Monday, 27 April 2015

Carnaval International de Victoria 2015

Eyewitness account: My first Carnaval International de Victoria

A carnival that had everything: colour, noise, energy, VIPs, a great array of floats, and not one but two route changes – one planned and one perhaps less so. This was my first time at the Carnaval International de Victoria and what an introduction.

[ This article, by SM, originally appeared in the Today in Seychelles newspaper (27.04.2015), read it in its original form here. ] [Photography by: ]

In fact, it felt like I had two introductions because I saw the first floats come round towards Francis Rachel Street as expected, only for them to then continue round the roundabout like a lost driver who isn’t sure where to turn off. This was great for me and others gathered on and around Le Chantier roundabout, but far less so for the many that lined the rest of the route having stood through the early afternoon rain to secure prime positions.

Others will seek to explain quite why this route change may have taken place, but at this point I did not think to question it too much other than to enjoy the 360 degree spectacle of dozens of attention-grabbing floats making their way around the roundabout.

Cauldrons, motorbikes, drums, tortoises and fish. People playing musical instruments, riding bikes, dancing and breathing fire. Tiaras, muscles, feathers, wings and hats.

Magic Dhayaa arrived on a float, except rather than sitting he appeared to be levitating. He sat back and performed magic tricks as his vehicle made its way around the roundabout, as if the fact that there was nothing beneath him was in no way exceptional. At another point men breathed fire, spouting great gulpfuls of paraffin into the sky and exciting (and warming) spectators with explosions of flame.
Some 62 groups were said to be on parade, ranging from perhaps the smallest in the form of Katarina Barruk the young Saami folk artist from Sweden, to some of the largest like Tequila Boom nightclub and the UK’s Notting Hill Carnival. They proceeded as an almost constant stream of energy and noise, on the first parade at least, with a number hosting their own DJs to inspire both the crowd and their dancing contingent alike. Zambia, Ghana, Mauritius and South Africa provided four of the 20 or so international floats that adorned the parade, with performers often wearing traditional dress and making true on the parade’s promise to be a “melting pot of cultures”. Spanish renditions of Macarena’ South Koreans dancing to Gangnam Style and the Italian representations of famous cartoon characters meant many of the international flavours were familiar to adults and children alike.

All this complemented well the local Seychellois representations that included regional floats from Takamaka and, complete with oxen and bicycles, the popular La Digue float. Floats from local and international businesses made impressive displays, whether it be UCPS and their muscle-bound “workmen” or leading hotels like the Banyan Tree which appeared to include a large replica building at the front of its float, and parastatals like the Seychelles Public Transport Company made use of their resources, combining two old buses to form a long bendy-bus float.

My own personal favourite came from perhaps an unlikely source, the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority, with an incredible and enormous hybrid float that was half aeroplane and half whale shark which, while perhaps not sounding quite right, had to be seen to be believed. It was accompanied in its vibrant blue theme by engaging dancers whose costumes were inspired by the ocean, as was a small boy dressed as a seahorse sitting aside the float. Others will have their own favourites, which is one of the great attractions of such an event, along with the opportunity to take photos of and with the performers on display.

Once round the roundabout however and the carnival appeared to have come to an abrupt end, and with little communication to tell us what was happening, I thought I had seen all there was to see. However, after some redirection from the police we were reassured the party would (re)start. This time I ventured further down Francis Rachel Street, eager for a different vantage point, and while the floats proceeded in a more staccato fashion, it gave the crowds longer to line up their photographs and enjoy the individual attractions of each float.

Rounding into the stadium car park and taking advantage of the drinks stand, I watched performers stepping down from their floats to perform high tempo dance routines in front of the judges and VIPs. The crowds were perhaps at their largest as the processions continued down to the clocktower where a perhaps surprising lack of guardrails made for a pinch point for the largest of floats in particular. I made my way back up Francis Rachel Street as the light faded, passing performers who by now must have been in their costumes for hours. The huge masks adorned by Notting Hill performers were incredibly beautiful, but in the fading light they also looked heavier than ever. Yet the smiles continued and the poses were held for photographic memories to be made. Impressive stuff from a parade that seemed to last further into the evening that originally planned.

Having seen pictures and heard tales of last year’s Carnaval I had looked forward to Saturday’s main parade expecting an entertaining afternoon of colour and music. When the rain started falling at 2pm I had feared for the parade, indeed even after 3:30 many on Francis Rachel Street may have been doing so for other reasons, but as the parade moved into the evening, it would appear that all was alright on the night. The performers deserve much acclaim for their efforts in making the 5th annual carnival such a spectacle.

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