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Charles Simpson

Oral history interview conducted by Michael Roberts

September 14, 1994

Call number: 2010.019.26

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ROBERTS: Mr. Simpson, where, could you tell us where you were born, and when you came to Brooklyn and why?

SIMPSON: I was born in Kingston, Jamaica. I came to Brooklyn, New York in 1970. And the whole object really was a transfer between, I think, between both governments because I came here with a social-working group. I used to do social work in Jamaica after I left the military service there, and I came here with a group and a group from here went down there to work, to do social work in Jamaica. So it was like, more like an exchange between a group, but it had 1:00something to do with government exchange.

ROBERTS: How long did you stay in the military in Jamaica?

SIMPSON: I did six years in the Jamaica military and then did one year social work.

ROBERTS: When you came here first, what were your impressions of Brooklyn?

SIMPSON: Well, I, first of all, I, coming here for the first, that was a little bit strange but most of my relatives were actually here so I could fit into the system very easily. And away from that I was very, very much involved and active in the West Indian community here. I actually was one of the founders of West Indies International Association and that was, I would say, it was created by twelve ex-West Indian servicemen. And our function was to get the young Caribbean nationals together. We started a field hockey association which we 2:00entered into the John F. Kennedy Memorial Tournament for years. We branched off into soccer, and we also had a cricket team. So we had both male and female and it was going extremely well. And out of that group we founded the ex-West Indian Servicemen Association that was located--I think we were located at Flatbush Avenue and Lennox and we were there for quite some time.

ROBERTS: Now, when you came to Brooklyn what really was important to you when you first came?

SIMPSON: I guess schooling, like every other West Indian. The first thing we want to do is go into school and further our self. And look and take care of the family back home. Because I think there was a wider opportunity here for us and we could contribute back something to the fellows back home. And actually I was 3:00very active in, like I said before, very active in the West Indian community because we did a heck of a lot of the charity work for the schools back home which we think need a lot of support. So throughout my, I would say I'm here twenty-five years, twenty-four, twenty-five years, and I, predominantly my service has been charity work for back home--and the West Indian [inaudible].

ROBERTS: Now you, Jamaica, does not have a history of Carnival per se. When did you get involved in Carnival and why? Give us an idea of how you got involved in Carnival.

SIMPSON: It is plain, simple of me getting involved in Carnival because I have always said, my first nationality is a Black man, and my second nationality is a Caribbean person, so my commitment to Carnival is a matter of--especially Carnival in Jamaica--that was a commitment I made from way back in I think it was about 1985. There was a commitment, and as I said prior to that I was very, 4:00very much involved from 1970 in getting the Caribbean community together, so when I started to travel to Trinidad and to Carnival and I see, I hear what an opportunity for me to take it to Jamaica, so that we could help Jamaica over being the last string that didn't have a Carnival. This was a commitment, something I dream about and work about for years to get together the final string to complete the Caribbean Carnival community. And I'm very happy involved in the carnivals and today Jamaica has a Carnival and I'm very happy over that. I know I was a part of that.

ROBERTS: Now, one of-- as one of the founders of the Jamaica Carnival, what year did you officially bring Carnival to Jamaica and why did you decide to do it that year?

SIMPSON: Well, put it this way, being involved deeply in the Caribbean community, I'm very heavily involved and as I say in the past, it started; I 5:00used sport the means of doing that. We did the hockey. We did the cricket. As you know, we had a club once by the name of Love People One and my partner, Francis, we call Frano, and myself, we, for some reason, someone had approached Frano, I think Frano have to get credit for that, and wanted us, because we were in the record producing business, wanted us to produce one of the calypsonian. And I think, Frano's really responsible for this, he took up "Roots Man" and it was an instant hit, "Roots Man" was an instant hit. And from "Roots Man" we went on to "Bally," and from "Bally" we went on to "The Alberto" and, I think it was "The Llama" and "Lady Venus" and numerous other, and out of that--actually put it this way. I happened to go to Jamaica in the early '80s. I was invited down 6:00there to what you call an Orange Carnival which really wasn't a carnival; it's what you call a fete. It was done between some society, society thing and I'm one of them who strictly fights against society thing who, in my honest opinion, tends to shut out the average Jamaican. And after seeing that it was to me--I didn't like what I saw and I made a commitment to myself and I vowed to my partners that that thing got to go because all Jamaicans have to take part in this other thing. And when I was in Jamaica, in Trinidad, it hit me, everything came to me like that. As a matter of fact, I was coming on a plane from Trinidad, and I just couldn't sleep that night, and the whole image of Jamaica Carnival just hit me. We started I think in about 1985, '86, somewhere around 7:00there, with a thing called Soca Madness. A group of, three of us from New York and two in Jamaica, we came together, we formed an organization by the name of Apple Jam Production. Apple Jam Production represent three from New York and two from Jamaica. It--The three from New York was apple; the two from Jamaica was the jam, so it became Apple Jam Production. And we started off the first year. What we did was to break down that barrier that we saw there, I think we only had about $80 to go in, or $60 to go in and children $20, something like that, but there was a whole family affair. So we changed the whole structure of what we saw with the Orange Carnival thing and bring it more into a family affair. And we took it out into the country, up into the mountain, and I think we turned out 4,000 people for the first year which was much bigger than what they had. And out of that, which was very successful, it becomes an annual thing. And you know, the mind grows, the Carnival grows in my head, and I put pieces together, 8:00I write and I rub out and I try to study the whole Caribbean affair. When I wanted to do the Jamaica Carnival I wanted to make certain that it didn't involve or interfere with any other Caribbean island carnival. So it was no easy thing to find a slot. You know, it was no easy thing. But we were very happy and then we move on further than that. I think that's when I called Byron, you know, we sit down with Byron Lee, which you know, you know about this thing. I think quite a few people in this country always--for some reason it's just easily hidden in the Jamaican community but people in America know about it. People in Trinidad, they know who put it together. I mean you can hide as much as you want to hide, you know. And it's going to be coming out more and more and more. Because today, for some reason, I was sending an application to one of these companies and I happened to find an original flyer for Jamaica Carnival, which 9:00was the launching of Jamaica Carnival. This was 1989, in November. Right here. And it was, I brought up Ms. Jamaica from Jamaica for that, Ms. Jamaica Wonderland for that launching. It was on the day that the patrons of the Jamaican Consulate there came in and it was endorsed by the Jamaican Tourist Board. So and this was 1989, and a lot of people in Jamaica don't know that Jamaica official Carnival was really launched right here in New York. Like the people down there.

ROBERTS: Now, I'm fully aware, yes, that Carnival, Jamaica Carnival was launched in New York because as if, you as a founding member were very much responsible for it. Now over the years you have brought back Carnival bauds--last year you brought a band from New York to Jamaica and you been a big success in respect to your Carnival. What would you like to see developed or improved over the years with respect to Jamaica Carnival now?


SIMPSON: I think we were blessed, anybody who went to Jamaica for the first year. First of all, I got to congratulate Byron Lee because he did a fantastic job. It makes no sense he'll take praise for certain things. I know some people would like to get all the praise and then to shut out someone else, but what do you achieve? You see, it's a little bit easier for me because I take a hell of a lot of beating over the last couple of years. But why it's not as difficult for me is that while I don't want to lose money, like any other one, I think Caribbean people is mare my goal so when I get a beating I can absorb it much easier than someone who goes in a hundred percent just to make money. Because unity among Caribbean peoples always is my first goal. So with the beating I can take a little bit. It makes it a little easier for me. You know, if it was money then I would be in trouble, but Caribbeanism is my first goal. The first year, as I said, it was unbelievable. Because anybody who went to Jamaica for that 11:00first year for that Carnival and saw it would never believe it was the first year. It looked like it was about twenty years; we were about twenty years in advance. We had drawn a tremendous crowd for what I understand in Jamaica, now unbelievably have a Reggae Sunsplash for about approximately seventeen years. Summer Fete is in its second year and I think right now it's safe to say, and I get this one from within the grapevine, that Jamaica Carnival is bringing in the most dollars into the country than any other event.

ROBERTS: And that's, what period of how many years?

SIMPSON: Next year will be 1995, it's only six years.

ROBERTS: Six years.

SIMPSON: Yes. Next year will be six, at presently we are five. So you can see, you know, but, I am very disappointed and really I would like to say that we are a little bit stagnant because what I would like to say to the Jamaica Carnival is that, although I am a part of it, but I have to do it for the time being until it's grown, we are bringing in too much outsiders into it. We have to do 12:00it anyway and I don't mind because, like I say, my commitment is to Caribbeanism. We want to see them there. We want them to come into it and be a part of it. But we have to teach our own. In other words, Jamaicans have to learn to make the costume. The Jamaicans have to learn and get involved in the calypso singing. Put it this way, people ask the question and a lot of people don't realize it. If you ask someone over forty, "Which is Jamaica's original music?" They're going to tell you calypso.

ROBERTS: Is that right?

SIMPSON: Yes, because calypso is what I born and grow up on.

ROBERTS: In Jamaica?

SIMPSON: In Jamaica. Calypso is what we born and grow on. You must remember that reggae music and ska music didn't start until about thirty years ago. What is the music before that? Calypso music.

ROBERTS: Somebody would tell you mento.

SIMPSON: Well, mento is calypso music, Barbadians play it and call it spouge. It's the same music, unbelievably.


ROBERTS: [Unintelligible] Trinidad

SIMPSON: Exactly. You would not, you would not. It's the same music, that's why I tell you now, yes, we call it mento, but it's calypso. Today Barbadians call it spouge. That's why Barbadian music can correspond with Jamaican so easily. Because it's within, within the blood. The next thing that we grow on; that's how the ska came out is because we Jamaicans are right in the middle of--it's so funny, we were ruled by Britain, we are at the foot of America so all the rhythm and blues that comes out, comes out of New Orleans and all these things, we used to pick it up on the radio station named WMZ, so all that rhythm and blues is a part of Jamaica. So, ruled by Britain, get the music from America, in the middle of a Spanish speaking nation, you see, we actually have four different music that's circulating within our system, within our blood, and out of that, if you 14:00can listen, you hear the ska music which is really the American rhythm and blues and the Mento music which, if you listen, to Jamaica music very carefully now you still here that music in the background. So it hasn't gone anywhere. It's right there.

ROBERTS: Now over the years since Carnival started in Jamaica, I remember your first venture, you told me you were going to go down to Trinidad and that you were going to bring up people like Robert Minshall and a number of other people who were expert in terms of producing the mas. Now, that has been the situation up 'til now. How do you see this changing in the future? Will Jamaicans go down to Trinidad or Trinidadians come to Jamaica to teach them the techniques of wire-bending and other production of mas?

SIMPSON: I'm very happy about you asking that question because right--[Interview interrupted.]

ROBERTS: Continuing--Jamaica Carnival is very important and Jamaica Carnival has 15:00had input of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival community. People like Robert Minshall who has, in fact, brought the mas to Jamaica and have, in fact, taught Jamaicans how to produce the mas; do you see--how do you see this evolving in the future?

SIMPSON: Okay. One of the things that we're doing now and as I was saying prior to this is that we have to start teaching Jamaicans to make the costume. And that's the only way Carnival will go because the youth have to learn. Quite a bit of the costume has been made in Trinidad. What you find what is happening now, and I'm very happy over this, my designer that I take to Jamaica each year is "Fuzzy" Davis. He makes for Borokeete, a beautiful person. He goes down, I remember one year he went down with me with Roderick Snell, and there's another 16:00gentlemen there, he's now in Miami. They went down and they sit with the Alpha Boys, a boys' school that turns out eighty percent of Jamaica's musicians and there's kids little less fortunate, they went down, I remember in 19, in 1992, they sit with them and taught them to make the costumes, which was good. But what I'm doing at this moment here, I think Byron Lee have done it, Byron Lee have done it last year, they went back to a lot of the costume in Trinidad. What I have done this year, I have sent with Neville Hine which is the chief designer for Borokeete and Mas Men in New York as well as in Trinidad. We have come together and we have gotten an agreement and Neville's going to come to Jamaica with us this year. And we're going to run a little clinic down there. So he'll be with us for a week, run a little clinic, where we'll teach the children how to bend wires as you asked and to make the costumes. So I think if we can, if 17:00all, because now let's say they have a lot of mas but it's springing up in Jamaica now. I'm of the opinion that one or two person wants it all for themselves but you can't take that away from-- [Interview interrupted.]

ROBERTS: Continuing in respect to Brooklyn Carnival, an interview with Mr. Charles Simpson, one of the founders of, I'm sorry, not Brooklyn Carnival, one of the founders of Jamaica Carnival. Mr. Simpson, you were continuing your thoughts in respect to the link between Jamaica Carnival and the Carnival in the Caribbean and also Brooklyn.

SIMPSON: Yes, as I was saying, yon have quite a few bands, there are mas bands now springing up all over Jamaica which is the best thing that can ever happen to us. It's not more known--Jamaica Carnival, Byron Lee thinks. Now you have the Oakridge Boys, Oakridge Boys, the Carnival, doing very well. Last year I created and founded a Sugar Carnival which is supposed to be a people's thing and we 18:00ventured out into the country parishes which nobody ever touched that part before so it was like virgin territory. And the turnout was very well, very well. This year there's another group now up taking through Carnival and they've moved on. And I have now continued my theme which is spreading the Carnival. That's a commitment that I have, spreading the Carnival within Jamaica. Years ago I made a commitment that, and this is my personal commitment because of my commitment to Caribbeanism, that every year I would take another Caribbean person who have never--entertainment, entertainer--who have never gone to Jamaica before. And I've been doing that now from 1985, up until this present moment. I'm very happy to say I was the first to take in "Roots Man" in Jamaica, the first to take in "Bally", we took in "Chandelier", we took in "Byron", "Shadow", the Dennis Plummer that other people's claiming credit for. We are the first to take in Dennis Plummer. We took in Levi, Lovey, "the Llama," I think 19:00Designer. I can go on and go on and go on. But that's a part of my commitment because I honestly believe that the Caribbean island belongs to all of us. There's only a little water that separate us. And as long as I have the energy and the bread I'm going to keep on fighting for that, you know. So, back to what we were saying, it is now spreading. It went into the country this year, and I'm surprised to see in St. Elizabeth there were over twenty thousand revelers, and just people turn out on the street, revelers jump in. The same thing happened in May Pen, Clarendon. In rain, there were about four thousand people in rain in St. Elizabeth, over ten thousand people in May Pen, Clarendon. Some people ask me today how I did it, but it's simple. If you are in the interests of the people, it will happen. If you're just thinking of your loan it's more difficult, but, you know. The only thing that I'm a little disappointed in 20:00Jamaica is like there's a ring. There's a circle. Very hard to get in that circle. They will do anything to keep you out of it. It's not easy, you know. You have to fight to achieve. You really have to fight.

ROBERTS: Now that brings me to another question in respect to Jamaica Carnival. Who are the people who really participate in the Carnival since its inception? And what would you like to see develop based on that participation?

SIMPSON: The first year participation, and I speak now with what's in my mouth, it was what we call the uptown people. Which is the "haves". They can afford to buy a costume. I think the first year; a costume was about, the cheapest one about three something five. Today costumes selling for fifteen hundred and two thousand and two and a half or three thousand. It's ridiculous. There is no way on God's earth our Carnival can survive with this sort of thing. In other words, 21:00some people, it's sad that in my opinion I don't think that Jamaica has a middle. We're either rich or either poor, one thing or the other. What I don't like about it is that people tell you that, "I don't want to", but the way that they do it is that they don't use their mouth and tell you, they put certain things in place and that's how they speak. So when you sell a costume for two thousand dollars, what you're telling the other person, "I don't want you", you understand? And the price to go into events is ridiculous. Now when you look at the average person in Jamaica, earning three, four, five hundred dollars a week, you're going to tell him to buy a costume for two thousand dollars? You crazy? Go and buy a loaf of bread next? You follow what I'm saying?

ROBERTS: Yes, I do.

SIMPSON: So I have a commitment. In 1990-91, I was ill so I couldn't take part in it. In 1992, I came out with the downtown Carnival. I purposely know it was terrible sabotage. It was sabotaged in every form or way that I wouldn't be out there. Word was on the street that downtown Carnival had the best costumes but 22:00the general public never got an opportunity to see it. We paid for a truck; Chandelier was in the ocean in a hotel sitting there. You had Roots Man, you had Shadow, Singing Francine, Designer, about nine international artist singing there, ready to go in the parade, people dressed in their costume. A truck was paid for, no truck turned up. You know this sort of thing. And then six o'clock in the night, we had to pay one thousand U.S. dollar, one thousand U.S. dollar to get someone to put a truck out just so our revelers could go participate. The truck came at six o'clock. And those people downtown jumped on the truck and it was one of the greatest and most enjoyable scenes I think I've ever seen. They had about ten to fifteen thousand people jumping and going downtown ten, eleven, twelve o'clock in the night. That have never been reported in the Jamaica newspaper. What was reported in the newspaper was "Downtown Carnival never start", you see? And people wanted to hear that because in my honest opinion it 23:00was that somebody did not want me, Charles Simpson, to be known to the Jamaican public. So they had to do any little thing to chop the tree from under me. So it was very, very hard. And I guess they didn't expect me to come back again. And the next year I came and threw Carnival, threw Carnival, pick up into the country and move. Because like I said, the cycle is there and it's very hard to get into that cycle. And this year again I went down in the country. But the question you're asking, where I would like to see it go from here. I would like to see it go from here where it's under one umbrella. Being in Jamaica Carnival, when I suggested it was to be registered was so that it would represent the whole Jamaica. It didn't belongs to me, nor you, it was just to protect it so that nobody could take it away. And then it was designed that my second year I 24:00would move from Byron Lee and create a band of my own, and hope that Orange Carnival would come in with a band of their own so we could have people coming from three different directions of Kingston. Just like how you see it in Trinidad or any other place. Because like I have said, the idea was created out of what I saw in Trinidad. Over the years I'd go to Trinidad and I'd write and put my little pieces together, and, so there's a little selfishness in there but that's history. But I would like to see one umbrella where Oakridge Boys come under the Jamaica Carnival umbrella, myself with Carnival Time comes under the Jamaica Carnival umbrella. Fury Carnival now comes under the Jamaica Carnival umbrella. The Mas Men come under. So instead of everyone having all these little Carnivals all over the place, you will just have one Jamaica Carnival with various mas band. Just like you have Hawks, Borokeete, four, five different 25:00bands but they're all under the one umbrella which is Jamaica Carnival. So I'm hoping to see, and I think they're making headway with it because we had several meetings with the tourist board this year. So as to try to put everyone under the same umbrella. So if it's successful I would leave [unintelligible] Carnival Time to Jamaica. No more, I be just saying CTJ Productions, which is the name of my mas band. But I'm hoping to see them go under one umbrella. We cross over one stage, and I would like to see us coming from all different direction. You know, you know, all these colors. So you could be downtown, you seen the colors coming. You could be uptown, you could be sidetown, you could be wherever, and the whole city of Kingston is flooded with colors coming from all over. And then we go over to one or two stadium. You could have the judging instead of what is happening now is that all these other Jamaica Carnival, which is Byron Lee's band, you see, that Byron Lee's band, because he is the owner of Jamaica Carnival, and they're judging between themselves. So you really cannot find who 26:00is the best mas band in Jamaica, because presently all the various mas bands is doing their own thing. Because it's only Jamaica Carnival going over the stage and they're judging sponsored sections as the best section. It should not be that way. It should be mas band going over and you judge the mas band. So you could--it could be Byron Lee mas band is the best this year, or Oakridge Boys could be the best, or Fury Carnival could be. You know, but that sort of competition. Just like in any other country.

ROBERTS: What you highlight here is certainly some of the--what I would like to call the teething pains of a young Carnival which is only about five years in Jamaica. Could you tell me, from your experience, which are the major ethnic groups that participate in Jamaica Carnival? Because it seems to me that you're talking about a kind of a situation where people who can afford to play Carnival 27:00play in one section and you are representative of a grassroots section which, as far as I'm concerned is the most important section in respect to putting Carnival in Jamaica and developing it. What's your comments?

SIMPSON: Well, that is Carnival, it's grassroots. You can't leave out grassroots or anything. Because Carnival belongs to grassroots. Society Carnival, no Carnival. Because if Society run it, is going to crash. And too many sponsors carrying Carnival. What happens when a sponsor pulls out? You don't have anything. When the grassroots have it that means the poor man created it on his own. He didn't have any sponsors. So when other sponsors come along, the poor man is going to survive. He creates his own. Reggae music is created by the poor man, it's not the uptown people, and that's why it's surviving. You know, it's that simple--and if the best footballers in the world come out of Brazil, the poor man come out the street. The finest [unintelligible], you'll find it's poor men create their own thing. The best runners in poor men. Seldom you find anyone that comes out of society that is a top in anything. Poor man, because their 28:00sufferation came out of that; they create out of their sufferation. Like I said reggae music was a poor man thing. They discovered it themselves. They wasn't helped by anybody else. So if Jamaica Carnival is to go and survive, the poor man have to have a piece of it. Because it's a God given gift the poor man have to create their own.

ROBERTS: Now what have you learned from living in Brooklyn and seeing the West Indian-American Labor Day, Labor Day Carnival, and the kind of mas that is being played up here. What have you learned that would give you a better, a better type of understanding how to develop Carnival in Jamaica?

SIMPSON: Unity. Unity. There's one head, and the remainder fall under the same heading. Hawks is a part of West Indian Day Carnival. Borokeete is a part of 29:00West Indian Day Carnival. The Mas Men, Savage, they are all a part of it. The creativity is there, just like, the creativity in making costumes, is just like any--One of my commitments years ago, and I think I was probably the first to start it along with WLIB--God bless the station, and yourself--God gave me the support and I was able to take Jamaicans, for the first time, taking part in West Indian Day Carnival in costumes. This was the first time. And I'm very happy--one of the reasons why I did that, and my commitment, was to get Jamaicans here to start getting involved and feeling it so that they can move down to Jamaica and help to get it expanded on a larger base. And I'm still very deeply in it. And one of the reasons I'm here now. That's exactly why I'm here. I'm working on it. I'm working on getting my design here. Now, first of all I'll 30:00tell you one thing you asked much earlier, is that one of the things I did this year, last year is that I took a design, I think the design came from Sesame Flyers and I took it out to Jamaica. I made the suggestion to the bigger mas bands down there that they should make their costumes locally. They laughed at me and said, "Impossible." I did something this year unbelievable. It doesn't come in the paper, but it's true. I took five, six designs from Sesame Flyers and I went down there. I went to the poorer section downtown. And I bought the materials right downtown. Take it to the country. Give it to the people in the country to make it. I was able to sell the costume for two hundred dollars. I was talking to Byron Lee and when I told him, each person thought I was lying. But that's the truth. That's a fact. Two hundred dollars. And those people jump like crazy. I had over four hundred and fifty revelers in St. Elizabeth jumping up and down, and had the same thing in May Pen. So if you give them the break, 31:00give those poor guys the break, there's chance that Jamaica Carnival will come larger. And one of the things that I'm here, and that's why I'm very happy, and they're behind this to come down and help me to put my thing together so that we can make the costume up forever. For the smaller person. And that is my commitment. So, there's nothing wrong with the uptown and the top. They want to, then fine, but I think if they break it down and look at if from a Jamaica thing, our thing, the people of Jamaica, the people of Caribbean, it'll be much easier for us to go. But learning as you say, maybe because I'm involved, because as you know I was involved with Hawks, and I'm involved with Borokeete, and I'm out on the Parkway every year, I take quite a lot of the designs that I see. And I think that is something I can take. I like the designers here. Like I said, Roderick Snell from Trinidad, each year goes to Jamaica with this big 32:00costume that he had in Trinidad. And I take them somewhere. So I learn by the designs I see. I learn by the way in which the trucks on the road, how the trucks set out, how the bands, there's so many things there. I'm always learning. I go on a plane to Toronto; still learn. I look and I learn. So what I see there I take back. But if I'm to tell you the thing that I learn, I'll probably never finish.

ROBERTS: Now, some of the components of Carnival has to do with calypso, which you touched on earlier, and has to do with steel band. How is that coming along in Jamaica, and if it's not going as quickly as one would hope, what are the ways do you think you can help to improve it, you being one of the founders of Jamaica Carnival?

SIMPSON: First of all, I hear something going on in Jamaica, now it happening in Trinidad, it happened in St. Vincent and I'm just so happy. I'm cracking up over the whole thing. It's reggae-soca; it's a mix-up between the reggae music and 33:00the soca music. It's unbelievable. Every time I hear it, I just, it's something you dream for and all of a sudden you see it coming right in front of your face. You know, a lot of people, poor Byron, they knock him that he was bringing poor calypso in it. But there was a reason. I left out reggae, out of it. And there was a lot of reason. Reggae is the music of the people. It will find its way in there. You don't have to promote reggae. It will. You know, it's there. Soca music--I'll give you a little story about Jamaica. Anyone who thinks calypso singers is not in Jamaica is crazy. Jamaica have the most hotels in the Caribbean. It has one of the most powerful tourist board behind it. Nearly every hotel in Jamaica have its own band. And what do you think they sing in the hotel? Soca-calypso. So if anyone think that Jamaica don't have calypso singers, 34:00they're crazy. Maybe more calypso singers in Jamaica than the other Caribbean islands. It might sound funny. Think; every hotel have a band and all those musicians are singing calypso. So it is there. And once again I'll say you cannot take it away from the people, because it's origin in Jamaican blood.

ROBERTS: What about steel band?

SIMPSON: Steel band is popping up in Jamaica now. It is popping up. I probably can take you right now to Jamaica on a Friday and I can take you to hear a steel band. There's a gorgeous club on--I think it's on Eastern Park Road. I think the name of it is Island Paradise, something like that. I'm not a hundred per cent sure. But you can go there on a Friday night and hear a steel band--very good too, not--You must remember that the West Indians are regimented now. The West Indian University, University of West Indies in whole and the culture from all the other islands are right there.

ROBERTS: Intermingle.

SIMPSON: Yes, so the steel band music is there. The calypso music is there. You 35:00know, costume design is there because, you see, UWI has its own Carnival in February each year. So you have a University Carnival in Jamaica each year where they create their own design and whatever they might need.

ROBERTS: Oh really?


ROBERTS: I was not even aware of it.

SIMPSON: And they have, they have--as a matter of fact it might even be there before Jamaica Carnival, you know. The culture is there.

ROBERTS: Let me ask you a kind of a funny question: What do you like best about Carnival?

SIMPSON: [Laughter] The joy, the pleasure for the people getting together as one joy of harmony and of letting out all the frustration and--it's just beautiful. The joy, people getting together and want to--no hang up. There is no one--that's the reason I have to fight so hard for Jamaica--there is no Mr. 36:00So-and-So. And Carnival day, Mr. So-and-So is just down, don't matter.

ROBERTS: By "Mr. So-and-So" you means the echelons, the upper echelons of society, that's being put away.

SIMPSON: Yes, it's being thrown out the window, but he comes down and the man who is down there comes up. Everybody is on one equal harmony. They're out there; they're jumping, they're drinking, they're tumbling around. It's joy. It's joy. And I think that's the reason I'm so happy with Jamaica Carnival, because this is a matter for me that the other Caribbean Islands come down and we go there. Since the interception of Jamaica Carnival, you can't get on a flight to go to Trinidad out of Jamaica during Trinidad Carnival. And I'll tell you; what we're we in now, September? And I guarantee if you call Bee-wee now, it's booked out for next year's Carnival to Trinidad, with the March of next year. So you see, the little work that we have done is having a lot more 37:00Jamaicans going to Trinidad to see what Trinidad Carnival is like. They didn't know about it before, because now that they see Jamaica Carnival and they hear so much about Trinidad Carnival they want to go and see for themselves. You see, I can tell you of a group; that we go to Trinidad every year. It's approximately, about 300 of us. And they don't miss for, Panorama for nothing. And they have a delicate sea, delicate air in the, in the savannah. They know where to fit, because they can tell you when they're going to buy their ticket and they know what fee to ask for, because of years of going there, you know. So that group not only have bigger group is going there now and Trinidadians are coming down in flocks, you know, you have other islands is come--and I love that. I love that. We--one of my goals when I was putting it together; I remember saying very plainly to Mr. Lee when I was talking that I would like to use Jamaica Carnival as a mega, just like West Indies Cricket, to bring 38:00Caribbean people together. And so I, I cannot dream about that. I like Caribbean people running from country to country, because there's always--you know what I would like to see too; I see White men with big money come to Jamaica and buy land. I don't like this; West Indian worker come and come buy it and I go to Grenada, not your place, and buy it. 'Cause it's our place, you understand. Who have money from Trinidad buying St. Vincent? St. Vincent; it's our place. I hope and I pray God that I live to see something: that the Federation back together.

ROBERTS: Now, that's the most positive thing about Carnival. What's the least thing about Carnival that you like to talk about, in terms of the bad part of Carnival that you'd like to talk about?

SIMPSON: Selfishness, some people are selfish. They don't like to see other people be a part of it. And get involved, where it can go, they think they can keep everything for themselves and nobody should participate in it. That, that to me; I don't see that in Trinidad. Maybe it's there, but because I'm an 39:00outsider I don't know. I don't see it here in Brooklyn. I don't know. And I'm involved in the system here in Brooklyn. I'm in Jamaica and I see it and I don't like that and it's not--it kind of turns me off, you know. I hear one person tell me once that--there was a statement made that--somebody coming from America, he brought Carnival and come from America, because he want to mash up Jamaica once and come down for creating more. They didn't hide it, but up to this year somebody was in the camp told me they were there already, with their own ears come out of--so it's a--selfishness is a hell of a thing, and if we keep that selfishness to ourselves, where we don't want other people to participate in it, then we're not going to go anyplace. One other thing that I'm very happy about that--this year after the May Pen Carnival, I met with Byron Lee and he wanted me to come over; about both of us trying to get in and go on the Parkway in Kingston this year, so I might be on the Parkway in Kingston this 40:00year with him, jumping with him. So let's hope we can pull that one off.

ROBERTS: Now in Jamaica, you--you've been there since Carnival, you're one of the people who brought Carnival and I keep stressing that you're one of the founders of Jamaican Carnival and I know I'm correct in that, because you came to us to speak about it.

SIMPSON: Let me tell you something; I think you--

ROBERTS: What changes have you noticed in Jamaica Carnival over the years since you've been involved?

SIMPSON: What changes? I think I mentioned it much earlier, the changes that I've seen is that there are other groups springing up. And that is very good for Jamaica. It's not a "individual" that owns Jamaica Carnival and then nobody else can participate, because for instance say Robert say, "Well, if I can't participate, I'm going to keep my own, so Robert gets his own band and his own 41:00truck and get on the road and you have other people will be doing the same thing too. So I'm hoping that Robert and Tom and Dick can come under the one umbrella now. You know, so there's a little change, it's still far but there's, there's a lot can be done. One of the changes also is that I've see all the tourists go to get interested when they're calling all the parties together and trying to get all the parties to come under one umbrella.

ROBERTS: So the government is getting involved?

SIMPSON: I tell you this, Robert, and I'm sure you know this as a fact: Long before others get involved, that was one of our dreams that the government would never get involved in Carnival because we feel once the government gets in there that's the end of it. We have a saying in Jamaica that anything the government touches it crashes [laughter], you know. So that was a dream. What I do know--now I think Byron Lee, he's getting old and wants to get out of it, you know. I don't think the sponsors really want him to get out of it just like that, but I think the--My personal dream is that I would like to see a committee 42:00govern and run Jamaica Carnival where everybody can participate. It's just not by any one individual. You know, because one individual can be a sad story, you know. But there's, there's, what, what I like is that there's other people jumping up and the tourist board is showing interest and the people in the country, the people in the country is now enjoying it because it--if you tell the people in the country--before last year, with the exception of Manchester--about Carnival, they think you're crazy. You know, they have seen their sense is that better be having their costume party, parade. Mandeville, May Pen, Clarendon have their costume parade. So there's changes, there's improvement and I'm sure somebody else is going to pick it up in another parish. Maybe give us another 15 years and you might have parishes coming together, all the parishes might be coming together to bring their major costume over one 43:00stage. We'll have the interparish Carnival King or Carnival Queen, just like how you have the mas band Carnival Queen here. Maybe fifteen years from now or so you'll be seeing each parish bringing the king and queen for the big parade. You might be able to see a J'ouvert which I'm hoping, you know will come. We haven't got J'ouvert yet, but I think it will come, because our Carnival parade is kept on a Sunday and I'll tell you this, the church is very strong in Jamaica. The church is very strong. There ain't no body going out there in no costume before eleven.


SIMPSON: As bad as a mess the Jamaicans are, it's a very--Let me tell you, bad as a mess as Jamaica is, it's a very religious country, very religious country. I think the most industry, if you want to say this, if industry is the right word, there's more church in Jamaica as probably any places in the world. You 44:00know, so all the bad name you hear them talking about, very religious, very religious. So certain Carnival things cannot happen before, you see and how skimpy they are, they have to be a little bit careful. You know the church is very strong, very powerful.

ROBERTS: And that, that it be as it may, we spoke now a lot on, on Jamaica Carnival. Let's just switch gears a little bit and speak about the West Indian American Day Carnival Association. What has been your impression of this Carnival since you have been living in New York for, what, over twenty years?

SIMPSON: Well, it goes from strength to strength, and I'm very happy to see where it's going. I like what I see after coming; Mr. Lezama and Miss Joyce Quamina, I think it is, because it's not too easy. It's not easy. I am feeling the pinch and I know the hardness and theirs is much bigger than mine. And 45:00they're in it, so I know this operation that they go through. But it's a beauty. I think in my opinion it might be the largest Carnival in the world now outside of Rio because Trinidad only have one and a half million people. Two, three million people is turning up at the Parkway so there's more people at the Parkway, than what is in Trinidad, so it had to be a larger Carnival. What I am disappointed though, I am disappointed because it seems that they're trying to take it away from us. That's the opinion. I hope I'm not wrong. But it looks to me like other influences, I would say, are trying to take that away from us. I watched and I saw that Carnival go from about, what, three thousand or whatever it is, three-hundred thousand and watched it grow and grow and grow until it is huge, it is here today. I--there again, I might think some people just selfish 46:00and they want everything for themselves, so they want to get the West Indians off the Parkway, but what I would like Mr. Lezama to do is keep fighting, keep fighting, you know. First of all the costumes are much better now, because the materials, the materials are more flexible. They don't have this heap of thick wires again, no, you have those light metal wire that can do much, much, much better and easier creations, so the costume can improve tremendously. Also you have to look at it that a lot of Trinidadians now--or other islands now--migrate here, so you don't have a little 50 or 20 percent Caribbean people living here no more. Brooklyn is a Caribbean island if you want to say. So there are more of us living here, so the art is developed more. The art is developed more and what I found out too; the art is not only among us, it's gone into the Afro-American, 47:00and I, I think and the Afro-Americans have accepted it, they have accepted it. And when you look--another thing that I am very happy about is getting the children involved in the mas, because while we go, the children will be replacing us, you know. So I'm very, very happy over that. But I don't--I am a little bit disappointed this year. I saw something I didn't like. I don't know if the Mayor have anything to do with it, with the change of mayor, because this year for the first time-- [Interview interrupted.]

ROBERTS: You were speaking about the whole question of your impressions of West Indian American Day Carnival, which traditionally takes place on Labor Day on 48:00Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

SIMPSON: What ever was the problem, this year Carnival, I don't think was as enjoyable as previous ones.

ROBERTS: This is 1994 Carnival

SIMPSON: 1994 Carnival. I think they have taken somebody's hold on the handle and they have taken away a heck of a lot of peace at the front. These mas camps used to have all the little music and the little things and the little unit that played at iron at the back and they jump and they sing, they sell a little beer so that the beer can help them to afford to buy the, pay for the costumes and all of that. Well all those things were taken. You could not--you could walk around every mas camp this year and it was like a ghost town. That means, the real build-up, the real build-up to the Carnival was actually taken away from them. You have police trucks parked in front of mas camps from as early as eight and nine o'clock which means from a man come dancing, police like, "Going?" He's 49:00gone. Golden [unintelligible]--I just talked to, to the owner of Golden [unintelligible] a while ago, he said he couldn't believe it. As early as evening, two, two tow-trucks parked on his premises. In other words, he's stopping the people from having their party and people sitting there, they get scared and go away. So you actually kill the whole build-up of the Carnival before it even take place. And, you know, then they will have to get up on the Eastern Parkway much earlier and there's so much politics in it nowadays, there's too--But you know what I'm glad about, it is teaching West Indians a lesson, it is teaching West Indians a lesson: You've got to vote. You've got to vote. For instance, if you take Jamaica, the government make some law in the, I think it was 1979; you become the citizen wherever you live for the betterment of yourself, but that don't mean you lose your nationality to some back home. 50:00Jamaicans and Caribbean people have to learn that, and I think all the other Caribbeans should pick up that, that thing. Don't take away the citizen from the people; let them become dual citizens, so that they can vote, because if you can vote in this country, you can vote a man in a position that will be better for your country, you understand. So we don't have a vote, so the people are going to take away Eastern Parkway from us. Every politician--three point one million people and we portray on the Parkway.

ROBERTS: So you think that the Carnival as it appears on Eastern Parkway on Labor Day is, is a serious latent political force you be looking at there?

SIMPSON: Of course it is. There's no if and doubt about it, if and doubt about the whole thing. You see, it made the politicians realize we don't vote, and if a man knowing that you aren't going to vote why he going to waste time on you? Last year, even on a cut, we had a beautiful thing going. We had a beautiful thing going, and I'm not saying they shouldn't tighten up on certain things, 51:00because unruliness can break down the whole thing.

ROBERTS: But three million people there expect unruliness.

SIMPSON: Yes. You see, so I agree with them tightening up on some things, because I'm not into the unruly business. But I'm saying, you can't expect to get something if you don't have a vote. And you know notice we don't see some of them until the Parkway? I stand up on the Parkway and watched the day I saw so many politicians, I was wondering what the hell was going on, you know. And I saw something that I didn't like, and I hope Lezama thinks about it. I saw, I think it was three sponsors event, the truck was on the Parkway in the Fifth Avenue style. Caribbean Carnival is not a Fifth Avenue style. It is a people's thing. You know the Carnival is a people's thing. The music comes, the truck come and you get in a line and you party. When you have three, four trucks taking up almost quarter mile of a space, you understand, with nothing on it, 52:00just the truck reading the sponsor's name--

ROBERTS: Pathmark.

SIMPSON: If you want to say that, if you want to call him, go ahead--Taking up a whole quarter mile of the journey. Now you have mas camps that is out there begging on their knees, begging to get a little sponsor. I am saying--you just used the word "Pathmark." What Pathmark could have done is sponsor a mas camp. That mas camp could come on Labor Day and masquerade on the truck, same truck, with music on it; you follow me, banner on it. And it would represent Pathmark.

ROBERTS: So you're saying that one of the things that you want to see improved or implemented to the West Indian American Day Carnival in Brooklyn is the more participation, better participation of, of the, of corporate America.

SIMPSON: Of course. We don't want--because this is not--was totally different 53:00from a Fifth Avenue, Manhattan-type Carnival. And I am saying that instead of putting an empty truck on the road that says Pathmark and taking up a quarter mile, you--remember we getting off of the Parkway by five or six o'clock. You're actually depriving somebody who spent the whole year making costume to get a chance to come out on the Parkway, do you follow what I'm saying, Robert? You have to get on the Parkway at a certain time and get off at a certain time. When you have four or five sponsors that don't have anything on it, taking up a quarter mile, do you understand? They are actually cutting out somebody who spent a whole year making a costume trying to get in on the Parkway. Now it's six o'clock: Catch a man, he is not on the Parkway, he's gone. While they have four trucks driving on the Parkway with nothing on it. Those corporate sponsors could have given that money to the sponsor and get more out of it. Do you follow 54:00what I'm saying? I mean if that band have three, four sections, that three, four sections including the truck with a band on it could be the representative--I'll say Pathmark in this case--you understand? So we need more of them. We need a Bacardi having a band on the road whether they want to go to [unintelligible] or whoever they want to go to. But get involved in the Carnival system. Don't bring Manhattan style.

ROBERTS: Now, what about the city? This Carnival is reputed to bring in excess of over 50 or 60 million dollars to New York City. Some other economists put the figures at even more than that. What about the City getting in on the act. Apart from Sanitation and other things, the City doesn't do anything. What would you like to see the City do for the West Indian American Day Carnival on Labor Day?

SIMPSON: What would I like to see the City do? Is to help them build it up instead of cut it down, because they're cutting down the mas camps. I would like 55:00to see them encourage it more. Encourage more mas camps. Encourage that, unfortunately, but by putting police and things like in front of mas camps to stop them is not helping it, because it's bringing in mega bucks, mega bucks. And let's face it, you know, these mas camps started from nothing years ago and it's hard work to bring it to this point, so to cut it down now, you're actually taking away. Let's look at Atlanta; Atlanta Carnival where the Mayor, I think Mayor--what is his name--put so much energy in. And you know, Atlanta Carnival is growing at a rapid pace. You see, the city got involved, the hotels around, the airlines, everybody's involved. We are bringing mega bucks into this country. I think the city or maybe the state is looking at us as a bunch of jokers and West Indians who'll just jump up and down for one day, but they forget the dollars that is coming in, that is coming in. I would like to 56:00see--their law is to hit the road earlier--to hit the road maybe later. I would like to see they give us a longer--instead of getting off at five, you start at Utica, you get off, you finish out at the--what, Prospect Park, there at that roundabout.

ROBERTS: Grand Army Plaza?

SIMPSON: Yeah. I wouldn't mind to see them go all the way to Flatbush or coming from Flatbush all the way up.

ROBERTS: So you, you would advocate certain structural changes.

SIMPSON: Yes, I think so. What I would like to see happen also is, I would like to see an area. It's hard to say, but to build a stadium. I know a friend of mine likes the idea of them building a stadium. But I would like to see something built where--for instance, now you take the final judging stand--I think that Brooklyn, the Brooklyn auditorium there. I would like to see 57:00something like a place where they have to go through where people can go in, sit down and watch the spectacle. And I wouldn't mind if the people pay something, because these guys put out the best. These guys go through all this trouble to create all this art. Not that it is going to waste, because it's our style, but you have to go to somewhere where you can sit down and watch the show and watch the ability, the creativity of the individual. Pay something that he can make something out of it. So I would like to see something built, where, whether it's in Prospect Park or wherever it is, but you should be able to pay for something.

ROBERTS: What kind of statement do you think that Carnival, with 3 million people, the West Indian Day Carnival Parade on Labor Day, what kind of statement do you think that makes to New York City as a whole?


SIMPSON: Caribbean people is here. Caribbean people is here and we're here to stay, and they have to accept us, because we're not, no more a little group of people that is out there. We're a force now to reckon with. The only thing that we have to do, and people like myself and maybe you have to go and preach that we have to vote. We're here now. I think that's the statement. The city and the state; they have to realize that we're not just a group of people that they just take for granted anymore. And you must remember, you know, the eight hundred adults not processed, they don't go out there. So we're here. The Italians are here, they're established. The, the--what do you call it--the Polish have their day, the Irish have their day and I'll tell you something to think about it. It may sound funny. Any of those parade draw more people than us? Can you tell me? 59:00The Irish don't draw out 3 million people out there? Right? The Polish probably don't draw three million people out there. The Puerto Rican parade don't draw three million people out there. The West Indian Parade draws three million people, so what they are saying is, "We are here. They're going to have to live with us." But what we have to do is get our thing together and vote. That's what has [inaudible].

ROBERTS: Now, years ago, about two years ago--I'm sorry, not years ago. Two years ago--there was a move to rechristen and all rename Eastern Parkway, Caribbean Parkway, because of the fact that Eastern Parkway has become famous as a result of the West Indian American Day, Labor Day Parade, Carnival Parade down that, that stretch. What's your views on that?

SIMPSON: I tend to like that idea. Now, anything for Caribbean I'm behind it. [laughter] It's a very funny question because you know I'm going to defend the 60:00Caribbeanism. I'm a little bit disappointed though, be--can--I saw something this year I wasn't happy with, for the first time I saw it. While I was walking on the side street from Rogers Avenue going down to Schenectady on the right side of, I think on the right side walking down. I think it was from Brooklyn Avenue down to Schenectady, well actually fenced out; it was fenced out where nobody could walk. There were no revelers, no stars, no nothing at all. It was a Jewish area so it was completely fenced off. So none of us--couldn't go there. I don't know if you saw it.


SIMPSON: You see, and I think that is bad, because for years we've been going there and not--no incident--didn't happen. So why this year all of a sudden are you going to fence out other people? If they expect us to live together, why are they fencing us out? Think about it. It tells--if we--for years we used to be jumping up out there and there was no trouble. They expect us to live together. 61:00So why you fence it out? In other words, you're creating the city and the people there is creating a problem that doesn't exist. You see, so they are just as guilty as what they're--they have in their head. They're creating a problem, the city and its people is creating a problem in their own--for years Caribbean-American parties going on there, no incident there. Why all of a sudden do you think an incident is going to be there, that you have to fence it out? Because you gonna--these things create hatreds. Because if you come and use it, you're gonna say "Who is the fence in the yard for?" "Them Jews over there try to stop us from come," is the first thing you're going to say. All them Jews might say, "We don't want the sons-of-bitches over here." It's been going on for years and we didn't have that problem. Who came up with the idea this year? I would like to set straight. And you ask a question about Eastern Parkway, why I love it? We are seeing signs that they don't want us here. Fortunately, it's to 62:00me, that's how I see it. You see. We've been there for years. Now I hear the Jews want us out of the Parkway at six o'clock because the next year, the next day is their holiday. We must keep the parade. The next day is their Sabbath. We must keep it on Sunday. Don't the Jews realize that Sunday's our Sabbath? Do you understand? And why all of a sudden do they want to get us out off the Parkway? You see? A lot of people, talk--and politicians talk on this, talk and talk. I am here from 1970 and that era was a very little--what do you call it--there was a time I'm going there a long time. If a politician was involved, they would have realized that there was a time bomb going there a long before the incident to the car happened. You know how much Black people feel--a car--when you walk in that area, every car has a policeman. They are well protected. How many cars in a black neighborhood do you see with a policeman? You don't think that people 63:00see that and feel that way? So there was a time bomb there a long time, long before Koch even get involved.

ROBERTS: But still in respect to that ethnic problem, Carnival still went on without a problem, and has gone on even in the height of the Gavin Cato problem when there was rioting in Crown Heights. It went off with no incident up to this year. Why do you think that's so--

SIMPSON: Let me tell you something: I listen to the radio a lot. I listen to the radio a lot, I'm a news person. People might accuse WLIB and say WLIB is a racist station. I don't think WLIB is a racist station. I think what WLIB is doing is educating black people. They were never educated before, so somebody's coming forward now and saying this and that and that and that. I think the most racist radio station I've ever heard in my life is ABC. They, the moves; if they don't hit on a Black topic, nobody telephones them, so they have to keep on 64:00knocking Black. It's people like those that are on ABC, cause all them Jewish problems to be going around, because when people hear--you have a Grant--you hear "Oh gosh, I didn't know some of them names." It's the most racist radio station I've ever heard in my life, you understand? And to me, I think those people is causing more racial tension in the state, more than the people than themselves, because they are the instigators of these things.

ROBERTS: On Carnival Day in Crown Heights, this interviewer witnessed groups of Hasidim children between the ages of eleven and thirteen holding hands and walking through the parade and walking through the revelers and mas band, unperturbed, without any problems, and the mas people didn't even have a problem, perhaps didn't even know they were there, they went on the business of having fun on the Parkway, so, and it struck me that perhaps Carnival taught us 65:00that we should be living together and just respect each other's culture. What's your opinion on that?

SIMPSON: Let me tell you something. Black people, these are the most humblest set of people you have on this earth. Black people--You ever watched boxing? Every time a fight finished, you know the first thing a Black boxer says, "Thanks almighty God", the first thing. Take note of it. Black people are always travel with their Bible. It's one of the most peaceful loving set of people, and that's why they're so preyed upon and taken ad--advantage is taken of them all the time. Those Jews could walk there morning, noon and night and not a soul would have troubled them. As a matter of fact, from what I know of my people, they would be more welcome to participate. When you have people who's trying to separate them and create a problem, that's where the problem is, because--they didn't sell their [unintelligible] they're selling hot dogs and frankfurters. 66:00Anybody trouble them? They're White. Anybody? Look how many people buy from them. If the Jewish man who crossed in the middle of the street, people are going to buy from him the same way. He has nothing to fear about. His people--like what I'm talking about it--It's easy because the fear, you see? Black people at Carnival don't have time to be [laughter] White people who create a problem. They don't tell, because it's not our nature. It is not our nature to go up to the white man and to go beat him. It's not our nature. You have to do--somebody's--caught in the act. I was saying to somebody the other day--I think his name--what's the politician's name, Berkowitz? He thinks a black man can't beat him [unintelligible] You know why they can't beat him, because the people love him to death. The Caribbean people love him. If you put the highest Caribbean man to run against him, he can't win, because he does what the Caribbean people want, and the people--So what I'm saying, whether you're 67:00Black or White, if these people love you, there's nothing--nobody can do you a thing. So when you're talking about the Jewish children, they could have walked from now to eternity, nobody would have troubled them. But how many--do you think you can tell Grant that? Grant on ABC, you think you can tell him that? You think you can tell those fools? Those fools--if they don't talk to put down Black this and that, now they're living on Clinton. Maybe they're burnt up, I don't know, but--now even the people in Crown Heights can live together as one and that is what a lot of people in Jamaica in the communities want to know. They don't need anyone to push a fire to create any animosity between them. They can live as one. And it's very simple, because we know our people. Our people are not--it's true, Mike--if they're going to rob, they rob anybody. If we is going to rob, we rob Black, we rob White, we rob Jews, we rob Chinese, you see. 68:00So you don't have to say we're going to rob the Jews or we're going to rob the Chinese. We'll rob anybody.

ROBERTS: Now do you see Carnival as a unifying force between Blacks and Jews in Crown Heights?

SIMPSON: No, I don't, I don't. It's night and day in my honest opinion. Jews don't know nothing about Carnival and they don't have a clue what we're doing. We know that we're out there having fun, great fun, and we are--the Jews--it's totally--it's night and day. It can't work. The Jews' [unintelligible] ''What the hell you doing out there?" And maybe they want to but they're having fun. Are those people crazy? It's not their thing, but it's our thing. So Carnival will never bring us together. I think just the average, everyday living: taking the train to go to work together; taking the train back from work together; going to this one store and buy something because you need it, that one buy; going to school over there because the child lives in this neighborhood and 69:00wants to go to school. That is what I think will bring us together, but Carnival will do absolutely nothing. It's night and day.

ROBERTS: Now finally, I'd like to just ask, over the years we've seen a lot of different Caribbean countries participating on Eastern Parkway in respect to the Carnival. Do you see an upsurge in participation from the Jamaican community based on the fact that they did not have a--they don't have a Carnival tradition per se.

SIMPSON: You're talking to me who started it a couple years ago. You know I have a commitment on that. Like I tell you, a couple of years ago for the first time, I did mention it earlier, I went out, I went out. I went for almost two, three months on the radio, for all Jamaicans to come and participate--I think it was with Borokeete mas man. And I think we got about a hundred and seven--a hundred and seventy. I think it was about a hundred and seventy Jamaicans to 70:00participate. But surprisingly, most of them went on playing to other sections. We were down to about fifty or something in the Jamaican section, they went and joined other sections, and they had a ball. And they were well received. I was a little bit disappointed at first, because--and I'm still a little bit disappointed--because there's quite a lot of members of the Borokeete organization that was completely opposed to it. And they started to give us, the Jamaicans, a bad name: "We're going to come there and we're going to come and fight and mess up the party," and this and that. But you know, they were surprised. They were surprised. Because they see Jamaicans get a lot of bad name, but people don't know it's less than five per cent of Jamaicans give trouble, you know. And it's just that the [unintelligible] than the other one. You know, but I have to say thanks to Fuzzy, because I remember when I went to Fuzzy and I asked him for help, to help me to make my costume and design for Jamaica, he said this to me, I'll never forget it, he said, "All I'm asking for 71:00you to do is to get Jamaicans to come out and participate in Carnival and be a part of it." And I promised him that I would do that. That's when I went to Janie Washington from 'LIB and we sit down and we run the radio commercials and everything. It was good to see, and they had a ball, you see. And you want to tell it--the good thing that came out of it; the Borokeete members saw that there was a complete opposite side of Jamaicans. That's a good thing that came out of it. And people started to laugh at some of them when they saw all the people enjoying themselves. We used to go there Friday night and party, no problem. So there was a good thing out of that. And I'm very happy out of that, because the doubters who believed that we were trouble-makers were convinced. But it wasn't like that. An incident happened one night and I laughed, Jamaica didn't even, wasn't even there. So I said to them, I says, "Being Jamaican all 72:00the time or going to Jamaica, do you think a Jamaican is going to walk out that door?" You know, so something good came out of it, because the doubters who believed that they were a bunch of trouble-makers, you know. You saw what happened on the Parkway this year; there's so many Jamaican trucks on the Parkway this year--

ROBERTS: There's an increased presence this year.

SIMPSON: Yes, but what--

ROBERTS: --in 1994.

SIMPSON: Yes, but what I would like to see--

ROBERTS: More mas.

SIMPSON: --is more mas. I would like to see they get involved in mas. And I think, I don't know, I'm back and forth to Jamaica. You know, I think people like club-owners like us, and other club-owners, you know--

ROBERTS: --could sponsor bands.

SIMPSON: Yes, I see, well like I think if the bakery, the Caribbean bakery who put that truck on the road, he should insist that if I'm putting a truck on the road, you people should be in mas, you know, because it don't have to be this heap of money, you see. You have mas that can be done very cheaply, you know. 73:00That's the reason why I picked that, that first year I picked the cheapest costume which was I think is was fifty-something dollars. Everybody comes and says, "Charlie, the costume's too cheap." I went and bought a costume for a hundred and odd dollars. I'm playing with a more expensive section. So, but that was the reason why I opened it up, because I wanted to get Jamaican participation. But there's room for that, there's plenty of room for that.

ROBERTS: Well, Mr. Simpson, on behalf of the Brooklyn Historical Society and in whose behalf I'm doing this project, I want to thank you very much for the time and wish you all the best.

SIMPSON: Well, you know, like I said, I'm a Caribbean person, and anything that I can do, you know, speak with me. Whatever I say I think is facts, because I don't have to go around the corner and say, "Well, that doesn't go like that." Anyone can question me. You can take me to court. I can defend whatever I say.

ROBERTS: Thank you very much, Charlie.


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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Charles Simpson

Charles Simpson was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He has been a regular visitor to Trinidad and Tobago over the years where he has been actively involved in Carnival. He is the pioneer of Jamaica Carnival, which formed in 1990. A Brooklynite since 1970, Simpson was previously a soldier of the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF).

Charles Simpson says in his interview that the West Indian American Day Carnival Association is doing a great job and that this is evidenced by the tremendous numbers who flock to Eastern Parkway every year at Labor Day to witness and participate in Brooklyn's Carnival. He sees problems of organization, but acknowledges that because of the size of the event this is inevitable. Simpson recalls his involvement in this Carnival over the years at various levels and it has been because of this collective experience that he became a key player in building the Jamaica Carnival, which takes place in April. He feels that city government can help more and he also thinks that the stature of the Carnival deserves better press, TV coverage, and input from the business sector by way of sponsorship. He argues that big business gets involved with the Macy's Parade and others of that kind, which in his view, cannot compare with the Labor Day Carnival Parade at any level. 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.


Simpson, Charles, Oral history interview conducted by Michael Roberts, September 14, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.26; Brooklyn Historical Society.


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


  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Immigrants
  • Multiculturalism
  • Music
  • Parades


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


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West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records