Revelers all around the world are singing praise to the year 2023 because it is the official return of Carnival season. And Jamaica is next up with a new band on the scene—GenXS. As the biggest week, from Sunday, April 9 to Monday, April 17, in Jamaica carnival season approaches, the island is heating up with multiple affairs. Some coveted events include Caesar’s Army AM Bush along with the Sunnation Breakfast Party.

Carnival season is a month-long span of revelry on an island, from dusk-to-dawn, that culminates into one huge masquerade parade. The Carnival bands are the houses that provide the carnival costumes and the road march experience, which includes the parties, the routes, jouverts, concerts, food and drinks during the festival period. This is the first year GenXS is debuting at Jamaica Carnival and disrupting the space.

Image: courtesy of GenX. and Gen XS.

GenXS is the sister band to GenX, which is the largest carnival band at Miami Carnival. What many don’t know is that GenX, once known as GenerationX, was actually a Jamaican bread band that traversed to the States and grew its name and reputation over the last 25 years.

For GenXS, Carnival is life. "Carnival is certainly a 365-day experience," says Kibwe McGaan, founding director of GenXS and Carnival Glam Hub (a concierge service for the girls getting ready for the road) as well as director and the chief marketing officer for WiPay Caribbean. His team is preparing for the carnivals in Jamaica, Trinidad, Miami, Barbados and St. Lucia. "We don't want people to think that for us this is just a hobby or a side job. This is a full-time job that gives us that advantage because we eat, breathe and sleep Carnival at this point," he adds.

Having conquered the Miami market—especially during the pandemic when Miami carnival was the only one that took place—the launch of GenXS this year is actually just a return to its roots in Jamaica as a full-stop band. Four of the Miami-based GenX directors of Jamaican origin—Tagyei Belinfante, Mathew Waddell, Marc-Anthony Christian and Ajene Green—partnered with McGaan, Mala Morrison and Kino Johnson to create GenXS in Jamaica. "It's a return to paradise so all of the band's pieces are inspired by famous Jamaican locations,” shares McGaan.

GenXS directors
From left, top row: Tagyei Belinfante and Marc-Anthony Christian. Second row: Ajene Green, Matthew Waddell and Kibwe McGaan of GenXS. Image: courtesy of GenX and GenXS.

“This year just presented a unique opportunity because when we decided to launch literally there was only one band in Jamaica.” McGaan explains. “The one band at the time was Xodus. Xaymaca was dismantled and Bacchanal announced its partnership with Xodus, so we just consider that to be one band.” (YardMas, run by Andrew Bellamy, who was the prior director for the Xayamaca band, is another band that has since launched.) And it's one big happy family: Xodus is partnering with GenXS to put on WiFete, the biggest carnival concert happening on Saturday, April 15, 2023. The show will feature major soca and dancehall acts, including Machel Montano, Nahlia Blackmen, Bunji Garland and Valiant. 

Below, we chatted with McGaan and asked him about GenXS, its collaboration with EBONY and what we should look forward to at Jamaica Carnival this year.

EBONY: For people who don't know GenXS band, please tell us a little about it?

Kibwe McGaan: GenXS is the sister band to GenX in Miami. GenX is a 25-year-old band. It was GenerationX but the team—Tajay, Belafonte, Matthew Wadell, Ajanae Gree, and Mark Christian—took it over about 5 years ago, they wanted to have a distinction so they shortened the name and made it cooler.This is GenXS's first year in Jamaica. For us, it was really about the return to paradise. Four of the Gen X directors are in Miami. They were Jamaicans who went to school there and it's basically like them returning. They partnered with me, Mala Morrison, and Kino Johnson to create GenXS in Jamaica. As I said, it's a return to paradise so all of the band's pieces are inspired by famous Jamaican locations. We have Dunn's River. We have a Blue Lagoon, and we have Negril. All of those inspired a section of the band.

We want people to understand that the GenXS experience is still a very unique experience in the fact that we do recognize the market that we are in, we do recognize we are in Jamaica. We are going to have that infusion of dancehall alongside soca. We are Jamaicans at heart, so we want that energy to come across in our presentation. We don't want people to believe that we are a Miami band coming to Jamaica. We really are Jamaicans at heart. It was a Jamaican group that went to Miami to create a band, and the Jamaicans are just coming home. With that, we probably want to be known as the irie-est carnival in the space. For those foreigners who are coming to Carnival, they can expect a very authentic and true experience jumping with GenXS.

Why was it important to create this brand and debut it at Jamaica Carnival?

It was more than about debuting at Jamaica Carnival, it was about returning to Jamaica with the experience that GenX had in the States. GenX is one of the largest bands in Miami Carnival. The whole idea was to bring that to Jamaica and create a premium experience, something that really focuses on the masqueraders and not just the business of carnival. So we do spend a lot more, and we focus a lot more on the masqueraders in our offerings. I’d like to tell you that it is not about the profit but that would be crazy because we're still a business, but it really isn't. We put a lot of money into the costume design, into the the models, into the presentation and band launch. So it really is a part of the testament and the commitment to the experience and not just to the product. 

Why did this happen now?

I think with any business you always have the thought to expand. I mean anything that is not expanding or evolving is basically dead.

GenX is a part of WiFete the biggest concert in Trinidad. This is where we have Bunji Garland, Machel Montano and Nailah Blackman. Those are the three biggest artists this season with the three biggest songs on the road. So GenX is actually a part of that movement, with myself and WiPay, which handles payment processing across the region.

Earlier last year we partnered with GenX and processed all of the payments behind The Machel and Burna Boy concert In Miami, which GenX was an active part of. From there we followed that movement and did the same thing for the Burna Boy concert in Trinidad. We did the same thing for Machel One Fete in Trinidad. We repeated that in Jamaica, so when the opportunity came for Jamaica Carnival it was a no-brainer.

My involvement with Gen X became a logical partnership as well. So here it is we are with WiFete—which is being held at Sabrina Park in Kingston—and have Machel Montano performing—and it's his first time performing in Jamaica in 8 years with his complete band. We also have Bunji Garland performing with his 16-member band. We have Nailah Blackman and we have Jamaica's biggest dancehall superstar right now which is Valiant. So this is going to be a mega concert Saturday, April 15th, which is a date that not a lot of parties throw because that's the day before Sunday road march. 

We are expecting anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 people. We are adding The Voice and Skinny Fabulous as an act. We are also partnering with Xodus on WiFete to make it the largest Carnival festival ever in Jamaica.

What’s something unique that your team brings to the table that you think may have been lacking in the industry?

Hunger. Bands that have been around for a number of years have become lazy and they start to focus on the business of Carnival. We're pretty young and, for us, we're carnival lovers, we're carnival chasers, and we're focusing on all the things that we found lacking and missing between other bands and other experiences across the region. As I said I am a carnival chaser. I've been to Carnival in 8 different countries. My other partners have been to Carnivals in 12 countries, so we're bringing together the best pieces of Carnival and trying to put that into one space. I want to think that because you are in Jamaica it has that coolness to it. You know that je ne sais quoi that only Jamaicans could bring—that infusion of dancehall, that other vibe, that is maybe absent from other Carnivals across the region.

What can carnival goers expect from playing mas with GenXS this year?

Vibes vibes vibes! That is what we're known for in Miami—we are the vibes-y-est carnival in the space. We have the best-looking costumes, the biggest set of influencers and premium drinks. I want to say because of the likes of WiFete we have the biggest parties leading up to the road march day. Of course, they are aligned with Glam Hub so most of the female band masqueraders are getting makeup done by the same makeup artists that do the big band launches and big band girls. Also, the attention to detail ,like we're pacing on the road, that we're pacing at the lunch-stop is just going to be phenomenal. So that's what masqueraders can expect—a phenomenal experience.

How did the band's partnership with EBONY come about? And why was it important to partner with a Black media corporation in the U.S.?

Carnival has evolved and it has been speaking to a wider audience than just the Caribbean. Earlier last year Machel sold-out Barclays Center in Brooklyn. That's the first time a soca act sold out a major venue in the U.S. by themselves. The Machel and Burna Boy concert in Miami was another testament to soca's power. It was so crazy when we did the post-evaluation of that event because 50% of the people said they came there for Machel; whereas, we thought it may have been for Burna Boy. And then you have Atlanta Carnival you have L.A. Carnival, you have Texas, D.C. and New York. That speaks to soca growing as a genre in itself. Before dancehall was that leading sound coming out of the Caribbean, but soca has certainly crossed those boundaries. This year Vogue featured Trinadad's Carnival. Soca is really is trending.

Ultimately, this is Black culture so I want to feel like this partnership is logical. Black culture is pop culture. Our culture is the most influential culture in the world. When you think about the billionaires involved in pop culture now, from Jay-Z to Rihanna, all of that is Black culture that is being purchased by people globally. So EBONY partnering With GenXS and overseeing soca is just a part of that entire trend. We are trending, we are pop culture, and that is what GenX and GenXS is.