Festivals – Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival is
not just one festival, but a series of festivities sandwiched between
Christmas and Ash Wednesday. It culminates in a two-day street
parade, where costumed masqueraders party to the sounds of sweet soca
and calypso music along the various parade routes on Carnival Monday and
Tuesday, the two days that precede Ash Wednesday. The duration
of the Carnival season varies because Ash Wednesday signals the
beginning of the 40-day Christian Lenten period of reflection that ends
with the Christian feast of Easter. Carnival is usually six to
ten weeks long, during which time this twin-island country is buzzing
with activity including the play-offs of the premier Pan (steelband),
Calypso and Mas competitions of the world.
Trinidad & Tobago created these
unique art forms out of the confluence of cultures - European, African,
Indian, Asian - assembled here in the centuries since Columbus. The
songs of the slaves and their oral news network are now pithy calypsoes
of social commentary and fast-paced rhythmic soca, the music and poetry
of the festival.
The masked balls of the European masters
have exploded onto the streets, with costume and mime - look for devils,
demons, midnight robbers, bats and moko jumbies - and dancing parties,
thousands strong, reveling in liberating loud music and license to
cavort in the heart of Port of Spain’s business district. It is this
transformation wrought by costume and music that has been called simply
Mas, and used to refer to children, adults, individually or in bands,
costumed for street or stage parades.
It was also out of attempts to suppress the
drum that the steelband eventually emerged. Now simply called pan, it
is the only musical instrument invented in the last
The season’s schedule starts with the
opening of the calypso tents. Calypsonians in T&T will present
the songs that will move from Trinidad to all the other carnivals for
the year. This is where the hits are made. This is where musicians from
other islands and territories come for approval. Listen for the panyard
practices late into the night as Panorama, the steelband competitions,
draw near. And visit the mas camps where the costumes for the big bands
are already being distributed.
The vast influx of visitors and returning
residents is usually concentrated in the week before the Carnival.
Fetes, pan, calypso and mas events are planned in towns and villages all
over the two islands, but mainly in and around Port of Spain. Most
visitors stay until the weekend after Carnival, taking in Tobago, sea
baths and post-Carnival shows.