Canadian Keyanna Bell, traces her roots to Grenada and was the Face of the Festival for Toronto’s Caribana carnival this year.

Keyanna Bell calls for the preservation of Carnival culture and origin story

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Canadian Keyanna Bell, traces her roots to Grenada and was the Face of the Festival for Toronto’s Caribana carnival this year. She spoke with conviction about the traditional event which according to her has a deep history and significance which should not be diluted.

She firmly believes that playing mas is a living breathing ritual of resilience and resistance which is a reflection of the spirits of her ancestors. She also believes that it is a spiritual experience like no other, which serves a special purpose for her and many like her.

Keyanna said that she was on a constant journey of discovery when it comes to learning about the origins of Carnival, “It’s kind of like reconnecting to my ancestors and where we come from,” Bell said in an interview.

“It’s a celebration of our triumph over oppression. I think sometimes what happens is people get so caught up in the beautiful costumes and the music, which is all part of the Carnival ecosystem, but that we don’t actually acknowledge why we’re there and why we’re doing it. We were not always free to be able to have these celebrations,” she added.

As a professional, Keyanna Bell is a digital marketing specialist but she also became the face of this year’s Caribana after submitting an application to earn the title.

The video she made as a part of her pitch, garnered the attention and praise of Trinidadian storyteller Dr. Rita Cox who has played a significant role in promoting Carnival masquerading in Toronto for the past 56 years.

Even though mas has grown in popularity due to its successful marketing to foreigners who wish to indulge in the culture and freedom the event provides, vanguards of the culture have questioned whether the festival is being watered down in the process.

Keyanna though, is doing her part, by also launching a podcast called ‘In We Blood’. Through this effort she wished to “reignite an appreciation for Caribbean traditions and culture throughout the diaspora.”

“I’ve been able to have conversations with different people who were able to tell me about, you know, the history of Carnival and like the different nuances and things like that,” she said, highlighting the importance of preserving this cultural heritage.

“You know, that’s kind of one of the painful things for me personally, because, like I even see it with my younger siblings. We have very rich and powerful traditions. And if we’re not intentional about passing the information down or having conversations and sharing and learning together, then we lose the real reason why we come together and celebrate. We lose all these things like we see our Creoles and a lot of our languages get lost…I don’t want to see the same thing happened with our Carnival.”

Keyanna believes it should not be left to luck or chance.

“Like I said in the first episode of my podcast, it’s not hard to lose, you know what I mean? Like two, three generations and nobody knows what’s going on. It doesn’t take that much time for us to lose. The essence and the spirit of Carnival,” Bell posits.

When asked about the fact that commercializing the carnival is important in keeping the tradition alive, she countered by saying “I think the biggest thing is always going to be education, right?”

“So if we’re being intentional about the way that we are promoting and highlighting and discussing our carnival, people are going to address it and see it in a certain light. If we’re only showing Carnival in a certain light, people are going to think that’s all that it is.”

“I would say just start to research. See what you can find. I think the biggest thing for me when it comes to my research is even knowing where to look, that’s something that I struggle with too, because it’s like, how do I know what information is right?” Bell acknowledges while underscoring the role of Caribbean media in this regard.

Keyanna also spoke highly of the Spicemas Press Tour, organized by publicist Tenille Clarke, founder of Industry360, in collaboration with the Grenada Tourism Authority.

“I think they actually did a really fantastic job. Highlighting like the culture and the nuances and the reasons why we play Jab and all these different things that people might not have even known, especially in the diaspora,” she said with admiration.

“I kind of just grew up, you know, seeing mas in Grenada and experiencing that with my grandmother watching on the sidelines. So it never really hit me emotionally. But I can understand, you know, as people come to Grenada and they learn about what’s really going on…it is a completely different experience of Carnival. I pray that (Spicemas) will never be you know, hyper-commercialized,” she stated, acknowledging the authenticity of Grenada’s Carnival experience.

“Our biggest celebration is J’ouvert, and it’s not a pretty thing. It’s very raw. I can’t see that aspect of it becoming hyper-commercialized.”