Features/What to SEE/Music/Performance

Mask up for a funky Freo ramble

16 February 2023

All manner of magical things can happen at Fremantle Carnevale. Greg McFerran gets the lowdown from a Mardi Gras veteran.

It’s Junkadelic Brass Band’s 21st birthday and the gang are thrilled to be celebrating it as the headline act at Fremantle Carnevale. 

Creative director and percussionist Ken Allen reckons the Mardi-Gras-inspired carnevale couldn’t suit the band — or the times — better.  

“It goes to the roots of the music that we play, that New Orleans, carnevale street funk, like the Mardi Gras Indians,” Allen explains. “But also, Mardi Gras is a great tradition, whether you think of it as a Christian tradition or even as a pagan tradition. It’s about giving a break to nature.” 

The day’s shenanigans begin with a “masked mystery ramble” through the People’s Republic of Fremantle and end with Junkadelic performing at the Fremantle Fibonacci Centre.  

Junkadelic Brass Band will celebrate 21 years in style. Photo supplied

Formed in February 2002 with the goal of making funky music out of recycled, “junk” percussion, Junkadelic have grown over the years to include a brass section, rowdy vocals, hip-hop flavours and a Latin swing.  

Allen says it’s particularly joyful to be returning to a full-scale carnevale after Covid having either cancelled or severely limited the annual celebration in the last few years.

“We are itching to do it — we‘ve teamed up with the Fremantle Carnevale group on many occasions before COVID hit, doing parades in the streets and gigs and that sort of thing to celebrate,” he says. “The Fremantle Carnevale crew are wild and wacky and they know how to have a good time.” 

Allen often refers to carnevale as Mardi Gras as he chats. Meaning “fat Tuesday” in French, it comes from the Christian ritual of using up all the rich, fatty food in preparation for fasting. Shrove Tuesday is the last day to indulge before Lent, when observers fast for 40 days. Similarly, the word carnival comes from the Latin “carne levare”, meaning “remove meat”, a reference to the abstinence that Christians observe during Lent. 

But hang on, why is the event called Fremantle Carnevale, not Fremantle Carnival? 

As with the adoption of Mardi Gras, it’s another example of how carnivals mould to the places they originate. Carnival is spelt carnevale in Italy, where there is a long history of masked street performances dating back to the Venice Carnevales of the 15th century. The Freo spelling is a nod to the port city’s strong Italian roots.  

Whatever you call them, carnivals are a time for satirical humour and mockery, particularly anything that makes fun of public figures or institutions. “The Freo Carnevale people like to lampoon popular controversial figures as a part of their shenanigans,” says Allen.  

Two people in short skirts wearing headgear and masked make-up dance in front of a colourfully dressed brass band. They are enjoying Fremantle Carnevale.
Get in the spirit of Fremantle Carnevale and break out those costumes. Photo supplied

Considering Fossil Foolery is this year’s theme, he expects more of the same. “Junkadelic has always had a bit of a political-protest kind of a streak to it. We have done lots of environmental marches and the like in our years, so that kind of fits with what we do as well.” 

Donning masks is all part of the occasion but there’s no need to stop at your face. Allen, for one, really gets into the spirit of dressing up. The percussionist can often be found in his backyard creating new costumes for himself and his bandmates that are designed to showcase Junkadelic’s unique, steampunk aesthetic.   

And he’d love anyone who comes along to have a bit of fun dressing up themselves — you might even win a mystery prize for best dressed. “We are encouraging people to go to town on the costumes.” 

To add to the craziness, the Fremantle Carnevale Committee will elect a fossil fool King and Queen to be “married off” in a mock wedding on the day.  

Allen will be performing twice at Carnevale, first in the masked mystery ramble starting at Walyalup Court at 4pm, alongside some friends from Drummers for Climate Action. He will then keep the party going with Junkadelic at the Fremantle Fibonacci Centre. The band will fire up at 6.30pm after PrimaDonna, featuring Italian duo Antonietta D’Elia and Nikki Dagostino and supported by Junkadelic’s own funk guitarist.  

“Expect the whole idea of Mardi Gras to be a big party before Lent,” says Allen. “And whether or not you celebrate or participate in Lent, it is just a good excuse to have a big party anyway.” 

Fremantle Carnevale is on 19 February 2023 

Pictured top: Junkadelic Brass Band love performing during Fremantle Carnevale. Photo supplied

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Author —
Greg McFerran

Greg McFerran is a postgraduate journalism student at Curtin University studying journalism. He completed an undergraduate degree in Electronic Music and Sound Design (Hons) at UWA. As a child, he enjoyed the playground monkey bars the most, mainly because he preferred to walk upon them instead of swinging underneath them — much to his mother’s displeasure.

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