By Marshelle Haseley
Carnival in Trinidad contains more than meets the eyes beyond its shores. Entertainment and a lift in the spirit, through music and culture, can be found from the stage of Queens Hall to pan yards- to the “stages of stages”, at the Queens Park Savannah and the Socadrome in the capital, Port of Spain. The people of Trinidad have a touch of magic and at Carnival time, travellers from all walks of life who grace its shores experience it. Whether you are a seekers of deep reflection or lover of Soca music, good vibrations, under or above the influence of mixes and potions while covered in water, mud, paint or sweat… you can find what you seek in the land of steel pans.
For anyone planning to visit for Carnival 2019, there is so much to witness and bask. And for those who aren’t planning to visit T&T for Carnival 2019- I’d advise you to add it to your bucket list. The experience is pure bliss. Two days of adrenaline rush at the end of a season of pure cultural splendour. Here are a few experiences which make the carnival season not only one of the most exciting and high energy periods known to man – but also reflective and culturally enriching. Note, this may mean arriving more than 4 days before Carnival Monday. An official calendar is released at the start of each season to help in the decision-making process.
Attend a Cultural Theatrical Performance
If you value the arts and have a great appreciation for Caribbean culture, it would be of great value to attend a live show or theatrical performance. The show I saw, was SocaLypso. Performed by the Signal Hill Alumni Choir, on the stage and under the magnificent lights of Queen’s Hall, I experienced one of T&T’s finest cultural exports. SocaLypso married- Soca and Calypso. To say the mashups were absolutely enthralling would be an understatement. The performance told a captivating story of the nation’s journey- giving great food for thought while educating and entertaining an audience of all ages and walks of life.
Visit Pan Yards
A powerful medium for transmitting the powerful vibrations of T&T’s soul is through Pan. Pan Music and the cultural practices surrounding Pan are like ‘vibranium to Wakanda’, sewn into the fabric of the nation. A Pan Yard is essentially where the Pan Band practices- which is where patrons are welcome to partake of their gift of talent. Those who seek to have their hearts soothed by the melodies emitting from the last instrument created in the twentieth century- (an indigenous pride of T&T)- move in droves from point to point with excitement and anticipation. I was fortunate to have experienced the lead up to the semi-finals for the large bands, and it was unlike anything I had experienced. Going from pan yard to pan yard was like a Caribbean Musical equivalent of an all you can eat buffet. The finals for Pan are generally in the week before Monday Mas (masquerade) at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
Interesting Fact: Pan bands emerged from the imagination of inner city youth from Port of Spain. They created a space for them to rival through music instead of violence. What was once seen as the music of layabout gangsters has become the sound of a nation’s soul.
Attend Traditional Mas
The roadway of Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook, was closed off for the traditional characters of T&T Carnival to come forth in full display- Moko Jumbies, Dame Lorraine, Midnight Robber, Blue Devils – to name a few. All costumes were designed and created by local artisans from all over the island. One Moko Jumbie player I met stated that he was waiting for about four hours for one of his fellow stilt walkers. Partaking in this cultural showcase in Woodbrook with a wide cross-section of Trinidadians would be especially beneficial to your full Trinidad Carnival cultural experience.
Interesting Fact: Dame Lorraine, a costume mimicking a sophisticated French woman was traditionally played by 18th and 19th Century Planters. Today it is still played by men.
Go to J’ouvert – Most of us from the Caribbean would have a concept of J’ouvert (French for Day Open/ Morning). Trinidad is the home of J’ouvert- an electric event that begins some hours before dawn and gets into full gear after the sun rises. The Sunday night/ Monday morning J’ouvert before heading home to shower, just before heading back out to Monday Mas, was amazing. Chanting, chipping, jumping and wining through the streets of Port of Spain- covered in paint, then water, then more paint, or mud, or powder is one of the most liberating things you will ever experience!
Interesting Fact: J’ouvert came about because that time was given to the lower classes to have ‘their own’ Carnival before the costumed masqueraders would flood the streets for Carnival on Monday. Carnival festivities were initially confined to the upper class.
Experience the bliss of Mas
Mas, Masquerade or Carnival Monday and Tuesday were both epic! The heat of the sun is almost like an additional source of energy, as an ocean of energy-charged participants move ecstatically through the streets of Port of Spain. Powerful Soca Music blasted and synergised our movements and rhythms. This experience takes the party experience to another level literally out of this world. It’s like a literal stage that creates an opportunity for everyone to present their best self. Everyone looked so captivated by the experience and comfortable in their own skin! With love beaming on every face, this festivity is undoubtedly a celebration of life, where people freely smile, hug, dance and take random selfies with even total strangers. It exemplifies the bliss that comes through unity, beyond the barriers that citizens of life build between each other for most of a calendar year.
Trinidad Carnival is so much more than a two-day shoot of awesomeness complemented by, dancing and chipping through the streets. It is a complete collection of events that paint a picture of a culture- one tree with many roots. The Carnival season lifts the spirit of a nation and pays homage to those who made profound contributions to the people- all while chronicling the journey of a nation from era to era. It reminds us of how intrinsically similar our distant relatives scattered throughout the Caribbean are, as well as how much we do have in common with our fellow citizens of this wonderful and beautiful planet & home!