The warmth of the Caribbean sweeps into Dallas with the beauty of masquerade bands, colorful glittering costumes robust with feathers and the sounds of steel pans, courtesy of Dallas Carnival Caribbean Fest. The four-day, multi-venue festival, known as Dallas Carnival, returns Sept. 15–18.
Since 2014, Dallas Carnival has used artistic expression to honor Caribbean culture. What began as a small gathering with one truck and a handful of dancers has turned into an extravaganza that attracted more than 3,000 guests in 2021.
“A Caribbean Carnival is an awakening of all the senses that an individual can experience. It's a celebration of what makes us us, what makes me me, what makes you you,” says Dallas Carnival brand ambassador Ivana Ayuso, who has participated in Carnival festivities as a band dancer since the age of six.
The festivities are rich with history and traditions. They kick off with a “Black Ops” camo party at Heroes Lounge and end with “Parade of the Bands” at Joe Pool Lake. The event is a multicultural celebration of freedom, diversity and inclusion.
Carnival is widely celebrated but it has its roots in Trinidad and Tobago. The tradition originated in the late 18th century with French plantation owners who often prepared themselves for lent with masquerade balls. The balls, known as mas, served as a feast before fasting. Indentured workers and slaves were excluded from participating, resulting in the creation of a parallel celebration called Canboulay.
Post-emancipation in 1834, Canboulay turned into present-day Carnival. Today, images of mas bands in bright, elaborate costumes overflowing with jewels can be seen all over the internet. Videos of bands dancing to the rhythmic beat of calypso music dazzle viewers. But most notable is the joy that Carnival sparks. Bright, smiling faces fill Carnival celebrations across the Caribbean, London, Brazil, Spain, Italy and beyond.
In Dallas, these traditions carry on through the work of Dallas Carnival.
“It's a togetherness that is promoted, and I don't see a world where that would have anything but positivity surrounding it,” Ayuso says.
On Sept. 15, the Black Ops camo party will kick off the festivities at Heroes Lounge.
Pandemonium Til J’ouvert takes the stage late into the night on Sept. 16 at Juicy Pig Ranch. J’ouvert, which translates as day break, traditionally marks the unofficial start of Carnival.
“J’ouvert is actually deeply rooted in their religious aspects," Ayuso says. "When they [slaves and indentured servants] broke away and were free, they were able to celebrate, sometimes even in mud.” .
The overnight party is a euphoric celebration of freedom and culture. Dallas Carnival’s J’ouvert is an all-night paint, powder and water party. It is designed after "mud mas," a street party celebrating emancipation with music and dancing where participants covered themselves in paints, mud and oil. In Dallas, attendees will dance under the stars to Afro-Caribbean beats as paints, powders and water thrown in the air land on them.
Traditionally, J’ouvert begins at 2 a.m. At the Dallas Carnival, festivities peak at that time, Ayuso says. To get the full experience, attendees should plan to be present until dawn.
Dallasites will be able to get down to some calypso with the Dallas Carnival.
Courtesy of Dallas Carnival Caribbean Fest
The following day, an all-white dance party will take place at Addison’s Cafe 214. Guests are asked to dress to the nines. Sounds will be provided by local DJ Supa Slim and international DJs Riggo Suave, Milo Myles and Shawn Venom.
The grandiosity will peak with the parade of the bands at Joe Pool Lake on Sunday. For Ayuso, it is the music that elevates the parade.
“I don't think that anything ties it together and is promoted or displayed on Carnival day like the music,” Ayuso says.
Soca music, an African and East Indian-influenced subgenre of calypso music, takes many forms. At Carnival parades, the sounds of steel pans in a relaxed pace will soothe you. Power soca overcomes the body and forces attendees to stomp their feet and jump in waves. It is an exhilarating experience, Ayuso says.
It is at the parades where mas bands will be in their full glory. Mas band participants, dressed in costumes and masks, dance in the parades. Nine mas bands will be at Dallas Carnival, including The Socaholics Mas Band, Cheeks International and 501 Revelers. Mas band costumes are thematic. Themes you'll find this year are fairy-inspired, encanto
International acclaimed singer, songwriter and soca ambassador Kerwin Dubois will perform at parade of the bands. Vendors will be onsite with food and merchandise.
“Going out to the carnival weekend, or even Sunday itself, is unmatched; Dallas Carnival will wake up so many senses,” Ayuso says. “Come out if you enjoy thinking outside the box, living outside the box, and just absorb all these different sights and sounds of Caribbean culture.”
Tickets for individual events or an all-event pass can be purchased on Eventbrite.