It’s all hands on deck at Cape Town Carnival’s headquarters, as the team marked only 40 days till floats, dancers, artists and performers hit the Fan Walk in spectacular style for this year’s AMAZA! – Ocean Odyssey-themed event.
We got to share in some of the anticipation and excitement on Wednesday during a comprehensive behind-the-scenes tour of the Voortrekker Road warehouse where all the magic happens. During our walkabout, we not only got to marvel at majestic props being constructed for floats, swoon over the sequin-drenched garments and covet the rainbow of M.A.C make-up – official sponsor for this year’s pretty painted faces – but also found out more about the incredible impact this over-the-top (in the best possible sense) annual parade has on Cape Town’s economic and social landscape.
Here are four things that we find particularly inspiring:
Pic: Nadia Krige
Getting 17 larger-than-life floats all rigged up and ready to roll, 2000 performers in full character and the streets, safe, secure and accessible to all is no mean feat, but one that Cape Town Carnival manages to pull off with panache every year.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that making these things happen without a glitch is something that requires a small army of energetic workers, which sees the carnival creating at least 1000 jobs every year. More than just offering employment, this also allows people from all corners of Cape Town’s diverse (and often divided) community to work together on something that celebrates the city, its people and its creativity, as Cape Town Carnival CEO Jay Douwes points out.
Pic: Nadia Krige
Apart from the 1000-plus jobs created behind-the-scenes, the carnival also – obviously – requires myriad bodies to embrace their most fabulous selves and join the parade. While many hail from acclaimed dance academies, performance schools and studios across the city, a large contingent have been recruited from struggling communities that face major challenges. Recruiting participants from Atlantis to Hout Bay and everywhere in between has been community facilitator, Angie Petersen’s job since the very beginning.
During the tour, she shed some light on the challenges of her job – keeping young people motivated and excited to attend practices is especially hard when they come from low-income households with all odds stacked against them. Over the years, she has, however, managed to gain major ground and has seen an encouraging growth in the will to participate. In one particularly heartwarming anecdote, she shared her experiences of working with teen moms who bring their babies along to meetings, showing their commitment to both family and community.
“It’s encouraging to see natural leaders emerging from these communities and it’s great to be able to help nurture them and cultivate their passions into something beautiful,” she said.
Creative director, Brad Baard added: “It’s amazing to see how these participants bring themselves to shine on carnival day. It’s like they’re saying, ‘here I am and I’m fabulous’ and they believe it with all their heart.”
Pic: Ruby Zhao
‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ seems to be Cape Town Carnival’s unofficial motto, as they go out of their way to repurpose old materials and structures as far as possible. In fact, this will be their ‘greenest’ yet, as each of the 17 floats has been remodelled from previous years.
Apart from their physical efforts, one of the big messages of their sea-centred theme for 2017 is to focus peoples’ attention on the dire state of ocean pollution and encourage a more mindful approach to everything from waste management in the home to using fabric totes instead of the plastic bags when shopping. The most visceral representation of this message in this year’s carnival parade is probably the gigantic float prop constructed entirely out of plastic bags and bottles, all colour-coordinated to make a beautiful, yet disturbing display.
Pic: Ruby Zhao
Bringing life to the streets
Finally, and possibly most importantly, the Cape Town Carnival brings people to the streets. People from all walks of life and all corners of the peninsula. With no entry fee or cover charge and a highly accessible location, it’s one of the Mother City’s few truly inclusive events and plays a huge role in bringing some unity to a notoriously divided society.
With rhythm and colour, fabulosity and flair, the carnival brings love, joy and celebration right to the inner-city streets and spreads hope in communities on the outskirts through job creation and the possibilities of participation.
The Cape Town Carnival AMAZA! - Ocean Odyssey will be taking place on 18 March 2017, with the float procession wending its way all along the Fan Walk. Check out the Cape Town Carnival website for more information.
Featured image: Nadia Krige