This is what Toronto’s virtual Carnival will look like this year

Toronto Caribbean Carnival has released its tentative lineup, which spans 13 hours and 8 countries


Toronto Caribbean Carnival is taking 2020 off when it comes to in-person celebrations, but outright cancelling was never an option. People were going to celebrate Carnival whether or not it officially went virtual.

“When we announced we were cancelling, a lot of people hit social media and said ‘I don’t care what you guys say, I’m putting on my costume and celebrating,'” says Naila S. Seunath, one of the members of Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s festival committee. “So we had to listen. And we realized this is actually a great opportunity.”

It’s been a challenge for any major cultural event to shift online during this COVID-19 summer of banned public gatherings, but it’s especially challenging for Carnival. How do you replicate such a grand, lively, street-filling event on a screen?

The answer was to go really big with it and to think bigger than Toronto. After a full month of events, Carnival culminates with The Virtual Road, this year’s online version of the Grand Parade, on August 1. The event, which will take place on Twitch, Instagam and Facebook, is 13 hours long from 9 am until 10 pm. “And I feel like we’ll need to have an encore,” says Seunath.

This is no half-assed socially distanced replacement. If you’ve ever been to Carnival, you know it’s not just a local event or even just a celebration for the Caribbean diaspora. People come from all over the world to dance, dress up and play mas. And this is a way to bring the world to Toronto Carnival, and vice versa.

The event travels through Australia, England, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, the United States, the Netherlands, Japan (where there’s a surprisingly vibrant soca scene) and Canada. DJs and live performers will represent each area, from Australia’s DJ Fasmwa at 9 am to live musical performances from genre-bending legacy soca star Nailah Blackman and Freetown Collective to a night-closing set from Toronto’s Dr. Jay de Soca Prince. “Every hour we’ll be in a different country,” Seunath says, emphasizing the tagline “all roads lead to Toronto.” She encourages people to stop by at any time of the day or start early and experience it all.

You can find the whole lineup, broken down by time zone, below. (The lineup is subject to change.)

Anyone in the world can also participate live on Zoom by pre-registering at torontocarnival.ca. You’re invited to dress up in costume, whether you’re a die-hard masquerader, a former reveller with a costume burning a hole in your closet or a newbie DIYer. You can be in full costume and full makeup or get in “casual costume.”

Seunath says there will be a ton of costume prizes, awarded in a variety of different categories for all the different levels of pageantry. (If you don’t want to be spotlighted or seen, you can also just tune in and watch.)

It all culminates in a crossing-the-stage moment for masqueraders to get their 3 to 5 minutes to let loose and show off. They’ll be crossing the stage four times throughout the day, in Trinidad, Japan, Barbados and finally Toronto. The music will guide the hype-up/break-free/cool-down cycle.

“Having to go virtual means we could celebrate not just for ourselves, but share it to those who would have been coming to Toronto for Carnival as well as others who either didn’t know about it or never had a chance to celebrate or experience it,” Seunath says. “In a way this was a blessing in disguise.”

@trapunski

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