Begun in 1967 as the Caribbean community's contribution to Canada's centennial celebrations, Caribana has become a major annual summer event in Toronto attracting some one million people. Inspired primarily by Trinidad's annual pre-Lenten Carnival, this two-week festival of the arts reflects the diverse expressive traditions of the Caribbean, bringing together a wide range of indigenous songs and instrumental musics, dances, masquerade and oral traditions, and also featuring various foods and folkways of the region. In the latter 1980s participation by groups from Central and South America, Africa, the Bahamas, Haiti, and Canada has added a dimension of multiculturalism to the festival that is uniquely Canadian.

Festival events include calypso 'tents' (shows), 'jump-ups' (dances), 'fetes' (parties), 'mas' (masquerade) competitions, a junior carnival, 'pan blockos' or 'blockoramas' (steelband street parties), 'talk tents' (shows featuring story tellers, comedians, and others expert in the oral traditions), a series of moonlight cruises on Lake Ontario, and a Caribana picnic on Toronto Island. Although Caribana is the official name for events sponsored by the Caribbean Cultural Committee, other organizations and individuals mount carnival-type events during the Caribana season, eg, the Calypso Association of Canada holds an annual Calypso Monarch of Canada Competition featuring the talents of local calypsonians (calypso performers).

The highlight of the Caribana festival is the Caribana parade, held iniatially on Yonge Street and then, by 1970, on University Avenue. In 1991 it moved to the CNE Grandstand and nearby Lakeshore Boulevard. Scheduled on the first Saturday in August in commemoration of the emancipation of Afro-Trinidadians from slavery in 1834, the parade is a spectacular display of costume, sound and colour that winds its way past dense crowds for several hours. Participants in the parade are organized into masquerade 'bands' (there were over 40 such bands in the 1990 parade) each of which is accompanied by live music bands (usually steel and/or brass, but the use of percussion groups is a more recent development). Each masquerade band expresses a particular theme (be it historical, satirical, political, or fantasy) and is led by a 'king' and 'queen' who appear in the most lavish costumes.

The musical component of the Caribana parade is of utmost importance as it supports a main Caribbean carnival aesthetic - motion. The predominant music to be heard is calypso and its newer form, soca (a neologism from soul and calypso). Other musical forms featured are reggae (from Jamaica), tassa drumming (from the East Indian tradition in Trinidad), cadence (from Haiti and Dominica), zuk (from St Lucia), Latin salsa, and recently American rap and R&B.