This is it, Carnival time in Miami

For days, Caribbean artists and performers have been flocking to South Florida for Miami Broward One Carnival, Jacqueline Charles reports in The Miami Herald.

With a sexier look and a new hairstyle, Barbadian singer Alison Hinds steps in front the spotlight, throws her hands in the air to the fast-paced party beat and winds her famous waistline.

For the past days, dozens of Caribbean artists like Hinds have been rolling into South Florida, revving up fans for Miami Broward One Carnival, the last big North American fete on the circuit.

“Miami Carnival is right up there with all of the other carnivals,’’ said Hinds, the self-proclaim “Soca Queen,” who returns to Miami after a two-year absence to headline Saturday’s International Soca Fest at Sun Life Stadium. “The thing about Miami is the weather lends itself to doing so much stuff. Night time fetes, daytime pool parties, all-inclusive and big limes.’’

In carnival speak, to lime is to chill. And no lime is complete without soca — the fast-paced party offspring of calypso that has come to define carnival, the colorful showcase of Caribbean culture and debauchery that kicks off each year in Trinidad and Tobago just before Lent and ends each Columbus Day weekend in Miami. The carnival parade, featuring 20 masquerade bands, begins at noon Sunday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.

“Carnival is all about fun,’’ said Leighton Paul, a popular local DJ known as Walshy Fire. “We are in the streets, we are in the clubs.’’

For years, South Florida carnival lovers were a divided crowd with organizers offering up competing events on the same Sunday. Three years ago, organizers in Broward and Miami-Dade County came together. And while good for Caribbean unity on the big day, it also had another side effect.

“People used to wait for the last minute to buy a ticket and all the events would suffer,’’ Paul said. “Now, it’s like everybody is doing an event. The number of parties seemed to have quadrupled.’’

One carnival promoter said he has counted more than 40 parties between Wednesday, when the “week’’ officially launched, and Tuesday, the day after it is supposed to officially end.

Case in point, said Paul, is Red Eye. The party is popular among New Yorkers, and this year South Florida promoters are offering three Red Eye parties.

“They will all each have their own artists,’’ he said.

And while parties may be competing for crowds, one thing is clear: soca artists, who have longed struggled to win popularity beyond the carnival and on major radio airwaves, are getting more work as their demand increases. An artist like Trinidadian Machel Montano, who commanded $20,000 a few years ago, now gets up to $50,000 for his high-energy showcase of 27 dancers and musicians.

“The thing with our artists is because our genre of music has not made a major crossover, for soca artists, carnival is the primary venue they have for doing the live performance,’’ said Francis Ragoo, producer of Soca Fest, which is now in its 17th year.

If New York’s popular Labor Day carnival is all about the Eastern Parkway — the long stretch of asphalt where four uniformed New York City cops were caught on tape last month bumping and grinding with scantily clad dancers — then Miami, say promoters, is about the parties leading up to Sunday’s big parade.

Ragoo said Saturday’s Soca Fest will feature 10 artists and four bands, including Hinds, who has made a career trumpeting women empowerment in song and is famous for pulling a lucky guy from the crowd to demonstrate “wining,” the popular hip-gyrating movement of soca.

“They are more of a show than just a party,’’ Ragoo said about the performances.

And for some artists, like Clarence “Oungku” Edwards of Antigua’s Hot Flames band, that often mean racing from fete to fete on the same night.

“You go on stage knowing that you have 45 minutes or an hour,’ he said, adding that usually the band’s set is five hours.

This year, the band’s performances have doubled from last year.

“Miami Carnival matches any carnival right now. A lot of the focus from Labor Day in New York shifts down here, year after year,’’ he said.

And, of course, Miami’s cultural landscape is an added asset.

“You have more of a melting pot of Caribbean Culture with everybody coming together, small islands and big islands,’’ he said.

For the original report and a video of soca star Alison Hinds in performance, go to http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/10/07/2443996/this-is-it-carnival-time-in-miami.html#ixzz1aFgB9t3C

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