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Calle Ocho Festival: The History of Little Havana's Most Famous Music Celebration

First Posted: Feb 28, 2014 03:38 PM EST
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Daddy Yankee

Photo : Facebook/Daddy Yankee

Next weekend, SW 8th Street in Miami will be overtaken by Latinos of all different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds to celebrate the now-legendary Calle Ocho Festival. With an estimated draw of over two million people, a new King of Calle Ocho will be crowned. In the past, music legends such as Desi Arnaz, Willie Chirino, Gloria Estefan, Oscar D'Leon, and Pitbull have all worn the crown... and this year, Daddy Yankee will wear the crown! 

Little Havana hosts its annual Calle Ocho street festival (part of the overall Carnaval Miami celebration), one of the largest in the world, with over one million visitors attending Calle Ocho alone. It is a free street festival with a Caribbean carnival feel sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana.

Calle Ocho is where different ethnic communities wear colors or flags representing pride in their heritage. Flags from Colombia to Nicaragua to Puerto Rico to Costa Rica and even Ireland flood the streets. Foods from different countries are usually sold, and popular music like reggaeton, salsa, bachata and merengue can be heard through the festival.

In 1977, tensions among Miami's different ethnic groups were running high. Eight Cuban-Americans, mostly from the Kiwanis of Little Havana, were trying to come up with ideas to address the situation. They considered a bicycle race on SW Eighth Street (Calle Ocho). It was turned down because the organizers feared that it would pit one ethnic group against another. Willy Bermello came up with the idea of doing something similar to the block parties and street festivals of Philadelphia. Calle Ocho was born .

The festival takes place between 27th Ave and 4th Ave along Southwest 8th Street. Over 30 stages and hundreds of street vendors participate in the live music street festival now in its 3rd decade. Calle Ocho earned an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records when 119,986 people formed the world's longest conga line on March 13, 1988.

In 2010, the Florida legislature identified the Calle Ocho-Open House 8 festival as the official state festival. 

Over the last 35 years, CARNAVAL MIAMI has made it possible for the members of the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana to accomplish service programs in the community. The club started in 1975 by a small group of high school friends, to grow and become a major service non-profit organization. The network of over 160 members dedicates endless hours to improve the lives of underserved children. Thanks to the corporate support given to Carnaval Miami, the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana continues to give and provide, making Carnaval Miami far more than the hottest street party in the nation! 

On the Telemundo 51 Pep Boys Stage (at SW 23rd Avenue), the following lineup is confirmed: Timbalive, Conjuto Impacto, Melina Almodovar, and Angel y Khriz. 

On the Coca-Cola stage, you can find Leslie Grace, Frankie Negron, and the Celia Cruz All-Stars. Azucar!

On the Mega 94.9 stage, you can check out Elvis Crespo, Tony Dize, and Chino y Nacho.

The Louder Side Stage will incorporate EDM and Rock with their line up that includes Wyld Fly, Urban Rebel, Turn Around Sunshine, and other Magic City artists.  

The Dominican Republic Tourism Board has flown in the legendary Johnny Ventura to grace their stage, while the Simple Mobile Folkloric Stage will feature over 14 folk acts from Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia. Pitbull himself is also sponsoring a stage, called the Mr. 305 United Nations Stage, which will feature his proteges Fito Blanko and Sensato.

And of course, the Power 96 stage will feature Daddy Yankee and Sean Paul.

There's also an art contest for the youngsters! Winn-Dixie/ Bi-Lo and Mondelez are bringing an Art Contest to Calle Ocho! Teens between the ages of 12 and 17 years are being given a chance to compete for the best artist, which will be announced at the Calle Ocho Carnaval. Parents, teens, art instructors, art galleries and talent agencies will be present for the awards ceremony, giving the contest winners exposure and the opportunity to continue to hone their talent. A panel of judges from Winn Dixie, The Kiwanis Club of Little Havana and Mondelez will pick the top three pictures submitted (Sized 8.5" x 11"). All young artists will compete for cash prizes provided by the sponsors. All submissions will be displayed in the Nabisco tent, together to create a mural, in the Winn Dixie Fan Zone during the Calle Ocho! All entries should represent scenes traditional to the spirit of Carnaval Miami, being a multi-cultural celebration of life, colors music and dancing using OREO cookies, CHIPS AHOY! Cookies, SOUR PATCH KIDS or all products. 

Little Havana (Spanish: La Pequeña Habana) is a neighborhood of Miami, Fla., United States. Home to many Cuban immigrant residents, as well as many residents from Central and South America, Little Havana is named after Havana, the capital and largest city in Cuba.

Little Havana is noted as a center of social, cultural, and political activity in Miami. Its festivals, including the Calle Ocho Festival, Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays, the Three Kings Parade and others, have been televised to millions of people every year on different continents. It is also known for its landmarks, including Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street/Tamiami Trail), and its Walk of Fame (for famous artists and Latin personalities, including Celia Cruz, Willy Chirino, and Gloria Estefan), the Cuban Memorial Boulevard, Plaza de la Cubanidad, Domino Park, the Tower Theater, Jose Marti Park, the Firestone/Walgreens Building, St. John Bosco Catholic Church, Municipio de Santiago de Cuba and others. It is undoubtedly the best known neighborhood for Cuban exiles in the world. Little Havana is characterized by a robust street life, excellent restaurants, music and other cultural activities, mom and pop enterprises, political passion, and great warmth amongst its residents.

The Little Havana Merchants Association (LHMA) is an organization of local businesses that promotes responsible growth in the neighborhood. Other key organizations in the neighborhood include the Calle Ocho Chamber of Commerce, Little Havana Changemakers, and Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays, Inc. The co-founder of LHMA publishes Little Havana Guide, a guide (with maps) to the neighborhood and online magazine (in English). Local activists have also published a site called LittleHavanaInc to monitor development in the area. 

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