All About Junkanoo Rush
The streets of Nassau awake in the wee hours of Boxing Day and New Year’s Day to the rush of Junkanoo. Intricate costumes parade to intoxicating goombay drumming, accompanied by brass horns, cowbells, and whistles. For onlookers, it’s almost impossible to sit still. Angeliqué McKay, founder of the Junkanoo Commandos, has taken elements of the festival to over thirty-four cities around the world. She shares her passion and thoughts about its future.
How old were you when you began participating in Junkanoo?
I started as a teenager, after I was in college. Prior to that, my mother didn’t think it was appropriate for a young lady to be in Junkanoo. On the other hand, my father Freddy McKay was actively involved and was one of the founders of the Saxon Superstars. I started as a free dancer in the Superstars.
Which Junkanoo group are you affiliated with?
I’m a member of Genesis Warhawks. I chose to join them based on the foundation that they set to be deep in the community, building the people and having a vision which ensures that their community work is bigger than just the parade. Do you make your own costume? I am actively involved in the production of my costume every year, from the early 1990s to now. I help with cutting out the cardboard, wiring it up, and painting it, and I paste my costumes by myself for every parade that I participate in.
How has the festival evolved over the years?
The designs have gotten more creative, detailed, bigger, and more elaborate. More women are participating, too, as it has become more socially acceptable.
How do you feel when you share the Junkanoo experience with the world?
Every time the Junkanoo Commandos perform outside the Bahamas it is just as magical as our performance on Bay Street in Nassau. Whenever we line up in our costumes, magic happens, and we attract people like moths to a flame. One of my most memorable experiences was taking Junkanoo to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial [in Washington, DC] to perform for the fiftieth anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. That put Junkanoo on the largest stage possible, and I was proud. That goes neck-to-neck with the first year my son lined up next to me to perform on Bay Street.
Junkanoo is deep in your soul. Is there anything you’d change about it?
I would extend the two days of Junkanoo parades into a two-week festival, highlighting every aspect of it. I would also split the groups to perform on different days, allowing more people to have an opportunity to view the parade and to be fully submerged.
Discussions about virtual Carnivals are going on around the Caribbean. What are your thoughts about a virtual Junkanoo?
I would jump at the opportunity for virtual Junkanoo at this time. It is nearly impossible for us to gather in the traditional way, because of COVID-19. Junkanoo is a very intimate thing. We are in close contact, and we are touching and talking and laughing, which are all of the risky activities.
If this year’s Junkanoo is cancelled entirely, what would you do?
My heart would be broken. I’d have no idea what to do with myself at Christmas time. Even before I participated in Junkanoo, my daddy had the house looking like a Junkanoo shack. I got to help with little things that I thought were big, but found out they were to really keep me from his costume. I’m wondering if I have to make and eat Christmas dinner this year, and bake cookies: the type of stuff that nonJunkanoos do at Christmas time.