No idle boast, the variety offered by the Carnival season satisfies all tastes, from soul-soothing steelpan to heart-thumping rave and everything in-between.
Come Wednesday 14th February, while the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, T&T will be in a different type of rapture, buoyed by the love of another completed Carnival season, where an impossible number of events were crammed into a 6-week period.
The Carnival season is like a pot of food bubbling over: slowly coming to the boil then impossible to contain because the heat cannot be turned down; it’s welcomed by everyone, after getting a whiff of the sweetness that reaches everywhere. There is no mere sample tasting, it must be wholly digested, the nature of it will not allow for anything else. When Ash Wednesday arrives, the nation once again has been imbued with the vibes that carries it through the coming year and beyond.
The first fêtes take place on the 1st January; there is no sense waiting, the bacchanal has begun! Elaborate stages with lasers and light shows exist alongside casual cooler fêtes. Both are driven by thumping soca music, as wild performances (by both the artistes and the fans) reflect the boundless energy, across a myriad of venues. Boat fêtes that take place day or night, fêtes upon a hilltop with views of the island, fêtes near the waterfront with views of the horizon. Fête lovers can be glammed up or bareback, dependent on the occasion. The former is an all-inclusive affair where luxury is on par with the best red-carpet events in the world. The latter is a rave powered by water cannons, colourful powder and paint, that blows apart any notion of a global music festival. Unique and outstanding, it must be experienced to be believed.
The bands have been practising long before the season began, the considerable task of getting numerous musicians to play in unison resulting in the sweetest sounding orchestra. As ever, steelpan maintains its pivotal role for the season and the pan yards attract their faithful and the curious. The pan yard lime is almost a daily occurrence, sipping a cold drink while taking in the tunes. It revs up on judging night – the coveted ticket to the Panorama semi-finals (28th January) – before the clash of steel on Carnival Saturday that is the Panorama finals. Smaller battles take place at the Iron Park event (19th January), where bands ‘answer’ each other’s songs, as well as the traditional Neville Jules Bomb Competition on Carnival Monday.
Music is everywhere, some songs become instant favourites, others surprisingly grow on you, by the end all of them are making you move. Soca, calypso, chutney and extempo do not compete against each other - this being Carnival - they complement one another. However, winners must still be crowned, with the Extempo final on 8th February, the Chutney Soca final on 9th February, followed by the Calypso Monarch final two days later, all at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
Carnival Friday’s early morning reenactment of the Canboulay Riots provides the reminder of the hurdles that were overcome for today’s festivity to exist. Later, Port of Spain’s Ole Mas celebrates the folklore of the nation. Everything builds towards the masquerade, in all its varieties.
Kiddies Carnival (ttrcs.org/kiddies-carnival) reinforces that this is indeed a season for all ages, with their revelry and abandon, a precursor of what’s to come. The splendour of the Kings and Queens final is Carnival’s fashion show with a story. Elaborate designs, some defying gravity, take centre stage, for this is the most creative aspect of the season.
Carnival Sunday https://ncctt.org
After the monarchs are crowned and the glitz subsides, it is time to take to the streets, beginning with Jouvert. The madcap and the macabre meet in the darkness of a pre-dawn Carnival Monday. There are characters everywhere, showcasing local and international topical issues, or traditional characters such as Dame Lorraine and the Jab Jab Devils. Mud, paint and cocoa offer further disguise as well as liberation; Jouvert is the great release.
A few hours later, the opposite occurs. The sun hits the sequins and glitter, enhancing the kaleidoscope of colours that have already come alive from the masquerader that it adorns. For countless hours and into the next day, the movement will not stop. Mas has taken over the nation, a moving juggernaut of controlled mayhem powered by an unseen force derived from the Trinbagonian culture. Unexplainable and totally enjoyable at the same time.