On a raw and rainy July eve I headed to Celebrate Brooklyn to check out Trinidadian soca star Machel Montano. I expected a low turnout as I got to the gate, but Montano’s resilient fanbase was undeterred by the chilly weather and the queue stretched well into Prospect Park.
As people filtered in the rain really started coming down and a field of umbrellas bloomed on the green. Haitian singer-songwriter BélO took the stage and warmed the crowd up with a soulful performance heavily steeped in reggae hooks.
As BélO’s set progressed the umbrellas began to close and by the time Montano’s dancers marched onto the stage it felt like a late-February night in Port of Spain. The crowd, dominated by members of Brooklyn’s vast West Indian community, was showing its true colors… with a sea of waving flags. Flags of every color from every island were in the air, even flags instructing “pump your flag”.
To be honest I have yet to attend carnival in Trinidad, but there seemed to be a taste of it in Brooklyn that night. As Montano set foot on stage a unique surge of excitement was palpable and the spectacle of his show mixed with an electric brand of soca left me wanting to pump flags with everyone else.
Alas I was working and had to pump my camera from the pit instead. It was a particularly thrilling vantage point being sandwiched between Montano, his dancers, and the audience (aside from a dicey moment when it seemed the barricades might not contain the crowd’s excitement).
Montano’s been a star on the soca circuit since childhood and is well versed on how to work a crowd. His songs have been the hits of many a carnival, and for years he’s flown up on Labor Day to take part in Brooklyn’s West Indian Carnival.
This year is no exception and I had the chance to chat with Montano earlier in the day about his perspectives on the celebration, and what he expects this year. At one point he sweetly expressed a longing for days past when the parade route had a bit more flexibility and wasn’t limited to Eastern Parkway.
Later this summer I plan to follow up on the Labor Day Carnival preparations so stay tuned.
Up next in Summer in the Global Village: Brasil Summerfest.