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West Indian Day parade is all about 'playing mas' -- masquerade

Magdelayna Govan prepares costumes in a Brooklyn lot

Magdelayna Govan prepares costumes in a Brooklyn lot that members of Boom Mas will wear during the annual West Indian American Day Parade on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

Donna Dove had one goal when it comes to creating ornate costumes for Monday's annual West Indian American Day Carnival Parade in Brooklyn: Do it better than last year.

"We compete against ourselves," said Dove, fashion director of Pagwah Mas, one of several "mas bands" -- a sort of team -- taking part in the festivities. "It's such an adrenaline rush. It's such excitement."

"Playing mas," or masquerade, is a linchpin of the euphoric celebration of Caribbean culture that will take over Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights as it does every Labor Day. The march is in its 48th year and is expected to draw as many as 2 million people. It steps off at 11 a.m., but some events begin earlier. The parade begins on Eastern Parkway at Schenectady Avenue and marches to Grand Army Plaza.

The skin-baring, brilliantly colored costumes often include tall feathered headdresses, sequined shorts and wings or other accessories.

But Dove, raised in Trinidad and now living in Harlem, said Pagwah's theme is "Afrika" and many of the 500 members of her mas band will wear dashikis, or traditional African tunics.

Revelers Monday will fly the flags of Jamaica, Barbados and other Caribbean nations, dance to booming calypso, soca and reggae music and taste fragrant dishes such as jerk chicken wings, aloo pie and oxtail stew.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, judge of Sunday night's Golden Krust Jamaican patty-eating competition, said he remembers watching from the sidelines as a child and now is happy to march in the parade. Other elected officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, were expected to attend.

The event has been marred at times by violence. Last year, a 55-year-old man was fatally shot in the early morning hours before the parade.

Adams, a former police captain, said violence should not "destroy the greatness of the parade" and commended the NYPD's preparations.

An NYPD spokesman said Sunday special details were assigned to the parade and J'ouvert, the unsanctioned party at dawn that attracts crowds for dancing and paint-throwing.

Garnett Phillip, director of operations at BCakeNY in Prospect Heights, said the bakery has been busy churning out cupcakes topped with Caribbean countries' flags. About 400 treats representing more than 20 nations were made, she said.

"People wanted something that reflected their culture," said Phillip, 36, of Crown Heights.

Reisha Maynard, 37, of Cambria Heights, Queens, president of Ramajay Mas, said 509 costumes were created this year in the mas band's Nirvana theme.

Those who will march with Ramajay include both women and men from as far away as Miami representing an array of islands. Some revelers aren't Caribbean in ethnicity at all, but it doesn't matter, Maynard said.

"We treat everyone like family," she said.

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