– The Sun News

Unending Rhythms of Calabar Carnival

The city of one-month festival was December’s real deal

While the phrase “a month of festivity” might sound like a pipe dream, it is a dream that has been transformed into reality by one city. In Calabar, December––the whole of it––means festivity. Since the idea was sowed and germinated 13 years ago, the Calabar Carnival, not only gained traction, it has blossomed into a top-notch cultural fete that makes the Cross River State capital the centre of gravity in December. The jollities of December and its reverberations showed exactly why Calabar is the big idea of how to end a year on a high.

Tagged Africa’s Biggest Street Party, the festival fulfills its founding vision of turning Cross River State into the premier December destination for Nigerians and tourists all over the world.

The one long month of festivity was a bouquet of attractions: fashion show, beauty pageant, boat regatta, Christmas Village, traditional dances and Ekpe masquerade festival, and of course, the signature occasion of the Governor’s Ball, a swanky soiree that pool together an august who’s who guests.

Those who hit the city early had a list of mild-tempo activities to savour, such as the Calabar International Design and Arts Fair, which started on Dec 15 and the Cross River Movie Award of Dec 17. At the Christmas Village, every day was a ‘Christmas of non-stop performance.’

The thrill revved up on Boxing Day with the second edition of Miss Africa Calabar, an unusual keenly contested pageant won by Miss Botswana, Gaseangwe Balopi.

Governor Ben Ayade’s injection of novelties into the carnival to break the monotony of procession and street dance turned out a well-thought idea. One of such introductions, the power bike parade, which has become the city’s Grand Prix, lent verve to the fiesta. In 2016, the carnival hosted over 1,000 power bikers drawn from Nigeria, China, Canada, Australia, Germany, the US, Philippines, Togo, Ghana and Benin Republic. In 2017, Gov Ayade was the GOC of the ‘Bikers Brigade.’ His arrival in his Scorpion Trike P13 on December 27 stole the show. The 12-kilometre ride by the bikers was a study in stunts and a good dose of adrenaline for the ecstatic crowd that lined up the route.

Music remains on the carnival’s front burner. On Dec 28, band music held sway, with the carnival’s traditional five bands––Freedom Band, Bayside Band, Passion4 Band, Seagul Band and Master Blasta Band––in live action.

In UJ Esuene Stadium, the Black Music Festival provided the hip-hop variety with Iyanya, Styl Plus, Flavour and Davido in the driving seat, while dancehall took preeminence at After Carnival Concert where Patoranking and Co ruled the show. A day later, an MTV-powered International Musical Concert brought in top music icons who walked in the steps of such icons as Lucky Dube, Fat Joe, Nelly, and Kirk Franklin who had performed on the platform in the past.

The 2017 edition––a vortex that sucked in an estimated two million tourists––featured 26 states, 18 local government areas in Cross River and at least 26 countries from Africa and the rest of the world. The festivity gained momentum with the Dec 26 procession that created a fluid and seamless panorama of colour, crowd and creativity that coursed through the streets of the city, and generated a febrile kaleidoscope that got the Instagram busy even into the first week of the New Year.

Friday night through Saturday morning, the city was a boiling cocktail of cultural dances by bands from different countries. Europeans––from Lithuania, Ukraine, Croatia, Italy and France––were represented. So were Caribbeans, principally from Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. Mexico and Brazil were also in the mix. Such African countries as Ethiopia, Senegal, Tanzania, Kenya, Swaziland, South Africa and Ghana, enriched the spectrum with chromatic displays of cultural ensembles and traditional dances that epitomised each country’s history and civilization.

While it lasted, the U.J. Esuene Stadium was a circus of exciting performances. 

The carnival theme was Migration, albeit, a migration, not out of Africa, but to a city with toughening sinew for tourism.

By tradition, the curtain fell on the carnival on December 31 with midnight fireworks at exactly 00:00 hour of the New Year.

A footnote: The Calabar Carnival is “December’s grand rendezvous.” For anyone willing to end the year in grand style, “doing Calabar” is the real deal. There is one thousand-and-one reasons to be in Calabar next December. It will not be difficult to find the ‘right one reason’ to become a Calabarian next December.


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