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Exploring Oakland’s Mardi Gras celebration

on February 19, 2015

A crowd gathers next to City Hall, but instead of walking into the city council meeting, they continue straight, their ears guiding them towards the thunderous sound of drumming and trumpets. Finally they arrive at the source of the commotion: A crowd of a 100 people swaying in front of Awaken Café to New Orleans-inspired rhythms.

It is Mardi Gras. Brought over in the late 17th Century by the French, Mardi Gras is the last day before Lent starts, a religious observance among Christians and Catholics who abstain from eating certain foods, or give up a worldly pleasure or bad habit, for the 40 days before Easter. It is celebrated in parts of the world with large Roman Catholic populations, like Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and Italy, but it is called different names, like Fat Tuesday or Carnivale. Here in the United States, it has evolved into a cultural phenomenon with the biggest celebration happening in New Orleans, and smaller ones in cities like Oakland, where a parade slowly danced its way through the downtown, monopolizing the streets with music and joy.

“Do you want some beads?” a young woman asks her neighbor, gifting her with an array of colorful Mardi Gras beads. Animal and Venetians mask hide the identities of most of those enjoying the atmosphere. Two women on stilts glide past the crowd. Some parade goers listen to the beat of the drums, their masters furiously thumping away, their eyes glued to their conductor’s motions.

After the parade passed, the crowd continued on to a show at The New Parish to continue the night’s festivities, with the slogan “Laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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