Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Jamaica Carnival offering more for less

Published:Sunday | January 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Sonya Richards poses with the Jamaica Carnival banner at Sandz.
Julianne Lee (right), director of Jamaica Carnival and reggae artiste Gyptian.
From left: Jamaica Carnival’s team members Danielle Lee Ziadie, Ronallie Sirju and Julianne Lee get a moment in to enjoy the music atByron Lee’s Jamaica Carnival Promotional Teaser last year.
Soca giant Byron Lee
Amoi Leon and Mike Issa having a grand time at Byron Lee's Jamaica Carnival Promotional Teaser last year.

Jamaica Carnival will be offering a lot more for a lot less this year, its second year back, following a seven-year hiatus triggered by founder Byron Lee's death in 2008.

Jamaica Carnival came to being in 1990 and became a fixture in the Jamaican entertainment environment, but when Lee passed in November 2008, his death, loss of sponsorship, and the global economic crisis, which hit Jamaica hard, sent the carnival into hibernation until last year.

Organiser Julianne Lee Samuels, Lee's daughter and the engine behind the return of Jamaica Carnival, said the response was very motivating.

"We decided 21 days before Carnival Sunday to bring back Jamaica Carnival," she said.

"The response and support during those 21 days inspired and energised us to do the near impossible. We got together with friends, calling in favours from some of the old guard, but mainly young enthusiasts, who believed in Byron Lee's vision and brand Jamaica Carnival. We made it happen. We pulled it off. Our teaser road parade on Carnival Sunday 2016 was an amazing day and the support was overwhelming."

That support has been the driving force behind what revellers can look forward to this year, she said.

"Our belief in unifying and making carnival more accessible to people on a whole is what continues to drive me to bring back this event in its entirety," she said. "My father's vision motivates me to make this work! Byron Lee was the innovator and conceptualiser of carnival in Jamaica. His legacy continues to live on in carnival today and in his music. This year, we have added more events between our launch kicking off on January 27 and on Carnival Sunday. These will be announced in due course."

According to Lee Samuels, the mission of the Byron Lee Foundation, in renewing Jamaica Carnival, is to provide the authentic Jamaican Carnival experience. They have always believed in doing, so at as reasonable a cost as possible so that all Jamaicans can participate.




"So this year we have five road-wear options: T-shirt, premium T-shirt, Monday wear, premium costumes, and design your own - and you are able to tap into from a low of US$95, you can be a part of this experience," she said.

"We have a package for everyone, and we will be forging partnerships with local vendors to be on the road with us, so that our patrons and revellers have constant access to refreshment and food."

The additional impetus for Lee Samuels is that the success of Jamaica Carnival lends itself to the already considerable legacy and legend of Byron Lee, the Dragon. It is something that Lee Samuels wants to build on so that his name carries on for future generations.

"The new workforce and youth are unaware that Byron Lee popularised not only ska, reggae and rocksteady, but also calypso and soca. He played an active role in showcasing many of today's soca icons," she said.

"We want to remind our nation that Byron Lee was responsible for the introduction of Carnival to the public streets of Jamaica, with never before seen pretty mas and queens and king costumes, mas camp, blowouts."

She recalled what it was like back then, when the Jamaica Carnival took its first exploratory steps onto the Jamaican landscape, gradually found its footing and then took off running. For all of her father's accomplishments, this, she believes, was his crowning achievement.

"I was present in 1989 in the planning and birth of Jamaica Carnival. Believe me, it was quite an emotional experience being a part of this phenomenon. Dad was deeply moved by Carnival Sunday when he hit the streets with eight music trucks, 1,500 costume masqueraders, Tan Tan and Saga Boy, playing this import sound," she recalled.

"When we hit Mannings Hill Road and Dad looked up and down Constant Spring and saw Jamaicans jumping to calypso, he was brought to tears. Imagine his journey - taking ska from downtown to mid-town, decades before, and in his lifetime, taking calypso from uptown to midtown.

"Our founder spent his life passionately creating music that would unite mankind regardless of socio-economic background, religion, colour or race. Jamaica Carnival was his greatest pleasure, fulfilling his life's mission."