Caribbean junkanoo pop artist Julien Believe has participated in six editions of Miami Carnival, but none has meant as much to him as the one to come this Sunday, October 13. During the event’s grand finale — the Mega Soca concert — the singer-songwriter will debut “I Believe in You,” a song he wrote and recorded with some of his favorite Caribbean counterparts to benefit his native Bahamas. All proceeds from the sales of the track will go toward relief efforts after the northern part of the island nation, including the Abacos and Grand Bahama, was all but flattened last month by Hurricane Dorian.
“I just cannot wait to get onstage,” Believe tells New Times. “I’m overwhelmed, and I know my people are overwhelmed by the love that we’ve been receiving through donations of food and supplies, and of monetary help.”
Believe says he hopes the 35th-annual Miami Carnival's spotlight on the Bahamas will be a reminder that the 700-island archipelago is more than its geographic attributes.
“In a sense, the hurricane has humanized the Bahamas," he says. "We’re a lot more than just sun, sand, beach, and tourism. We have personality, and our personality is being shown.”
But those tropical weather patterns have certainly influenced his music. “We always try to find the sunshine in the midst of the storm,” he says.
And that’s what he wants people to feel when they hear his junkanoo pop, a genre he considers a close relative to soca — the convergence of soul and calypso. “It’s infectious and it’s commercial, so it doesn’t matter where in the world you’re from, you can appreciate junkanoo pop,” Believe says.
Although there will be a special focus on the islands because of the recovery effort, this year's Miami Carnival isn’t just about the Bahamas. In fact, one of the event’s missions is to unite all the islands of the Caribbean, as well as all the islanders living in South Florida. In that vein, Miami Carnival’s organizers spend a good part of the year visiting carnival celebrations on islands such as Saint Lucia, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Cayman Islands.
“We have artists representing so many different islands in the Caribbean coming together to bless the stage with their performance, with their music and the celebration of their country, their individual island, and it’s all under a one-carnival narrative,” says Yvette N. Harris, public relations director for the Miami Broward Carnival One Carnival host committee.
As with many of the previous iterations of Miami Carnival, Harris expects more than 50,000 people will turn out for a week of lead-up events running through October 13. Those include more than 150 fetes by various promoters and DJs; food, arts, and crafts kiosks; and several massive shows. Among them is the Miami Carnival Panorama competition, happening Friday, October 11, at Central Broward Regional Park, in which six steel-pan bands will compete onstage. The event will also include a special performance by the Massy All Stars, the winners of Trinidad and Tobago’s 2019 Carnival Panorama.
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Saturday, October 12, 20 masquerade bands will participate in a traditional j’ouvert ceremony, wherein revelers act out their grievances by donning horns and tales and dousing themselves in mud and paint. Sunday's parade will include 18,000 revelers strutting throughout the grounds of the Fair Expo Center while wearing a decadent display of feathered headdresses and sequined bikinis so colorful they’ll make Miami’s flamboyant peacocks look like puritanical turkeys. Finally, the finale at the Fair Expo Center will host 35 “soca ambassadors,” including Haiti’s Mikaben and Trinidad and Tobago’s Farmer Nappy and Kes the Band.
Believe will perform on that stage too, and though he'll represent the islands that were devastated by Dorian, he feels a kinship with his fellow performing artists from other Caribbean nations.
“I think because of the magnitude of this hurricane, because of how hard it hit us," he says, "the Caribbean countries realize that it could have been any of us, and for that, the love is strong.”