‘Blaze of colour’ promised as floats, street parade return on Emancipation Day
Costume designer Vincent Douglas to dress 200 revellers
The Emancipation Day holiday on August 1 will see the return of a float and street parade that infuses the rich tapestry of the island’s culture in a grand celebration of Jamaica’s diamond jubilee.
The excitement is palpable for those working behind the scenes to bring this one-of-a-kind extravaganza to life. Creatives, including costume designers, dressmakers, tailors and float builders, are currently working assiduously to meet their deadline to dress the 1,000 costumed revellers and mount what is being described as “the massive, half-mile-long flotilla on wheels” that will wend its way, with much pomp and pageantry, from the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre on Hope Road to the National Stadium car park on Arthur Wint Drive.
Award-winning costume designer and choreographer extraordinaire Vincent Douglas is a pro at this, having worked on previous parades, and having won several medals at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission competitions over the past decades. Douglas is responsible for dressing 200 persons, and he and his technical assistant, Alston Hemmings, are super satisfied with many things. At the top of the list is the fact that so many youngsters will be a part of history when they put on their costumes and get into their roles to recount the glorious story of an Independent Jamaica.
“I am working under pressure, but I am very enthusiastic. The arts is a part of me, and anything that concerns the arts makes me excited,” said Douglas, who was the first choreographer for the renowned Tivoli Dancers and who was honoured in 2014 by the Kathanghah Dance Company and the Tivoli Dance Alumni at a ceremony in New York.
He added: “We have all the materials, like the foam and cardboard that we need, and we will definitely complete the job by our deadline on July 28. We have two dressmakers and tailors, and everybody is aware of the importance of this undertaking. The designs cover a period from the ‘60s to the present. We will be exploring the development of the music from mento through to ska, rocksteady and reggae, and also looking at a very important group – the farmers. Each group will have 100 persons, and their costumes will tell their story.”
Inside Douglas’ workshop at the Kingston Technical High School, where he taught dance for many years, this fascinating story is taking shape as he and his assistants, Ramone Plunkett, Tara-Lee Salmon and Paul Thompson, work in harmony. Sketches of the designs are displayed on a whiteboard, and costumes and associated props can be seen in various stages of completion. There are cardboard cut-outs representing slices of melon; huge plastic food protectors, which will be decorated to look like real baskets; and guitars made from ply and stuffed with foam. “We have 100 persons who will be following the musical float, and that float will actually be shaped like a huge guitar,” Douglas shared.
Hemmings emphasised that the energetic street parade will be “a blaze of colour”.
“It will be a very visual experience. We will be looking at the sugar industry and its importance to the economy, and the banana as an agricultural crop from the days when the banana boat used to leave the pier in Port Antonio. It was at that pier that the popular Banana Boat Song (Day-O) originated. We want to capture the whole spirit of Independence and energise the nation through music and food,” Hemmings explained.
Over at the welding shop, head welder Devon Robinson and his assistants were busy constructing their section of the assembly. “We had a little technicality in ensuring that the bop fits comfortably over the shoulders of the persons who will be wearing them. But thankfully, that is sorted out now. The costumes have to be both lightweight and comfortable,” Robinson explained.
Like Douglas, he hopes that persons will be totally fascinated when everything is unveiled on Emancipation Day.
Douglas, when asked if he thinks his costumes will be well received, replied with a question, “What have I ever done that hasn’t gone across well?”
In outlining what will take place on August 1, Minister Grange said: “We will have eight attractively decorated floats, five music trucks, classic cars, marching bands, and over 1,000 costumed revellers depicting several aspects of our historic journey to 60. We will welcome the return of masquerade bands, Jonkunu, and effigies in honour of our national heroes and cultural icons.”
The festivities start at 10 a.m., and Grange is urging Jamaicans to come out in their thousands to celebrate and line the parade route as the revellers and floats make their way past certain landmarks, including Devon House, Clock Tower in Half-Way Tree, Emancipation Park, NCB Towers, Little Theatre, Bustamante Hospital for Children, and end up at the National Stadium car park.
The theme for the float parade is ‘Reigniting a Nation for Peace, Love and Unity’.