Afro Soca Love

Afro Soca Love

By Posted on 5min read64 views

Connecting the African diaspora one fete at a time. I had the honor of speaking with DJ Maga Stories, CEO of Afro Soca Love. Read all about him and how he was inspired to orchestrate events connecting all walks of the diaspora through a multi-sensory experience of love, soca and afro beats.

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Reyes’ Traditional Puncha Creama

Reyes’ Traditional Puncha Creama

By Posted on 4min read57 views

Come holiday season everyone wants to talk about coquito! But have you heard of Puncha Creama? Instagram networking, I tell you. I have no idea how I stumbled upon Reyes’ Puncha Creama. After weeks of viewing her posts, I gathered up the courage to hit Monique’s DM and ask some questions. What started as an inquiry turned into taking in a story embedded in the love for her Trinidadian culture, and a desire to share it with her friends, family and loved ones. And so, I felt compelled to share with you. Read on!

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Not Asking For It.

By Posted on 5min read118 views

A celebration of life.

Caribbean carnival is a celebration of life; an experience that honors liberation from slavery, societal norms, our traumas and our own self-limiting beliefs. During carnival, we celebrate the miracle that is our bodies and the things that we have endured. It’s considered a safe environment of mutual trust and respect.  Carnival is known as a “no –judgement zone”; women and men are free to express themselves without shame or criticism.  Most people that play mas understand this.  But for people outside the culture and the experience, there is a serious disconnect.

America is known as a melting pot, and Caribbean culture brings a wonderful flavor. If you look to your left and right in America, chances are you are friends with, work with someone that is of Caribbean/West Indian descent.  Currently, there are roughly 18 Caribbean Carnivals held across the United States (pre-covid, of course) and I have found on many occasions the cultural experience to clash with American values and perceptions.

Sexualizing the experience.

I can recall several incidences where I explained Caribbean carnival to my American male counterparts.  In my efforts to get them to consider participation, I found myself showing pictures or videos of the celebrations and meeting inquiries about why I was dressed a certain way.  Once they realized that “all” women are in costume, their eyes widened and I could sense their minds processing an opportunity to meet women… a free for all if you will. They completely forgot about my discussion about its originations and fixated on a “sexualized” experience. I have to remind them that Carnival is not necessarily the place to pick up women or test their limits, and I sense disappointment. It’s funny how their motivation to participate suddenly wanes.

 

I even spoke about Carnival to my own brother. His attitude was that women were inviting attention, and in his presence, it would be received whether it was desired or not. Needless to say, I’d never bring him out to Carnival.

The looks I get from guys who think Carnival is a place to hit on women.

NOT asking for it.

I have flashbacks to 2016 to when I discovered the “Not Asking for It” campaign led by Fiona Compton on Facebook. In the video above, its campaign targeted sexual harassment/assault during Carnival. I had not experienced any of the negative experiences described by women, but I was so offended by the responses left by a lot of men and some women, namely the feedback stating that women were indeed “asking for it”.

 

I engaged a guy on this on the Not Asking For it Facebook Page, and this was his response.

Then I got to experience it myself. Since 2018, I have had run-ins with men who felt it appropriate to grab or smack my ass.   When they met my rage, they were confused, staring back at me as wild as a deer in its last moments of life Their eyes would meet mine and they would look at what I was wearing only to continue to stare me back in my face as if to say, “well if you don’t want to be touched, why are you wearing this?”

Respect ALL women. Not just professionals.

My IG reel celebrating professional women who play mas, and reminding people to respect them... but being limited to 30 seconds didn't get my whole point across. So, we have this blog.

My last IG reels post highlighted women in various professions that also play mas.  But I am afraid that the struggle to get my message across in the thirty seconds allowed made it seem as only professional women deserve respect.  It should be abundantly clear that all women from all walks of life, professions, economic classes, education levels, etc. deserve all the respect on the road and are not asking to have their limits tested due to the beauty of their w(h)ine and the costume they chose to wear.

By all means, Carnival is about abandoning societal norms. To be clear, we are referring to HARMFUL societal norms and expectations.  This means that it is not permissible to lay aside respect for women’s boundaries, even for a day.  This is Carnival, not a scene out of “the purge” where you’re free to lay your morals aside. Carnival does not mean one gets to be slack in their respect for people and their boundaries.

A clash of American perceptions and values.

I blame the twerk, strip club, and lap dance culture displayed in rap videos. Feeding a false narrative of what the pinnacle of what the high life should be, men somehow distort the magic of the w(h)ine with their unfulfilled fantasies of the “tip drill” video.

I blame the people that love to talk about the “melting pot” that is America, but somehow can’t get past accepting cultural differences.

I blame societal beliefs that women should take responsibility for how a man behaves; the emphasis on preventing sexual harassment/assault and not teaching men to not commit sexual harassment/assault.

I blame the commercial initiatives that promote carnival and a lack of resources to educate our communities.  What people see when researching carnival is skin, cheeks and feathers. While culture has been considered a marketable commodity, this has led to the evolution; a dance of our African ancestors that honors the miracle of a woman’s womb to an invitation for inappropriate touch and disrespect.

Forward thinking.

Combatting rape culture, slut-shaming the culture, and “toxic” masculine values will be a never-ending battle.

As Caribbean carnival continues to become popular in the United States, I believe that we should also continue to support the platforms that are designed to educate the masses.  While education will not get rid of the biases and negative perceptions, it will serve as opportunities for those that are confused about this cultural experience, yet open minded enough to accept it for what it is.  Bringing minds together is essential to ensuring that Carnival will continue to be a safe, judgment-free experience.  

As humans, we possess the high capacity to check our behavior. The attraction is normal but charging disrespectful behavior to a “natural impulse” as a man is no excuse. If that is your plea, just know that should you ever fall ill, you don’t need to see a doctor… you need to see a veterinarian.

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More than bikinis, beads, and feathers.

More than bikinis, beads, and feathers.

By Posted on 5min read136 views

To a lot of people not familiar to the culture we may automatically gravitate to Carnival as being a definition. But the culture is so much more than that.

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AWM Spotlight: Tash Elzie

AWM Spotlight: Tash Elzie

By Posted on 9min read35 views

Next up in the AWM spotlight is Tash Elzie, co-host of the @preezeedoesit podcast, photographer, stand-up comedienne AND super-mom. Read all about her carnival love story, how she enjoys carnival despite her challenges with sensory sensitivity, and her perspectives on battling the mental health stigma in the black community.

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African without memory.

By Posted on 4min read127 views

I honestly saw this coming.

I remember driving to work when my Sister hit me up and told me that I need to watch a video posted by @followsoca.  Initially rubbed raw by what I saw, I decided to look for further context by listening to the panel in its entirety.

He said what he said, and he meant it with his whole chest.

Nah, he really said what he said.  But who asked Peabody Josh Butler to come on a panel and talk about the BLM movement? Smelled like a setup to me.  You’re looking at a panel of highly intelligent black excellence and there’s Josh…Butler. Wide-eyed and obviously not in anyone’s league. Oh wait, you haven’t done anything to give back to the Black community so you default to a lame post you wrote in the last year and had the gall to say you’re paving the way for Black people.  Black twitter, instagram and all of St. Lucia had its say in the matter. I played “pave it” on repeat for hours.

But this was far from over and I don’t think it will be for quite a while.  Black people as a whole started to look left and right, and even started to look at other Black people. Including ME and my platform.

I won’t go too far into the weeds about exactly what happened, only to tell you that I found myself suddenly ostracized by someone I had referred to as a friend. Reading screenshots of discussions about finally severing ties with “outsiders”, and a poorly thought out email claiming peace while taking jabs. Real classy… 

At the end of the day everyone is allowed to change their mind about how they feel, what they think and perceive, so I can only be upset with the execution. Jumping from place to place in the past 18 years has allowed me to accept the revolving door of people in and out of my life. Seriously, what else is new?

But I also I don’t think the Josh Butler scandal made anyone change their mind about what they feel about me and my path personally. I really think it’s a situation in which she and many others may have felt some kind of way from the very beginning.  Riding the wave of what’s trending and fueled by attention, likes and follows that comes of tearing other people down online and in DMs, it’s only something that will last for the moment.

So, moving forward.  Momentarily sitting in a puddle of self-doubt I started to question my mission statement.  My mission is important, it’s helpful and fulfilling.  There are some things that I can do, but I can’t please everyone. Check, moving on. But the screenshots that I read from this ex-friend had me evaluating perceptions and how this relates to our interpersonal dynamics as BLACK people in the WHOLE DIASPORA.

Are African Americans really outsiders? And if so, where do we belong?

James Baldwin once said, “to be African American is to be African with no memory and American with no privilege.”  Stated many decades ago, this conflict is a major theme of my personal life.  Several years ago out of pure curiosity, my twin sister sat down and tinkered as heavily as she could with the ancestry website.  She can’t trace our lineage beyond my great-grand parents on my father’s side.  My great grandmother was said to have died by drowning, with suspicions of KKK involvement.  But beyond her, the trail stops. Its the last clue I have of my lineage. My 23 and me tells me a story of being 84% West African and I can’t even reach beyond four generations. All I know of my own history is of those who have been born and died on American soil, and the challenges we all currently face today.

Literally with no memory or record of my lineage…knowing we all come home to the same Diaspora, I still struggle to grasp the concept of being an “outsider”.  Granted, I never have had the experiences of many Caribbean people, but my soul still cries home the same place as everyone else. The drums of the Laventille rhythm section in Trinidad carried my soul someplace else, and for a brief moment it was if an ancestor had taken over and claimed my body. I found myself dancing in ways I had not  before.  Deep in my soul I feel an ancestor had taken to the streets to celebrate liberation just like yours did.  I may have no physical proof of where I come from, but my spirit can’t shake the familiarity I felt.

As an African American woman documenting her self-discovery embedded in the Caribbean culture, I now find myself saturated in conflict: Where exactly do African Americans fit in this world if we aren’t welcome by our own people?

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AWM Spotlight: Crystal Wallace

AWM Spotlight: Crystal Wallace

By Posted on 4min read97 views

Curvy carnival queens, we honor you! Next up in the AWM spotlight is Crystal Walace, founder of The Curve Experience. Read about how she was inspired to create this platform, her thought s on curvy-girl inclusion and how TCE is not just for plus-sized women.

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The Evolution of AWM

The Evolution of AWM

By Posted on 6min read99 views

September 18 marked the 2nd year anniversary of AWM. In light of current events, its important to reflect on AWM has been and where it is going.

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AWM Spotlight: Shujaa Smith

By Posted on 10min read137 views

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your journey in the culture and carnival.

I got introduced to carnival & soca music in 1999. I was invited to Caribana by some friends from college (Rutgers U). The first fete I went was life changing. The energy of the crowd, the live bands mashing it up on stage (Square One, Xtatik, Traffic, Blue Ventures, Krosfyah, etc.), and the pure feeling of joy in the crowd was completely unexpected and unfamiliar to me. I became a quick learner and had the time of my life in Toronto. Two months later, we went to Miami Carnival. Since then, I have gone to at least 1 carnival a year for over 20 years.

2. What made you adopt the wear of the Pan-African flag at carnivals and fetes?

One of the first things I noticed about carnival culture is the tremendous national pride people displayed, mostly in the for of country flags. Flags were everywhere and apart of nearly every song that played. I knew I needed to decide which flag to fly. Being African American and “woke” my entire life, thanks mostly to my parents and my community, this decision caused me to face some real issues about how to properly represent myself amongst all the revelers with their flags.

At the time, my most obvious options were to bring an American flag or “borrow” one of my friends frequently offered national flags. Firstly, at no point in my life have I ever associated my nationality with the American flag. I am a citizen of the United States and that is as far as I have ever felt the need to go in that relationship. I believe that flag does represent me, therefore, it does not illicit feelings of national pride for me. To me that flag represents someone else’s independence story and someone else’s national pride not mine. I feel the same way (but from a warmer place in my being lol) about using any of my Caribbean friends’s flags. Therefore, I needed to come up with another alternative.

So I ultimately decided to not carry flag and instead I rolled with rag. From early on I always carried a white towel with me during carnival time. TBH it wasn’t as though I was abstaining on the flag and national identity matter, for me it was a silent protest. I took great pride in the fact that I didn’t feel compelled to carry a flag that I believed did not represent me in the way that I wanted it to. This went on for over 10 years, but that changed when I started actually playing mas.

3. What got you on the road playing mas?

Shujaa's first time playing mas.

The friends that originally introduced me to carnival were guys from various islands who did not play mas at Miami carnival or Caribana (our 2 main destinations).  The Trinis in the group would play mas when they went home for TNT carnival but that was about it. So for the first 15 years of my carnival life I was mainly feting, storming & liming. I had a ball the entire time, but because I had never played mas I did not REALLY understand what I was missing. Obviously I saw the costumes and pageantry but we stormed with the best of them, I was good.

2014 was filled with a couple of extremely tough situations for me personally. By August of that year for some reason I felt the need to go to Miami carnival and play mas. Maybe I had already heard enough about the release of pent up everything that people experience waiting all year to play mas, or maybe it was a build up of curiosity over the years pushed into action by a need growing desire to be happier. Whatever it was, I made the call to a group of female friends who we always hung out with and said this year I want to join the team on the road. It was late to be joining a band but they handled everything and that year I was on the road with Generation X. Simply put, finally playing mas after all those years of going to carnivals was like discovering the most fire secret VIP lounge in your favorite club. All that time I was so close but yet so far from the experience so many others were having. Clearly, playing mas is not for everyone but that day I found out I was born for this.

Eyes opened after finally playing mas I then became intent on not missing out of any of the carnival joy that others around me were experiencing anymore. That experience eventually forced me to re-evaluate my approach to the flag issue. It had become apparent to me that playing mas with energy infused by one’s national pride symbolized by a flag was the exclusive VIP room inside of the secret VIP lounge of carnival experience, and I wanted in. Being against something, which my rag represented, was not going to be enough anymore. I wanted the energy that came with being “for” something. So what was I “for” in terms of my identity? I grew up in a pro-black family and we fully believed that the Pan-African flag was the most complete representation of our identity in the world and in history. At that moment it became clear to me that I had two missions. First was to start representing myself, my family, and my community in the carnival world with the Pan-African flag. Second, was to have the Pan-African flag, which I had never seen at a carnival or fete before, more represented at carnivals.

4. Tell us about RBG Carnival, and "intersection of culture and cause".

RBG Carnival, LLC an independent section led by myself, Shujaa Smith, and Thesha Lashley was started in 2018 in Miami. RBG stands for Red, Black, and Green which is a reference to the colors of the Pan-African flag, which was created in 1920 by Marcus Garvey. The flag was created to identify the entire African diaspora at a time were there were only around three independent “black” nations in the world. We originally began as part of Fun Generation mas band, which ultimately collaborated with Party Room Squad mas, at Miami Carnival 2018. In late 2017, following my return from Uber Soca Cruise, the leaders of Fun Generation approached me with an opportunity to create a Pan-African themed section. I had been individually promoting the Pan African Flag, at every carnival I went to since 2016. Fun Generation allowed me to be on the band committee and lead the development of the section, as well as, contribute to the development of the bands entire 2018 portrayal.

Shujaa Smith (founder and CEO) and Thesha Lashley, VP of RBG Carnival.

Arising was the name of our section, which signified the coming forth of what would become RBG Carnival and its mission. We had a great designer, she brought our concept to life in full Red, Black and Green color. We received so much attention on the road. Our small group of 25 masqueraders were asked to take well over 500 pictures by photographers, other masqueraders, and onlookers throughout the day who were drawn to the huge collection of large Pan-African flags we held high in the air at the parade. This became a movement to us that day with a mission to create a platform for carnival goers who are also drawn to the passion of the Pan-African unity and to also draw new people into the carnival culture. A month later we incorporated the company as an independent section and began planning for Miami Carnival 2019.

RBG Carnival Masquerader, Miami 2018.

In 2019 at Miami, as an independent section with Party Room Squad, RBG Carnival became the first Pan-African based section to cross a stage at any carnival, anywhere, ever. Also our queen, Thesha, won Queen of the Carnival for Miami Carnival that year. “Hot Buttered Sou”l was our section portrayal with our gold based costumes branded with Pan-African colors and symbols throughout. Being an independent section for the first time was challenging, but we got it done and gained so much from the experience.

We realized what was drawing people to us and even what drew us together was this intersection of passions. RBG Carnival had found a space in the carnival world where people’s love of the carnival cultural was being expressed along with the Pan-African cause. The Pan-African flag is not an independence flag, it is a revolutionary flag; it is a call to action for the cause of Pan-African issues based in Pan-African pride and unity. What we had designated was the intersection of carnival culture and the Pan-African cause, for short “the intersection of culture and cause”. There is a sub-culture within the carnival community that already exists in the figurative “intersection”. We have now created is a place the caters to them where they can play mas “at the intersection” and where they can find others who are of a kindred spirit.

5. How important is it to you to see more African-Americans enjoying the carnival experience, and why?

I mentioned I had two missions, but actually I had a third priority as well, and that was to see people like me, African-Americans, substantially more represented in the carnival world. I have experienced carnival become increasingly inclusive with the explosion of carnival growth throughout the Caribbean, and around the world, but in particular here in the United States. Currently, there are over 100 carnivals in the States. While many people from all over the African diaspora have relatively recently come into the carnival world and have worked to establish their group’s niche, that is not so for African-Americans yet. There are so many of us out there that have no clue about the carnival culture, even though it is happening all around us.

The carnival world has a vested interest in growing as well but, has yet to commit to or yet to figure out how to incorporate one of the largest group of Pan-Africans in the world. What is carnival if not a Pan-African celebration, a celebration of countries and people throughout the African diaspora that invites others from the outside to celebrate with us on our terms in our way. I believe my 20+ years evolving in this world has given me a solid perspective of what it might take to get there, as well as, the nature of the barriers that have prevented it from happening thus far.

There is so much economic activity that takes place within the carnival world that for African-Americans to be on the outside looking in means being cut off from a major avenue of opportunity. It also means the great economic resources and platforms that African-Americans have are not being adequately shared with the carnival community. Take for instance the mutually beneficial situation when Verzuz, an African-American media company with a majority African-American viewership, used its platform to highlight dancehall culture with the Beenie vs Bounty clash. The current global consensus in the diaspora is that black economic power needs to be more consolidated, regardless of borders, and carnival has the ability to contribute greatly in this effort.

6. How is RBG Carnival thriving during the COVID-19 era?

Going into 2020, we intended to grow our section at Miami Carnival, as well as, expand our brand as either an independent section or as a full band to several other carnivals throughout the year. It was going to be sweet, our “coming out” year. Obviously due to COVID-19, however, those activities have been postponed. As a result, in 2020 we have worked continuously to maintain and strengthen existing relationships, as well as, develop new relationships with organizations and people within the carnival community. The goal has been to broaden our extended “family” with mutually beneficial relationships that align with our mission, which again is establish a platform where people can celebrate carnival culture and Pan-African pride together. As we enter the last quarter of the year we are working with that family to see what’s achievable and where in 2021. Stay tuned!

I want to add that as much as COVID-19 has impacted 2020, so has “The Great Awakening” of Black consciousness worldwide. The energy coming from the mass rejection of the status quo by black people resonates with our mission. As I have stated, one of our goals is to increase the presence of the Pan-African flag, which symbolizes Pan-African liberation, in the carnival world. My Friend Blacksani, a Trinidadian Soca artist we started working with in 2019 said, we want to provoke people to ask the question “What is RBG?”. Asking the question is the first step to exposing one’s self to the history and the current relevance of the Pan-African flag and everything which it stands for. For those that already know, we want to bring them together not just to fete but to use our collective strength to further the cause in our communities. We want to demonstrate the ability of the carnival community to be a powerful force during this “Great Awakening”.

The first pan-african based independent section to cross a carnival stage, ever.

7. What advice would you have for people looking to get into being an independent section leader?

I would say what I have done is place my passions at the center of my business model and built a strategy outwards from there. The passions being the carnival culture and Pan-African pride. The strategy being to represent both to the fullest, then find others who feel similarly, as well as, introduce it to others for the first time. I believe a person should live the brand before anything. From early, anyone who was around me in a fete, on the road, at a jouvert, on Uber, etc. knew that I was that guy whining on everything and they also knew that I was that guy repping that RBG flag. Nothing has changed since early, there’s just more of us now. Lastly, I would ask them to come fete with us at the intersection.

How to Find RBG Carnival

Follow RBG Carnival on Instagram

Stay up to date with RBG Carnival and their future initiatives.

AWM Thanks you!

Shu!!!! Thank you so much for your time and engaging discussions about culture and cause.  Your energy for the cause and culture is infectious and inspirational. Looking forward to more discussions and seeing you on the road.

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Chadwick Boseman: A Clinical Reflection.

Chadwick Boseman: A Clinical Reflection.

By Posted on 4min read118 views

Black people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer (CRC) at an earlier age with a later presentation of symptoms, higher overall mortality rate and a worse overall 5-year survival rate than Whites (American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2018). And yet, when I look around I see very few initiatives to combat this devastating disease within our population.

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Carnival and Healing Trauma.

Carnival and Healing Trauma.

By Posted on 7min read158 views

I honestly think that I can count on one hand how many black women I know that have NOT been a victim of child or adult sexual abuse/assault. This entry is a recount of my experiences with child sexual abuse and how Carnival has worked on healing fragmented pieces of my identity as a black woman.

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