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Kelvin "Fuzzy" Davis

Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King

September 07, 1994

Call number: 2010.019.12

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KING: This is Dwan Reece King conducting an interview for the West Indian Carnival Project and I'm sitting here with Fuzzy Davis. Today is September 7, 1994. It's a nice pseudo-warm, almost autumn day. So I'm sitting here. Is this your mas camp here? Do you work out of this location?

DAVIS: Yeah. Well, you know, I do work out of this location. Our mas headquarters, as you know, is on 1481 Nostrand, which is the Borokeet headquarters and there is our logo. Borokeet, means mas. I try to stay away from the mas camp, from the distractions of people coming in and out and the distracting me from the work.

KING: Umhm.

DAVIS: So all Borokeet costumes are made there at 675 East 72nd Street. It's 1:00known as mas camp #2.

KING: Okay, okay. I have a whole list of questions I generally ask people, but since Labor Day was just two days ago, let's just talk about how it went, what, what, what your theme was and how you feel about the whole event now that it's over with all the things that have been going on. Have you had time to sit and think about it, reflect on the experience?

DAVIS: I reflected on the experience. I can, can reflect on the experience good and bad. There's two sides of Labor Day this year: the good side and the bad side until the end of the parade. But I will reflect and our theme and go into it if you want to go into it. As you know that it's a hot issue with the postponing, or the attempt to postpone Labor Day by the Jewish community. I'll go--that I will touch last. But basically our theme this year was "Check Mate". The band was consists of the check, the chess game: the pawns, the queens, the 2:00kings, the knights, the bishops and so on. The base of the band: we have black, white and silver. Black, white and gold. The kings and queens were in color--there was blue and silver, orange and green, red and gold, so that's the main kings and queens. The queen costume portrayed a check mate; the end of the game. Because there were pawns and kings in the castle position on her costume, on the draft board signifying the game is over. We had 19-- 18 sections originally due to poor registration, because of the uncertainty of Labor Day, our membership fell off by at least 500 people. We have a band of close to 900 members spread out among 13 sections.

KING: So people were actually worried about this uncertainty about whether 3:00things were going to happen?

DAVIS: Right, exactly. This was our worst registration year. And it took the worst financially also, because our mas camp was not allowed to open during the season because of police harassment. We had, the street--they closed the camp down on one of the street's vendors; that we have no control over. You're not allowed to play music which we had done for the last 25 years. Again, I debated with some politicals, but there's a new administration, so it was reinforced that we weren't able to operate as we were accustomed to operating.

KING: Hm.

DAVIS: Which put a damper on the whole Labor Day. There are bands like Hawks that were not allowed to practice, and these things have caused a problem for Labor Day. But getting back to our band this year. We try to portray, as we 4:00always do good costumes and the theme. I am not sure that the theme was understood. Reason being I was interviewed by a reporter from Channel 11 and I explained to her we are playing "Check Mate" and she couldn't understand why the whole band had black and white and squares.

KING: Really?

DAVIS: Yeah.

KING: It's so obvious to me. I saw it, you know--even just the costumes--the queen, you know, the queen is the most powerful piece in chess and there's--hm, very obvious.

DAVIS: And she didn't understand. I was speaking to her in front of that same thing which I've--Which is my work where I made the costume. And she--"Why is this black and white, why everything is black and white?" It's a check board. So do you look at that costumes and see--do you realize what's up there? Then I say "That's a chess board. It has 64 squares, 32 black, 32 white."

KING: Had she never played chess before?

DAVIS: It appears that way.

KING: Okay.

DAVIS: So you, know, I, I would assume that most of the band was not understood, 5:00you know, "Check Mate" what it is, "Check Mate". Maybe if we had changed the name to "Chess Check Mate" it would have tied it in. At this point I don't know.

KING: It seems so obvious to me. It was even obvious because I--when I was there, you know, people were talking behind me and said "Oh yeah, there's the bishop, there's the pawn. Oh, this is chess--" I find that kind of strange.

DAVIS: Yes, but it happened and, you know, it was a surprise to me on the Parkway, that a reporter asked me that question.

KING: Okay, okay.

DAVIS: But as I said, we had, you know, we had a nice time on the Parkway. Everybody enjoyed themselves, I think I feel proud that the pictures--and the pictures and the idea came alive on the Parkway, that's what it was.

KING: Um hm.

DAVIS: They were well received by the crowd. I hope again, we win people's choice.

6:00

KING: Let's talk a little about some of the problems just so on the record, because a lot of this has been in the news and, you know, even just working on this project for the time that I have been, because I was a little bit surprised to hear that there was still a lot of uncertainty in the community, because when I would talk to members of the aassociation--they talk about the problems and said, you know, come hell or high water, it's going to continue. Carnival is going to happen. So to actually see and talk to people and realize that your numbers dropped off, and that even a new administration, these kinds of issues about the police with this whole quality of life thing that they're enforcing. You know, what kind of affect?

DAVIS: It affected the total, the total atmosphere before Labor Day. Because people were coming around by Borokeet at mas camp, our camp usually opens the 7:00Fourth of July weekend. And we--our camp stays open, a little party and a little music right down until Labor Day, Saturday night. And we were--we were not being not able to open; people feared that there was no Labor Day. And the ones--the biggest bands in Brooklyn, which is Borokeet, followed by Hawks, these camps were not open. That--I guess that sent the message that there was no Labor Day in the talks since January, because I know that letter was written by one of leaders of the Hasidic community for the postponement of Labor Day to Sunday as opposed to Monday. We have been on the Parkway for twenty-seven years and I don't see why it should change. Basically, the Hasidic community has Eastern Parkway between I think it's Brooklyn and Kingston, there's 24-hour police escort and police who are positioned there all year round. And we are being there for just one day. And I, I accept that it is their Rosh Hashanah, I think 8:00it is, their--the Jewish New Year the Monday afternoon, I give them all the respect, and of course we're trying to work together and make it happen as one community; They have, they have chosen to stop our parade and move it to the other day. As a result of that, it was the worst Labor Day we have ever had in this country. It's the first time I have seen police officers in every vehicle on the Parkway. They controlled the Parkway. Take for instance Borokeets, it happened--no sorry, excuse me--it happened to Midas. Midas have two trucks. As they left the Parkway their trucks were divided, they had to stop the music. It happened to Borokeet. They divided our band. They have three trucks and two of these carry entertainment for the members. These trucks were sent in three 9:00different directions. And then these were told to stop the music.

KING: Oh really?

DAVIS: Whoever gave those orders--I spoke to a policeman, a captain there, he was all in white--told me he was just following orders. And you can imagine you have about 800 people with about 30 or 40 big pieces, to walk from Flatbush down to Nostrand without any music, without any, any encouragement to going on. It was a total effort to kill--because I know the Hasidic community has been trying for years to move the Labor Day Parade from Eastern Parkway to the Atlantic Avenue and Empire. I guess with the new administration, they finally got some hold on it. And we as a people, our West Indian community, have to get our political power. We have to stop thinking about Trinidad's or the Islands, 10:00Jamaica as our homeland, and here is our homeland. And stop living as second-class citizens and register to vote and set up the vote, so we can have voting power, no matter who you are. The West Indian community in Brooklyn is one of the biggest communities, in this, in this town--the biggest ethnic groups are the West Indian communities. And why should we live as second-class citizens and subject to this type of humiliation that we've seen.

KING: How do you think you can use Carnival as a way of mobilizing people to get more votes? I mean now that this is all over; you're not going to have the same conflict with Rosh Hashanah next year obviously--

DAVIS: I would hope not.

KING: --but, you know, there's certain things that we've seen that's happened this year that could conceivably happen next year, you know, with the police involvement.

DAVIS: We, we have to start to mobilize--well a sort of vote camp, you know these mas camps, and get our community involved in this. That's what we have to do. There's no other way to overcome the problems that we have. And the hurtful part is that the Labor Day, Brooklyn, in Brooklyn, generates the most funds for 11:00this city, even more than the Marathon that is televised nationally. We bring in more money to the city than any, any event that is in this city in New York. Why should we be second-class?

KING: That's one of the things I was talking--one of the people for the interview--it's so hard to--and I think it's well agreed that the Carnival brings in a lot of money--

DAVIS: Sixteen million.

KING: --but it's so hard to document it and prove it to people, um--

DAVIS: It was proven two years ago by a study made by Donnie Forde.

KING: Oh really?

DAVIS: I have a copy somewhere upstairs.

KING: Oh, you do?

DAVIS: It was proven here, a study was made--and at that point it was--we generated something like five or six million for Labor Day Parade. It was proven already, what funds it generates, the Labor Day. And it's known. It's known, okay?

KING: Umhm.

DAVIS: I understand that this year they stopped all police officers from having leave, having off this weekend just for this parade.

KING: Hm.

DAVIS: We were--people were not allowed to even walk back on Eastern Parkway 12:00from the museum. They were blocked by the police.

KING: I know, I know.

DAVIS: A band, the parade was supposed to be over by 6:00.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: A band was stopped from going on the Parkway at 3:00 in the afternoon.

KING: Oh really?

DAVIS: Yes, it was Moods. It was stopped from running on the Parkway at 3:00.

KING: Hm. I didn't know that. So, from just even entering and getting started?

DAVIS: Getting started. They were not allowed at 3:00 and when you had the--there's three, three hours still to go and they were not allowed to come on the Parkway.

KING: So do you think you want to speak out about this or--?

DAVIS: I would hope to get--I would hope so. I know its the speakers have covered the politicians here, and we intend to start a move to mobilize our people.

KING: So there's definitely some discontent this past year.

DAVIS: Yes, there is discontent throughout, throughout, throughout this Labor Day. It was the worst Labor Day I have seen in 27 years that I have been involved in this holiday.

KING: Really? Hm, that's interesting. Well let's talk a little bit about your 13:00involvement in, in this Carnival here. How did it start? When did it start?

DAVIS: My involvement?

KING: Why did it start?

DAVIS: My involvement in--it's my culture. I started working--

KING: For the record, or for the tape, because I know I've asked you some of these questions. Can you just tell us where you're from?

DAVIS: Okay. I was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1945.

KING: Uh huh.

DAVIS: I was quite fortunate to be a next-door neighbor of one of Trinidad's greatest mas men, Terry Evelyn, who designed Hawk's band this year. And I was under the tutelage of George Bailey, who was known as the Cecil B. De Mille of Trinidad Carnival. I grew up, at the age of 6, 7, started mas. I never stopped. I'm a wire bender, artist, designer, seamstress, I do everything. I'm an all-around mas person. I worked with George Bailey, Albert Bailey, Ivan Bailey, Harris of [unintelligible], the big names in Trinidad Carnival. At that time we 14:00took mas from there to where it is today. I left Trinidad in 1968 after spending six years in trying to build a regiment. I came to New York, to Connecticut where I worked as a plant manager in the vacuum metallizing industry in Connecticut as a manufacturer. In that--I lived there for about twelve years. During that period of time, I came back and forth to New York with the big names, again working in New York with Mervyn Johnson, Morris Stewart, Randy Brewster, and these guys who have built this Carnival, Errol Payne, and Carlos Lezama. My involvement at that point in time--when I first came here we had the--our Mardi Gras was held--I think in the fourth floor inside the Brooklyn Museum.

KING: Inside?

DAVIS: Upstairs. For the dinner, like the dinner and the dance up there. Also we were taking up on the elevator small costumes and so on.

KING: Oh, what year was this about?

DAVIS: That had to be around 1970, 71, somewhere around that year.

15:00

KING: Okay.

DAVIS: And there was not--they did not have the back of the Brooklyn Museum as yet.

KING: Okay, okay.

DAVIS: It evolved over the years to what it is today. When I came here and I was employed by the City of New York where I am a director in charge of emergency repairs. I have a heavy construction background; I do carpentry, houses and so. While here, I started Carnival in Jamaica. I did costumes in Montreal, Toronto, St. Thomas.

KING: Umhm.

DAVIS: I did the--years ago; the first Earth day. I did a band for St. Louis--the Museum, of St. Louis, the museum in St. Louis. The first Earth day they ever had there and I touched an actual rain forest in St. Louis and also ran a workshop in St. Louis under John Nunn. It was about Trinidad Carnival. I did work in Texas, Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore. Just traveling where there's Carnival--

KING: Have you been out [inaudible]?

DAVIS: St. Thomas we played mas. And supplied materials to various groups all over.

16:00

KING: So you do all this on your free time?

DAVIS: On my free time, what little it is--my free time. I work with the city on the sidewalks on--about six--some days: six days a week or so.

KING: So you told me earlier that you commute back and forth from Connecticut here?

DAVIS: I did, I did commute for a period of time until 1980 when I moved to Brooklyn and I brought the first--that was my first year as a band leader. Before I worked just in costumes and assisted Morris Stewart, and Mervyn Johnson and all these guys. In 1980 I brought on the biggest band Brooklyn ever saw at that point in time, eight hundred members for the ex-servicemen association. Being a member of the--they're trying to make a regiment to form the group here, the ex-servicemen association and I brought a band there--the biggest band ever. And I got a second band, Hawaii, and after that I went back with Mervyn and just doing individual characters and so on. I played mas in 1968 with George Bailey--that was my last year. I do go back home and assist the direct--queen, 17:00the band queen or whatever it is. My wife is queen, queen for Borokeet. She is fortunate to be the queen of the band in Baltimore, Miami [unintelligible] showcases they're all--

KING: Oh, my goodness. Yeah, I didn't even see [unintelligible]

DAVIS: --all pertaining to my wife, of course, what I make for my wife.

KING: So, are you heading down to Trinidad in a couple weeks?

DAVIS: No, I, I cannot--she, my wife qualified for the international competition, but the restraints of the job and the closeness of Labor Day too, that I can't make the plan.

KING: It's too much?

DAVIS: I have been on vacation for the last four weeks to produce Borokeet band this year. It would be unfair to go back for three weeks to go to Trinidad for the festival.

KING: So what goes on? I see all these costumes and cases, and you're kind of clearing up and cleaning up, so what do you do these days after--?

[Recording malfunction changes tape speed.]

DAVIS: These, these costumes here--we are going to Baltimore for the weekend. There's a parade in Baltimore 'cause we're doing a band in Baltimore. And these--some of these costumes will be used in Baltimore. People who join up with Hawks and Sesame Flyers in Baltimore on the united front to support our work. We 18:00at Borokeet, we support every Carnival around. It's possible we'll go to Miami. As I said our logo, Borokeet, means mas, and whatever we can do to promote our culture we do. Again I'm quite fortunate to say that myself and a friend of mine from McDonald yard are the founders of bringing Midas International to New York. I am the founder, the starter. I started Midas in Boston under the authority of Steve Derek at that point in time. We got two bands there and the intent again is that we can play mas in Boston and New York, so we formed Midas International and now it spread to Midas International into New Jersey, spread to Toronto, spread to, to California, and--

KING: Explain to me a little bit, it seems like a lot of designers--people have their hands in different bands and participate in a variety of ways, like you--you started out--you started Midas International and you're involved with 19:00Borokeet and how does that whole structure work? There seems to be a lot of inter-relationships.

DAVIS: It's inter-relationships, because we call the majority--the names--let's put it this way, I hate to say the big names, but the names that you hear today on the Parkway as far as mas is concerned, you hear Mervyn Johnson, Terry Evelyn, Morris Stewart, Albert Bailey's here now, we all--Boris Bailey--we all played in the same band at one time. In fact Steve Derek, who is known in the Museum under Midas right now, because he's in the community band and so.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: I taught him as a little kid.

KING: Okay, okay.

DAVIS: Our friendship is very close. Years ago in the old days back home, there was a compet--Don't get me wrong, Carnival was always competitive from bringing big costumes. My queen--I have to beat your queen to win any prize. And that point--those days--years ago you hid from one another. Now not anymore. You all are friends. We try to give it our best shot promoting our culture. And that's what the panel of five or panel of seven who judge the mas and decide who's the 20:00queen, who's the king. We do a costume. We do an idea. It's up to the judges to accept it as far as the, they work at the prize, as queen of the band, king of the band, individually, whatever it is. But the designers, we exchange ideas. We aren't enemies, we're friends. And we are promoting our culture.

KING: Um hm.

DAVIS: That's why you might find I might do; I might do it for Boston. I do it--this year I'm devoting my efforts solely to Borokeet this year. Last year I did Borokeet and I did all the [unintelligible] for band mas for them in Boston. I did some work for Midas' band also.

KING: Okay.

DAVIS: Midas got some of their materials from here. I have materials here. We got them from one another. But you know, we're interrelated as far as the names are concerned. We will not get a mediator. Like on Sesame Flyers--at least when you came in there you saw a guy there. He's the king for Sesame Flyers.

KING: Okay.

DAVIS: So we all can get to know each other. I mean, to tell you--we don't--we each-- our culture is not--when I say that--we're in different, different areas. 21:00I--I'm a wire bender in one area. They might need a wire bender. They might need, you know, we don't use any blueprints when making these costumes and the guy that's employed, that might be an artist, that's an artist or designer who designs something.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: And there's a builder.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: He just does the designs.

KING: He's a designer.

DAVIS: And it comes to the, the wire bender. And the guy who builds it and takes that concept now, and become a structural engineer, in the sense of it, to make it stand. When you have a costume that's fifteen feet high, on a person's back, it has to be balanced. And the intricacies that has to be done in making a costume. And the person who, who pays for this costume--gets someone else to do it--doesn't have that knowledge to build this costume. They might come to me or come to see Jackie or somebody who has that knowledge to get the wire work up.

22:00

KING: So are you telling me that when people pick a costume or they pick from a sketch they necessarily find people to make the costume or--really--oh, individually?

DAVIS: Individually. You might be--in other words you might--let's say the concept of a band, basically that's to start from. I have a soccer team and I have a following of let's say 300 people who support my soccer team and my parties and so. So I want to get involved in Labor Day, I want to bring a band. Okay, so I find the best design, or I find the designer to draw pictures for me. I might have a theme; I might not have a theme, alright?

KING: Um hm.

DAVIS: He does, he does them for me. I take it to--or I get a known costume maker or designer--a costume maker or builder to do this band for me. It doesn't necessarily have to be Fuzzy Davis from New York, I can go to Trinidad and get one of these guys and bring them, bring them from Trinidad here to build this band for me. That guy he brings may be only able to--able to build section 23:00costumes, a section which is about 25, the section costumes. Then you have individuals, which are the big pieces to elaborate on the section. You have a queen, you have a king, and he might not be qualified to do that. So he goes to a qualified person to do it.

KING: Oh, I see that there's so much planning, so much learning and so much coordinating--it's just amazing. I sat there on the Parkway on Monday just looking at everything, you know, going to all the events and enjoying it and just really getting involved in it, but I think all the people who are on the other side, and how much effort and how much time and how much, you know, Carnival really is a labor of love.

DAVIS: Well that's--

KING: But it's no one's job.

DAVIS: Nobody, nobody can pay me for it. For the last three weeks I would sleep two hours every night, two hours. And when I went off work at four o'clock in 24:00the morning and was up at six / seven, making a schedule of what I have to get, materials. And I would do that until about eight / nine o'clock. I'd put down, again, it takes five hours in the course of the day, from seven to nine. From Staten Island, [Interview interrupted.] from Staten Island through Manhattan, I go to Mount Vernon, I go to Long Island, stop in Queens and come back here, acquiring materials for my band.

KING: I'd like to ask you a real simple question--why, why do you do it? Why do you keep doing it?

DAVIS: I love it. I love it. I enjoy the Monday when I can see it. Nobody can pay me. I enjoy the atmosphere which again was gotten by the, the new administration, the pre--prelude to Labor Day, the mingling, the coming here, the laughter, the jokes, the fun we have in making the costumes, to get ready is 25:00part of it. And on Labor Day, I can sit back and look at--at one-thousand five people, having a good time, enjoying themselves. I feel content. But [unintelligible] I have 1,500 contented people enjoying themselves on the Parkway. That's my reward--what I enjoy doing. I can't be paid for it. Nobody can pay me to get their costumes made. Nobody can pay me for that.

KING: Hm.

DAVIS: I was a masquerader. I played mas until 1968 and I have never been in a costume since then. I just build them and get a satisfaction from it.

KING: Do you ever want to play again or you've kind of moved on?

DAVIS: Moved? Some, some years, you see a show. You go to the Museum on a Sunday night and see the kings and you see what--what is happening. You get an urge to 26:00go in a king costume for two days.

[Interview interrupted.]

KING: We're picking up, we were talking about--

DAVIS: --the cost.

KING: --the costs of everything.

DAVIS: We're the only band, because years ago, Labor Day started to want to have the afternoon and the bands were not able to make the entire route. We decided that--you know we have the Parkway at 8:00. We're the only band who has breakfast for our members, at 7:00, every morning. From there we go to the Parkway, straight to the Parkway and we're able to leave early. The humbug there 27:00over the years is that waiting for the politicians, but they normally attend the parade in Manhattan--

KING: Right.

DAVIS: --and then come to us, at the museum. You know, we use maybe four hours on the Parkway waiting for them.

KING: Ah, okay. But even this year, they didn't even have the parade in Manhattan.

DAVIS: No it was canceled, and that's why we, most of the band we were down at the Museum by 2:00, 2:00 or 3:00, we were done for that reason.

KING: Umhm.

DAVIS: And it should tell the parade organizers something.

KING: Hm, yeah, exactly.

DAVIS: It should tell them something. For the majority of the bands to be able to get through this thing--for the majority of bands to be able to pass the reviewing stands. Our costs for each member: We give them breakfast. We give them a t-shirt. We give them a ticket for our party. We have a party in October. They get a ticket for that and there are drinks on the Parkway all day, our 28:00entire band, plus a live band. Our costs--last I--I didn't put any figures together this year but last year our first 500 members paid the live band.

KING: Oh, really

DAVIS: Those 500 registered paid for the live band.

KING: Hm. That's considerable.

DAVIS: Five-hundred and forty. And our registration fee is $40.00. That covers the security and what I just told you. [unintelligible]

KING: Right, right.

DAVIS: --buttons, a big party.

KING: There's a registration fee plus the cost--

DAVIS: Yeah, our total price of the costume is $150.00. We take out $40.00 of that $150.00 for registration.

KING: Oh, oh, oh, okay.

DAVIS: So basically it costs somewhere like in the area of $60.00, $60 bucks, 29:00for the costume. That first $40.00 covers all these--the music, the deejays, the trucks, all that stuff, the drinks, everything.

KING: You're not just paying for costumes you're paying for--an event, you know?

DAVIS: --entertainment--a free party--

KING: Sure, sure.

DAVIS: --in October.

KING: Okay, okay.

DAVIS: Plus they get a button, which is a collector's item, and collect a few buttons, Borokeet buttons also.

KING: Okay. I just want to ask you some particular questions about Labor Day Carnival here. This is the Labor Day Carnival. But, how has Carnival changed over the years in the years that you've been participating?

DAVIS: There are more costume bands, and there's more participation. You know, since I started, you know, bands--a band of what, a band of Borokeet--We have 30:00been on the Parkway for seven years now. And we have built Labor Day to where it is today. Borokeet in those days were a mud band; old mas, but old mas bands and this kind of stuff, I was fortunate to bring Borokeet from that to what it is today; a costume band. In those days a band, the biggest band as I said were Morris Stewart and Mervyn Johnson were first brought in bands of 100, 150, 200 people. There were not much costume bands. The quality of mas was not that-- and I'm quite fortunate to say that the costumes here in New York are on par or better than the costumes in Trinidad.

KING: Really?

DAVIS: Yeah. The reason being that Trinidad has become--Trinidad Carnival has become commercialized.

31:00

KING: Oh.

DAVIS: Whereas Brooklyn has not become commercialized as yet.

KING: In what ways is Brooklyn--how do you consider Brooklyn not commercialized?

DAVIS: Um, most bands in Trinidad are sold out by September.

KING: Okay.

DAVIS: They play in the Wayne Berkeley's, the Peter Minshall's and these bands, which the portrayal is savage in these bands. A body suit--I can remark, you know, I remember the costumes were in a pizza box. A pizza box--

KING: A pizza box, okay.

DAVIS: So just the colored girdle and a bodysuit. You can see these kind of outfit in a pizza box. But there's more to go with it.

KING: Yeah, yeah.

DAVIS: Alright, the volume--Most of the stuff are manufactured.

KING: Oh, so they're not even hand crafted anymore.

DAVIS: Exactly, so it's become commercialized.

KING: Well let's, let's jump--I'd like to use this as a segue to--You say "not 32:00yet". What do you see Brooklyn's Carnival going, what direction? I mean, there's so many directions it can go into.

DAVIS: So many it can go in. I, I see it in a baby stage right now, personally. 27 is a baby stage. It has a lot to grow. The association has to work with the bands to nationalize this festival like the Macy's Day Parade. There's a lot of money in it for everybody. They have to all come out, because--my reason for saying that is that the association cannot sell anything to a sponsor.

KING: Right now or--?

DAVIS: Right now, you know, once it stays this way. They cannot sell anything to 33:00a sponsor. They have nothing to offer a sponsor. But basically behind the Brooklyn Museum and some bands on the Parkway which are stationary. You know, if you want to advertise for national television, your bands have to [inaudible]. The sponsorship of bands out there; a forty-foot flatbed where there are 40-foot banners advertising up for them which has to come from the bands, not the association.

KING: How, how closely do the bands and Association work together actually?

DAVIS: Well in the last two years they started--there are two band luncheons, two festivals done in Boys High and it was successful for the bands, basically trying to work with Lezama and so. I think more could be done because I--the reason I don't know, when you hear Labor Day, you hear Carlos Lezama, you don't 34:00hear anything else. Labor Day is Carlos Lezama. He worked hard to achieve that, don't get me wrong. But it's time for change, because of the involvement. That Lezama is not Labor Day in the sense of Lezama's role doesn't make Labor Day; it's the bands and the people that make Labor Day, so he has to work with us to improve it until Labor Day is [inaudible]

KING: Do you think people would like to be more involved?

DAVIS: Yeah, yeah, they like to be involved. Wherever you go to, Lezama, where you go to.

KING: Um hm. Well that's all people--that's the, that's the person who's out there for everyone else.

DAVIS: Exactly. That's what most of the people that doesn't know Borokeet, doesn't know Hawks, there's no Sesame Flyers. They don't know what's Pan Groove, they don't know who is Mervyn Johnson, they don't know who is Morris Stewart.

KING: I know Mervyn Johnson. He has some stuff in our--our collection.

35:00

DAVIS: Okay, because of that, because of this collection, but I'm saying who outside knows Mervyn Johnson. Nobody knows Fuzzy. And April 26 he'll be making mas costumes out here, alright?

KING: Umhm.

DAVIS: What I'm trying--what I'm trying to say is that people know Carlos Lezama is Labor Day and now you have Joyce Quamina, Lezama and Quamina. But even in association, there's Errol Payne. Everybody in the association that makes Labor Day happen, and nobody knows Errol Payne, [unintelligible] cultural director of the Labor Day Association. Well, who's Errol Payne? And why I'm saying that is he asked my mother for me to play mas in Trinidad.

KING: Oh really.

DAVIS: I have a lot of respect for him. But who knows Errol Payne? He runs the show, he runs the, the mas in the museum, but who knows it?

KING: So how do we get people to know who everyone else is? How do we make 36:00Carnival more visible?

DAVIS: It's up to the association to work with the bands, work with the band leaders, the groups, the various groups and various organizations. And I see in Brooklyn that this doesn't happen. You won't hear about Carlos until next year some time again.

KING: Ah. I see.

DAVIS: It is not until next year.

KING: Not enough of an ongoing relationship--

DAVIS: Ongoing type relationship.

KING: --just when it's needed.

DAVIS: Needed. Now we have--

KING: There's a problem.

DAVIS: --if there's a problem, you need everybody, and you don't hear anything about it again. And eight weeks before Labor Day or ten weeks before Labor Day, they start planning to get involved in it again. They might have one or two meetings with us. That's it. And it just dies.

KING: Do the bands themselves have any kind of organization?

DAVIS: Yeah. We have the biggest organizations. Hawks, Borokeets, we, we years ago last fall we had the joint venture of fundraisers for medical equipment for Trinidad. I work with the involvement with these groups that we take part in. And the Trinidad Tobago Alliance--

37:00

KING: Umhm.

DAVIS: But these groups are out there, but they're on their own, not under the auspices or working with the association of Melendez. And we do, I would say we do a lot of committee work. As Borokeets itself. We sponsor a net ball team. We sponsor a football team.

KING: Right, right.

DAVIS: But nobody in the, the upper level of the--knows about Borokeet. I mean, tell you [unintelligible] where we play mas, Borokeet is a household name. Same as Hawks. The Hawks' household names.

KING: Umhm.

DAVIS: That's about as far as they go.

KING: Um. That's interesting.

DAVIS: Any, any group could command 2,000 people. That's a force right here in in Brooklyn. There's a force.

KING: That's a nice lead into my next question--it's of a lot of these things. A 38:00lot of these things you've answered already just in our discussion so far. What's special about Brooklyn's Carnival? Is there anything special about it? And opposed to what you participated in in Trinidad, opposed to the other Carnivals in the United States or even in Canada?

DAVIS: Brooklyn is it. It's the biggest Carnival Day Parade in North America. It's where people meet people. It's where the guy in Texas who has a group in Carnival in Trinidad, for whatever reason, he can't get the time, whatever, just comes into Brooklyn, sees his friends, sees his mother, sees his old cousin. The guy who's from Jamaica, who's hasn't gone back home in how many years. You see this cousin also; his friend he worked with--it's a meeting place.

KING: Is Brooklyn kind of looked at as the leader of Carnival?

DAVIS: It's the leader--outside of Trinidad.

39:00

KING: Outside of Trinidad? Is there--you expressed the need that the Carnival needs to grow or reach out. I mean there's all kinds of issues, of sponsorship. How do you get sponsorship? More people need to know about the bands. More people need to know about this. Are there different things happening in other Carnivals that there's any possibility of one of them eclipsing Brooklyn's Carnival?

DAVIS: Oh, it's, it's--

KING: --or a different type of organization?

DAVIS: Yeah, there's six in St. Thomas, so I mean St. Lucia, St. Thomas the Carnival week all produce shows on the radio in St. Thomas. It's national.

KING: But it's part of the national culture.

DAVIS: Yes, yes, it's part of the culture.

KING: Which makes it--It's very different being here in this country; because there's so many--we're still trying to figure out what this national culture is, because there's so many different people.

DAVIS: No, it isn't really? We're just as--St. Thomas Carnival is not that old--Jamaica is not that old. And I, I had worked in Jamaica Carnival. I started 40:00for the poor people. Now there are two groups in Jamaica, [unintelligible], the upper levels. There was Steve Derek. And I went and started in Jamaica for the poor, the poor people. And when I got to Jamaica I heard one reggae, "Murder She Wrote." I was astonished. By the time I find Jamaica, I spent two weeks in Jamaica and I heard one reggae show, "Murder She Wrote," and it was soca.

KING: In Jamaica?

DAVIS: In Jamaica. I was skeptical of going to Jamaica, because of the, the violence associated with it, the Rastas and like I hear, I was very skeptical and finally I went to Jamaica. And that's when we did it. That week, maybe for that week, or that time I was there, it was Carnival time, they were there promoting it. You look at the, the, the commercials in Jamaica for Jamaica all 41:00that time; it's "Come to Jamaica Carnival, Carnival in Jamaica." What are we doing here in New York? Nothing, so go to Jamaica. Flights are full. St Thomas the flights are full. St. Croix the flights are full. St. Croix Carnival is somewhere in December/January. I get called early for St. Thomas and perhaps St. Croix Carnival.

KING: Oh.

DAVIS: Miami the same thing. Atlanta just started. The city took it over. Do you know how much money they're making, alright?

KING: The city took it over?

DAVIS: They're sort of part of organizing it and assisting of--there's jerseys, there's mugs for Atlanta Carnival. Toronto is run by, run by the city. How big--how much money--They realize the worth of Carnival. Everybody goes to this Carnival. Boston is involved in it. There are three Carnivals in Boston right now.

KING: Three?

DAVIS: Well there's one Carnival that's on Cambridge.

KING: Uh huh.

DAVIS: In Boston.

42:00

KING: So why do you think is it that people don't recognize Carnival here?

DAVIS: Because as I said earlier, you're not politically active.

KING: Because the community is not politically active.

DAVIS: --not politically active. If you were, what happened here would never happen. It would never happen. And, you know, the advancement of Brooklyn Carnival over the years came about by we taking the officials--Police Department and City Hall--to Trinidad to see what it's like. To see what Trinidad's Carnival. It's not violent. You don't have violence in Carnival. You would have an occasional scuffle. So you have a good time. That's what it's all about. And they couldn't understand how so much people could be the same area and have a 43:00good time without any problems.

KING: I don't think that concept gets across. I even don't think a lot of people still who even go to Carnival are--people have said this to me--they don't necessarily understand what it's all about or maybe there's that last level of skepticism. You know, "What have they done? They're just a crowd of folks getting together and whatever. This can't be that important. What is this all about?"

DAVIS: The whole Carnival started when they freed--after the emancipation of the slaves. Trying to figure a way out. Carnival is Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

KING: Umhm.

DAVIS: That is where the original Carnival originated from. And we started the steel bands, okay? It's all over now. Each country has its festival. Carnival falls, Labor Day falls--which I think it's Jamaican and Trinidad independence. 44:00From the same time we got independence from the British. And so you see that was Labor Day. Trinidadian Labor Day is August 31st. There's a big bash in Trinidad. They follow the same number of days. At that point the West Indian Federation broke up, Jamaica got their independence and then Trinidad got their independence, around the same time.

KING: Uh huh.

DAVIS: And up here, Labor Day started around the same time. And it's that mood a band needs. They have Nottingham in England.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: That finally patterned their Carnival from Trinidad. And their band leads from Fulton Street and parades to a point, get judged and go back, to where they belong. Labor Day in Nottingham is just like Trinidad.

KING: Well I definitely just--you know, immersing myself in this project this 45:00year. I really want to go to Trinidad this year just to see, just to see. I mean I was just absorbed, you know, I was listening to people, I was just absorbing it all and, and I'd love to compare now.

DAVIS: You know that Trinidad has at least 200 bands. Mas bands, the big name bands-- like Raoul Garib, Peter Minshall, Wayne Berkeley--they're bands are sold out in September for the parade in February. Sold out. No more costumes.

KING: Wow. When do you start thinking about a new theme?

DAVIS: I already think about it. I already started four weeks ago, or five weeks. Just feel after this year, I'm going wild.

KING: Are you?

DAVIS: A wild band next year.

KING: Okay.

DAVIS: Indian, African, Aborigines, South Pacific; that is wild. I feel that is 46:00what we need to revamp.

KING: Shake things up since there's--

DAVIS: [unintelligible] my work with Borokeet.

KING: Well you've, you've basically addressed everything that I wanted to ask. Do you have anything else that you want to say and have on the record or a perspective you want jotted down for immortality?

DAVIS: I, I would like to see Brooklyn Carnival be accepted nationally. Labor Day, which is for our Labor Day, accepted nationally, without the restrictions. There's no fear. We enjoy ourselves. I would like to see, there's a particular point in--on the Parkway, wherever it is that the bands leave from their mas camps go to that point, be judged, and go back and enjoy themselves. That's it. 47:00Okay? The--like in Trinidad, there's routes where you can pass, you know you participate; you can stop and look at the bands. It, it tends not to restrict the passage, by, by--to have that, you open up the marketplace for the small vendors, the small stores that way when a particular band passes by, they're able to sell some beer, sell some soda, sell some--everybody gets a piece of the action in a sense.

KING: Yeah, I think there's a woman behind--there was a woman I talked to, she was saying it's very different from Trinidad. Why are there barricades here? This would never have happened--

DAVIS: Never, no doubt.

KING: --in Trinidad.

DAVIS: There's no barricade.

KING: You know, you'd be able to just flow and people would deal with it. But I guess it's part of American culture--

DAVIS: Yeah, it's American culture, you have to put barricades--

48:00

KING: --right now there's a cynicism, a fear--

DAVIS: --a parade is supposed to be marching in the street.

KING: --crowd control--

DAVIS: No crowd control. People who come to, to, to see mas, know what mas is about. They know what a parade is about--know what's in a parade. There's no restrictions. A band can leave…

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Kelvin "Fuzzy" Davis

Kelvin "Fuzzy" Davis was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1945. He immigrated to Connecticut in 1968, then Brooklyn in 1980 where he is employed by the City of New York as a director in charge of emergency repairs. Davis is an influential costume designer and builder for Brooklyn's Carnival, and involved in the founding of the large costume bands, Borokeet and Midas International. At the 2008 Carnival, he participated with the band Pieces of a Dream. In 2010, he was recorded as a panelist and interviewed as an artist for the Black Brooklyn Renaissance Digital Archive.

In the interview, Davis describes the theme of his band (Borokeet) and assesses the parade, or Carnival, in Brooklyn. He describes the serious negative effects of policing and the conflict with the Hasidim on the most recent parade of 1994. Davis makes an appeal for the Caribbean community to coalesce and seize political power, especially in light of the economic benefits to the borough. He recounts the history of his involvement with Carnival and his personal connection and training with high profile designers and organizers. He describes collaborative efforts of modern designers and the process of a band realizing the production of its theme. He describes his commitment and love for Carnival and some of the logistics and costs involved. Davis describes changes in Carnival and the commercialization of Trinidad's Carnival. He appeals for greater future collaboration between bands and the West Indian American Day Carnival Association. Davis compares Brooklyn's Carnival with others and regrets its lack of recognition. He ends with a call for national acceptance of the Brooklyn Carnival. 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

Davis, Kelvin "Fuzzy", Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, September 07, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.12; Brooklyn Historical Society.

People

  • Davis, Kelvin "Fuzzy"
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
  • West Indian-American Day Carnival Association

Topics

  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Costume designers
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Immigrants
  • Jews
  • Multiculturalism
  • Parades
  • Police

Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Trinidad

Transcript

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Finding Aid

West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records