It seemed as though the sun, like the food and music, had been ordered up from the Caribbean. All was good and hot.
In fact, for five hours yesterday, everything combined perfectly to transform the Ellipse into a little bit of the Caribbean as over 15,000 people gathered with coolers and cool clothes for a West Indian-style festival that almost rivaled the real thing.
It was Washington's eight annual Caribbean Summer in the Park Day, specially dedicated to the late reggae singer Bob Marley. With several locally-based Caribbean musical groups featured, as well as Dennis Brown, who -- like Marley -- began singing at an early age in Kingston, Jamaica, it was an all-around success.
"What I can say is that good vibes seem to be spreading all over the Ellipse," said Musindo Mwinyipembe, a filmmaker whose controversial documentary on racism in Britian -- called "Blacks Britannica" -- observed that Caribbean immigrants to America appear to be coping better than those who went to England.
"It's a different experience from those in Britain, who left the Caribbean thinking they were going to the 'Motherland,'" she said.
Started in 1974 as a way for Caribbean immigrants to devote one day to the public promotion of their diverse and colorful culture, the festival has continued to grow as West Indians become more visible in this international city.
In other North American cities and in Europe, Caribbean festivals wander through the streets and participants whoop it up by "playing mask," as the sporting of elaborate costumes is called in the West Indies.
But the Caribbean resident in Washington -- typically a student, teacher or businessman -- is generally regarded by working-class West Indians elsewhere are more restrained and too proud to play mask, making him quite content to party in the confines of a downtown Washington park.
"They seemed to have been able to carve out a space for themselves as an immigrant group in the American context," Mwinyipembe noted. "What we are seeing today is a mearure of their strength as a cohesive element."
"Washington is unique," says John Blake, a Caribbean news editor with radio station WHUR, which broadcast music and interviews from the Ellipse for four hours yesterday. "So the festival has to be unique."
Vendors along the sidewalk served up food from various islands -- and the style ranged from curried and hot ot hot and spicy to spicy and wet.
Among the thousands attending the festival was Mayor Marion Barry, who officially proclaimed July 19 as Caribbean Summer in the Park Day.
When a radio commentator introduced Barry, saying this was his first time at the festival, Barry countered that he had come many times before he was mayor when the festival was held at the city's Malcolm X Park.
"When I was not as visible as I am now," the mayor shucked. "The festival continues to grow and had to move downtown, but the word is out and a lot of us are aware that we have strong connections with the Caribbean. In many instances, the slave traders stopped there before coming here."
The festival is sponsored each year by Caribbean Festivals Inc., a group of Caribbean residents mostly from Guyana who are involved in promoting West Indian musicians and artists in Washington.
The committee almost fell apart several years ago during a debate on whether to leave Malcolm X Park for more sapce downtown. Since the committee was formed during an era of "black solidarity" here some committee members were concerned that if would be a "sellout" to go into "white" downtown.
"We felt that those followers who were serious about what we were trying to do would follow us," said Carlton Joseph, president of the festival committee. "At the same time, we felt we could expose more whites to the culture and there would be more power for everybody."