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Expect Caribbean carnival atmosphere at Brooklyn parade

The annual J'Ouvert and West Indian American Day Parade are a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes, calypso and Caribbean cuisine. 

The Adlib Steel Orchestra practices Friday in Freeport

The Adlib Steel Orchestra practices Friday in Freeport ahead of the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Michael Owens

Franklin Mayers is a man of steel — especially in the lead-up to the annual West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn.

While a teen in his native Trinidad, Mayers would play with major steel bands. When he came to New York as an adult in the 1980s, he decided to start a band in Hempstead with a handful of childhood friends from the Caribbean nation. The band plays the steelpan, a percussion instrument made out of an oil drum.

“We were all tenors, arrangers, captains or vice captains," he said, explaining that captains and vice captains lead the band. “Meaning we were all very proficient in what we did.”

In the runup to the annual New York celebration, including the Steelband Panorama competition, the group has been practicing every day in August.

The group’s ability to play a tune off-the-cuff inspired the band’s name: Adlib Steel Orchestra, which comprises close to 100 adults and children. On Monday, members from the collective plan on attending either as performers or participants in the Labor Day parade that travels along Brooklyn thoroughfares and attracts up to 2 million revelers.

New York’s Caribbean carnival is considered the largest in the United States.

“If you look at the other bands, there’s so many different creeds and races that are participating,” said Lisa Mayers, who inherited her father Franklin’s passion for steel pan playing. In 1996 her mother, Jean Mayers, and her father opened Adlib Youth and Cultural Organization in Freeport, Long Island, which offers instruction on steelpan playing to children and adults. It is also where the group's steel orchestra rehearses. 

The annual Brooklyn carnival is a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes, calypso and Caribbean cuisine. It begins with J’Ouvert, a French-derived term meaning daybreak or morning. J'Ouvert is a warmup of sorts for early-morning celebrators as it precedes the West Indian American Day Parade, which explains why it begins at 6 a.m. in Crown Heights and gets people revved up for the parade, which kicks off at 11 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.

In the last few years, the celebrations have been overshadowed by violence. Two young people, one in his teens, were shot to death in the hours before the West Indian American Day parade in 2016. Two others were wounded. And in 2015, two people were killed during the celebrations, including Carey Gabay, a lawyer with the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The NYPD on Thursday said security for the 2018 parade will follow closely to last year’s plan, borrowing from New Year’s Eve tactics. The formation area and two-mile parade route will close to the public late Sunday evening. To enter, people will have to pass through metal detectors at one of 13 secure entry points — up from 12 last year — along the route, where they will be screened for weapons and alcoholic beverages. Backpacks and other large bags will be prohibited.

Last year, the checkpoints caused hourslong waits and deterred some festivalgoers, which police said they are hoping to avoid on Monday. The NYPD said it will also deploy additional high-resolution security cameras to monitor for any unsafe activity.   

Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD brass and organizers said at a Thursday news conference that they worked with residents and storefront owners to address their concerns. Some complained that the extra police security walled off local businesses from the parade route, while residents asked for a strong police presence.

They found common ground in the belief that violence cannot shut down the parade.

"This city will never surrender to crime,'' said Eric Adams, Brooklyn borough president. "The world watches how we handle events at Times Square and this is no different.''

The J’Ouvert parade starts at Grand Army Plaza, travels south on Flatbush Avenue, east on Empire Boulevard, south on Nostrand Avenue and ends at Midwood Street. The West Indian American Day Parade extends along Eastern Parkway between Utica Avenue and Schenectady Avenue.

Lisa Mayers said she hopes the beauty of the Caribbean is not eclipsed by violence — a sentiment shared by law enforcement and locals alike.

“In the safest big city in America, no one should have to choose between ensuring their safety and celebrating their heritage,” de Blasio said.

With Maria Alvarez

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