For lovers of Caribbean music, Carnival Weekend 2008 is easily the best four-day weekend of the year. Folks representing the entire island chain are already beginning to pour into South Florida to participate in the festivities. There's an almost palpable buzz floating around Broward and Miami-Dade counties as reggae, soca, chutney, and calypso artists of the highest caliber are in town from as far away as Guyana and Trinidad to bring the authentic Carnival feel to our shores.
With so many fetes going on over the next few days, it can be confusing trying to decide which ones are worth attending and where the action will be. Here's a guide to the Carnival parties that are truly worth your hard-earned coin and sweat.
With Alison Hinds, Tizzy, Denise Belfon, Zan, Patrice Roberts, Claudette Peters, and more. Mahi Temple, 1480 NW North River Dr., Miami. 10 p.m. $30. Call 954-305-0997, or visit socafestmiami.com.
Here's a party that prides itself on showcasing female talent within soca and reggae. The ladies often get overlooked in those genres, but any true fan knows how vital women are within those industries right now. The ladies in this lineup are party-starters everywhere they go. Trinidad's Denise "Saucy Wow" Belfon may be large and in charge, but she's hilarious to watch on stage. Alison Hinds of Barbados has the most famous hip-roll in all of soca right now, and her hit song "Roll It Gal" made her an international star. Fellas, don't sleep on this party. It's guaranteed to be packed with gorgeous women who want to have a good time, so don't be shy.
With Sacha, King Sonic, Entyce Band, and the Kaushon Band. Marabou Café, 9940 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines. 10 p.m. $10 before midnight, slightly higher afterward. Call 786-200-9605, or visit caribbeancarnival.org.
With so much competition going on between the Miami and Broward carnivals, this party near the county line should satisfy both audiences. Many island nations are represented, including notable performers from Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten. With two live bands in the building, the energy should be high. This is a full stage show with pan bands and steel drums for that gritty calypso feel that isn't nearly as transferable to CDs and MP3s.
International Flag Night
With Machel Montano, Iwer George, Red Hot Flames, Benjai, Problem Child, Avvy, DJ Khaled, and more. Bayside Hut, 3501 Rickenbacker Cswy., Miami. 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. $35. Call 305-361-0808, or visit socavivor.com.
This event is where Caribbean folks let their national pride shine brightest. Flags from every country in the island chain will be on display, stretching from the Bahamas to Guyana, and the music will reflect that as well. If you're curious to find out what artists are making big noise in some of the lesser-traveled islands, like Grenada, St. Lucia, and Dominica, then this is the place to be. No amount of hype could be too big for this event. A note to the wise: This is a 12-hour party, so pace yourself, as red-hot artists are going to be touching two different stages (one indoor, one outdoor) until folks are ready to pass out.
With Machel Montano, Farmer Nappy, Bunji Garlin, Rikki Jai, Fay Ann Lyons, Patrice Roberts, and more.
Gulfstream Park, 901 S. Federal Hwy., Hallandale Beach. 4 p.m. to midnight. $75-$125. Call 786-246-5285, or visit uwifete.com.
As far as day parties go, this event is the Super Bowl of Carnival weekend. It's Trini down to the bone, but it's all top-rate talent. Soca superstar Machel Montano headlines the concert, and anywhere Montano performs, the people follow. Soca/dancehall king Bunji Garlin also brings his high-energy set to the stage, and Farmer Nappy will focus more on the roots-rock side of reggae. It's a high-end affair, and the ticket prices reflect that, but you'll party in style all the way.
With Iwer George, Shurwayne Winchester, Denise Belfon, Berbice, Dil E Nadan, and more. Soho Studios, 2136 NW First Ave., Miami. 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. $35. Call 786-286-6166, or visit socafestmiami.com.
This all-night fete in Miami focuses on the cheaper Caribbean side of life. It's a BYOB affair, hence the title CoolerFest. As far as music goes, the large and lovable Denise Belfon will whine and grine, and three-time soca monarch Iwer George is slated to perform as well. There's also a decidedly Trinidadian feel to this party, as the bulk of the performers are from sweet T&T. Expect plenty of soca and calypso (natch) but also some chutney and bhangra music from Dil E. Nadan to keep the Indian aspect afloat as well.
Broward Caribbean Carnival
With Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Shurwayne Winchester and Traffik, Rikki Jai, Kaushun Band, Leon Coldero, and Krosfyah. Central Broward Regional Park, 3700 NW 11th Plc., Lauderhill. Gates open at 9 a.m. $20. Call 800-954-7866, or visit caribbeancarnival.org.
This is the big shebang for Broward's Caribbean community, and the folks behind this county's Carnival don't want to be outdone. They've got the legendary Byron Lee and the Dragonaires kicking things off, alongside a stadium full of marchers ready to party like they're back home in the Caribbean. Roughly 15,000 people are anticipated to attend, so get there early. Expect lots of colorful costumes and marching at this daylong event and plenty of good music as well.
Miami Caribbean Carnival
With Fay Ann Lyons, Bunji Garlin, Shurwayne Winchester, Scarface, Benjai, Black Stalin, Asylum Band, and more. Bicentennial Park, 301 N. Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Call 305-653-1877, or visit miamicarnival.net.
It's the 24th-annual Miami Caribbean Carnival, and with so much history and longevity attached to the affair, expect a high turnout and lots of fun. Most of the big-name acts have opted to perform at this carnival rather than Broward's, so if that's your thing, this is the event to attend.
Eden: Miami Carnival Edition
With Walshy Fire, Crown Prince, Dawg E. Slaughter, and guests.Grass Lounge, 28 NE 40th St., Miami. 11 p.m.; $20 for guys, women free before 1 a.m.
This is the biggest upscale party of the weekend. Anyone who's ever attended Eden in the past can attest to this event's uptown, high-class feeling. For this Miami Carnival edition, head DJ Walshy Fire of Black Chiney and his partners turn their reggae-friendly event into a soca fete. All masqueraders from special mas bands are admitted free before 1 a.m., and this party is going to be so authentic, you'll need a passport just to head back home.
Papa Keith's Revenge
With Kid Capri, Stone Love, Renegade Sound, Supa Twitch, Onkore, Renaissance, and others. Opium Garden, 136 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. 10 p.m. $25.
Call 954-234-2403, or visit riddims945.com.
Popular 99 Jamz radio host Papa Keith is throwing this massive party, and a large number of big-name DJs will be on hand. New York's Kid Capri will be there alongside Jamaica's notorious Stone Love — a five-man crew that's revered as one of the best reggae sound systems in the world. Aside from those heavyweights, Sizzla Kalonji is expected to host the event. And with ace local DJs like Supa Twitch, Onkore, and Renegade in the building, this should be a happening night for dancehall fans regardless of nationality.