Holidays and 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 century.
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.