I’m going into my 5th San Francisco Carnaval. Being a carnavalesco has been transformative; it has made me more attuned to fitness, culture, and community. Our Carnaval always falls on Memorial Day weekend due to the weather. When it began, San Francisco Carnaval was held around Mardi Gras time as it is in most parts of the African diaspora. In the tropics, the weather is beautiful. It’s a time to enjoy festivities and fatty food in preparation for a season of silence. That timing doesn’t work in the Bay Area; the fog has even resulted in gray and cool Carnaval weekends. So in the Bay Area, Carnaval preparation takes place during Lent.
In every other aspect of my life during Lent, I am paring down to simplicity. For Carnaval, I am ramping up in terms of color and intensity. I am creating characters. I’m working on costume, makeup, props, set design. I am preparing for a street theater performance.
There are people who do Carnaval as a bucket list milestone and those of us who choose to make this a way of life. I have nothing against the bucket list folks. Everyone should perform onstage or take part in a creative activity at some point in life because of what it does for your self-confidence, discipline, and fitness. That could be just me since I gravitate towards the arts. For those of who become lifelong carnavalescos, Carnaval is an essential part of the yearly cycle.
A lot of people think performance means solo artist. When you’re in a Carnaval contingent, even if you’re a sambista or passista, you are not the star of the show. As cute as you might think you are, Carnaval is about your community and comparsa. You are moving together as a unit. Showboating diminishes the team effort. I may have to get Uncle Brooke on y’all this year (In The New Edition Story, choreographer Brooke Payne breaks down the importance of unity when you’re part of a group. He also gives Bobby a hard look).
I share this critique because my Carnaval experiences have helped me better understand the value of community, both in dance and in spirit.
During Carnaval, I tap into several aspects of myself that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. What SambaFunk has offered my family in terms of friendship and dance is priceless.
Carnaval has become our way of life.