Carnival Calabar: Projecting Africa through Dance, Drama

Another edition of Africa’s biggest street party delivered on the hype, reports Demola Ojo…

The positive coverage by international news organisations is a testament that the Carnival Calabar has come to stay as a blockbuster home-grown entertainment event. As impressive, is that its expansion into a month-long festival is of great economic benefit to the citizens of the city and Cross River State in general.

A visit to the Christmas village where commerce takes place round the clock for the duration of the festival is one of many proofs.

In the case of Calabar, no two carnivals are the same and this year, the competing bands at the carnival pulled out all the stops in interpreting the carnival theme – Africanism – through dance, drama and costuming.

Characterised by colour, glamour and enthusiasm, the 2018 Carnival Calabar featured a parade composed of 50,000 costumed revellers who performed in five major carnival bands and 10 non-competing bands in a 12 kilometre.

The carnival attracted over two million tourists, who gathered in the city to be entertained by the African story the only way the carnival can. Added to this was an estimated 50 million global television audience.

They were thrilled by DJs, live music, steel bands, incredible floats and costumes, all in line with the carnival theme.

As usual, revellers were creatively costumed in an admirable spectacle that reflected the cultural heritage of the African people.

Again, Passion 4 band emerged winners of the carnival which witnessed its 14th edition.

Passion 4 Band were also winners last year and have won the best band award the most times, making them the most successful band in the carnival by a mile. The Seagull Band came second, while the Freedom Band came third.

In other categories, the Best Float award also went to Passion 4 Band, while Seagull Band and Freedom Band were adjudged second and third, respectively. Best Costume Design was also won by Passion 4 with Seagull second and Masta Blasta third. Bayside Band won the awards for Best King and Best Queen.

There was a cultural carnival where states competed with Akwa Ibom coming first, Anambra second and Enugu third.

According to Cross River Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, Carnival Calabar was a platform to showcase Africa to the world.

“With the theme Africanism, Africa has the opportunity of telling the whole world its story the way it knows best which is through its dance and bright colours,” he said.

“Civilisation started in Africa, so Africa must take its pride of place in the world. We are also here to show that Africa as a continent is the future, Europe is the past while Asia is the present,” he added.


International Carnival

About 30 countries from different continents participated in the International Carnival Calabar which is held at the UJ Esuene Stadium a day after the street parade. However for the first time, all international bands joined in the street procession this year, to the delight of the appreciative audience.

However on the day set aside for the International Carnival, the excitement was raised a notch.

For example, the Lithuanian delegation set Calabar on fire; in a good way. Their performance was just one of many exhilarating performances from the visiting countries as they all wowed the audience in their own unique ways.

Considering the theme of the carnival, it was appropriate that South Africa emerged winner after Brazil had won all previous editions.

The South Africans with their bold bare skin Zulu war dance held the expectant audience spellbound with their acrobatic display.

Mexico came second as they danced to sonorous tunes that had African undertones. The men, clad in white shirts and red trousers moved in symmetry with their female counterparts who wore beautiful red attires.

There was no way Lithuania wouldn’t have ended on the podium as they paid a “fire tribute” to Calabar.

Some of the stadium’s lighting was switched off to enable the audience better appreciate the fire presentation by the group. By the time they were done, they were accorded a standing ovation. They came third.

Ukraine’s dancers, jugglers and acrobats were also well-received as were Ethiopia, Ukraine, Kenya, Ghana, Swaziland and Brazil.

Like South Africa, Swaziland put up a fascinating performance with bare-skin Swazi dance while Ghana put up a blend of magic, acrobatics and bare skin dance mixed with some spiritual display.

Other countries that participated include, Indonesia, Senegal, Tanzania, Switzerland, United States of America and Canada.

Bikers’ Parade, Miss Africa

The international dimension of the festival was not limited to bands and troupes. The Bikers’ Parade featured competitors from the United States, Canada, Germany and Australia among others.

There was also a Miss Africa Beauty Pageant on the sidelines of the carnival hosted by the Cross River State Government. The contest took place a day before the street parade.

Congo’s Dorcas Kasinde emerged winner to beat Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnaemeka and Zambia’s Gladys Kayumba to the second and third positions respectively. Kasinde went home with $35,000 and an SUV.

Governor Ayade, used the opportunity to promote the African narrative.

It was time for Africans to appreciate themselves, he said, continuing that the continent does not need the western media to tell the African story, as they mostly focus on poverty and wars.

”This is a celebration of African beauty, brains and heritage; the world will see what African brains and beauty is all about.

”The judges should come down and look at those things that make a woman truly African; it is not just the skin colour. Tunisians and Moroccans are light-skinned but they are also Africans.”

More than 25 African countries participated in the pageant.

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