-for-profit community organization of Caribana.

Hopefully, with clear communication and the   cooperation of the appropriate caribbean community members and The Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s corporate sponsors, the festival can gravitate towards it’s original mission while also benefiting Toronto’s caribbean communities, both financially and otherwise.

In the meantime, more of my images of the festival can be viewed below.

a j a n i photography: digital image solutions


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