On a warm, cloudless Labor Day morning, the fast beats of soca blended with the NYPD band playing a steel drum version of Bob Marley's "One Love" as floats inched down Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights for the start of the annual West Indian Day Parade.
Dianne Hunt-Roman stood outside the apartment building where she said she's lived the past 29 years since moving here from Grenada.
Hunt-Roman, a child care worker who gave here age as over 40, said she's come to the parade every year she's lived here.
"The best part of the parade is getting in the parade and getting into the mix," Hunt-Roman said. "Get inside and move your hips and by the time you're done you will lose five pounds."
Wearing the red, yellow and green of her native Grenada, she said the parade was about the Caribbean community coming together.
"Today is a melting pot," Hunt-Roman said. "All the islands together and in unity."
Nearby a smokey haze from grilled chicken wafted above vendors every 100 feet or so near the parade route.
Donna Dove had one goal when it comes to creating ornate costumes for the parade: Do it better than last year.
"We compete against ourselves," said Dove, fashion director of Pagwah Mas, one of several "mas bands" -- a sort of team -- taking part in the festivities. "It's such an adrenaline rush. It's such excitement."
The parade began at 11 a.m. with grand marshals Maxine Williams, Facebook's global head of diversity; Kenneth E. Mapp, governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands; and Earl Phillips, secretary-treasurer of TWU Local 100.
It started on Eastern Parkway at Schenectady Avenue with an expected march to Grand Army Plaza.
"Playing mas," or masquerade, is a linchpin of the euphoric celebration of Caribbean culture that will take over Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights as it does every Labor Day. The march is in its 48th year and is expected to draw as many as 2 million people. While it stepped off at 11 a.m., some events began earlier, such as the unofficial J'ouvert party at daybreak.
The skin-baring, brilliantly colored costumes often include tall feathered headdresses, sequined shorts and wings, or other accessories.
Shana Francis, 27, of the Bronx, and her friend, Laverne Shaw, 24, were riding to the parade aboard the 4 train about 30 minutes before the start.
After dancing on the streets of Brooklyn into the early morning, Francis rushed back to her home in the Morrisania section of Bronx to change into a purple and blue bikini with matching feathers reaching to the sky.
"Yes you can take our picture," Shaw said as they sat on the train with another friend, Jannel Daley, 27, of Baychester. Too excited to be tired, the feathered trio said this was their first time marching and dancing in the parade.
Francis, who works as a social worker, said they didn't practice dancing: "It comes naturally!"
The three got off at Franklin Avenue to meet up with their group as subway riders snapped photos.
Dove, raised in Trinidad and now living in Harlem, taking part in the festivities, said the team's theme is "Afrika" and many of the 500 members of her mas band will wear dashikis, or traditional African tunics.
Revelers Monday flew the flags of Jamaica, Barbados and other Caribbean nations, danced to booming calypso, soca and reggae music, and tasted fragrant dishes such as jerk chicken wings, aloo pie and oxtail stew.
Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams, judge of Sunday night's Golden Krust Jamaican patty-eating competition, said he remembers watching from the sidelines as a child and now is happy to march in the parade. Other elected officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, are expected to attend.
The event has been marred at times by violence. Last year, a 55-year-old man was fatally shot in the early morning hours before the parade. Early Monday, a lawyer who works closely with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was shot and wounded at an early morning party and another man was stabbed to death, officials said.
Adams, a former police captain, said violence should not "destroy the greatness of the parade" and commended the NYPD's preparations, including managing the flow of foot traffic.
An NYPD spokesman said Sunday special details were assigned to the parade and J'ouvert, the unsanctioned party at dawn that attracts crowds for dancing and paint-throwing.
Garnett Phillip, director of operations at BCakeNY in Prospect Heights, said the bakery has been busy churning out cupcakes topped with Caribbean countries' flags. About 400 treats representing more than 20 nations were made, she said.
"People wanted something that reflected their culture," said Phillip, 36, of Crown Heights. "Everybody wants their flag. They ask: Where's our flag? Where's our flag?"
Reisha Maynard, 37, of Cambria Heights, Queens, president of Ramajay Mas, a community organization, said 509 costumes were created this year in the mas band's Nirvana theme.
Those who will march with Ramajay include both women and men from as far away as Miami representing an array of islands. Some revelers aren't Caribbean in ethnicity at all, but it doesn't matter, Maynard said.
"We treat everyone like family," she said.
With William Murphy and Ted Phillips