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Jeffrey Adolphus

Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King

August 26, 1994

Call number: 2010.019.02

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KING: So Mr. Adolphus, thank you for allowing me to interview you and I just have, I won't say brief questions, but several questions about your involvement with Carnival and your life here in Brooklyn. Can you tell me where you were born?

ADOLPHUS: I was born in Belize. It's a small country in Central America.

KING: Okay, and how long did you live there before you came over to the United States?

ADOLPHUS: I came here to live in 1971, so I spent from, up to my teenage years 1:00in Belize. Right after high school I came over.

KING: Why did you decide to come over to the United States?

ADOLPHUS: Well, well, I guess I, I followed the, the same idea of most people migrating to the United States, coming for, looking for economic conditions where we can get most out of life. I should say in terms of money. Money's about life.

KING: Okay, yeah, as it is a lot of times.

ADOLPHUS: Not so much the culture, but--

KING: Right.

ADOLPHUS: Peoples come here to help others back home.

KING: Okay. So did you come directly to New York?

2:00

ADOLPHUS: Yes.

KING: Did you move directly in Brooklyn?

ADOLPHUS: Yes.

KING: Why did you choose this area to live in?

ADOLPHUS: Well, because my relatives, they were living here. And when I came up I, I was living with them.

KING: Can you tell me a little bit about your life. You've been here since 1971, so that's about twenty-three years. What have you done since then? What occupation have you had?

ADOLPHUS: Well, I got here and -- I'm a musician and I got into music.

KING: What instrument, what do you play?

ADOLPHUS: I play keyboards.

KING: Okay.

ADOLPHUS: And I formed a band known as The Web and we, and that band existed throughout the seventies. And then after that band, I went to school. And I--to 3:00music school. I went to The New Muse, it's a workshop school. I did five years there in jazz and classics. And then I did work for the United Airlines, I worked for the Wells Fargo card company and then, after that I went into, I worked for the YMCA, Bedford YMCA, and I'm presently working for the Board of Education.

KING: When you moved here what were some of your first impressions of living here in Brooklyn? I take it for granted maybe you probably came and visited at times, if relatives were here before you finally moved here.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, absolutely. I made two or three, during the summer breaks I used to come and I spent a month or two and then I'd go back. But my first impression 4:00was that it was a very, exactly what I saw in the postcards when they used to send postcards back home. All the lights and the many, many people and traffic and tall buildings and all this was like unreal to me, so to speak. But it sunk in that this was New York City, a vibrant city and it never sleeps as they say.

KING: Okay. Are you still practicing your trade as a musician? Still performing?

ADOLPHUS: Well, I'm not doing it as, as when I had the band. I was a full-time musician then but now I play organ for this church. I'm assistant organist so every Sunday I play.

KING: Oh, okay. Well, let's talk a little bit about your involvement with 5:00Carnival. When was the first time that you attended Brooklyn's West Indian Carnival?

ADOLPHUS: Well, I have--

KING: Or participated in it.

ADOLPHUS: Actually, I got involved in 1990, but prior to getting involved I used to be a spectator. And every time I go to Parkway I see all different countries coming up and I never see Belize in it. And being a member of the Lions Club, Central Brooklyn Lions Club, they usually lead the parades with, making different flags for different countries. And I, in 1990 I led the Belize flag in the parade. So we started off with just the flag. And in 1991, that's when we made official entry into the parade.

6:00

KING: Now, can you tell me the name of your organization?

ADOLPHUS: Okay, it's the Belizean Carnival and Recreational Association, logo BECRA.

KING: And its purpose is to?

ADOLPHUS: Is to place an entry into the West Indian Labor Day Parade. That's our primary purpose.

KING: So is this your first year, or you're?

ADOLPHUS: No, it's my fourth year.

KING: It's your fourth year. So how did it go the first time around? I mean, tell me how it all got started, and getting involved in it meant. I mean, you started, you were a spectator and noticed there was no Belizean presence there, so from there what did you do?

ADOLPHUS: Well, it's all hard work and making contacts and trying to find the resource to put an entry in. I immediately formed a committee from Merv Bennett, 7:00Quentin Ramos and Dina Martinez and we decided that the first thing we need is to get a truck. Not even thinking of costumes at this point. Just trying to get a truck and get the music on there. And we invited the queen and the candidates, because there's an annual Queen of the Day pageant, beauty pageant, that happens, that takes place during all this. So we invited those queens to come on the truck. So we had them on the truck and we had a cultural group from Belize, the Garafina dancers and drummers. They were behind the truck. And then we had some a number of girls in just the local wear from Belize, traditional local 8:00wear. And that was the make-up of our first entry. So there was no costumes of, say, no Carnival costumes. It was just having an entry and a presence there.

KING: Okay, so what about year two?

ADOLPHUS: Excuse me?

KING: What about the second year?

ADOLPHUS: Oh, the second year then we decided that we now wanted to look for costumes. We wanted to grow into this thing. So I went about and I started visiting the camps and we made a contact with one person who introduced us to a guy who makes costumes and he's now our man, Kenneth Antoine. He's still with us today. He has his own band but he still is our [unintelligible] in the Carnival. 9:00So we're like sisters and brothers.

KING: Let me ask this question. I'm getting the feeling that a lot of designers will make costumes for different bands. Is that, is that true? I mean you said that he has his own band but he also--

ADOLPHUS: Yes, well, what I see happens with these artists and these guys who make the costumes, they not only make for their bands. You have individuals who will participate in the parade and they might want a character built, you know so.

KING: Oh, so individuals can participate on their own as well?

ADOLPHUS: Oh yes, they can. They can, or they can come and help you build your band. They'd probably come and say "I'd like to play with your band this year. I have my own character costume," things like that. So they not only make for the band, they make for other individuals.

KING: So would the other individuals, like you and your organization, do you 10:00come up with the theme and tell him or does he come up with the theme?

ADOLPHUS: We work together.

KING: You work together. What I find interesting is that, you know, here's this, let's just use this one person, who has these ideas, whose going to get the best ideas?

ADOLPHUS: We definitely have to share our ideas and see how best we can bring out our ideas. One year I was, in the first year, my mind was to have some monument looking conch shell on the truck, or something to do with the conch because we do have the conch in Belize, and but the conch don't give you movement. It's too steady. So we had to try to look for something else from the 11:00sea that would bring out, that would depict that conch shell. So that year we came out with like sea nymph, or sea plant. Something that would give you movement in the parade. So it's very, we definitely have to share ideas and see what best we can come up with to bring out that idea.

KING: How many band members do you generally have? For instance, this year. Are you participating this year?

ADOLPHUS: Yes, we are. It fluctuates. The Belizeans, we are accustomed from our festivities back home, when we do have a parade during the September celebrations back in Belize. Now in Belize the Carnival has changed but it used 12:00to be that a truck comes with the music and you just jump in behind the truck and then you just turn yourself loose. So that, people in those days, in those times, who have migrated to New York, have that same mentality. So when they see the truck, the Belizean truck comes, they just jump in from the side here in your street clothes and a t-shirt. So what I'm trying -- it's a whole education for them to get them to purchase costumes, to let them know that, you know, you look better in costumes. You know, there is a judge, the stand where they judge these entries. So we can only look good when we are in costume. It helps the 13:00band. The band is more attractive; people are more attracted to the band when they are in costumes. So for the past two or three years that's been our major, we have spent a lot of effort in trying to target, perhaps the younger people who would more be interested in getting the costumes. I find that the older, middle-aged, they are, they won't get into the costumes.

KING: These are Belizeans.

ADOLPHUS: Yes, Belizeans. Unlike the Trinidadians, I mean they --

KING: That's just a natural part of --

ADOLPHUS: Right. They are Carnival oriented and they look forward, everybody gets in costumes when it comes to Carnival. But right now, that's my biggest problem I'm having, in recruiting young people to get in. But it has been going 14:00at a very slow pace, you know. And I hope to do a lot of registration tomorrow. There's a big parkfest, a Belize parkfest taking place at Boys and Girls High School and I'm going all out to try to get up some numbers and get them in costumes.

KING: So it sounds like you're kind of combining cultural traditions. You're taking a little bit of the Belize celebration. I mean there's differences between that tradition and the West Indian Carnival here which is based on Trinidadian traditions, and trying to maybe create something newer, something along with the West Indian Carnival here in Brooklyn. Can you tell me a little bit about what goes on in Belize? You said there's some event in September. Do 15:00you go back regularly?

ADOLPHUS: Right, September is the month of celebration. We celebrate the Battle of St. Georges Key which was fought in 1798 when the Spanish were defeated. And that has been a day that we always celebrate. We come out with the parade, music and people dress up their houses, develop their floats and they march through the streets. Another date in the same month is the 21st of September. That's when Belize gained its independence. So throughout the month of September there is continuous celebration because they have all these events that leads up to 16:00the celebration, you know, taking place. So it's not only the tenth, but it's from the first to the tenth and from the eleventh to twenty-first and a few days after this. So it coincides with the celebrations up here. So what I say when I'm making my appeal on my picture day [unintelligible], this is your September celebrations up here so those of you who do not going home for the celebrations can come out on the Parkway and celebrate.

KING: Let me ask you from a personal perspective. It's interesting to see how this all came about. What does Carnival mean to you, even as a spectator who attended several years and noticed that there was, you know, no presence of your cultural community and now that you're starting to be involved. What's its importance to you?

ADOLPHUS: In my experience getting actively involved, it's something I just 17:00can't explain but it's becoming an addiction. It gets in your blood and you find yourself going -- I mean, there's no end in preparation. Being in a camp and looking at the ways the wires are being bent, the endless nights that we spend on the -- figuring ways how to come up with the moneys when we need to push, when the deadline is coming near and you have to still need to be looking for monies. The -- getting the big pieces together, transporting them to the site 18:00where the competition takes place, waiting for your turn to go up on stage, trying out the costume making sure it's going to hold up, it doesn't hold up all the time. Sometimes it falls down before you get on stage. It's mind-wrecking, it's nerve-shaking, it's -- I guess it all combines, it comes together, and this I guess is what the celebration is all about, it's not just having fun in the Parkway, it's how did you get there. If people outside would only get a little inside of the preparation that goes on, even with the masked men, people who 19:00bend the wires. Last year we camped, this guy he was building, I don't really know what they call it, but like, it's like a big person, he was building a person, and he got so frustrated that he was, that he, one day I went there he sat in front of this train and he was thinking about lighting it afire even before the activity came, you know. So sometimes you go through a great deal of frustrations, but the big reward comes when we hear the announcer name to come up and you have to go up and do the presentation and then comes off and everything goes well. That gives you a good feeling. That's when the joy comes up. Another part of enjoyment of the fruits of your labors: When you make the 20:00parade. Being out there is to make the route. What happened to us one year, our generator broke down on the second block and we didn't get that thing started until two or three hours later so we went virtually throughout the parade without the music. We had to, like, try to dance to the sound of the truck in front of you or the truck behind you. So you never know what's going to happen. You've got to travel with your mechanic; you've got to be traveling with your electrician. You have to make sure you have your tools with you because sometimes the costume will break down during the parade. Sometimes it's twisted on one side and you got to brace it. Not until you make that route and pass the judges, then you say, "I have made it."

21:00

KING: You can sigh.

ADOLPHUS: So my real enjoyment starts when the parade route is completed and we are on the back streets going back to our camp. That's when I start enjoying myself. At that point I don't care if the costume breaks.

KING: You made it. It's kind of going up a hill and reaching a peak.

ADOLPHUS: Yes, that's when I let it all out. It's -- I cannot explain my, the experience that I have with Carnival.

KING: Is the fact that we have, there's a Carnival here in Brooklyn. Is it very important to you in staying in Brooklyn and maintaining some kind of continuity?

ADOLPHUS: Oh yes. As a matter of fact, I had to cancel -- I was taking two weeks off to go to Belize to do some business and I couldn't go. I couldn't go. Things just started happening, and if I'm not here -- I mean, everything stops, you 22:00know, so I have to be here.

KING: Is there anything on your trip -- Do you go home on a regular basis?

ADOLPHUS: I usually try to make a trip annually, but for the last two years, ever since I got involved with the Carnival.

KING: It takes up a lot of time.

ADOLPHUS: It's lucky for me that I have the summer off being that I work for the school but it's like another school. It just takes a lot of me, a lot of my resources; it takes a lot of me.

KING: In your travels, and when you do go back home is there anything that you take from your Carnival experience back to Belize and vice versa. I mean, like any ideas? Is there something you want to capture maybe for next year?

ADOLPHUS: Well, what we do, here and in Belize also, they do have a Carnival parade, also during the month of September. And they, I understand that they've 23:00been having Carnival way back. Many years ago they had Carnival in Belize and it went dead. Now it has been revived. What we are doing now is that we link up with those groups in Belize and we, and we, last year, we sent down our Mr. Antoine to conduct workshops down there in upgrading their Carnival. And they had a very good Carnival last year. Everybody was so, so surprised to see that they, the previous year, the last year was such a big difference. You know, this is what we are doing; we are working with the groups back home. We are sending our pieces back home to participate in the Carnival. We do send big pieces back home.

KING: Oh, okay.

ADOLPHUS: And also with the group in Miami, we are linked, we have input into 24:00Miami. We coordinate our effort in upgrading each other to see what you have, or how I can help you, how we can help Belize. So it's a link, we are all linked up with each other.

KING: So Carnival wasn't around when you were growing up?

ADOLPHUS: No, no I don't remember any Carnival.

KING: So was it around before you were born and then it died out?

ADOLPHUS: Yes, it must have been in the forties, or maybe the thirties.

KING: Do you know why it might have died out, or?

ADOLPHUS: I, I don't have any idea.

KING: It's just interesting why it died out and then it started to develop again. Do you have any idea when, more recently?

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, I think when--it must be about ten years since they started Carnival again.

KING: So it's a little different than this Carnival.

25:00

ADOLPHUS: It's taking the same--

KING: Do people play mas, and dress up?

ADOLPHUS: Yup, yup, they dress up and they have the sections -- the group from Miami sent, even sent a whole section down there so they can add to the parade. But, it's growing. It's becoming one of the major attractions during September celebration because it's one of the events that you can actually, I mean, go out in, and actually get in costume. One thing I like about the Belize Carnival, there are no t-shirt marches. Everybody's in costume.

KING: So, is it fair to say--you say you have to convince some of the people here, so these are people probably who left before it started again so they're not--

ADOLPHUS: Yes, exactly.

KING: It's not a natural outgrowth for them to get into a costume.

26:00

ADOLPHUS: Yes, because in my time, you know, I mean, I used to just jump in my t-shirts and now that's the age group that's over here. So we have to now look upon their children hoping that we can recruit their children and gel them in costume and, to get them involved the right way.

KING: Now, some of these people, probably don't they go home on a fairly regular basis.

ADOLPHUS: Yes, they do.

KING: They do. It's kind of hard to just start something new and different.

ADOLPHUS: It is.

KING: So do you put on a costume?

ADOLPHUS: Me? Last year I wanted to play a king, and the work, I had work to do and it overwhelmed me that I couldn't even think about it. This year, I'm trying again.

KING: You're trying again.

ADOLPHUS: I don't know.

KING: Now, what's your theme for this year?

27:00

ADOLPHUS: The theme is wings of splendor.

KING: Wings of splendor.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, we're depicting three or four species of butterflies. What we try to do, is to, is to pick something from Belize that will lure tourists, or to bring Belize up and down to the forefront in selling the country. You know, bringing country up.

KING: It's kind of like promotion.

ADOLPHUS: Promoting the country in that way and try to see what we can do in terms of getting tourists to the country. So we had, the first year we had costumes we did the barrier reef. You know Belize has the largest barrier reef in this hemisphere so, and a lot of tourists go there just for the diving, the snorkeling, for the Keys. So we did the barrier reef. Last year we did the Munda 28:00Maya. We went inland, you know. There's a lot of Maya ruins in Central America, in Belize, and they're discovering more and more artifacts that's dated back many, many centuries and, so we decided we were going to do Munda Maya. This year we're going to do something to do with the wildlife or the insects of Belize.

KING: So, these are things that are probably instantly recognizable to Belizeans.

ADOLPHUS: Yes.

KING: And, hopefully they're recognizable by other people who are spectators. Tell me a little bit--OK, wings of splendor-- you have this idea. So, what do you do next?

ADOLPHUS: Next year?

KING: No, no, as part of the process. Researching, or do you--you mentioned 29:00something about butterflies?

ADOLPHUS: Yes, well that's the reason why you have to work with your designer because he's the person that does the research.

KING: Okay.

ADOLPHUS: Although I'm from Belize and there's so many different butterflies and I can start naming them. But when you're working with your designer, he goes to the library, he does the research, he brings the pictures, he does the read-up. You know, and he comes up with the theme that will best bring out the costumes. So it's some book work involved, and to pick what butterflies would be most recognizable that people can see or relate to, you know, because it's like having different plants but there's some plants that are more popular than 30:00others and you need something that's catching. The person sees that and it lights a bulb. That's exactly what we want. That's the idea. Let it catch fire, soon as you look at it, it catches fire.

KING: So how do you choose the music? Something that will evoke the same type of mood, something that will portray?

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, well, being that this, that Carnival here is predominantly a Trinidadian thing, to get the Belize music and to put it in the calypso music. Now from Belize we have, we have just discovered that we have our own music, the punta rock music. And it's becoming so, so popular that I think that in the next 31:00few years or two it will be a well-known cultural music from Belize throughout the Caribbean and some part of Europe it's catching on as well as in South America. What happens because we have an open door with our band, it's not all for Belizeans, so if you find you get some Trinidadians playing with your band and they don't hear that Calypso music. That happened to us last year. They left our band and went to the truck in front because that's the music that they dance to. So as much as we like to promote the Belize music we have to now be very 32:00open and not only play the punta rock music. We have to mix it all up because we lose those people and they won't come back and play with you next year.

KING: It's kind of--

ADOLPHUS: Not unless we have a big enough band of Belizeans.

KING: Right.

ADOLPHUS: That we can say okay.

KING: You've got your source people that you can kind of do what you would want to do.

ADOLPHUS: That's right, just play our own music. But at this stage where we have to, you know, where people helping with the band you have to accommodate them and play their music too.

KING: That's interesting. I never thought about that, because one of the things we're looking at it is also how the people from the different islands -- because even though Carnival is based in Trinidad and it has a strong Trinidadian product there's still other people starting to be involved. And one of the 33:00things that members of the West Indian Labor Day Carnival Association say is that Carnival is one of those occasions that can bring all Caribbean people together. But you start thinking of all the music and, you know, other people I never even thought about, other cultures joining different people's bands and, you know, what do they gravitate to. That whole idea of what music to play.

ADOLPHUS: That's true.

KING: Are there other people besides Trinidadians who are involved?

ADOLPHUS: Oh yes, the Guyanese and there's Haitians and there's Barbados. So we're getting more and more Caribbean countries getting involved. What I'm also doing to get that music out there and to get it to be recognized, is with the concerts, the summer concerts that happen around the city, I try negotiating 34:00getting Belizean bands to participate in these concerts. I was successful in getting a Belizean band to take part in the Dr. Martin Luther King concert that takes place right there, Wingate High School, which is not far from where I live, and that will be taking place this coming Monday. So we'll have a Belizean band in there playing the punta rock music. And this way it can reach the other Caribbean community and it's something that they can -- who knows? They might just love it, you know. I spoke to the promoter and he asked me specifically that they will play punta music because he knows the punta music and he likes it.

35:00

KING: Can you spell that for me, just for the record so the transcriber--

ADOLPHUS: Punta? P-U-N- T-A.

KING: Okay.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, it came -- Belize, we have about six ethnic groups in Belize and the punta music came from the Garifuna who is a direct descendant from Africa. And they have retained the culture, the African culture in their rituals, their ceremonies, their drums and out of this came the punta rock music with the combination of form, guitar, and the bass and the drums. But it's mostly the African drum that gives you that African flavor to which the bands play. So if 36:00you here a punta rock music and don't hear the African drums in there, it's not exactly the song. You've got to have that.

KING: That's the basis of the music.

ADOLPHUS: Yes. You've got to hear that African drums, you know, It's a multi-rhythm with a accent, with a drop beat, you know, that makes that song something that people have never heard before and it's a new song, it's a combination of cultures.

KING: So what makes it rock, is the guitar, the bass.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, the percussion, you know, the percussion, something like the maracas, that and the, not the regular drum set, the African drum, it looks like 37:00one of these cargo drums, it's very wide in diameter. They have different sizes because a different size gives you different sound.

KING: Right.

ADOLPHUS: The premier drummer uses a small -- I know you must have heard these drummers in the park but the African drums are different than those drums. You've got the bass drum is a very big one in diameter, you know, and it's a unique, unique sound. They have sold this music in Europe, you know, and it has been doing very good. Right now if a band, if you go to a Belize function, and the band does not have punta rock in its repertoire; it has all incomplete repertoire.

38:00

KING: How long has it been in existence or developing?

ADOLPHUS: That music? That music's been there for a long time because--

KING: But it's just reaching--

ADOLPHUS: It's just start coming out as a commercial music.

KING: Right. The commercial cross-over, I follow you.

ADOLPHUS: It has always been the indigenous music, I have spent many years with these people and I didn't understand it but I, and their language, their music and their ceremonies. But now that I am educated to the African Diaspora and these people are traditional African, African music. So now that I can relate to it I really appreciate it very much. It gives me something to identify myself 39:00with coming from Belize because sometimes people ask a Belizean, "What's your music, what's your culture?" You know, and when you start thinking, you have all European culture that was brought to us. You know, so now that we have something that we can identify ourselves with--

KING: I always believe that anything you adapt, you know, somebody brings something to you, you work it to make it your own with whatever resources you might have, you create your own culture.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, but that would somewhat dilute your culture if you try to take somebody else's culture and put it in yours. It takes away from yours…

KING: It does, but sometimes if you have no choice, you learn what is forced upon you.

40:00

ADOLPHUS: In that situation we didn't have the choice because [unintelligible] no other books. It's all in that book. That's it right there. They have a number of dances that they do but the most popular is the punta rock. You know they have, the dance, the ceremonies they do to remember the dead, to remember the spirits, you know, they have ceremonies that they do for a person, for a boy going into manhood. You know, all these are African, these are traditional, traditional African --

KING: Name the ethnic group again for me.

ADOLPHUS: Well, we have, in Belize we have, well I'm known as Creole.

KING: Okay. I meant spelling, so that when the person is transcribing they can --

41:00

ADOLPHUS: It's C-R-E-O-L.

KING: Okay.

ADOLPHUS: I think there's an E at the end.

KING: Okay

ADOLPHUS: Creole with an E.

KING: I've seen it generally C-R-E-O-L-E.

ADOLPHUS: E, with an E. You have Chinese, we have the East Indians we call coolie. You have the Garifuna.

KING: Garifuna. Spell that one for the record.

ADOLPHUS: G-A-R-I-F-U-N-A.

KING: Okay.

ADOLPHUS: Garifuna. We have, well, being in the Latin American hemisphere region, we have a lot of Spanish, a lot of Maya Indians, and now we have a growing Middle Eastern group in Belize now. So we are multicultural. Chinese, did I say Chinese?

KING: Yes, you did say Chinese.

ADOLPHUS: They've been here a long time and they mostly [unintelligible] you 42:00know. There's a few Arabs there.

KING: Okay. Let's go back to Carnival a little bit. Do you ever foresee a point where you'll be able to play the punta music, the punta rock in Carnival?

ADOLPHUS: Yes.

KING: Your own music --

ADOLPHUS: I think, I see, what I see in the future is that the Belize, the Belizeans will catch on and they will be out there in numbers, in costumes, to the point that we will not only play, where we can play our own music. The band will be that big that we can just do this. But, however, we still, we still will 43:00incorporate other music, but our primary music is going to be punta music because we selling Belize. So when the Belize entry comes by, you're supposed to see not one thing or two things but many different things about Belize because it's supposed to be saying something about the country. So, what I see happening, you know, in the future what's going to happen is that you'll be able to bring all aspects and anything that will be able to sell Belize on a wholesale basis when we go out there. You know, we don't have to be wary that you're going to lose marchers that we change our music. You know, a thing like that. Not until it reaches that stage, then we'll be able to relax and do our 44:00own thing.

KING: In your observations, primarily as a spectator, because I think once you started forming an organization your time was really focused on that; but in your observations have you seen other groups, other islands start to grow in their own presence as well?

ADOLPHUS: Yes.

KING: That are not Trinidadian based?

ADOLPHUS: Yes. I observed the Guyanese and I think they, I think the Guyanese are -- I don't see much of them in costumes. Maybe previous years they may have been in costumes. But since I started observing that band, I just see a truck out there and all the Guyanese flags and t-shirts and things like that. The band 45:00from Barbados seems to be growing, when I say growing, in costumes. That seems to be good, the band from Barbados. Haiti, I think Haiti, all I see is a truck and people. I haven't seen costumes with Haitian band yet unless I'm missing something. They themselves, I don't know how long they've been involved in Carnival, but I see a truck and they have their t-shirt marchers. And then I see splinter groups. Last year I saw a truck from Dominican Republic, you know, with their own style of dressing. Not Carnival costumes, their own local ceremonial 46:00things, you know, and they would put that in their truck, their queen. Just the way how we started out with our queen on the truck. I don't know which other group did I see last year. I was moving along with my band but when I look at the bigger take, that's when I observe what the other groups are doing because this is where you measure your group. How you are fitting in when you come up. What do they see? You know, so it tends to have a good banner, a good sound system, have a good truck, and have good marchers.

KING: Have you noticed any Jamaican presence?

ADOLPHUS: Yes. Yes. But not in costumes either.

KING: Not in costumes?

ADOLPHUS: And I'm a bit surprised that they--Well, I guess when you're not a 47:00Carnival base country--

KING: Because that sounds like a difference right there, because it's not a natural outlet, you know. A lot of these islands might have started to do some kind of Carnival type activity recently, so, but that's very interesting because it shows how the nature of how, and that's one of questions I might ask you, how Brooklyn's Carnival is really unique and other cultures bringing their own experience, or even the Dominicans wearing their own native dress. Not a costume, but just their native dress.

ADOLPHUS: Yes. I don't know what I'd envisioned. What I envision is that, in the next five years, as bands grow you will not only have-- [Interview interrupted.]

48:00

KING: Okay, so you were talking about what you envisioned.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah. Um, I think when that happens like that, when each country will be identifiable, I think if either--it can go two ways. It's either they come out in costumes, Carnival style, or they come out in, in what--where they do from their own country, the local wear from their own country, the old ceremonial wear from their country. You know, so that's what I think would happen, if, but--at this point I think they more go for the costumes than to just--because you want to be a part of the whole.

49:00

KING: Umhm.

ADOLPHUS: So if you look at the Carnival in Brazil.

KING: Umhm.

ADOLPHUS: You know, Carnival is spending money, okay.

KING: Umhm.

ADOLPHUS: It's spending money, going out there and trying to outdo the other person, you know. So I don't think it will take the road of being culturally aware as when you're going to get into mainstream Carnival.

KING: Which is more of the mainstream Carnival being the Trinidadian Carnival.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, in costume, in dress. You know, like I said the Dominican band, the day I saw them, their locals and the real thing. Right, but that's not Carnival costumes, you see?

KING: So you're--this is what you envision. What would you prefer, I mean, in your overall view, what direction would you like to see Carnival go in?

ADOLPHUS: I would like to see all the--I would like to see more countries get involved, and I would like to see them come down the Parkway in alphabetical order.

50:00

KING: Umhm.

ADOLPHUS: You know, so that people could get a good, a good routine of the parade, because what's happening now is that people go out there to see a certain entry and sometimes don't see that entry and you know, sometimes the parade is backed up, it's a little--getting into formation is like, it's like getting to kill someone to get into formation. [Laughter] You know, I hate to say that word, but like, it's very chaotic at the bottom.

KING: Right.

ADOLPHUS: This year I've been working very closely with the precincts and they will try to see that they can get this thing flowing, because what happens, people, the spectators waiting, waiting. Here comes one truck and I've gotta wait another two hours for another float to come. So what they do, they take on 51:00the streets and start walking down to try to go and--to meet the float.

KING: I see.

ADOLPHUS: And by doing so, they just create a heavy traffic jam, congestion, that it--that you can't even make out the spectators from, from the costumed float marchers. So I think if, if the Carnival Committee worked very closely with the precincts and with the band, with the, the bands, and tried to get this parade well organized, that when the spectators go out there they can say they have seen it all, I think we would have a very good Carnival and I hope that this year we will see some improvement since we're working closely with the community police.

KING: This is the first time where there's been--Because I know there's been a couple of meetings already.

ADOLPHUS: Yes, but this is the first year now you will have an officer with you, 52:00that will be attached to you.

KING: Oh really?

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, last night he was with us and then he stays down there with us and so he becomes your officer. You know, he's the one who's going to make sure that you make it. You know, that you don't encounter any traffic problems. You know, to make sure your truck is there, to make sure nobody cuts in front of you, you know, so each guy has an officer.

KING: Obviously this is kind of a, a labor of love, and just out of curiosity and maybe to give a range; like how much money really goes into putting together a band and going out there?

ADOLPHUS: For the bands or--

KING: It's not; it's not really much a profit-making venture, is it?

ADOLPHUS: No, it's not. I don't see any profit yet. As a matter of fact, I've been going to my own pocket.

KING: That's what most people tend to see, to say.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, you go to your own pocket.

KING: For instance, like how much does it, you know, people looking at a costume 53:00and selecting a costume, how much would it be to--?

ADOLPHUS: Well, what you do, if you want to bring out three sections, you put up about, you can spend six sections.

KING: Umhm.

ADOLPHUS: You know, and the one that--the first three that sells most so that's the three you go with. And you don't even make the other three.

KING: Umhm.

ADOLPHUS: But firstly, you've got to get paid to get these things designed, you know. And then you have to pay to get them made. You know, but the biggest part is--in funding is to get--to have money up front--

KING: Right, right.

ADOLPHUS: --to get good sponsors. Right now it's very hard to get sponsors. Guinness Stout has been a very good sponsor for bands, because they come through 54:00every year and they try to give all the bands. Unlike the other bottle beer companies, they would just give to the head, the umbrella organizations, instead of giving all the bands, they just give--and that's what's been happening. Most of the contributors to the Carnival gives to the head organization. So, we down here have to fight in trying to get our uniforms' sponsors and things like that and that's been very difficult. So we got to have our fund-raising. Not all the time our fund-raising was successful, just some risk involved in fund-raising. We are still young--this thing, you know, this time of-- just before the celebrations, you have all these big camps that are having a fete. You know, 55:00Friday night they will like big camps like Borokeet and Hawks, and you know they have a big, large membership, so they're able to do good fund-raising. But a small band like Belize and a lot of bands, some of us go bankrupt and we won't even make it to the Parkway. Because with the truck, the generator--

KING: Right, all the equipment.

ADOLPHUS: --the music, material up front, and they usually put five, six, seven, eight, ten thousand dollars at least.

KING: How do people find you, I mean, to become a member, or to join your band. When you're starting out, do you market yourself or--?

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, well I use--there's a--for the Belizeans, yes, I do use--there's a police tape that you can call to get news.

KING: Oh.

56:00

ADOLPHUS: There's a weekly tape. So we're plugged into that tape so they can call. And now we just have, have a program on the air that comes on 105.9. This started about--it must have been a little more than a month. It comes on on Sunday between 3:00 and 4:00. And I was on that radio station, you know and had an interview with them in the station and I had to sell it through the [inaudible]. And I use all the functions, you know, all the dances, I know that the soccer, the soccer matches we hand out fliers. And I did park festivals. There are two park festivals this year. I went to the first one, and we have a booth out there, we hand out fliers, we had models. We also have our own dance. 57:00You know, we had a dance recently where we had a--we honored someone in the community, in this community. And we also show our designs, have our designs on display, and have the models, you know, and so on. That's the way we, we started to get membership. But, I see the Belizeans just see this as just as entertainment.

KING: Hm.

ADOLPHUS: [Laughter] And not trying to get me involved, it's all entertainment.

KING: Ah ha. So this is now getting over that hurdle to really get people involved.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah. I know there's a price to pay, but once we make it over that hurdle, I think it's going to be--it's not going be as difficult as it is now.

KING: When people pick out a costume, do--they pay to pick out, to wear a costume, right?

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, they do.

KING: Do they just pay for the right to wear the costume or do they actually purchase the costume?

ADOLPHUS: They purchase the costume.

KING: Okay. What do most people do with the costumes after this?

58:00

ADOLPHUS: Some of them keep it; some of them use it for other, for other things they might get involved in. Last year we had one or two Belizeans who purchased costumes just to take to Belize to, to take part in a parade down there. Some of them use it in the schools and then they have these shows. We have a girl that's going up--a Belizean that's going up for Miss Caribbean, USA--

KING: Oh.

ADOLPHUS: --and she wants to use the costume as part of her presentation in October.

KING: Oh really.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, so she comes down there. But they do different things with it. Some of them might just--Like just throw it away. But we try to--what we do, we make a certain number of costumes so that the last minute rush, you don't have to go make them, it's already there. But the ones that--the costumes that are 59:00left over on the day of the parade, I'm giving them away. You know, let them have dressing costumes, something to, you know, to help with the Carnival spirit, the band, you know, so sometimes we do this. We have to give them away. You can't--I mean after the day of the parade, there's nothing you can do with it.

KING: Yeah, well-yeah.

ADOLPHUS: So we, you know, just give it away.

KING: Well, we have a small collection of some sketches and we have a couple costumes in our collection, and we're always looking for other things to diversify that. It would be nice to show the different groups that get involved in Carnival. We're also limited for space, but, you know, if you have some sketches or smaller things, that you might--if you're just going to get rid of them, and you'd like to have preserved--

ADOLPHUS: Oh, yeah, bring them to you?

KING: --or kept in the Museum, give me a call.

ADOLPHUS: Oh, sure.

KING: Give me a call.

ADOLPHUS: Sure, sure. But usually I like to invite my other Belizeans abroad and 60:00we'll send them invitations for the Carnival. My father, who is at the time Commissioner of Police in Belize usually comes, you know, to see what I'm doing.

KING: What does he think about it all?

ADOLPHUS: Well he tells me I need to go. [Laughter]

KING: Oh.

ADOLPHUS: You know, because he sees all these other bands going, the Belize band comes and it's so small and sometimes he says: "Well you have to work on it, Jeff." [Laughter] And one year he was up here, he was at a point where the crowd--they come into the street and they form a bottleneck, and when you get there you have to squeeze yourself through, and it breaks up the band.

KING: Oh.

ADOLPHUS: You know, you lose your girls, you don't know where they are, you know, so he was just beyond that point. So that when that truck came up, all he saw was like--you know, he saw us scattered all over, you know. But he usually 61:00comes up and he has fun, you know with all the festivities. I don't know if he's going to come this year, but I don't think so. He has too much at home to do.

KING: Have you gone to any of the other Carnivals in the--?

ADOLPHUS: No. The Boston Carnival is tomorrow.

KING: Is it tomorrow?

ADOLPHUS: Yup and I know Kenny Antoine is taking you know this--they have a--taking one of the buses up there. They have a lot of buses that goes up from here. Almost all the camps, they have excursions and it's for fund-raising too, you know, they go up there--hundreds of buses. You know, but I have not yet attended another Carnival. We were invited to take part in the first king and queen world competition that will be taking place in Trinidad.

KING: In Trinidad, Right, yeah, I heard about that.

ADOLPHUS: But as much as I want say that we will be participating, it's still up 62:00in the air. [Laughter]

KING: Well you have what--it's in the middle of September or the 12th.

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, I think it starts in--the 17th, I think.

KING: The 17th?

ADOLPHUS: Yeah, but Kenny who is a very good person, he says that he will do it and he will play it. You know, I will be back to work. I don't know who I can get to go down.

KING: Umhm.

ADOLPHUS: You know, most of my committee members are working or will be in Belize.

KING: Oh, okay.

ADOLPHUS: Right?

KING: For the celebration in September. That's right, that's right.

ADOLPHUS: Right, you know the--So he says he's going to build a costume and he's going to play it for Belize. You know, so that would be very nice.

KING: What, what do you think Carnival brings to Brooklyn? What kind of 63:00statement is Carnival making?

ADOLPHUS: I think, it--no doubt about it--it brings a lot of money to Brooklyn. It, it--there is something happening here. The Afro-American, because it's a Caribbean thing, the Afro-American feels left out, but yet the Carnival is a Black, a Black cultured, African, historical oriented event. Carnival goes back to Africa, you know.

KING: But you know--just take that in a direction and maybe you can answer this. There are obviously some shared roots, but there are obviously some differences and the presence of other culture groups. Have you noticed the presence of 64:00African Americans involved in Carnival? Is there a band, so to speak?

ADOLPHUS: This is what I'm trying to bring out; is that when the Afro-Americans come to the parade they, they don't see, they don't see themselves there, you know, and it kind of--what I--it kind of says that, tells them that: "Hey, we are Black together, you know, but this is our thing." You know, that's the kind of picture you get out there, you know. So I think what will, will probably have to happen, is that we will have to try to reach the Afro-American community and try to get them to participate in the West Indian Day Caribbean Parade in whatever way, shape or form.

65:00

KING: Do you think that's important?

ADOLPHUS: I think it's very important so that we can, we can be united. Especially--I mean with that area of Crown Heights, you know, where we need the unity, not only with our brothers and sisters, but also with the Jewish community. So we need everybody to get involved. It's not, it's not: This is our thing and you're not invited. I mean I think we should be able to cross over, you know, so that we can have a, a good community, a knitted community. Instead it will, it will bring more of a, an atmosphere of working with each other than division, you know? There's the African Street Festival that takes place at Boys 66:00and Girls High School, four days, and that's being attended by a cross-section of people, you know. The Afro--there's no parade for the Afro-American community. I don't know of any parade in Brooklyn. Something--

KING: There are not. Maybe in New York but not in Brooklyn

ADOLPHUS: You know, I don't know of any taking down on Eastern--on Fifth Avenue between water in Manhattan. I don't know of any. So I think the Afro-Americans would like identify themselves, you know, with the Caribbean parade, you know. They look at us, we're the same people, we're the same features, same color. 67:00That's got to be our parade too.

KING: Do you think Caribbeans--although not that you can speak for everybody, because I know you can't--would be open to that? Because one of the things that strikes me is that there are different cultural values. There are a lot of similar--a lot of similarities, too, but one of the things that strikes me about Brooklyn's Carnival particularly is that my guess is that to succeed or to continue, it's going to have to adapt. Just to take a phrase that you used earlier, you know, "this is ours" or "you can't be involved" if that's the perception that people have. Can that survive in this country, particularly a country that's made of so many different people, and that's the very nature of its essence, you know, can it survive without reaching out to other groups? 68:00Could the West Indian Carnival survive or thrive if it hadn't reached out to people who, you know, aren't Trinidadian? I mean, would it have grown? I don't know. Those are all kinds of issues. Because people seem to have taken it on as their own because they want to be involved and have a vehicle of expression or something.

ADOLPHUS: Well if you, if you look back on the--as I understand, from the beginning of Carnival it was just Trinidadians.

KING: Umhm.

ADOLPHUS: And then as it went through the years you find that more and more Caribbean countries starts getting involved, you know. Like I said, I mean like, I--at the time I came here, Belize--there was no Carnival in Belize, so I had to adapt to get in with the Trinidadians and in so doing, I brought up the Belize band. In the--with the Afro-Americans, I know they have--what they have? The 69:00Mardi Gras in New Orleans? Maybe you can bring your own culture. You don't have to really adapt per se. But you could bring something of your own value, your values and have an entry into the parade to be a part of the whole than to be excluded. Because one of the things that was happening--some of the disruptions of the parade--some six, I don't know, some years ago was said to be caused by the Afro-American young boys, snatching chains and causing chaos and things like that--not that it didn't happen with, with Caribbean youngsters too. But that 70:00was--what that says is that "I'm not a part of and since you're like--I'm not accepted" you know, "I feel rejected, so I'm coming out here to vent hate, you know, my feelings in this way." Because when you're a part of something, I mean you feel, you get involved but you're not a part of something inside and outside looking in, you know, then there're different reactions you get from that. And sometimes it's not a pleasant one. I remember once they started on the Parkway and the crowd started running--somebody was chain snatching and--

KING: Oh really?

[Recording speed changes.]

ADOLPHUS: --things like that and people stopped coming to the parade, because you just go out there and there's an element of people was coming to cause 71:00destruction, you know. And I don't know what I mean but I understand it was done by Afro-Americans. You know, so I think somewhere down the road you have to find some way to get them involved. Like extend an invitation on the Parkway [unintelligible].

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Jeffrey Adolphus

Jeffrey Adolphus (born circa 1952 - ) was born in Belize. He immigrated to Brooklyn after high school in 1971 and formed a band, playing keyboards as a full-time musician. He completed a five-year music program, worked for United Airlines, Wells Fargo, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and finally, the Board of Education. Adolphus was instrumental in getting New York's Belizeans officially involved in the West Indian Carnival parade in 1991 through his organization, the Belizean Carnival and Recreational Association (BECRA).

In the interview, Jeffrey Adolphus discusses his initial impressions of Brooklyn and his early efforts to gain Belizean entry into the West Indian Carnival parade. He contrasts Belizean, New Yorker, and Trinidadian attitudes toward the parade and describes the role of New York and Miami Belizeans in reinvigorating the Carnival tradition in Belize. Adolphus describes his personal connection to the parade and the depth of his commitment with detailed discussions of selecting themes and designing costumes. He describes Belizean culture's melange of ethnic traditions with an only recently popularized musical tradition and emphasizes the parade's importance in promoting and disseminating Belizean culture and identity. Adolphus discusses fundraising, the challenges involved in organizing a parade contingent, and changes he'd like to see; including the importance of reaching out to the general African American community. He feels that the group doesn't necessarily see themselves reflected in the parade, which is a partial cause of resentment and violence. Interview conducted by Dwan Reece King.

The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records include photographs, oral histories (audio and transcripts), publications and research, and ephemeral materials relating to the Carnival and the project itself. The materials were collected and created within the context of a documentation project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1994, which later culminated in an exhibition. Exhibition materials are not included in the collection.

Citation

Adolphus, Jeffrey, Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, August 26, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.02; Brooklyn Historical Society.

People

  • Adolphus, Jeffrey
  • Belizean Carnival and Recreational Association (BECRA)
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Topics

  • African Americans
  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Central Americans
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Immigrants
  • Music
  • Musicians
  • Parades

Places

  • Belize
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)

Transcript

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Finding Aid

West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records