My next fiancée needs to be Trini

Not really. But it wouldn’t hurt if she played pan, likes drinking before sunrise and can throw wine in a bikini made of feathers.  🙂

I am under the assumption that there are a few reading this that are unaware that Carnival in Trinidad is a really big deal. There are probably a few that aren’t aware of the global history of Carnival. Heck, there are probably a few that aren’t aware where Trinidad is even located. This post is meant to be more of a photo journal than a history lesson, so in brief: Trinidad is the most southern of the Caribbean islands, Carnival came about as a result of French settlers –> Catholicism –> freed slaves —> rebel before Lent –> drumming –> and so on, and yes, Carnival in Trinidad is a very big deal!

It is said that the steel drum is the only musical instrument invented in the 20th century. It is therefore quite the source of pride that this piece of ingenuity happened right in the heart of Trinidad. This year represented the 50th anniversary of the national steel drum band competitions which is always held on the Saturday before Carnival. Set on stage in front of thousands at the magically named savannah in the middle of Port of Spain, the program consists of the ten best bands from across Trinidad and Tobago in both the medium and large-sized categories. Bands are given approximately eight minutes to play their version of a locally produced arrangement, before they carry the entire orchestra off-stage (by hand) to allow the next band to set up and have their turn. The competition is much more than just a bunch of pan bands banging on some old oil drums. Each band has costumes, a theme that matches their song of choice, backup dancers, confetti and fireworks. Personally, my favourite theme was to accompany the song ‘Gold’ and prominently featured plenty of javelins. True, Trinidad and Tobago won their second ever Olympic gold medal in the even last summer in London, however the country now acts as if javelin is the nation sport. Canada has ice hockey. Jamaica has the 100 meters. Trinidad has javelin?? The allure of the steel pan is watching it live and when the “medium” bands consist of 64 to 90 drums, the large orchestras are quite a spectacle of music, bouncing and colour.

Panorama

Panorama

Dimanche Gras is the event that is held on the Sunday before Carnival that gets the whole thing going. In a new format on the savannah grandstand, the show is a bit of a ‘Best of’ of all of the Carnival competitions. Cameo performances by the winning steel bands, the Soca Monarchs and the Carnival King and Queen are the highlights. Built around these showcases, a story of Carnival’s origins and progression is weaved through comedy, dance, song and a little bit of everything else. It serves as a great introduction and summary for tourists who may be new to the subject. However, for locals, the departure from the usual parade of costumes was not well received. The concept was well intended, but the execution could have done with a bit more effort. Personally, I do think the new format has a lot of promise and hope they learn to perfect it in a couple of years.

Dimanche Gras

Dimanche Gras

The thing with the Carnival events leading up to the big event is that they tend to occur outside of the daylight hours. Thus, both Panorama and Dimanche Gras do not get started until around eight in the evening and run until about two in the morning. This makes things especially fun on Monday morning. After getting back home from the savannah at three o’clock Monday morning, I woke up to the phone call from my cousin at 3:48. It was time for J’ouvert! J’ouvert comes from the French for “break of day” and is the true beginning of Carnival. Soon after four o’clock, our two vehicles full of family and friends was headed to Couva for the biggest party in this part of the country. J’ouvert is a bit like going to battle, and our “tribe” was ten people strong. It’s an electrifying feeling walking onto the main street when everything is still dark. Everything except for the towers of speakers pumping out the liveliest soca jams and the tents of alcohol. My mind was telling me that this street should be vacant and quiet, but my eyes were showing me people jumping, dancing, stick fighting and cracking whips in old Carnival tradition. This is the happiest riot on the planet! J’ouvert is also known as “dirty mas”, and for good reason. Before the days of elaborate costumes, there was mud! J’ouvert is a show of mud, paint and powder flying from one “feter” to the next. The whole mass comes to a climax at the morning’s darkest hour – just before sunrise. Flags, clouds of powder and hands fill the air while the pavement of the street receives a constant pounding of feet. And if that’s the climax, the denouement is pretty satisfying as well. In unison, the thousands of people get behind trucks belting out more music for a sweaty march down de road.

J'ouvert

J’ouvert

Carnival Tuesday is more of a ‘play’ or ‘watch’ prospect. While getting costumed up and playing proper mas is definitely in my near future, today was for watching. With “bikinis and beads” on display, it’s not a horrible fate. Drinking rum, eating local food and watching elegant costumes wrapped around firm bodies makes for a pretty good day.

Carnival

Carnival

Thus, with my Carnival research complete, the plans for coming back and doing it full on has started. Who comin’?

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