How much fun you have at carnival depends on where you go and what parties you know about. Advance planning has never been the soca, calypso and reggae community's strong suit (soon come, seen?); many parties are confirmed only days before the event. So getting plugged directly into Toronto's vibrant Caribbean community is the best way of finding out where you need to be and when.
There are Caribana-related Web sites like www.caribana.com, but it's ironic that in this era of instant global communication, word of mouth, in particular flyers, remains the best source of Caribana-related information.
As in the underground club scene, flashy, hand-delivered advertisements are the best way of plugging a last-minute party or show, and can be picked up in West Indian barber shops, roti huts, record stores and Caribbean fish markets in the days before the festival kicks off.
A more conventional, less exhausting way of keeping up on what's going down is to check out the dozens of Caribbean radio shows rocking the airwaves around town. Flow 93.5 might remain a commercial joke, delivering little of the street-level enthusiasm that was promised when the licence for Canada's first black music radio station was issued, but Toronto is blessed with three solid community radio stations, all of which regularly pump out island vibes during the week.
For the downtown set, the standard remains CKLN 88.1 FM's Reggaemania show, running Friday from 8:30 pm until midnight, hosted by legendary promoter Ron Nelson. The DJ spins the hottest in roots and dancehall, and his show is the first promo stop for any major reggae star coming through town.
CIUT 89.5 FM's Island Breeze -- Thursday, 7 to 10 pm -- also spins soca and reggae with guest selectors, but if you're really looking to dial yourself into the scene, you've got to head uptown.
York University's CHRY 105.5 FM broadcasts directly into the Caribbean community and is ground zero for soca, calypso and reggae in this city. Head across Eglinton or St. Clair on a Saturday between 10 am and 1 pm and most shop radios will be blasting out the dancehall spun by Radio Dubplate. That show's followed at 7 pm by Toronto icon Delroy G's soca and reggae mix and the helpfully titled Rockin' Soca at 9 pm, where you can learn the words to this year's road song.
If you want to take home some of the jams you hear, hit up one of Toronto's top reggae and calypso record shops. While some of the best shops are nestled in the basements of Eglinton West hair salons and electronics stores (just follow the booming sound systems), S&W Sound King (566 St. Clair West, 416-651-3874) and Ital Records (1339 St. Clair West, 416-654-8272) are as much meeting places as music sellers, stocking flyers and dispensing advice and information as well as selling the freshest dancehall, calypso and soca.
For the downtown set, the back corner of Play de Record (357 A Yonge, 416-586-0380) has a full wall of Caribbean sounds and a mountain of flyers. If you're lucky and in the right place at the right time, which is how all the best Caribana moments happen, you'll run into the guy with the duffel bags of reggae 45s who occasionally turns up unannounced in record stores, peddling the hottest riddims straight outta Kingston.firstname.lastname@example.org