Mardi Gras Carnaval in Honolulu’s Chinatown is always a bacchanal, with dancing, music, processions, and vendors selling Mardi Gras-related paraphernalia, food, beer and cocktails out on the street.
But if the arts and traditions of Carnaval season appeal to you, along with the idea of indulgence before the restrictions of Lent, organizers for the annual Mardi Gras Carnaval would like you to know that they honor and encourage Carnaval’s cultural expressions, too, with family-friendly activities.
Out for the beads, a New Orleans tradition, or the scantily clad dancers, as championed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and London’s Notting Hill district? Mardi Gras Carnaval has got you. Have no fear, beaded bikinis will be seen by the score.
Want to hear some music and grab some grinds while enjoying traditions of the Caribbean islands, Central and South America, along with some of the mystery of the Carnival procession of Venice? The event has that, too. At the inaugural Mardi Gras Ball leading up to Carnaval this year, elaborate masked costumes for both men and women were evident.
MARDI GRAS Carnaval is more sedate earlier in the evening, notes event volunteer Leon Watson, a geography professor who lived in Latin America since childhood, and speaks both Spanish and Portuguese.
Watson has been working to put the word out to Oahu’s residents from any culture that celebrates Carnaval: Come early and join in a "kanikapila, international style," at the corner of Nuuanu Avenue and Hotel Street.
"Come! Be welcome, wear white and accessorize in your country’s colors, bring some music and join in," Watson said, warmly.
He mentioned the island’s natives of Colombia, Haiti and Tahiti as examples of communities who celebrate Carnaval in a culturally specific way. All are invited to participate.
"Carnaval is a family-fun and cultural event in many parts of the world," he noted. "Even Brazilian-style Carnaval is not always the craziness you hear about. It includes families. … You have music and you dance around."
AS THE NIGHT goes on, the Carnaval fever builds. Participants join in the dancing and follow the parade; beads are exchanged; new friends are made.
Just as with Halloween, plenty of Honolulu residents get excited about the idea of taking on a persona for the evening, in costume and mask.
Carnaval producer Mark Tarone says creativity is key to the event’s success.
This year, Tarone invited a group of Honolulu residents to form the city’s first krewe — Krewe of Da Kine — with the idea that this would spark the creation of new, community-organized floats for the event.
In New Orleans, multiple krewes plan (and party, often with fundraisers) all year to present their elaborate floats during Mardi Gras season parades. Tarone thinks this could happen here, too.
"What makes me most excited on Mardi Gras day? When I’m walking down the street, seeing the Mardi Gras float designers showcase their creativity and spirit," he said.
"Every one of the float designers has a burning desire to make people’s eyes light up and make them feel good," he said.
"I love seeing the spirit that all of these artists bring, and I love having an opportunity to showcase them and establish a place for them and the community to connect.
"It’s not corporate. It’s authentic: the costumes, the dance, the music, the food — and then you see how diverse the audience is, all ages and all backgrounds.
"Half the people who come down are over the age of 35," Tarone pointed out. He knows this because his production company, T-Rx Entertainment, surveys attendance at the events.
"It’s not just this beer-bust party," Tarone said. "People get excited about participating."
MARDI GRAS CARNAVAL
Where: Nuuanu Avenue between Chaplain Lane and King Street; Pauahi and Hotel streets adjacent to Nuuanu Avenue
When: 6-10 p.m. Tuesday
Cost: Free; $10 wristbands for access to the Carnaval Club Crawl, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.; $3 wristbands required to purchase alcohol during the street festival
WHAT’S IN STORE AT MARDI GRAS
» Food: Brazilian, Cajun, Cuban, South American, Southern, soul food, Vietnamese …
» Floats: Activ8 Hawaii’s live drums, horns and dancers, directed by Jerome James; a "Carnival Heritage" float with music of Jamaica and the Caribbean; "Down the Rabbit Hole," a fantasy theme with Cherry Blossom Cabaret; "Neon Dreams," with colorful dancers directed by Lola Love; "Ra the Light Marcher," with a light show and EDM; "Tropicalia Brazilian Experience" with Maynard G, DJ Mr. Nick and DJ Zilla, and parading dancers of Timbaloha Batucada and Samba Brazil.
» Samba parades and second lines, moving between The Arts at Marks Garage and King Street (International Stage).
» Music, dance and performance (including a drag show) on three stages: the New Orleans Gumbo Stage, Rio Sambadrome Stage and Cajun Stage.
» Arts and crafts, including masks, beads and costume accessories at Tea at 1024, 1024 Nuuanu Ave., and Studio of Roy Venters, 1160 Nuuanu Ave., and face and body painting by Fantasy Faces (pop-up).
» Carnaval Club Crawl (wristband required, $10), with Bar 35, Downbeat Diner, the Fix, Fresh Cafe Downtown, Loading Zone Arts, Manifest, Nextdoor and Ong King Art Center.