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Miami Carnival Brings Caribbean Festivities And An Economic Boost To South Florida

Miami Carnival is a medley of Caribbean culture— waist-winding (or whining) rhythms of soca,  food offerings from various islands and masquerade bands dazzling in colorful and dramatic costumes.

From hotel bookings, event space rentals, hiring djs and talent and the money that flows into local businesses— organizers say the financial impact of carnival is often overlooked in all the revelry and fun.

“Folks will come and they'll see Caribbean folks having a good time and not realizing that there is an economic impact that comes with that,” said John Beckford, marketing director for the carnival host committee. “There are 60 to 70 parties, fetes, as we call them. Those parties are being held at a venue. They have to pay for that,” he said.

A third of the estimated 45,000 people who attend Carnival are from out of town, according to a report by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Attendees travel from other places in the U.S., like New York and Georgia, but carnival also draws international travelers, mostly from Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.

Outside of the hotels and venues, from Palm Beach to Miami-Dade counties, small local Caribbean-owned businesses describe Carnival as one of their busiest and most profitable time of the year.

CREDIT LESLIE OVALLE / WLRN NEWS

A week before carnival, Lila Nikole, draped a cascade of chains across one of her model’s shoulder. The rhinestone-studded chains are a small part of the elaborate costume she designed.

I’m a graphic designer and we print our own fabrics,” said Nikole, a costume designer with VHI and BET who also runs her eponymous Miami-based swimwear line.

She’s created a name for herself in the Caribbean carnival circuit, making stunning costumes for masquerade bands in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and now Miami. 

Carnival has become all year round for me lately,” she said. “An average costume can cost anywhere from  $350 and up.”

For masqueraders and bystanders, carnival makeup can be as intricate as the costumes with bold colors and rhinestones.

Makeup artist Atarah Samaroo offers her services for Miami Carnival. She sold out of slots this year.
CREDIT COURTESY OF ATARAH SAMAROO

Professional makeup artists start offering their services and special “glam” packages months in advance. 

Atarah Samaroo based in Cooper City started posting her carnival makeup services on Instagram in June. 

“As soon as I made the post for Miami Carnival the money was coming in for the deposits. Within two weeks of me posting I'm already booked. All booked up,” she said.

Samaroo isn’t taking any more new clients for carnival, but dozens of makeup artists are still booking through social media.

“This is our busy season,” said Samaroo. “Carnival has become a big business.”

Local restaurants are also cashing in on carnival catering parties and prepping to set up as food vendors at the main event on the Miami-Dade youth fair grounds.

Donovan Thompson owns Kingston Delight in North Miami Beach. He said he’s swamped balancing his everyday customers and prepping for carnival.

“We have the oxtails already prepped, the browns stew chicken, the curry chicken— everything is already cut up being stored away in big freezers. 

Thompson hires a minimum of 20 additional staff to help things run smoothly at his brick and mortar and on-location at the festivities. 

“We have to have like three different guys doing the jerk — jerk chicken, jerk pork stuff like that. And you have to have a master chef and then he needs like two other helpers. Trust me, it’s a lot of work.”

And Thompson adds, though he’ll be working, when the soca music is blaring from the main stage at Miami Carnival, he won’t forget to have a little fun too. 

For more information visit miamicarnival.org

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