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Oral history interview conducted by Michael Roberts
February 15, 1995
Call number: 2010.019.15
ROBERTS: --Grenada, reigning march monarch of Grenada 1994, and one who has beeninvolved in calypso and Carnival for many, many, many years, for Brooklyn Historical Society. Interviewer: Michael Derick Roberts. Inspector, it is obviously a great pleasure to speak with you in respect to Carnival in general and calypso and soca music in particular.
GILBERT: Well, thank you. My pleasure. I'm willing anytime you are ready to go.
ROBERTS: Tell me something when did you start to participate in calypso and Carnival?
GILBERT: 1985 nationally. I was always around before, like from '82, '83, '84,doing presentation with all the calypsonians in the Queen's Park Savannah. But only nationally is 1985.
ROBERTS: And you were born where?1:00
GILBERT: In South End, St. Patrick's, Grenada.
ROBERTS: Alright. About what age you started to sing calypso?
GILBERT: Well, I entered the junior competition when I had fourteen years, but Iused to sing before in primary school, so I always had the talent in maybe four. But I was singing nationally at the age of fourteen.
ROBERTS: And what did you do when you entered at the age of fourteen?
GILBERT: Well, the first year I entered the age of fourteen I won the juniormonarch, the national monarch. I went back in '86 and defended junior title. I won it again, and also won the national monarch. So that was history. First time in the senior competition and I came third. So that was history then in Grenada; the youngest calypsonian ever to do that.
ROBERTS: At age fourteen.
GILBERT: Fourteen and fifteen.
ROBERTS: That is certainly a lot of record. What have you seen in respect toGrenada's --we'll talk a little bit about Grenada. Let's talk about the calypso 2:00music when you sang at age fourteen to obviously to now. Has it improved? Has it developed? What has changed--have you seen in Grenada?
GILBERT: Well, it improved a lot, because in 1985 I remember when I startedsinging, the music was like--chung, chung, chung, chung, chung. All the way people will dance to it still and move to the beat and listen to the calypsonian message. Around that time you hardly used to hear Grenada music, like in New York, London, Canada, different places. It was only in Grenada itself. At that time, the standard was so low that we used to dance to the foreign music; Carnival, there on the street. First thing, it improved so much that today we dance to our own music, we enjoy our own music on the street. The music improved a lot that we don't need foreign music to get down to around the Carnival time. There's too much of our music to mention. So the standard of the music improve a 3:00lot, because you see to yourself that today on the Parkway, Labor Day, we jump up to our own music and we satisfied. Our music played on the black radio stations in New York, in London, any--Canada. Once you talk about Grenada show and Grenada music, you're getting from the spice island, the music there.
ROBERTS; Now, also on the same side, I'm gonna ask this question. So youobviously have been participating in Carnival at a very young age?
ROBERTS: Has Carnival improved? What have you seen has happened to Carnival inGrenada particularly?
GILBERT: Well, Carnival in Grenada is not like before. For example, we have morespectators than masqueraders. The people complain. They say it is the money, because of the money of the costume, economic problems. The excitement is not like before. Like, people now depend on Rainbow City, that's a week before 4:00Carnival, and J'ouvert morning, the Dimanche Gras night queen show. But Carnival Monday and Tuesday, if you pass through the street, it's like a ghost town. No excitement, no activity. It was so bad, that for example last year we had only two bands in St. George's. And before you turn, it's like, the amount of people in the band before you look at them and you turn around and you look again, they're gone. Before you could have looked at a band from one end to the next, people taking part, pretty mas masqueraders having fun, nice costumes. It's not like before. Right now, Carnival in Grenada is like a black hole. People walk up and down the street, when they're tired, warm the seat, and when they're tired sit down, want to fight, fight when they're tired, fight, they go home. So the standard dropped a lot, a lot, a lot. Carnival right now is like a black hole.
ROBERTS: OK. You obviously know, you--I know--have performed in London, you've5:00performed in Canada, you've performed in other parts of the United States, including the Caribbean. You've gone all over the place as a professional performer. How do you see the Carnival in Brooklyn, Labor Day Carnival? I know you perform in Labor Day also.
GILBERT: Comparing to the Caribbean, how I see--?
ROBERTS: In comparing to the Caribbean Carnival.
GILBERT: Well, Brooklyn Carnival is very nice and exciting comparing to theCaribbean Carnival. The other thing I would say, like maybe Caribbean Carnival might be a little more safe, because I know how it is on the Parkway, different people, the drama can mix up there and this one mix up there, and a lotta go and shot. I just say the other island don't fire bullet, too, but we always have that. But the reason why the Labor Day celebration have more, I'm talking about the costume, the masqueraders, talking about that. The reason why is because you got different islands coming together. It's not like only Grenadians on the 6:00Parkway, or only Trinidadians, or only Vincentians, or only Antiguans. You have the whole Caribbean come together. Even the Americans take part, too. So you see a big celebration. You see the masqueraders. The mas is very pretty and exciting; different to home. And we got plenty bands out there, Borokeet for example, you know, big bands. So it's very different to home, because everybody come together. It's not like only one sort of people.
ROBERTS: Now, how long have you been coming to Brooklyn?
GILBERT: I've been coming here since 1985. Yeah, since 1985.
ROBERTS: OK, and you've been living here off and on, going back home? This isyour base?
GILBERT: Yeah. No, sorry, 1986. I came here in 1986, I stayed about a month, Idid some shows, and I went back. In 1987 was my first Labor Day experience, and 7:00I start living here in 1987, going back off and on.
ROBERTS: Now, when you came to Brooklyn for the first time, what were yourimpressions of Brooklyn?
GILBERT: Well, the first time I came here--I always tell my friends, and I willsay that to you, that--when I look at movies before, and I look at plenty videocassette of America and I wanted to come to America, because what I look at, I look at the movie filming in Hollywood and them place. That's, you know, that's where they film a lot of their movies, or in Florida. Nice areas. So when you see them and you look at that, that tempt you to come to America to see what America is like. But I never know I was coming in a rough place like Brooklyn. Although I heard about it before, but because of the movies, looking at the movie, I was expecting some place more clean and safer. So the first time I came here, I was excited to see a different place, but I was not looking out for all 8:00that violence, and like, so much low self-esteem, and you know, the peace and the love we have back home is not here at all, because you know New York is a place make you lose what you have for people because of the violence. And so much of things gonna hit you like you don't know who to chose. So I was not looking for a place like that, because what I saw back home.
ROBERTS: But you were able to integrate in the Grenadian community and thoseother Caribbean communities here?
GILBERT: That's right. When you meet your own people, you feel like home, youknow? I'm not running down here 100%. It's like 50-50, because here has helped me improve myself and my career and get better music to bring back home to make my people happy. You know? What I wanted attributed a lot. But what I'm trying to say, like, what I was looking out for I don't see at all.
ROBERTS: Now, when you first came here to the States, what was important to you?9:00What are the things that were important to you--apart from the impressions, what were the things that were important to you?
GILBERT: Doing a record. Yes, getting better music for Grenada. To improvemyself as a person, because you know an entertainer's supposed to be somebody that has to impress the people. Somebody that the people could look up to. And I feel if I'd have stayed down in Grenada, a lot of marks I'm making now would not make it. Because here, make me learn a lot. A lot of things I wanted to achieve, I achieved it here. So I would say, doing a record the most important thing, because you know, back home the business, there's no sponsor to do the record. But I really wanted that. I really wanted to go off and improve myself as an entertainer. So that was the most, most important thing to me.
ROBERTS: Now, taking Carnival as a whole, be it in Grenada, be it in Trinidad,be it in Miami, be it in Notting Hill--what does Carnival really represent to 10:00Inspector as a person?
GILBERT: Well, Carnival represents--Inspector as a person--I look at Carnival ashappiness, or like, some people would say Hallelujah, you know? In a different way, I look at Carnival as happiness. I look at Carnival as a time when people will come out and enjoy themselves, you know? Have fun, experience themselves, show what it really mean to them; because it only come once a year. And I think we had to have Carnival. If we didn't have Carnival, I don't know what else we would have had. The way, the way, the weight being put onto me, and we see how people get down to it.
ROBERTS: So you believe that Carnival is not about religion and race andpeople's color and so forth?
GILBERT: No, no. Everybody come together. For example, if you look at Trinidad11:00Carnival, this person don't have to know that person to really dance with them sometime, because the enjoyment and waiting for that day, and the music into them, they might just be in a band and see somebody just grab you, and all the way enjoy all yourself. And when Carnival don't, that's it. I see that happen to me already. I see, I see workers line up on the boss man Carnival day, enjoy themselves, and when Carnival's done, that's it. Different person. They go back to serious business. So that's how important Carnival is. You know, everybody come together, not because this one is Indian and this one is Negro and this one black and this one white. One people.
ROBERTS: I have to talk to you now about a part of Carnival that a lot of peoplehave neglected over the years, and I think it's important at this time that we need to address it from some of our top artists like yourself. And it has to do with steel band. Over the years, we have seen steel band taking the third, the 12:00second and third place in Carnival. It used to be that steel band used to be at the forefront. That's what you danced to, that's what you paraded to. How important do you think is steel band music to Carnival?
GILBERT: Steel band music is very important to Carnival. For example, panoramaright now in Grenada is very big. It's not like before. Before in Grenada, people never used to take pan that seriously. Different in Trinidad, because the pan is very important to them in Trini. Steel band very, very important. I think J'ouvert morning, the rhythm and the vibes you will get from the band, and the music coming from the steel drum is very important. And why steel band important, again, is that you will get serious soca music from the pan. From the bands they will practice your calypso. But with the DJ taking over is not all the DJ like playing calypso. Sometime you go to Carnival, and you will hear ragamuffin from the DJ set for the whole, and you wonder if you're into 13:00Carnival, you know? So steel band very, very important. Very important in Carnival. I would like if steel band would stay up front, although a lot of people like jumping up to the DJ on the street. But you know that's the way life is, you can't please everybody. But I think steel band is very important and it should have been number one. It should have been the pan of the land.
ROBERTS: You raise a very curious point about ragamuffin music, which of coursewe alluding to a different form of reggae dance hall music. Of late, we have seen the incursion, based on the DJ--as you say--playing a lot of reggae music in Carnival, at Carnival time, and Carnival has historically been associated with both steel band and calypso. Now we see reggae creeping into the mix. Do you think this is good or bad?
GILBERT: Well, that is very bad, and I would blame the DJ man for it. Forexample, DJ man always rolls you on the calypsonian for your record. When they get to it, they put it in the box. Some of them play that when they see you. If 14:00they see you around, they play it to make you feel good, which I think is very bad. What I am trying to say I am not against the ragamuffin if it's some nice--if you have some nice ragamuffin songs. But, when Carnival over, is ragamuffin right for the year? Any of that time come where we forget the birth of us, for our own February or anytime Carnival fall in any country, if that time come where we could get a break to listen to our own music, I feel we should have the opportunity to do so, because that's one of the reasons soca music going nowhere. But if you go to Jamaica--right now we have Carnival in Jamaica. For example, if you have a reggae sunsplash festival, all you hear is reggae music. If you have a hard soca and then Jamaican have to sing it, believe it or not, they taking the soca and they sing it into reggae. That's how they want to hear it, into reggae. That's why reggae music is on top, because they support their own thing. I have nothing against it. It's [unintelligible]. It's 15:00one Caribbean music, but what I'm trying to say, Carnival time, the calypsonian put out so much, spend how much money to do a record so that soca music would play so people could enjoy themselves. Play the soca, because when Carnival done, they're going back into their ragamuffin. So if you do that and give us a break from June to August.
ROBERTS: So you think that there is a place for soca and calypso and there isalso a place for reggae?
GILBERT: That's right, but on the next hand, calypso must not be a seasonalthing. What I'm saying, they always play ragamuffin right through the year, and they hardly play calypso. Then if the time come, if you have it seasonal from June to August, if you have it that way, then we get a break.
ROBERTS: OK. You've attended Carnival parades and did shows in places as London.I know you did shows in parts of the Caribbean. I know you did shows in Miami, and I know you did shows also in Caribana. Different audiences; the Virgin 16:00Islands. you're well-traveled, and Belize, I think you went to Belize or thereabouts and that kind of thing. How do you see the Carnival's structure, in London and in Toronto, comparing with the Labor Day parade over here?
GILBERT: To be honest, I don't see that because I spend a lot of time inBrooklyn, but I think the Brooklyn parade, the Labor Day celebration structure is better than the others. For example, Caribana--I go in Caribana and I only enjoy Caribana by just stand up looking at the bands. But the way it's structured, I don't really enjoy myself that much as in Brooklyn. Somebody based in Canada, because they might want to be biased, might say the Canada Carnival better. But I'm being very honest, I just give every place what it belongs to, 17:00because I just call Trini Carnival a top, because the way how they do their stuff and they structure it. But I look at Carnival in London, and I look at Carnival in Miami--for example, Carnival in Miami is same people in New York who go down there and run it. The majority is people from New York. So I think the Carnival in Brooklyn is structured better than even London, Canada, anywhere you talk about. I never been to Rio, so I don't know much about Rio Carnival. The only problem I have with the Brooklyn celebration is the fighting sometimes, the violence. But I seen that happen many times in Caribana. London is a different place. London is more the British system, and you know how we grow up and how we operate home, so London is different. London'll be clean, quiet, and nice.
ROBERTS: Talking about Carnival, and all over the place, and how we look at it,we see Carnivals cropping up in Atlanta, there's some talk about Texas, and 18:00other states within the United States. We see Carnivals coming up. Do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing?
GILBERT: Well, I won't say a bad thing, because I would like to see Carnival allover the world, but something I look at and I take into consideration, I think it's the amount of West Indians living in the place, too. Have they looked at the amount of West Indians? Because you know, New York is like the Caribbean, the amount of West Indians living here. Our dancing is in our blood, so we come here and we put we self and we enjoy it, and we put out our best. We do the same thing that we do back in the Caribbean. But in Texas, I just go to Texas to perform, man. There's hardly a West Indian there. They hardly have. Or I don't know if they have so much that get more Americanized that they don't take part, 19:00because I've been to Texas Carnival, and you don't have men at all. You don't have men. I don't know if the people from New York have to go down there, people in Canada have to go. Caribana is very big, too. I think, I think, and that's very important, I think it's the amount of people, the amount of West Indian living in the area, and I think any other person will side with me a hundred percent. Although, that's just one idea.
ROBERTS: What do you think you like about Carnival the best?
GILBERT: Carnival the best?
ROBERTS: The best part of Carnival for you?
GILBERT: I like Dimanche Gras night, and J'ouvert morning.
ROBERTS: Tell me about J'ouvert morning.
GILBERT: Well, J'ouvert morning has been different. From the Queens Park, you goto J'ouvert with excitement. Even you don't go to into Queens Park--a lot of people do go to the part where they prepare for the J'ouvert. I don't know how to explain J'ouvert, to be honest. First, J'ouvert's sweet. It's so sweet; I don't know how to explain it. That morning, everybody like the whole town in 20:00black, all they want to motivate their selves, the whole town in red, and they just enjoy that sweet pan music, and that DJ music, and it's like a different vibration. If you listen, calypsonian sings, sometimes every time a calypso in their country--that song--they must call J'ouvert. J'ouvert, the blood in the body boiling, like they're waiting for that time. Any time people talk about Carnival from New York who want to go home, and they don't make it for Queen's shows or how much activity before, they always want to be in time for J'ouvert. Some people come down Sunday afternoon for the for, for, for Sunday night, coming into Monday morning. That's when J'ouvert is about. To me, if I don't enjoy J'ouvert, I don't enjoy Carnival, right? Because for example, I had a song called "When J'ouvert Don't, Carnival Don't." Because of what's happening now. And a lot of people if you interview them on Carnival, will tell you the same thing. When J'ouvert don't like, they don't enjoy themselves any more. 21:00
ROBERTS: And J'ouvert, is that the whole morning between the five and the sixo'clock all the morning when everything start to happen in Carnival Monday morning?
GILBERT: That's right, and everybody, and Glory, who has the snake around theneck who will double pan--the nice thing about J'ouvert, if you don't want to play and you have a friend playing it, you have to play. If you don't want to play, then you stand up watch and the vibes you will get. You have to jump in the band. I don't know, because it's so cool and nice, and the sun is not hot out there, but something about J'ouvert. It's so nice, as I said before, I don't know how to explain it.
ROBERTS: And what do you like least about Carnival?
GILBERT: To be honest, something I don't like about Carnival is the violence inthe competition. I don't like it. I don't like it. You have a lot of things I will see on the side that I will talk and complain about, but something that has hurt me a lot is the violence in the competition. Any competition, although you 22:00know that it's competition, it can't please everybody. You're gonna find that. Some people take competition very, very serious, and take things personal. They will do a lot of things. For example, in Antigua they couldn't have announced the result in the park the night after the competition. They had to leave it for the Carnival Monday and people had to listen over the radio station, because man will kill man they get that serious. For example, Bit and Swallow and Short Shorty had to leave the result for the radio station, because this, this, they set up people like this and this, and they set up people like that and this, and everybody wanted the calypsonian to win, and you might go there and put out your best during the Queen competition, the panorama competition, the calypso competition, and what you expected you don't come out, and that just break your whole zeal for Carnival. I see it happen to people. I see most time they give out the result, and people expecting that and they don't enjoy J'ouvert at all. 23:00They bring the people in the country will just take bows and go up one time. I see people cry long tears the night in the park, and Carnival is not that. You know Carnival is happiness and glory. So that is something I don't like. don't like it so much, that most time I just tell myself and tell my friends that I don't want to go into competition, because that has hurt, hurt a lot. I'm not only talking about calypso competition, but panorama and Queens. Sure I see people, people get sick, being white, over that thing because of the result. Although, you know, in any competition, not everybody could win. That's why you got to be strong and don't give up. And competition create a lot of enemies, our own mas men and calypsonian, and that take away the taste of Carnival. We have it so personal in Grenada now, that being enemies, a lot of calypsonians can't come together because of competition at night and the result. And the people take it so personal, so that don't fit on Carnival. If you talk with David Rudder. he will tell you about that because he had a sweep everything once, and what he went through. Right now, you can--and competition to David Rudder is a 24:00bad word. He mentioned the last time that calypso is not competition, and you stay away from it and just give the people sweet music. So that part I don't like at all, at all, at all. That's number one on my list.
ROBERTS: Now, you are echoing the sentiments of some very important people. Forexample, Duke made that point when I spoke with him, that he would like to see some intercultural competition, and he would like to see people awarded categories--for good calypso commentary, good humor, and that kind of thing. And I know that he is big on that, and that's one of the reasons that he has stayed away from competition.
GILBERT: Yeah, that--he have a main point there, because for example, you see,we have this thing that sometime lyrics is about singing on them politicians. Now a lot of calypsonians sing about politicians. And some of us feel if that 25:00person don't sing about a politician, they don't have lyrics, which is wrong because me and you might be in a competition, and I might be singing about my BMW car, and you might be singing about Bill Clinton, and the way that I bring across the story about my car, I bet you by far. It's not because you singing about the politician. So I think we got different calyp--Right now they got a soca competition, because a lot of people don't have soca as any part of, of competition, or calypso, because you can have an up-tempo beat with a strong message, and the way that you bring it across is not only singing sole social commentary, is lyrics. And we have a big, big problem there. So what you say is true. We have a main point.
ROBERTS: Definitely. Over the years, the West Indian American Day CarnivalAssociation [WIADCA], which runs the Carnival in Brooklyn, has stayed away from competitions, to be sure. They have shows, but not competitive shows. Do you 26:00think this is a good thing, based on what you've seen?
GILBERT: Yes, it's very good, but you see now, it's different in Brooklyn,because many times they want me to enter a competition in Brooklyn and I refuse. Always have it something back home, always have it like in Brooklyn you do shows and let people enjoy themselves. When somebody won a crown home, they come up here and they present themselves as the king from so and so country. I think it different in Brooklyn than back home, but with all our competition back home, we made it that way. That was the, I made it--I don't know how long it was there before me, but we made it that way, and that's a part of Carnival. They want to have a king and a queen to make it more excitement, to make it more nice, because with all the violence that's been going ahead in competition; Queen, panorama or anything to talk about, the committee never stop it. They always 27:00have it every year. They never, never stop it. And competition again, does make a man prove his self. You got for example Sparrow win plenty crowns and he don't become great by the good calypso he's writing and by the amount of crown he's winning, but he become great by beating good calypso in competition. Because it's not because a man win a crown he's better than the next calypsonian. That's a point right there. It's not because I beat you in a competition I better than you. It's the way how I present the Sunday night. It's not always the king have the better Sunday night. The way how you present yourself, because a man might be singing about his boss, and from he boss, he jump to his car, which is wrong. If you're singing on the boss, you have to stick right there, and the judges 28:00will take away points for that. So you know, Sparrow become great by beating men like Chuck Dawson, Duke and them in competition, and you know Chuck Dawson and his boss calypsonians? So with all the violence, I mean, you have to stay, because the CBC, the committee, never get rid of it.
ROBERTS: Now, Carnival in Brooklyn has started, as I said, with the West IndianAmerican Day Carnival Association running it from a very small group before you came up here down on Atlantic Avenue. It's now taking part, it's now taking almost the whole of Eastern Parkway and bringing millions of people on the Parkway. Since you have been based here and have seen and participated in Labor Day, both as an entertainer at the back of the museum at the different festivals, and also as a Grenadian participant on the Parkway, what is your impression of the Labor Day Carnival? Have you seen it improve? Is it getting 29:00better? What do you think?
GILBERT: Before to now, I think it improve a lot; the masqueraders. What I'veseen dropping is the amount of people on the Parkway. I say that to myself. I see that dropping a lot, and it's because, as I said before, the fighting. A lot of people don't want to go there and lose their lives. So they stay home. They stay home and maybe listen to the radio and see what they can see on television. A lot of people work on that day, and their job is very important to them, so they rather they go to work and forget the Parkway because of the violence. I understand before that Labor Day used to go all until 8, 9 in the night. I heard that. You know, I don't know how true it is. So right now up until about six 30:00o'clock, when people can still see to go home, maybe that could ease up the violence a lot. From the time I looking at it until now, I think the masqueraders, the costuming, improve a lot. And just from the people, the amount of people I used to see on the Parkway; lately, I'm not seeing that. And the reason for that is because of the violence. I talk to people personally and they tell me that. They'd rather--they'd stay at home.
ROBERTS: Now, Carnival on Labor Day gets not any media or big press andtelevision coverage. Do you think that Carnival is getting a raw deal on Labor Day because of that?
GILBERT: Yeah, I think so. I personally think if you had more White peoplebehind it or more Jews, it'd be for a broadcast, because most time I look at it on television, I only see it on news. They bring it on news; they say today was 31:00Labor Day, and they might show one or two bands in the street for a couple of minutes, and then they take it off. When they have celebration in Macy's Day parade, you see them thing for a whole day. So why we can't show Labor Day for a whole day?
ROBERTS: Which is bigger than Macy's parade.
GILBERT: Which is bigger than Macy's parade.
ROBERTS: And more colorful.
GILBERT: That's right, more excitement, and I mean, you might have one or twovulgar-ness they don't want to show, but that's America. They keep avoid getting it out; no showing it.
ROBERTS: So you don't think that Carnival is recognized as it should be outsideof Brooklyn?
GILBERT: Not at all. Not at all, not at all, not at all and I say to myself,"Like they want to get rid of it." I see, like, like, like, the writing's on the Parkway. The Jews don't want it there at all. They want to get rid of it. I see that. I understand they wanted to call it the Parkway the "Caribbean Parkway. I don't know what went wrong. I don't hear nothing about--
[Interview interrupted.] --the people behind it. If it was something we had32:00White people behind it, you would have recognized more.
ROBERTS: About two years ago--a little bit more than this, maybe it was1992--there was a major upheaval. This is the boy who was killed, Gavin Cato was killed, in Crown Heights by a Hasidic Jew driving a car and he ran a street light. It caused some riot. It put a cloud over the Carnival. However, Carlos Lezama, the president of West Indian American Day Carnival Association, was able to bring both Jews and Blacks together and defuse the situation, and we went on to have a very beautiful celebration. Last year, 1994, Labor Day Carnival Parade was no different. There were attempts to stop it. There were letter writings by 33:00the Hasidic groups up there. Why do you think that the Hasidic Jews, particularly this group in Crown Heights, which make up about only a 10% of the Crown Heights community, are attempting to stop the Carnival?
GILBERT: Well, number one that the Jews only love them self. Them only love themself. And they claim where they're living there, that's their area. If they could get the black people who are living around them out of the area, they will do it. So they're trying their best to get the celebration, because they don't want that around at all, at all, at all. They don't want that celebration around, so they're trying their best to get rid of it. For example, I used to see every [unintelligible] digging up the Parkway. They always digging it up. The celebration is taking place, and they never finish. So all that is maybe technique to get the people out. They want the parade to go out, because 34:00remember they said they are the chosen ones. You know? They want it out because --just racism. Just racism. If it was their thing and what they believe, they'd have the right to go ahead, but it's not their style. They hate it.
ROBERTS: Do you think that--?
GILBERT: And it's Black people that get involved, so make it worse.
ROBERTS: Do you think that if efforts were made to educate the Jewish community,the Hasidic Jewish community in most cases, on what Carnival is from what you see --time to enjoy yourself, where there's no class or no color or no creed, and that kind of thing--do you think things would be better in terms of relationship?
GILBERT: That's right, because for example look at it: when we have Labor Daycelebration, a lotta money coming into the city. The amount of people coming into New York City is plenty money coming in. The Jews have their own 35:00celebration, what they believe in. When we have a Jewish holiday, it's like if the whole of New York close down, and people leave them do what they have to do. Nobody go against it. That's what they believe, that's what they like. That's what we think, that's what we enjoy, we say that's what we express we self, and it's not every two months, or ever five months. It's not every weekend. One day on the Parkway. One day from, from maybe around, I would say 11, 12 o'clock to about six. Just a couple of hours. What's wrong with that? By six o'clock come, they sweep the Parkway and they get them, everybody going to walk and that's it. One single day. Look at it. Yes, so I think if you educate them and make them know it's all because of racism. It's not them having it. They don't believe that. And what make it worse is Black people having it. So they want it out, and they will try their best to get it out. Even though it may take them a couple of years, they will try their best to get it out.
ROBERTS: Now, apart from that point of people wanting to get the Carnival off36:00the Parkway, last year we saw Korean groups in the Labor Day for the first time. We saw Spanish-speaking groups from the Dominican Republic with bands. We saw more Haitian groups on the Parkway, and that has been a sign that other people are coming in. I saw quite a few White folks on the Parkway enjoying the food, the curry goat and what have you, and sampling the beauty of the Caribbean. Do you think this is a good thing, to see other people coming and enjoying themselves on Carnival day?
GILBERT: That's very nice, and you see, that will also improve the celebrationand make it bigger, because when they start small so, and they go back home, they keep spreading it. When they keep spreading it, and other friends or other people hear about it, and they take it into consideration, and they come and 37:00enjoy them self--it's like you go and you see something exciting, and you go home and you call your friends and you make them know that they should get involved and listen to this and when they go they get hope, and become bigger and bigger. That's very nice. And I reach them, them Jews who love, take part too. Which I know, which I know, is a, is a bad order, cousin, but I really could have take part, but it's very, very nice. And I never know that, because I'm only hearing that from you now. We got so much people on the Parkway, and I don't have time to see it because I'll be entertaining on a truck.
ROBERTS: In recent years, the same association has in fact been running the WestIndian Day Parade and all the Carnival celebration. That of course is the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, headed by Mr. Carlos Lezama. He's taken the celebration from 2 or 3 hundred people to millions of people now. Do you think the West Indian American Day Carnival Association is making--doing a 38:00good job of running the Carnival?
GILBERT: Well, I have to be in it to really know it. Like, to be around more tothen enjoy it. But I would not just see them and say yes or say no. But I might see one or two things happening on the Parkway, Labor Day which I figure they can do better than that and improve on it, you know? So I will say they don't doing enough, but to criticize and say they don't do it at all, I would be wrong. Anytime I'm making comments like that, I have to be in it. I would have to be involved in the Carnival group so I could tell you a lot of things going wrong. But what I could tell you is on the Parkway itself, Labor Day, there is a lot of stuff what could be taken care of and done better than that. So them behind it; they have things they have to work on. 39:00
ROBERTS: Like what?
GILBERT: Like, for example, I think sometimes the people crossing over andgetting into the bands, the masqueraders having fun, is a problem because there are people who stand up on the side who don't want to jump up to enjoy themselves, and they want to see the beauty. That's the beauty of the masqueraders. They want to see the costume and they want to see the people enjoy themselves. But there is band, where the people will be behind the truck alone and enjoy themselves. I think that people should have based behind there alone. I don't see police on the Parkway stand up, and sometimes they put the, the--they bar people but people still cross over and go between the masqueraders. That is very bad. They should have--even though they can't control the people, but--they should have made sure that every bandleader have the people out from the band. Sometime it has been very hard to do with everybody 40:00concentrating and enjoying themselves more, but that's a band leader's job. A bandleader don't have to be in the band jumping up. He could be on the side and make sure everything taking place. You know? Because if I want to bring my family to look at Labor Day, and they is not the type that want to go and jump up to enjoy them self. They must stand up and look at the bands, and then go back home and say, "Yes."
ROBERTS: One of the things that came out of different discussions is the factthat sometimes because of the late start and sometimes because of the speed at which the bands move, not many bands pass the reviewing stands for judgment. Do you think that is a problem?
GILBERT: I had that in my mind before you asked the question, and I'm glad youbring it up, and it's a big, big problem. For example, a lot of people in Canada who tell me they don't like the New York celebration, all of them always bring up that. They say when you go on the Parkway, they don't enjoy them self that 41:00much, because the band always racing down. Always racing. And I think that's a big, big problem. I don't know if it's because of the time. I don't know if the time limit; maybe it's too short. Or sometime the bands come out too late, but that's a big, big problem. Because I know there are good, good bands who don't get a chance to reach to the end, and a lot of people don't see them because of that. Last year, we had to race on the Parkway to try to get on to the end, because we know from the time six o'clock on, they stop. They stop all the bands, they get them out, and they start sweeping. And I think people who are doing that don't really care about the celebration. Their job is to get the people out and sweep to move on.
ROBERTS: Now, I just want to leave this a moment and go back to a question I'vebeen meaning to ask you. You spoke about the problem in Grenada Carnival, the 42:00lackluster nature of it, that people are not too much participating in it, there's a problem with costume bands, and many. In New York itself, there's a very, very large Grenadian community. In fact, the last census put them at about, close to 31,000 Grenadians living in Brooklyn alone. And I know that in recent times, the Grenadian mas, like for example; the Shortknee and the Vieux Corps is being played on the Parkway now. Do you think that that is one of the ways that Carnival here in New York City can revitalize Carnival back in Grenada, is by Grenadian people who play mas here buying their costumes, organizing themselves, and going back home and playing mas?
GILBERT: That's right. You have a main point there. For example, I hope you seeHarry J is doing that. Harry J used to be a popular DJ man in New York, and I understand he has a band; they're organizing here. They have been getting the 43:00costume, everything, and they going back home and play mas. That's a very, very, very good point. And the amount of Grenadians you say living here, I know it's not everybody could go back home, but if those who could, try to do that. Some can't go every year, but every two years, that will help. It will help a lot. Because a lot of people live here and go home and play mas there. As I said, the problem home, economic. Well, the first thing they will tell you is no money.
ROBERTS: I suppose that's true for a number of Caribbean countries and[unintelligible] small countries.
GILBERT: That's right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not only Grenada, but I think theproblem would be money, too. Because you see, if other Caribbean countries going to there, they got to get themselves organized to play mas, and then they got to have money to stay up, because I know it's not like everybody know somebody down there to set up at hotel and then play. So even happen like every year, like the 44:00sense they are unable to go home, different people go maybe every two years. So that's a good point, and I would like to compliment Harry J for that idea. That's very, very nice.
ROBERTS: Now, during the Labor Day Carnival up here, at least for the past twoyears, we have seen the people who run the Carnival, the WIADCA, try their best to improve on the Kiddies Carnival, which was not a feature of the Carnival before. Last year there was maybe about 10 or maybe 15 thousand kids participating in the Kiddies Carnival on the Saturday. Do you see that as important?
GILBERT: That's very nice. Number one, back home we have Children Folly, whichis very, very exciting, too. And that would help the kids to grow up. The ones, they get into it small and they love it, they will grow up with that in them, 45:00that later on they don't wander away from that and get into something else, you know, to lead them astray. Because Carnival is bringing people together, too, you know. So that's very, very nice. And the kids will grow up, the ones who like it, from small ones, when they start moving from teenagers and they come into the early 20's,21, they start wanting to take part in the bigger bands. So that help it, so when the older people move away who tired play mas, the younger ones, they have that in them already. So they just move from one stitch to the next. So that's a very, very good point.
ROBERTS: Now, I know you say that--you told me that Carnival should have nothingto do with politics, but in places like Notting Hill, and in places like Toronto, I know what happens there is the government subsidizes Carnival. They give them some money, and then they [unintelligible] and that kind of thing in 46:00London. They do a lot of that. Now in New York City, that does not happen. The efforts of the West Indian America Day Carnival is what determines how the Carnival is going to turn out. And we have to give them high marks for that. Would you like to see for example local government, like for example the office of the mayor, getting involved in the Labor Day Carnival parade and celebrations up here?
GILBERT: Well, that's right. When I said Carnival should not get involved inpolitics, I'm talking about the race. I'm talking about racism, the way people think. But with the politicians getting involved and helping, because I mean the higher authority must step in to make it big. As I said before, the bigger the Carnival will be better for them. We got plenty of people coming in, and then the city will be making more money. What you're saying, that do happen in Canada and in Notting Hill, I was inexperienced with all this talk to people who are 47:00involved. The mayor --I don't know if the past mayor used to do that. I used to see him on the Parkway. I don't know. I think the mayor right now--that's my personal opinion--I think the mayor right now more care about the Jews than any other thing, you know? That's my personal opinion. That's what I see. So I think the government, not only the mayor, but other people in authority should again involve politician and help it, because the bigger would be better. It's for everybody.
ROBERTS: Now on Labor Day we have thousands of West Indians and other people,but the vast majority there are West Indians. Either those who are West Indians now in New York City and those who come from out of state--from Canada, England--to enjoy the Carnival. Do you think that the Carnival on Labor Day makes a statement, whether political or other to anybody, does the Carnival make a statement?
GILBERT: Yes. Carnival, to everybody, come and enjoy yourself, you know? Come48:00and enjoy yourself. Not racism. It's supposed to be non-political, because if the government helping, or them politician helping, it's both people on different sides. They just help; they do what they can do. As I say, it's for everybody. So I think it make a statement, it's like people coming and enjoying their self and having fun, and they go back and they spread the music, and joy, the excitement, and then it get bigger and bigger every year.
ROBERTS: Last year and the year before that, I think, we saw some features onLabor Day Carnival. I remember the alien mas. Some masquerader portraying an alien. It was a huge costume. And there was some movements with hand and feet and movement in it which was kind of not part of mas over the years. What that 49:00said is that the mas designers are putting technology, modem technology, in costume design. Do you think that is a good thing?
GILBERT: It's very nice. What it is not, it is not political. It's a good thing.You see for yourself that kind of change, and the more excitement now, it'll be better because people now are looking for a lot of excitement, I think to keep them looking or to keep them to get involved. Once excitement starts stepping in, they bring more people that the talk will spread and every year people come to see more and more. So it keep people more on the Parkway. Because when people start getting fed up with one sort of thing and they getting boring, they stay home, and that's a big problem. That will cause a lot of space on the Parkway. No people at all to look at the mas. That's very good. That's a good idea. 50:00
ROBERTS: And in a similar--I'm sure that we will see in the future wheretechnology as we have it in New York and in the United States being put in the service of mas.
GILBERT: That's right, yeah. I believe in that. I love that. Any time I talkabout music and calypso and presentation, always talk about excitement. And I have been doing that in my competition for the past few years. You know, that people always talk about it and look forward to it. I love that, I love excitement. You know, I don't like wanting all the time. You make a change. You do different.
ROBERTS: As part of the Labor Day influence to a large part, and the Trinidadinfluence on another level, Jamaica now has a Carnival. It is not as big as the Carnivals in the Caribbean, because the [unintelligible] Carnival has to have been imported. Jamaica is one of the unique Caribbean countries that never had a 51:00Carnival tradition. A lot of artists from the New York metropolitan area go and sing. People like Rose, people like Sparrow, people like Crazy go down to sing in the Carnival, and a lot of costume designers from the mas camps up here make costumes and go down to Jamaica for Carnival. As I say, as a direct spin-off from the Carnival in New York City. Do you think that kind of help is important to develop, for example, say a Carnival in Texas, as you spoke about?
GILBERT: Yeah, because I mean, who was expecting Jamaica would have Carnivalbefore? That's very nice. That will also help the soca music, that to some Jamaicans, soca is no new music at all, and you know, we get down to the music. Some of us appreciate their music more than our own. So we have to let them know 52:00that soca is music, too. So that all, that, that's helping Carnival, and it's also helping the calypso music, the soca music, because there is plenty different people live in Jamaica, too. It's like Trinidad. Plenty different people live there. So that, that's a nice idea for Texas. As I told you before, Miami Carnival, there is people from New York who go down there and do stuff. DJs leave from here, and DJ man leave from here and drive [unintelligible] much hours to Miami, finish playing and drive back home. Plenty driving, though, because they love playing and they have to build the Carnival down there. You know, they keep on doing it. So I think that's a nice, nice, nice idea for Texas. And anytime they start doing that, Texas Carnival will be big, just like in Labor Day. It will take time, but that's no problem. Everything take time.
ROBERTS: Grenada Carnival is in August of 1995. I'm sure you are ready to go.53:00
GILBERT: Well, right now, I'm planning to do some work with, well, planning ouror preparing to do some work with Julien and JW, and by end of month, I'm supposed to be getting ready to go in the studio. The May month is a very busy month for me. I have to go back to England, Canada, the model [unintelligible] show coming up, but I really have to find time to start my new album. And this is also my tenth anniversary, '85 to '95.
ROBERTS: And so you're looking forward to winning the calypso king competitionin Grenada this year?
GILBERT: Yes, well, I'm going after it. I know I have the talent to do so. I didit before, so, you know, as I say, I can do it again.
ROBERTS: How many times did you win the calypso king competition in Grenada?
GILBERT: I won it twice, the senior calypso competition twice. Wanted to make itmore professionally national calypso competition. The Junior monarch twice, the red march three times between '85 and '95. 54:00
ROBERTS: OK, well, I want to thank you very much for taking the time off tospeak with me on behalf of the Brooklyn Historical museum.
GILBERT: Well, my pleasure. Always happy to do so, and any mistake or anythingyou find you can put in more juice into it, you can do that for me.
ROBERTS: OK, then, thanks a lot, guy.
Oral History Interview with Elimus Gilbert
Elimus "Inspector" Gilbert is a Grenadian and was in his mid-twenties at the time of this 1995 interview. Participating as a performer in Carnival since 1985, he had won the Calypso King competition in Grenada on two occasions and was the 1995 Road March King. He was one well-known talent among young Carnival performers and records and performs on the international scene in the decades since. In 2015, he celebrated a thirtieth anniversary in the entertainment business by hosting a multi-act concert, planning a television special and releasing a commemorative and retrospective compilation on compact disc.
In the interview, Elimus Gilbert thinks that spectator interest in the Labor Day Carnival parade in Brooklyn is dwindling because of the potential for violence. He believes that the West Indian American Day Carnival Association has done a decent job but that there are areas which need improvement. Gilbert would like to see the spectators refrain from joining mas bands before they reach the reviewing stands. "Inspector," as he is known in the calypso world, thinks that it is a great thing for other non-West Indian peoples to get involved in the Carnival. He observes that the event has been underexposed in the mainstream media and he wants that changed. Interview conducted by Michael Roberts.
The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records include photographs, oral histories (audio and transcripts), publications and research, and ephemeral materials relating to the Carnival and the project itself. The materials were collected and created within the context of a documentation project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1994, which later culminated in an exhibition. Exhibition materials are not included in the collection.
CitationGilbert, Elimus, Oral history interview conducted by Michael Roberts, February 15, 1995, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.15; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Gilbert, Elimus
- West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- Caribbean Americans
- Emigration and immigration
- Performing arts
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidWest Indian Carnival Documentation Project records