Women-focused Caribbean Carnival party lets women of colour 'be open, be wild, be free'

As the Carnival begins its 50th year celebrating Caribbean culture, the Baregyal party is meant to prioritize women of colour and ensure their safety.

Baregyal party showcases female DJs and doubles down on safety of attendees

'Essentially what we’ve done is created a safer space' for women - and especially women of colour - to enjoy themselves in, explained Baregyal founder Tika Simone. (Kadeem Ellis)

The concept behind Baregyal events grew out of a simple desire for founder Tika Simone: to throw a party with, as she puts it, "a lot of women."

She had been putting on musical events for years before she hit on the idea of a party that showcased female DJs and made the safety of the women in attendance a priority.

"I wanted it to be a space for women of colour to be open with themselves, to be wild and be free," she told CBC Toronto.  

In celebration of the Caribbean Carnival, which runs from Thursday to Monday, Baregyal returns on Thursday evening with female DJs and MCs, and, of course, plenty of afrobeat and dancehall music. It's happening at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, located at 410 Sherbourne St.

"In Caribbean culture, Baregyal to us means a lot of women. But the term bare could mean free or naked or nude," said Simone, a concept that is fleshed out in the motto of the parties: "be open, be wild, be free."

Making a safer party

The parties are inclusive to men and to the full spectrum of LGBT community.

"No misogyny, no homophobia, no transphobia is allowed," explained Simone. "If you can adhere to those rules, you're more than welcome in our space."

Added features — like signs on bathroom doors that let people know if they've experienced any kind of assault they can go to see the bartenders — ensure that attendees have an escape route if they need one.

Baregyal parties are typically held a few times a year at different venues, said Simone. (Kadeem Ellis)

"A lot of the assaults that happen within the club district normally happen to women and women of colour," said Simone. "Most of these assaults, the sexual violence, they are kind of tucked away."

She said security staff are trained to ensure "they know how to appropriately treat the women of colour and they know to escort out any cis-males that are delivering any form of disrespect to the women within the space."

'Ultimate freedom' in celebration

It's those kind of touches that make Baregyal a party unlike others, said DJ Lissa Monét, one of the performers at Thursday's party.

"We need more of it. For a very long time the club scene has been very male-dominated," she said.

Monét said Baregyal parties scramble the typical club dynamics, in which "women are pretty much used as a lure to get men to come to nightclubs."

'It's an inclusive space, just as long as people adhere to the rules and understand we’re here to celebrate women of colour,' said Simone. (Kadeem Ellis )

Instead, said Simone, "we prioritize the women of colour first," providing jobs for women of colour and celebrating Caribbean heritage in the process.  

"It's beautiful. It's women of colour celebrating, it's ultimate freedom," she said. "You can expect a lot of fun and a lot of sweat."