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Kwame Remy

Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King

January 31, 1995

Call number: 2010.019.22

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 KING: This is Dwan Reece King conducting an interview for the West Indian Carnival Project, and today's date is January 31st, 1995, and I am sitting here with Kwame Remy at my residence here in Brooklyn on a nice, bright, sunny, cold day with no snow. Anyway, so I want to thank you for coming, and I really appreciate you taking your school day off to do this, because I know those days come few and far between. I'd like to start with just asking you some general questions about yourself, and feel free to talk about anything that is interesting to you. You know a little bit about the project. Can we start a little bit about where you were born?

REMY: I was born in Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn. I've been raised in Crown 1:00Heights, and about five years ago we moved over to Flatbush, and --

KING: That's about it?

REMY: That's about it.

KING: What year were you born?

REMY: 1976.

KING: So you're 18 now.

REMY: Eighteen.

KING: And you go to school where?

REMY: At Sheepshead Bay High School, and I'm a senior there.

KING: So what are your plans for next year?

REMY: I hope to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts to get a Bachelor's degree in Music Performance and Music Business Management.

KING: What's your area in music performance?

REMY: Vocal, I'm a singer.

KING: Great, great. So you've got the application in and everything?

REMY: Not yet; working on it.

KING: My husband's working on grad school applications right now, so I know how that goes. Well, tell me a little bit about your life growing up here in Brooklyn. You said your parents were from Trinidad, right? You're not sure when they came over. Now, how many brothers and sisters do you have?


REMY: I have two older brothers that are living in Trinidad right now, and being raised in Brooklyn, and being around people with the West Indian culture, in a way it has enriched me a lot, because I've been exposed to different cultures besides the American tradition, and my parents brought me up with the strict background that they were brought up with, which is very self-disciplined and manners and all those good things that make you become the best person you can be.

KING: Do you feel any different from a lot of your friends who are West Indian? I'm assuming that maybe some people were born and raised there for some part of their life, and you were raised here predominantly for all your life.

REMY: What's so funny about that is that even though I was raised here, I seem to act more as if I was raised in Trinidad.

KING: In what ways?


REMY: In terms of language. Sometimes I speak, the things I say, my friends will say, "You sound like you were born in Trinidad instead of being born here!" And they find it hard to believe that I was born in America, and I have that strong West Indian accent, and I follow a lot of the West Indian traditions. I eat a lot of the West Indian cuisines, and you know, and they find it hard to believe. Well, how could you just adapt so quickly and accept it so well. And I don't know how to explain it. It's just something that's a part of me, I guess.

KING: Do you think it's any reason more so because of your parents and how they raised you? Are you any different than a lot of your friends your age?

REMY: Yes. I think, due, because of my parents, I am more ambitious. I think because of that I will become more successful, being that, when you have a parent that's constantly pushing you and constantly telling you, you can, when often there are parents out there that really don't care about their kids or something say, well, you can't because I don't think you have the potential. My 4:00parents are constantly saying, I think you can, and if I get a B, they say, I think you can get an A+. So they were always there saying, well, you're doing good, but you can do better. And I think that's what makes a difference between me and others.

KING: What do your parents do?

REMY: Well, my mother's a housewife, and I don't know the whereabouts of my father, unfortunately.

KING: Do you know why your mother came up here?

REMY: I believe she wanted to get a better experience, because she had had a long life in Trinidad. Her mother had died when she was young, and the family had broke apart, cause when you're young, you know, they have to split up the family. And she went through a lot as a young teenager, and she wanted to make a better life for herself, so she decided to come to America, and at first she came on a sponsorship in which she worked with a family, and from there she branched off and became a resident of New York.


KING: So were your brothers raised --how much older are they than you?

REMY: About ten years difference.

KING: Ten years older. So were they raised a little bit --did they spend some time here and just go back to Trinidad, or they just stayed in Trinidad.

REMY: They just stayed there.

KING: Now, do you go back on a regular basis?

REMY: I went down once. Unfortunately, with school I'm not able to travel down-

KING: Yeah, it's hard to get away.

REMY: But the time I went down was beautiful. Beautiful country, people are nice. Just that the prices are high, you know, and it's different in terms of shopping and economy, our economy's better than they are, but it was a great experience.

KING: When was your first time down there?

REMY: 1987.

KING: So what was your first impression? I mean, I guess this is something you've always heard about. You participated in Carnival, and there's all these things, and you're going down there for the first time.

REMY: It's surprising. It's different. Well, first, when I arrived, I said, wow. It's so different. It's more country-like. And I remember one thing I will never forget, because we here in New York, we're accustomed to taking showers indoor, and in Trinidad, they take showers outdoor, in the back of the house where they 6:00have the shower caps and stuff. And I thought it just hysterical, when you see people outside in the street taking a shower. That's not kosher, Mom, why are they doing that?

KING: Did you go there during Carnival time?

REMY: No, unfortunately I didn't. I went during the summer. It was rainy season when I went, so.

KING: Do you stay in touch with your brothers?

REMY: Yes, I do.

KING: Well, I guess once you get into college maybe you'll have a little more free time; no, maybe not for another four years, actually.


KING: So just tell me a little bit before we move on about what you do in school, what some of your favorite subjects are, and even your music performance, which are really interesting, because I'm sure that kind of goes into

REMY: I have a lot on that. Right now, I'm currently directing a production which is called Sing. Many high schools have it. I'm the director and choreographer. And right now, our show is next Saturday, Friday and Saturday, so I'm really on a hectic schedule. I am doing everything. Besides that, I'm with an award-wining gospel choir. Recently we performed in Italy on a tour for the 7:00Vatican. We sang at the BAM for Martin Luther King. We were the 1994 Gospel Fest winners. And I'm also a dance major at the school that I attend. I study modern and jazz, a little tap and a little African, Caribbean. And I think all of these things come into play in terms of relating between the Carnival aspect and the performing aspect. When you look at it, it's the same thing. Just you deal with in on a different level.

KING: That was gonna be my next question. How did the two relate to each other? Did one happen because of the other? Did you get interested in music performance because of your participation in Carnival?

REMY: No, it was something that was there before.

KING: --or vice versa. How did they inform --

REMY: Well, in terms of Carnival, I enjoy dancing, and in terms of playing the mas, it's normally you're portraying a character. Like, in 1994 I portrayed a rainbow dancer, which was incorporative of the African tribals -how they wear 8:00different colors, and sometimes they do dances in terms of dance for rain, dance for the harvest, and I portrayed a rainbow dancer. And my costume depicted all the different colors of a rainbow, and I had a African Zulu warrior face, and had the rainbow colors in it, and I had thought of myself doing African dance steps in the costume, which was found to be quite intriguing, because the costume was fourteen feet wide and sixteen feet high, so people said, how were you moving in that costume? It's this big, elaborate thing, and this little, tiny you. But I think in a way it relates. I don't know how to say it relates, but it does. It's just something that's in me. I just enjoy performing and entertaining, and in a way it just clicks.

KING: This might seem like a complicated question, but you said you first started playing mas at age three, so you've been doing it about fifteen years


REMY: And the first time, before you go on--

REMY: It was hysterical, because I went to see the Kiddie's Carnival. My mother, she took me to see the Carnival, and I said, "Mommy, I wanna do this! I really wanna!" And she said, it was too late, because it was the Kiddie's Carnival competition, and at that time, they don't make any more costumes, and I was crying and I was hysterical. And at that time, Miss Joyce Quamina and other members of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association said, why is he crying? And my mother told them, well, I wanted to play mas. And lo and behold, they took me into one of the tents and they stapled a costume on me, and I went on the stage and they introduced me as an individual, and I was dancing, and the audience went hysterically wild, and ever since then, I've been doing it year. Sometimes I find myself saying, well, I'm not going to do it this year, because I have to get myself prepared for college and for school, and by the time the summer hits and I hear the Caribbean music, the calypso music, I'm right into the school again, getting ready to prepare for Labor Day 1995, and so forth.


KING: If you can think of a period of time, fifteen years, how has playing mas changed for you? What are some of the highlights? How have you developed, what have you learned?

REMY: Over the years, at first, for some reason, I just thought it was something that was mystical, cause seeing it as a child; you see all these beautiful costumes. At first you're scared, because some of them are very scary, and some of them are so beautiful. And as a young child, I was just so excited and just wanted to know more and more about it, and as I got older, I learned how to make costumes, how to contrast colors, how to do research, because normally when you do a theme, you have to go to the library and do research. You can't just say, OK, I'm gonna be a rabbit, and just go out and make it.

DM: So how did you start moving to doing research, becoming more aware of that?

REMY: Well, normally, I used to work with the Culture of Black Creations, the bandleader was Randy Brewster, and I remember him telling me once --first I used 11:00to play floor members, which is the regular costumes, and then when he introduced me, he said, I want you to play the junior king of the band. And he said, I want you to be the King Faroo. And I said, well, what is that? And he said, I want you to go to the library, and I want you to look up and research all the different African kings of the time period, and I did some research on that, and we came up with the name King Faroo, and we came up with the name King Faroo. It wasn't a normal king, but we changed the name to depict the image of what I was portraying. And ever since then, I think that has influenced me to do more research of what I'm portraying. In 1993, I portrayed nightfall, which in a way is weird, because you can't really do that much research on nightfall, but I found myself reading some old kiddies stories of the stars and the moon, and I was also taught that to move in a certain way. When you look at when a night falls, it doesn't fall drastically. It's slow; its' something that just moves 12:00gracefully. And I was taught when I made my costume to move across the stage in a graceful motion. So you see in the depicting how the night falls, and the costume was in black and silver, so the feathers, the black plumes, depicted the night, and the silver, stars and the moon, depicted the shining, gleaming of night, I guess.

KING: You're the first person I've talked to --and I know that the band leaders and the designers talk about the research they do, but I don't know if anyone to this point has mentioned the research they do in getting ready to play.

REMY: Not many people do that.

KING: So it's really interesting to me to hear you say that, because it seems like it's part of your standard procedure. For instance, how early do you know what you're going to do?

REMY: Really and truly, I usually don't find out until probably a month in advance before. Because last year…my designer is in Trinidad. His name's Follette Eustace. So he doesn't come up until July. So by the time he comes up, 13:00it's after July 4th, so I just find out, well, what drawings do you have? And normally he already has ideas for different sketches of what he wants to make for the year, so then I pick what I want from the sketches that he has. And sometimes we elaborate on that, and we say, well, where do you want to go from here? And I say, well, I think I want to put this here, and maybe possibly we can do this here.

KING: Is that traditional? I mean, do they work with a lot of people designing the costumes?

REMY: Not really, which I think is unfortunate in some cases, because many designers, they'll say, well what did you pick? Well, this is what you will get. Whereas the new group that I'm with now, Sesame Flyers, the designer, he will set a standard. He will say, well, according to your budget and what you would like to spend, where would you like to go here, what would you like to do here? And I think in a way, it makes you feel more a part of what you are doing, whereas in some cases you're sitting down here watching the designer do all the work, when you're able to work with him or her on producing your costume.


KING: So it's a combination of both your visions?

REMY: Yes.

KING: So in an instance like that, is the price already set, and you say, well, I have this much money to spend--?

REMY: Sometimes. for instance, to portray a king of a band, that's anywhere from three thousand to five thousand dollars, and it depends how elaborate you want to go, and how much sequins and feathers and plumes, because all those things cost a lot of money these days. Therefore you find yourself going into an estimate or a budget of how much you're gonna spend for that amount of money in costume materials.

KING: That's really interesting how designers are like sharing in your ideas. There's a certain degree of generosity in that.

REMY: Yes. Yes, because--

KING: Because it is a competition, and you want things to be perfect, and maybe 15:00this person doesn't have the same ideas that you have, but to open it up, and allow somebody to have input into your design, your vision, your theme, um.

REMY: I found that when I looked at my costume last year, and it was just some flags, different colored flags--

KING: OK, what did you play last year?

REMY: Rainbow dancer. I am second place winner in the male category of individual of the year. At first it was a regular, simple costume, and he said to me, because he didn't know whether I was going to participate for the 1994 Carnival, he said, well, we can change it up a little bit. And I said, OK, I'll leave it in your hands, because he is a fantastic designer.

KING: What is his name again?

REMY: Follette Eustace. And I looked at the drawing, and at first I didn't know what to pick, and he said, well you can use this one. I said, yeah, this is a 16:00good idea. I said, but I want it to be elaborate. I want it to be just a bit different. He said, don't worry. When the time comes, we'll work on it. ·And as time progressed, I saw things started to change, and I remember one time he was sitting and he said to me; well, I'm not sure what you want. Do you want to have a regular collar-piece, something that would drop to the front, a drop-piece. And I said, a drop-piece would be nice. And he said, well, what do you want. In other words, he would ask me what I want. He would show me what his ideas was, and he would see if I was interested. And I noticed that when a lot of members of the band that participated as individuals or king or queen, there were more interested in what --they were just coming to say, well, I want this and I want that and this and that. And if they didn't get what they wanted, they would have a big titty-fit and they would just storm out. And I've learned over the years 17:00that you have to be patient. I mean, you are working with someone that has to produce as well as work, and you're on a time schedule, and you can't come in at the last minute and say I don't like this and I want this changed. So it at your best interests at the beginning to say, well, what are your intentions. What are you gonna do with this, and how can I help to help you to maybe work to make this better or whatever. And I think that's important, and a lot of people that play mas these days don't look into that.

KING : In your fifteen years, which is a considerable amount of time and maybe it's hard for you to say because you're still growing up yourself what changes have you seen in Carnival, you know, whether it's people playing in mas, the bands, overall?

REMY: I think it has been a drastic change, and I hope in the future it will get bigger and better, and not in terms of the people that come to see the festival. Not in terms of the participants. I'm talking about in terms of the media. It's 18:00very important that this be shown, and I think this should be televised. Because if you look at the media and you look at the television, they show you the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Irish Parade, the Puerto Rican Day parade. You do not ever see the West Indian Day Parade on television. And I think in a way, it's upsetting, because this relates to African Americans, not only Caribbean Americans, but African Americans as well. Because when you look into history, you see that this is a form of African American tradition, of dancing and celebrating and being united together, and I think most of the time the media focuses on the negative aspects. Like if for instance somebody gets shot by mistake or something like that happens, they immediately will say, well, this is a result of the West Indian American Day Carnival instead of saying, well, this is just an incident that happened. Unfortunately it happened while the Carnival was taking place. So in a way, I don't understand, and it bothers me that the 19:00media tends to look for the negative aspect of what the African American community or the Caribbean American communities are doing instead of looking at the positive. I think the West Indian American day Carnival Association has to be commended. For instance it was last year when the Carnival fell on the Jewish holiday, and there were times when the mayor and the powers that be did not want the Carnival to take place, and the West Indian American Day Carnival Association stood still and they were persistent to say that they wanted this to take place, and we will work around --we won't stop our Carnival because they wanted what they wanted done, but we will work with them to have a collaboration so that it will be fair to them, it will be fair to us, and I think that the media didn't play that up as well. It should have been with a positive side to it. They said, well, it's Rosh Hashanah, and I really don't think the Carnival should take place because it's very disrespectful to the Caribbean community. 20:00But then again, you have to look at --they wanted the Caribbean people to change it to the Sunday, which in a sense is showing a bit of self-righteousness, because if you look at it, Sunday is known as the Christian's Sabbath. So why would you say that, well, this is our Sabbath, so why don't you do it on your Sabbath. That means there's no respect, and I personally feel in society today, we need to join one together. We have enough problems as it is in our society, where we have racism, we have crime, we have violence, we have drugs, we have teen pregnancy, we have high school drop-outs, and I mean the more we push ourselves aside from each other, racist communities, it's the worse our world and our society becomes. And the sooner we realize that when we join together, that things will be better, it's the better off it will be in the future.

KING: What would you, Kwame, just your opinion --don't think about adults, or don't think about what a lot of people think, whether you agree with it or not, 21:00just asking you for your personal opinion --what are some of the things you think you might do or suggest to try to alleviate some of the problems that are associated with Carnival? What I'm thinking, whether it's media representation, whether it's some of the tensions that happen because of the different communities in Crown Heights --particularly between the Lubavitchers and the Caribbean and African Americans who live there. You know, that whole thing about --I don't know if you'd want to call it fighting for turf --but establishing a presence in the same space and coexisting, and appreciating each others' culture, which I think a lot of it has to do with respecting. Not saying that --you can throw anything out, but what ideas cross your mind?

REMY: In terms of making the situation better?

KING: Yeah, what would you do differently that would bring a different focal 22:00point to it.

REMY: Me personally, being that I'm involved with this a lot, I really don't know. It's a hard way to answer it. I personally feel that we, as a community, need to respect ourselves, first of all, and I think by doing that, we need to expand it even better, make it even more of what it is, being that probably we could invite more communities and other different ethnicities to join us, and which we do, do that. But however, for some reason

KING: How successful do you think that is? That's one of our questions, too, along that line, about one of the things that makes Carnival different here in Brooklyn particularly is that --well, first of all, Brooklyn's one of the most 23:00ethnically diverse boroughs, city areas in the nation, but secondly that Carnival here is a conglomerate here of so many different islands, net even including Caucasians or African Americans, or other people who might be involved. So in some sense, it kind of creates an entirely different community that you may not find in Trinidad or Barbados.

REMY: It's amazing that for that one day everyone seems to sort of come together.

KING: Get along and have a common interest.

REMY: I think it's very successful, but it could be better. There's always room for improvement.

KING: Where do you think there's room for improvement? Maybe even getting other people involved, or other islands involved?


REMY: Maybe extending the amount of time that the festival lasts, because if you look at it…

KING: It's very short.

REMY: It's very short, and a lot of people spend a lot of money, and when you look at it just for a couple of hours, wherein that it could have lasted a much longer time. Normally the Carnival festival starts on a Thursday and it ends on a Monday. I think it would be nice if it were extended. It'll be a great success. And I think in terms of Carnival in an economic standpoint, it is a great success for the city of New York, because at that time you have tourists coming in, especially to see the Carnival. And they stay at the hotels, they shop at the grocery stores, and in a way, it helps boost the economic value in New York for that amount of time.

KING: OK, I'm gonna take a break in the tape for a quick second. I'm a little paranoid about this tape recorder. I think it's OK, but I'm gonna stop the tape just for a second to make sure it's recording.


[Interview interrupted.]

KING: We're resuming the interview, and I had some more questions as I was listening to you speak. Here's something I still want to ask. Your involvement in Carnival has been on two levels, and I'm just wondering how your involvement in helping Joyce with administrative duties, like registering vendors, how it's informed your knowledge of the Carnival process. What it means, what has been done, or what are some of your experiences in doing that?

REMY: First I have to say thanks to Miss Joyce Quamina, because through working with her or being you could say an understudy with her, I've learned a lot.

KING: How did you get involved in that side of the business end in the first place?

REMY: Well, normally I'd go up to where the office is. Normally I used to sit there and hang out with them. And in terms of being there for over awhile, after a while you do get involved. Well you say "Aunt Joyce can I help you do this?" 26:00You see I'm the type of person who likes to help a lot, and by doing that I've learned a lot in terms of the business aspect. See when most people look at the Carnival, they think, well you just go there and you get a permit and you go on the Parkway, you put up little benches, you put up little tents, and then you party. And it's not really that. It's a lot of work. In terms of getting the food permit, you have a long application that must be done correctly, and you deal with so many people. Some people are ignorant, some people are arrogant, some people are bold, people are very obnoxious, some people are self-centered.

KING: How many vendors end up being registered? Do you have a rough idea?

REMY: I'd say anywhere from 300.

KING: This past year I came and I I'm sure you saw me. I would visit a couple of times and meet with Joyce, and I kind of just observed. And it was amazing to me the amount of work that was done, the people that were coming in and the paperwork. As you say, a lot of people just see the productions side of it, but 27:00it's interesting to hear the business side, and I'm sure it would be helpful for younger people to understand about it. So you register food vendors.

REMY: I helped with the food vendors. Sometimes I helped with the band registration, give them the applications and show them what to fill out. And what else did I do? Sometimes, in terms of people might need a consultation to know how much something costs or where they can go to get certain objects to help them with the vending, I help them along with that., nut doing that I learned that you have to be a people person. You have to be very patient in order to do this type of work, and a lot of people don't give Miss Quamina the credit that is due, because sitting there from 4:30 to 7:30 Monday through Friday and dealing with so many different people, some people who are trying to get over, and some people who are really being honest, you are under a 28:00tremendous stress. And over the years I've seen so many people do so many different things, and for instance, for example, recent last year they had vendors that would come in, and this lady, she came in, and she asked me what was the price for selling beer and soda, and I told her the price was, at the time, $250. So then she says, OK, and I would also want to sell food at similar prices, so that'll be $250, and you need a twenty-five and a thirty dollar money order. She says, "OK." So then I made sure that was very clear. I said that to her very clearly. She came in the next day. Urn, I want to sell beer and soda, and I heard it was $150. I said, but you were here yesterday, and I told you it was $250. She said, "No, you told me it was $150". I said, "No, I told you it was $250." You sometimes have a lot of people that do that, they try to get over. There are many ways you can deal with a person like that. You can even 29:00ignore them. But Miss Quamina has taught me that you don't ignore them. You try to work with them, explain to them, this is the procedure. This is how it works, there's no way around it. Because if you get a break, it's not fair that you get a break and everyone else does not get a break. And then she didn't understand, but she gave us a lot of problems. She said, well, this is not fair, and this is a lot of money, and Miss Quamina said, well, we don't get the Parkway for free. There's an insurance that you have to pay, and if by any chance, not saying that you will, but if you cook your food products and your products happen to make someone ill, I mean, what's going to happen. You know, if you don't have a license, it's a problem for you and it's a problem for me. And surprisingly, the lady understood, because when she came in she was very bold and very arrogant, 30:00and she wanted what she wanted done at that specific time, and she didn't want anything else. In a way it aggravates me, because getting back to looking at it in terms of looking at it through an outside window, most of the people that do that are of African American descent, and I wonder sometimes why is it that we give our own people problems, and wherein if you go to a place where you have a White person that's in charge, and they say, well, ma'am you have to pay $500, they'll say, OK, here's the $500. And you'll do it without no problem. But when you deal with someone that is of your race, all the sudden there's a problem, and I don't understand it, and I don't think I'll ever understand it.

KING: Let me ask you this. Do you use the term --how do you describe yourself? Do you use African American and Caribbean American interchangeably? Do you see people as members of different groups, or how do you view them? Or how would you 31:00describe yourself?

REMY: I would describe myself as a --I wouldn't say African American, I would say Caribbean African American. It's true that we are all from Africa, but I know for myself, I have a mixture of different backgrounds, you know, within my family. And therefore I would more describe myself as a young --I would say Black, yeah --a young, Black, ambitious young man. I would say, I'm African American, and I'm da-da-da-da-da. If I have to be specific, would say, yes, I'm African Caribbean American.

KING: I was just curious because you were just mentioning about how people treat each other, and how it's more difficult to work with people of your own kind, I was just wondering if you were thinking holistically, or just African Americans, native born African Americans.

REMY: No, I wouldn't say all.

KING: The terminology is still mind-boggling, because we all have very different 32:00perspectives. I guess to put a lot of our purposes for this project and for our Crown Heights project which we just did last year, not to label people, but there are different cultural beliefs. There's a lot of things that are the same, but then you know, there are different cultures. There's something very different from a person who is born and raised and their ancestors were born and raised in this country who are of African descent versus someone who is from the Caribbean. You know, in some sense, we're not all the same, even though we do have similarities, and trying to acknowledge those differences, is just a bad as generalizing about people.

REMY: Well, I think we all are the same. We just have different views and ideas, but I think that we all are the same. It's funny that you mention that, because 33:00recently in American history, we were discussing the terms immigrants. And in my class we have Italians, we have people from Poland. We have a variety. And one particular student said, "Well, I think all the immigrants should go back where they came from." And the class, we all just -- we said, "Wait a minute." Then you're not making any sense, because if you say you're from Puerto Rico, you were contradicting yourself saying all immigrants should go back. That's including your family and your ancestors to go back to where they came from, and if that was done, you wouldn't be here. And in terms of that particular situation, I think you realize that in a way we might be different, but in a way we are all still the same.

KING: What is it -- did she mean that she didn't view herself as an immigrant?


REMY: No, she didn't. She said, "I think all the immigrants should go back". And another student said, I think I agree, because most of the immigrants come over here and they take our jobs and they take our resources, and they do this and they do that, and another girl who was from Jamaica, she takes that very offensive. She said, "I don't agree." She said, "If you wanted a job, the same way I worked to get my job, you could work just as well to get your job." She said, "but what I've noticed is that my parents in particular," she spoke of her parents "--my parents work three jobs, wherein that some people will have one job, and they'll complain, "Oh God, I have one job and it's just so much I can't take it," and they work a regular 9 to 5. Wherein that there'll be some people that work a 9 to 5 job, they'll come home, they'll have an hour break, and then they'll work from 7 to 9." And she was saying, "Well, how could you say that?" 35:00She said, "When my family came here, we found it very difficult, and we strived and we worked really hard to get to where we are now. If you're just saying that we came and we took your jobs that hurt me." And they had a battle and a little argument, but then it was settled. But we have a lot that goes on in society among the Caribbean Americans and the African Americans, wherein they seem to think that they came and they took what was ours, wherein I think it was all ours and I think that if we all just tap into it equally --you know.

KING: Well, you know, my personal opinion --not that this interview's about me --but it's so much more complex than it seems at the outset. It's not an issue 36:00of someone coming and taking jobs. It also has an issue of your standing in society and how you've been treated historically

REMY: And your self-determination

KING: But historically this is an issue that I guess I have read in some of my recent readings --particularly sometimes people who come from the Caribbean who have a totally different cultural experience, and the first time they come to the United States, and they're treated as they are considered Black, which is maybe not necessarily viewed as a positive a lot of times in society, and that brings up all kinds of issues. So to me, it all boils down to something that you said earlier about this understanding and respect in that it really is difficult to understand what someone's gone through until you've walked in their shoes.

REMY: Exactly.

KING: So that you've gotta keep an open mind and try to empathize and see where the different situations and different goals are. But that's just a minor aside. 37:00So it's interesting to hear what kind of conversations you're having.

REMY: Something I forgot to add. Especially now in 1995, there has been a change that I would say, because normally, say back in 1992, many people weren't into reggae. Many American people weren't into reggae, and they weren't into calypso, and they weren't into the Caribbean music and the way of style and dressing. But in 1994 and 1995 it seems like as --I think it's more, after a while, after being surrounded by them awhile, you become open minded and you accept certain things. It's good to see that now, in 1995, everyone is into reggae, the Caribbean people are also into rap, the rap people are into reggae, the rap 38:00people are into calypso, the calypso people are into R & B and jazz. In a way, it's taking its slow time, but it is becoming a collabor--a melting pot.

KING: Do you think it diffuses the --

REMY: Yes, and I think the music does that a lot. That's why I'm into the music business a lot as well. I think looking at it, music breaks down a barrier. Many people don't want to believe that. Many people say, well, music is controversial. I don't believe that. It breaks down a barrier of ignorance

KING: It certainly opens doors.

REMY: It opens doors, and it opens opportunities for people to express their emotions and for other people to listen. And in terms of rap music, people that live in the ghetto and they strive for excellence, they tell their life stories, and many people take that offensive. I don't understand why you would take that offensive, because you are telling your story. You have to understand that maybe 39:00because you live in the suburbs and you have the fancy cars that you have it made and you shouldn't have to listen to other people's problems. But they are voicing their opinion. That is their opinion. And in music, music is a form of expression. It's a form of art. And I personally feel if you can't adapt to that then you have no right listening to it.

KING : Let's segue a little bit about music and Carnival, only to ask, there's some people I've talked to or who I've read, and the changes that we see in music -namely whether it's more sampling or more electronically digitized -I know issues like that and how that feeds into Carnival, because Carnival has distinctive musical traditions historically. Another example I think is the presence of pannists, and how some people feel that it's being replaced by the DJ, and the live music, that purity of what Carnival's supposed to be about, and 40:00some of the changes. I don't know how different things are in Trinidad, but certainly people have mentioned it here, and I think with the advances in technology and the directions that music has taken, it's inevitable that other venues where music is used are affected by it. What do you think about that? I'm sure you have a sense, with all the research that you do in playing mas, I'm sure you have a sense of the historical nature of Carnival, and the significance.

REMY: Well, I believe that pan is a traditional form of music for Carnival, and my mother has told me a lot about that in Trinidad. That's the music they normally jump up and celebrate and have fun and, you know, get wassi and act crazy with. And in New York, we find that you have DJs that have synthesizers. 41:00They have keyboards. They have all these electronic devices that can replace the traditional form of calypso music, and I think that we need to just, I don't know, because I like both in a way.

KING: How do you change tradition? How much do you keep with tradition? How do you keep them both so one is not supplanted by the other?

REMY: Well, unfortunately I am more into the DJ than I am into the pan. And that's the same thing with the calypso, with the calypsonians. I've heard a lot of that being --not that I've had any experience with them, but I've often heard a lot of calypsonians talk about that. When they say that back in the modern times, back in Trinidad now to what it was before, the calypsonians used to speak on more a political level, like Chalk Dust, the 1994 road march king, he would speak on political aspects of life, of education, and poverty and the 42:00government, wherein that now in 1995, they only want anyone to sing about winding your waist and five, ten cent, dollar, and you know, and they say that things have really changed over the years. That's not the way it used to be. Not to say it's wrong, but they say that many calypsonians have lost the aspect of, you know, the way it should have been.

KING: Do you know much about the history of calypso?


KING: I mean it's just interesting. It's like, how do, because I think Carnival here in Brooklyn, as in any place, it's subject to change. It's subject to outside influences. And I guess the question is, how pervasive will those influences be? Will they be positive influences, or will they be negative influences?

REMY: For the most, sometimes it's positive, but there are some of the -how 43:00might I say it? More the conservative people that will say, well, that is not the way it should be, because they're more traditional, and there are some people that are open to changes. You know, so in anything you do you will find that. There are some people who are open to changes and there are some people who are just strictly traditional, and that's just something that you have to roll with in society.

KING: Do you find that a lot of your friends participate?

REMY: Yes. I have a friend right now, she's Caucasian, and she came over to my house on Saturday because I had some of my friends over, and I was showing her the video of last year's Carnival. And she said, oh, I'd like to get involved. This looks like fun, and I like to do this and I like to do that. I said, well, in the summer, I'll give you the number, and I'll tell you where to go and register, and you can participate, because in Trinidad, you see African Americans, you see Indians, or aka, also known as coolies. You see Caucasians, 44:00and you see everyone just enjoying, Chinese --I mean, it's just a mixture of everyone in Trinidad enjoying the Carnival experience. And I think in New York, for some reason there has been a stereotype, that it's just a African American and an African Caribbean thing, when it's not really of that nature. It's combining everyone. And I think the sooner that every group, or every ethnicity, every race realizes that they are welcome, then I think that's the better that the parade and the festival will be.

KING: Do you know of other people who actually participate now, and they would see you with Sesame Flyers, or --

REMY: Besides the Caribbean community or the African American community, I know of --I think I know of more than one, but I can't really call them off the top 45:00of my head, but I know of one of them with a group that does participate. I know of the folklore, I can't explain I explain it? I'm trying to think of the word.

KING: Maybe we'll come back to it, or tell me what you're trying

REMY: What I 'm trying to say is that they have people like Caucasians who are normally into modern dance, and normally into the different aspect, and they are also joining to the Carnival experience. And you have people that are the ancient Chinese dancing. They'll also join into that. And I mean, it's attracting different cultures, but it's just such a slow process, that people tend to generalize and say, well, this is just an African American thing. 46:00They're not really welcoming us. Wherein, realistically speaking, they're all welcoming. The community is welcoming. The West Indian American Day Carnival Association is welcoming everyone.

KING: What kind of role do you think Carnival plays in creating or forming a West Indian community? I ask that because the growth and presence has just emerged in the last, you know, twenty --the Carnival's been going on for 27, 28 years. And one of the things we talk about, some of the research we've done, and some of the oral history interviews we've done so far, is to kind of look at some of those issues, you know, whether people are using Carnival for political empowerment, economic empowerment, community mobilization. I mean, because all of those things kind of touch --

REMY: Yeah, they do tie together --

KING: upon whether it's the tensions with the Lubavitchers, or getting people to vote. What kind of role does it play in strengthening or establishing a community?


REMY: I think it plays an important role but many people don't see it that way. They see it as out for enjoyment. But when you really sit down and you really look at it and you really observe and you really look into it more, you realize that it's more than just a celebration. It's like a knot that just merges everyone together, and it's like a fuse for different events for different problems that we face as a community as a whole. That we address and sometimes we don't even know that we are doing it.

[Interview Interrupted]

KING: You were talking about a knot. We're picking up the interview again. We're 48:00just trying to remember where the tape was going off.

REMY: Sometimes I feel that a lot of politicians use this Carnival as a stepping stone to get more people to see them, to become more visible in the public's eye. And sometimes that upsets me, too, because many of the politicians, they come to this event to know and to be a part of an event, but when that festival is over, then they disappear.

KING: When you think about the numbers of people that attend, it's a perfect opportunity.

REMY: It's a perfect opportunity to be seen. OK here is Al Sharpton, or here is Mayor Giuliani. He seems interested. But when you look into it after the Carnival is over, and you realize that these same people who march up and down Eastern Parkway, half of them are really not interested in what takes place. 49:00Half of it, if they had the power, would stop this Carnival form taking place.

KING: How might the community use the presence of Carnival? Obviously it's a venue. Let's say there's just no Carnival at all. What would that do to the West Indian community? And maybe there are ways that and I think things are moving in this direction, and people seem to be talking about the ways to try to use this huge, huge, huge event; probably as the largest outdoor festival, so to speak, in North America. To establish some kind of presence, to empower I mean, there's so many ways. I mean, it's still difficult. There are all kinds of issues. What might you foresee that might happen with that? I mean, is it getting people more politically mobilized? I talked to this one person who said, 50:00if there had been enough people registered to vote, enough voting power in the Caribbean community, this thing with the Rosh Hashanah and all of this would not have been an issue. There's something right there. But the millions of people that attend, you know, it's perfect fodder for so many activities, and where people would like to see it go in the future. I think it's interesting, I want to talk to people of different ages is to see if people have different takes on it. You know, there are people who have been the elder statesmen, states people, in the Carnival association, who have been doing this for years and years and year. And then you have those in their thirties and forties who have a different perspective, and you have a lot of young people who are seeing it from a different perspective and are seeing it from a different level. And what their 51:00sense of what Carnival should be, what they wanted it to be for themselves.

REMY: I like it the way it is. However, I think it can be improved. And like I spoke earlier in terms of the media. I think this Carnival needs to be televised. Needs to be broadcast so the whole world can see. Because many people you see in New York itself does not know that this Carnival takes place. And I find it to be strange, because anyone who is anyone should know about this enthusiastic burst of events, and there are people in New York City that does not know that this takes place. And I find that very appalling. How could this be? And I blame that on the media, because normally if something takes place 52:00negative in the community, the Crown Heights community, they will run, "well, this took place here, and this this that", and I think I said this before --when you have something positive, they don't even show it. And I think if it was televised, where people not only in New York City, but people all over the world can see, maybe it'll spark some sense of change; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in the future.

KING: What about the fact that it's in Brooklyn? I mean, could that have an effect as well?

REMY: Yes.

KING: Sometimes you hear this idea thrown out; maybe we should move it to Manhattan.

REMY: No. No.

KING: Why not?

REMY: We have enough parades in Manhattan. I think we have enough that's done in Manhattan. We need to show that Brooklyn has power, and Brooklyn is able to do the same things that Manhattan people can do. Most of the time, when you tell people, well, why don't you come to Brooklyn? Oh, no. I'm not coming to 53:00Brooklyn. Brooklyn is ~~ they have a negative image of what Brooklyn is without really knowing what Brooklyn is about. And I think this Carnival is in a way showing, it teaches and it shows that Brooklyn is not all what people make it seem. It's more than that. There is a love, there is peace, there is tranquility. There is harmony. There is problems as well. There's always gonna be problems whenever and wherever you go, but however there is positive things that take place in the Brooklyn community, and I think that needs to be addressed more. That needs to be publicized more to the people of New York City on the whole, New York State, the world.

KING: I don't think it would be the same Carnival in Manhattan.

REMY: No, it won't. It will lose its flavor. It will lose its splendor. It won't be the same. It really won't. I also think that the parade route should be extended.

KING: Do you mean just for time wise? I mean, a lot of people don't even get up to the viewing, the judging stand.


REMY: But, you mean in terms of the bands?

KING: Yeah. Particularly this year.

REMY: Well, I personally -that's their fault.

KING: The bands' fault?

REMY: The bands' fault, from some perspectives.

KING: Why?

REMY: Because if you leave from your mas camp, say your mas camp is on Flatbush and Casey, and you have to get to Eastern Parkway and Utica, and you are jumping off, displaying your costumes in the streets, that's a long distance to travel from Caton to Utica. That's taking a long while this time the parade is taking place. Wherein you could assemble on Eastern Parkway and move from there. And another thing I think with that is, if you had a perfect flow, where you had the first band and right after that there's the second band, and if everything was to flow, without a pause, then everyone would move as the way it should.


KING: Well, I've heard a lot of people say that a lot of that is caused by police involvement, or stopping the band or making the music stop. You know, things start to get moving and then you have to stop, and then people have to wait. I heard particularly this year that they shut down earlier than they were supposed to, so a lot of

REMY: people

KING: didn't even get a chance, but the time that is used --

REMY: It goes in vain, in other words.

KING: But it's interesting to hear your perspective, because even a lot of the band leaders, they expressed some concern about how things are going.

REMY: What's funny about that is, for the past fifteen years that I've played mas, when I've played with Sesame Flyers and Randolph Brewster, our band seems to be the first band to overlook the Parkway. And I like that a lot, because 56:00when you get there, normally with the Sesame Flyers will get there at 8:30 on the Parkway, and by… We have breakfast, there on Eastern Parkway. And by ten to eleven, we are lining up, the trucks are there, we are lining up on the parade route getting ready to move up. So by 11:30 or 11:15, we have already started our procession.

KING: Explain to me the mechanics behind it. Is there usually some kind of order? Is it first come, first serve? Whoever just gets there, whoever is most organized, has their act together, they're there.

REMY: Yes, it's first come, first serve.

KING: So there's no order about who goes and who reaches --?

REMY: No. The only time there's order is at the competitions at the back of the Brooklyn Museum, where the band leaders pull numbers to see which king or queen will go up on stage first and compete. In terms of the Parkway, its first come, first serve. Because if people are numbered, then that's not fair. Say for instance you're number one and I'm number two, and the parade starts at eleven, 57:00and you're not there yet. That means I have to wait until you arrive, and that's unfair to everyone else. So in a sense, I think first come, first serve is the best idea. But I think if everyone would make an effort to be there on time and to start on time, then they wouldn't have this problem. That's just my opinion.

KING: You know, it's interesting. Everyone has a different take on, well, it's not my fault for not being on time. It's the organization's fault for not starting on time, or it's the politician's fault for not coming on time. So there are a lot of ideas and opinions on that.

REMY: If a politician has to come at eleven, the chances are they will wait until 11:30 or 12:00 at the latest, but still that does not justify a band reaching the Utica starting point at three o'clock. You cannot reach the starting point at three o'clock and expect to make it from the starting point to the ending point between three and six, because that's impossible. At that time, 58:00the streets are filled with people. They're jammed packed. People are not seeing the parade, so they decide to walk across the street, and converse, in the Parkway itself, and you have another problem, because there are people jammed packed entering the area, whereas if you came on time and you moved at the right time, you wouldn't have this problem. And then that can be argued on, you know, in terms of the band leaders vs. the association vs. the politicians. And I noticed that in society we don't blame ourselves. We always blame someone else for our mistakes. Someone will say, well, that's my fault, and I say, no, that's your fault because you were supposed to help me. And that's a problem.

KING: Well you've answered a lot of my questions just in our conversation so far. Have you gone to any other places for Carnival in the United States? I know you haven't been to Trinidad yet.

REMY: I've been to Boston, I've been to Baltimore. I haven't been to Canada. 59:00I've been to other little small states.

KING: How do they compare?

REMY: It does not compare. It does not. New York City's, Brooklyn Carnival is the best, aside from Trinidad and Tobago.

KING: Is it because some of these other Carnivals are new, or they don't have as large a community.

REMY: Don't have as large a community. People don't take as much interest as the Brooklyn people are, and I think it's because of we are in Brooklyn, and we as being from Brooklyn are interested in all different forms of art, anything that makes us enjoy and experience, I think we tap into.

KING: Do you ever get any ideas of trying to design or create your own band?

REMY: Yes.

KING: Just listening to your experience, I mean, you've really been involved in, not only playing mas, but working with the designers. You seem to have this 60:00really good relationship and a lot of experience.

REMY: Yes. But the only thing that stops me back is the fact that I'm unable to wire bend, and to define that in case you don't know what that is, a wire bender is the person that bends the costume or bends the frame of the design, wherein it could be a butterfly or it could be a flower, and that takes a lot of artistic creativity in terms of with your hands, and I don't know how to do that. I can contrast colors and give an idea, but in terms of doing it myself --

KING: Have you ever thought about trying to learn or apprenticing with somebody?

REMY: I am interested in trying to learn, but time does not permit most of the time.

KING: Yeah, going to school.

REMY: And then working during the summer, you know.

KING: It's something that you would like to do in the future when you're time --?

REMY: In the future, yeah. Become a costume designer. Cause I think costumes also relate to fashion as well. So it's funny, there's a connection. The whole 61:00Carnival is just like a line, intersecting lines, that just…

KING: If _you were saying, OK, you have a deferment from school for a year. You can still go and everything, and you have a year to just do anything and work on Carnival, and I'm gonna back you and give you money to do your own band. What kind of theme do you think you'd pick for this year?

REMY: I don't know?

KING: Is that anything you've always wanted to do? I've noticed a lot of things that I've seen the last two years I've only been here for two years, so I've only gone twice --a lot have to do with ethnicity, identity, African identity, 62:00sometimes you have bands that just dress in their native dress. I think in past days, there were more traditional things. Like, I remember talking to Randy Brewster. He used to play Indian a lot, the tribes and things like that.

REMY: But I know for a fact that there are many bands. Well, don't know if they'd do that now, but back in, like from 1989, 1985, '84, '83, they used to do a history, in terms like, Christopher Columbus discovering America, that will be their theme, and they'll have different aspects of that. Or they'll have the aspects of the tribes. You'll have the Watusi, the Arawak. Like Sesame Flyers did the excerpts of the New World, where you had the Mayans and the Aztecs and 63:00the Arawaks and the Moors And it's funny because I did that I and then when I went back to school, I learned the same thing I had portrayed in Carnival in American History. So in a way, it could be an educational lesson as well.

KING: Oh, if you look at it that way --because I remember when I interviewed Randy Brewster and one of the best things he said for him was working with the kids and then to have you give these examples, I want you to go out, I want you to do the research. I want you to understand what you are portraying, and to have all this inform your everyday life. Even though the whole event I mean everything about it that you're participating in. I think it's creating your own person, whether it's the skills, administrating, diplomatic skills I'm sure you've developed in registering vendors, and things like that. Playing mas, there's just a wealth of material and experiences that probably couldn't be 64:00matched in other ways.

REMY: And I think you owe a lot to the people --we as a community owe a lot to the people not only make the costumes, but those who participate, because they spend a tremendous amount of money and time that goes into this festival, and most of the time I don't think society gives the --

KING: You really have to get behind the scenes to really understand that quite honestly, you know, people might just see a spectacle and beautiful costumes and think it's neat, and think somebody just works on it three months at a time.

REMY: But some people work on it all year.

KING: All year. They have regular jobs. They have this, they go into their own pockets.

REMY: Because I know Randy Brewster does this all year. He plans, after Labor Day is over, he'll start planning for the following year.


KING: And there's nothing else to describe it as far as I'm concerned, it's just really a labor of love. You know, we ask this question, and I think more and more it's just really just a hard question to ask. We ask, "What does Carnival mean to you?"And most people say it's just a part of who I am, and I do it because it's what I do. It's important to me. And there's no better answer than that. You really just have to talk to people and go behind the scenes and really see.

REMY: Carnival to me, it's part of me, and the reason why I do it, it's not only for myself. It's to help tomorrow's future to follow in the same footsteps. Let them see the same --let them learn the same things I have learned so that it will pass on to the following generations. Because if you don't pass that on, then all you work is in vain. And that's why I'm glad that Miss Quamina allows 66:00me to, not even --because most of the time I really don't work there. I'm there. It's to be around them. That's an experience that I will learn so that I can pass it on to my kids, and my kids hopefully will pass it on to their kids. But it will be a generation. It'll keep going, because if it stops, then their work will be in vain.

KING: Did your mother participate at all?

REMY: She used to. There was a funny thing with that, in terms of my mother. Normally every year she will say, well this is gonna be her last year, because we have to save up the money for school, we have to do this. And then Labor Day will come, and at first she will come, and at first she'll say, you're not gonna do it, Kwame! And I'll say, but Mommy, I want to! And by the time that you blink three times, she'll say, alright, let's go. Let's go see what they have. And last year she said, "Well you're gonna go away to college, and this is gonna be your last year." And right now she's saying to me, "Are you getting prepared for 67:00Labor Day? Have you decided what you're doing?" And it's amazing, cause anyone who knows my mother, and Miss Quamina knows her very well, she will say, "Well Kwame is not going to play." And I'll say, I'm not gonna do it. I'm not gonna do it. And when Labor Day comes, lo and behold, you'll see me in the most beautiful costume you can ever see, and I'm just enjoying myself. It's just something that's part of me that I can't escape. If I don't do it, I'll just be depressed and upset.

KING: How much on average, an average price range, do you spend on a costume?

REMY: Anywhere from 300, that's the lowest to about 1,500.

KING: That's your lowest. Like, there are costumes that are lower than that, right? I've seen some drawings that are real basic.

REMY: The basic, normally I play individual costumes.

KING: OK, gotcha. I follow; the elaborate costumes vs. the floor costumes.

REMY: The floor members are anywhere between --for children they're anywhere 68:00from 25 to 50. For adults, they're anywhere from $350 to $150. It depends.

KING: OK, you can get this on the record. So the floor members people are really dressed the same, maybe not as elaborate, basic, whereas an individual is a unique costume.

REMY: Right, yeah. An elaborate costume will cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500. That's for a male or female individual. The king or queen will cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000. Or it could even go beyond that.

KING: What do you do with the costume after you've worn it?

REMY: Over the years, I've stripped it, or used the parts, or give them away. Just give them away to people. But the one I have from last year, I have that in my basement.

KING: You're gonna hold onto it?

REMY: Yeah.

KING: If you want to donate something and have it, saved for posterity, for future generations. I mean, there's so many beautiful things. You know, they 69:00take up so much space, and you know, one of the biggest laments --Randy Brewster's like, I gotta give up my space, and I've gotta get rid -I don't know what to do with it. I wish there was a place to --

REMY: I think it would be a nice gesture for the Caribbean and African American community if they would open a museum that had exhibits of the Caribbean artifacts and the costumes. That would be really, really, really nice.

KING: That would be a large task. I just started thinking about, even the politics. Whose costumes are there? Just thinking of the range in size of the costumes. There's only so much space.

REMY: I think the prize-winning costumes.

KING: People have expressed that need, and the whole idea that --I mean, Carnival is kind of an ephemeral thing. I mean, here's your costume, and then you move onto the next year. It's a process, a continuing process. So there's 70:00always something new, but to try to get some of those things. Not only the costumes, but the costumes reflect what was going on at that time, the feelings or experiences. You know that really covers --you've been great, and I really thank you for spending time to sit and talk with me. Is there anything else that you'd like to just add for the record?

REMY: In terms of what you had asked me before, what I'd like to portray?

KING: Mm-hmm.

REMY: I have -- many different themes. I would like to do something called Back to Africa; the World Dances from different, the costumes from different countries depicting different time periods. Something of historical --I don't know. It just depends. Maybe something that deals with the Holocaust; something about slavery. Because when you look at it, and what's so funny, in terms of 71:00Lubavitchers and African Americans, we have the same, we carry the same burdens in a sense, because we went through slavery, and in the same sense they went through the Holocaust. And when you really examine it, they're both similar.

KING: That'd be an interesting thing to do, if you get to that point, to try to bring people together. Cause a lot of people talk about Carnival like, it's open. You want other people to participate. You'd love to. It'd be great; even some Korean groups are starting to participate and things like that.

REMY: Which is good.

KING: Whatever way they want to.

REMY: It's opening up, slowly but surely it is, because there are some Lubavitchers that go out and vendor. They won't register --

KING: Oh, they'll just do it on their own.

REMY: --but they'll do it on their property. And that's good, you know. At least 72:00they're taking a little interest. They won't admit that they're interested, but you know.

KING: Well, that about takes care of it today. I really want to thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.

REMY: Thank you.

KING: And so ends the interview for today.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Kwame Remy

Kwame Remy was born in Brooklyn, New York. Raised in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, he participated in the West Indian American Day Carnival festivities from the age of three; beginning with the Kiddie Carnival. In 1994, at the time of the interview, he was an eighteen year old senior at Sheepshead Bay High School. Remy was deeply involved in the mas competitions, winning prizes for elaborate costumes designed by Follette Eustace. He also worked for Joyce Quamina, the business manager for the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) in their administrative offices. Remy was involved in theater, music and dance. He went on to a career in music, as a vocalist in bands, and on cruise ships.

In this interview Kwame Remy discusses his involvement in mas (masquerade) performance at Brooklyn's West Indian American Day Carnival. He explains the process of choosing a costume and theme for the mas and, in particular, his experiences with Follette Eustace, acclaimed designer. Remy expresses some of the frustrations of working in the office of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association and in the general organizing of the Carnival. He also notes the conflicts between the cultural communities of Crown Heights. Reflecting on the changes he has seen in his fifteen years of participation, he proposes changes he would like to see; including more local and citywide recognition. Of note are his opinions on the emergence of deejay music on the floats, the need for bands to respect the time restraints of the Carnival permits and the rising interracial participation at the event. Interview conducted by Dwan Reece King.

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.


Remy, Kwame, Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, January 31, 1995, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.22; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Remy, Kwame
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
  • West Indian-American Day Carnival Association


  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Ethnic identity
  • Immigrants
  • Multiculturalism
  • Music
  • Race identity
  • Trinidadian Americans


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.) Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Trinidad


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West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records