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February 14, 2005 | by  | in Features |
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Singing the Body Electric

Forget the Sevens; Brannavan Gnanalingham reports on the 2005 Cuba Street Carnival, bound to be one of the highlights of Wellington’s summer calendar.

Every Fat Tuesday, millions of people around the world commemorate the day before the Christian period of Lent begins with crazy, drunken debaucherous celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, in New Orleans, in Venice. Which would be awesome except for the fact that most of us are in Wellington and poor. Luckily, however, for those of us who can’t afford to take part in those exotic celebrations, Wellington has its own carnival, albeit minus the rampant sexual activity and inebriation. Traditionally held in the last week of February, The Cuba Street Carnival is a great time to celebrate the diversity and culture of Wellington.

The Cuba Street Carnival debuted in 1999, and has steadily built up a reputation as a successful event on the Wellington calendar. Tens of thousands of Wellingtonians show up to inspect stalls, see some great live music and celebrate the fact that we live in the culturally rich, ethnically diverse city that is Wellington. This year, unfortunately, the event has been downscaled from a two-day event to just one – Saturday 26th of February. This is apparently due to a “focusing on the vibe of the event ” this year, though that is hardly something that the carnival has lacked in the past. Nevertheless, there is plenty on the Saturday to enjoy.

The music is performed on three stages. The highlights this year include SJD, The Phoenix Foundation, Odessa and many other Wellington bands. There is also the opportunity to check out some diverse ethnic music, or as it often branded, “world music”, which includes Latin American folk (Los Andes), Russian Jewish music (Troika), Cook Islands music (Ei Tiare) and Bollywood music (Tu Fann). The expanse around the stages leaves ample room to boogie on down. The music starts at 11am and goes right through to past midnight.

The centrepiece of the Carnival, as usual, is the Night Parade. A ridiculous number of people traditionally line the inner-city streets to watch the floats go by, beginning at the corner of Cambridge Tce. and Courtenay Pl. and finishing up two hours later at Vivian St. Previous years have seen up to 90,000 people watching (though last year’s was marred by some inclement weather). This year for the first time, the Parade has a theme and is centred on “the body electric”. The parade is a fabulous illuminated artistic display, and also a serious competition – some major prizes are being given to the best parade entrants. In fact, the focus this year for the entire Carnival is on creativity.

Other attractions to the Carnival include the stalls and the wide variety of food from Cambodian to Pacific Island (including my personal favourite from last year, drinking from coconuts. Mmmm). There are also live street performers such as street musicians and magicians, and plenty of participatory events for the kids (and the delusional big kids), meaning there is something to do for people of all ages and all levels of cynicism.

Decorations have been constructed by Massey design students and there will also be the re-appearance of the “world’s biggest disco-ball”, although that particular ball is probably in need of some liposuction to create some curves. There is, however, the promise of an even greater disco-ball in the future, meaning the current world-record holding quasi-sphere can be lobbed away.

There cannot be a mention of the Cuba Street Carnival without the obligatory raising of the bypass issue. So there. I’ve mentioned it. However, the Carnival has been moved from the upper end of Cuba Street to avoid being in the bypass construction area. This may only interest those hippies who are opposed to this pointless, soul-destroying road being put in, so I will not editorialise this issue. However, in a stunning piece of irony the Cuba Street Carnival causes inner-city chaos on the roads by closing down State Highway 1 (perhaps a reason for it being limited to one day?) so if you’re planning to commute from the ‘burbs into town that day, be prepared to share your oxygen with carbon monoxide. And remember, the body is unable to get rid of carbon monoxide. Apparently.

The Cuba Street Carnival is about celebrating the nature of Wellington. The organisers have said that “this year’s Carnival will be an intense package that will definitely be a highlight of the summer’s events”. Wellington has been home to a number of large-scale events recently such as One Love, the Sevens and the Fringe Festival. The Cuba Street Carnival is another extremely popular event, and helps show, as cheesy as it may sound, how great this city really is.

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About the Author ()

Brannavan Gnanalingam has come a long way from being born in the teeming metropolis of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He may be known as feature writer for Salient, but is also the only man in history to have simultaneously donated both his kidneys. He is also an amateur rapper going under the moniker Brantank and hopes to win a Grammy.

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