Steel drums, costumes and plenty of Caribbean culture a Miami Carnival tradition

Written By Jonel Juste
October 5, 2023 at 7:56 PM

A key component of the Miami Carnival is Panorama, the steelpan competition. The steelpan plays a pivotal role in all aspects of the carnival. This year, the competition is on Friday, Oct. 6. (Photo courtesy of Mark James)

Miami Carnival has been a fixture in South Florida for nearly four decades. According to Shane Carter, vice chair of Miami-Broward One Carnival, one of the reasons for this, he believes, is its capacity to bring people together, both culturally and socially.

“Like Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and many other holidays that foster gatherings of family and friends,” says Carter,“our Carnival plays an integral part in keeping friends and family celebrating together under the guise of culture.”

“Inclusiveness” is how Carter describes Miami Carnival as it approaches its 39th year. “We’ve seen individuals from diverse backgrounds use Miami Carnival as their introduction to this vital cultural event.”

Carter emphasizes that Miami Carnival transcends Caribbean Americans, welcoming the entire South Florida community. According to him, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with friends, spend time with family, savor Caribbean cuisine, groove to music, and discover a heritage that might not be familiar to them. “It is visually a beautiful event, with people and costumes that are worthy of being on any great stage.”

The parade of the bands at Miami Carnival features over 18,000 participants from over 20 mas bands dancing along a parade route. (Photo courtesy of Tech Your Picture)

What sets Miami Carnival apart from other cultural events, according to Carter, is the symbolism it carries. “While it has evolved over the years, the carnival remains a commemoration of what ancestral slaves did to keep some of their African practices alive.”

This symbolism will come to life on Sunday, Oct. 8, during the masqueraders (or mas) bands parade, where participants don costumes, masks, and disguises to dance through the parade route. The costumes add an artistic narrative to the heart of the carnival, and attendees are encouraged to join a band and “play Mas.”

The festivities began on Saturday, Sept. 30 with the Junior Carnival, also known as “Kiddies Carnival” with a focus on introducing the next generation to the mas and Carnival culture.

On Friday, Oct. 6, the steel band competition called Panorama takes place at Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill. Dexter Bleasdell, the Panorama manager, highlights the significance of the event within Miami Carnival, describing it as a platform for steelpan musicians to unite and showcase their unique talents on a grand stage. More than twenty bands will participate in Panorama this year.

“Panorama’s role within Miami Carnival is to create an avenue for steelpan musicians to get together and showcase their unique talent to the world. This musical event contribution is significant as it sets the stage for carnival revelers for Jou-vert and Grand Parade,” says Bleasdell.

The global recognition of the steelpan was emphasized on July 24 when the United Nations declared Aug. 11 as World Steelpan Day. Google even celebrated this musical instrument with a dedicated Google Doodle last year.

The festivities began on Monday, Sept. 30 with the Junior Carnival, also known as “Kiddies Carnival,” aimed at introducing the next generation to the mas and Carnival culture. (Photo courtesy of Miami Carnival)

“Hopefully, this acknowledgment can create employment opportunities for pan musicians, arrangers, tuners, educators, and anyone involved in the steelpan industry,” says Bleasdell.

The celebrations continue on Saturday, Oct. 7, with J’ouvert, a lively celebration featuring calypso/soca bands and their followers dancing through the streets, covered in colored paints, mud, oil, and other materials.

The big finale of Miami Carnival is on Sunday, Oct. 8 with the mas bands parade and a concert. According to the organizers, the Sunday parade will feature more than 18,000 masqueraders in more than twenty mas bands.

The concert segment serves as a platform for showcasing international Caribbean talent, with performances from prominent Soca acts and live bands. Past years have featured renowned artists such as Machel Montano, David Rudder, Super Blue, and Wyclef Jean.

This year’s lineup includes artists like Bunji Garlin, winner of the 2013 Soul Train Award for Best International Performance for the song “Differentology,” Claudette Peters, known as Antigua’s “Soca Diva,” and Olatunji Yearwood, the face of Afrosoca music, an emerging genre fusing Soca and Afrobeats.

A reveler enjoys Miami Carnival’s street party J’ouvert. (Photo courtesy of Neil Brent Photography)

Carter introduces an innovation for Panorama this year, a “bull track” concept that provides backstage interaction with the audience and pan players before their performances.

Another noteworthy aspect of Miami Carnival, according to Carter, is its role in showcasing participants’ creativity and artistic expression through elaborate costumes and performances. “This aspect of the tradition promotes cultural preservation and creativity among its participants.”

Carter says the atmosphere is meant to be a place where people can revel in their culture and others experience the phenomenon known as Carnival.

WHAT: The Miami Carnival

 WHEN:  Steel Band Panorama competition, 4 to 11 p.m., Friday, Oct. 6; J’ouvert Mas, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7, Central Broward Regional Park; Mas Band Parade and Concert, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 8 at Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition Fairgrounds

 WHERE: Central Broward Regional Park, 3700 NW 11th Place, Lauderhill, and Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition Fairgrounds, 10901 SW 24th St., Miami.

 COST: $30, $50, $65, $150 for general admission pass, $2,500 for VIP experience.

 INFORMATION: 305-653-1877 and is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at

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