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Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

There are many places that boast of having spectacular Carnival celebrations - from Rio and New Orleans to Notting Hill. But nothing compares to the excitement, the fun, the drama and the veritable art of 'making mas' in Trinidad and Tobago.

The two days of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago are not official public holidays - but they might as well be - almost everyone is out on the streets, dancing, 'jumping up', 'wining down' and basically having a ball.

 
Although Carnival, in the strictest sense, really comprises the Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday, the celebrations begin right after Christmas — because nothing about Carnival is strict. Almost as soon as the holy observation of Christmas Day is over, radio stations begin to blast the newest hits of the upcoming season - the season of the flesh. As a matter of fact, this is where the term Carnival actually came from - the Latin Carne Vale or 'farewell to the flesh'

Believe it or not, these heated celebrations were actually religious in origin - revellers were allowed to enjoy themselves one last time before facing the stringent deprivation of the Lenten season. This was how the 'bacchanal' started - in homage to the god Bacchus, Lord of Wine and Revelry.

In its early days, what is now a national festival was really a wild frenzy reserved for the masses - the upper classes chose not to participate, but rather to watch. These were the days where creativity sparkled, giving rise to many of our traditional Carnival characters such as Dame Lorraine (a well-endowed woman), Jab Jab (a devil-like creation that would threaten you jovially with horns and three-pronged fork), Pierrot Grenade (like a Greek chorus, commenting on topical issues in rhyme) and Midnight Robber, all of which are still popular portrayals to this day.

At this time, the steelpan was coming to the forefront as a viable musical instrument - the only 'acoustic' instrument invented in the 20th Century - and the musicians and artisans of Trinidad and Tobago were its loving creators. Today, pan is not only recognised worldwide, it is mainstream locally, with thousands of us flocking to the annual Panorama competition to see if our favourite steelband will reign supreme.

Modern-day Carnival celebrations here are a lot more inclusive - beginning with J'ouvert, (taken from the French Jour Ouvert, literally meaning Open Day), heralding the start of the revelry.

If you play J'ouvert, make sure to grab a few hours of sleep before hitting the road again, because you've got a long two days of partying ahead!

There are all types of music and all types of ways to "play mas". From traditional calypso and ex-tempo (songs made up on the spur of the moment) to popular soca beats, the rhythm of Carnival is pulsating and sweet, gently supporting you as you "chip" (dance) down the road on Carnival day.

Many popular soca bands also integrate the styles of Jamaican reggae, dancehall and dub into their compositions, and sampling of pop and hip hop hits has also been on the rise in order to bring the groove into the modern era. Even the Latin vibes find a place here and everyone feels at home!

As for actually participating or "playing mas", you can book a costume in any one of a number of bands. There are the pared-down bands like Burrokeets where looking pretty is not the objective - having fun is; the "party" bands like Young Harts, Poison, Barbarossa and Legends, which attract both the fun-lovers and the hard bodies; the "play yuh mas" bands that focus on the art of costume-making, such as Kallicharan's and Wayne Berekley, and bands like Minshall and his Callaloo Company, where both the fun and the theatrical elements of Carnival combine to make your experience one-of-a-kind - truly the greatest show on earth!

The table below shows carnival dates for upcoming years.

Year Carnival Dates
2013 11th & 12th February
2014 3rd & 4th March
2015 16th & 17th February

Did You Know

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Carib people called Trinidad "The Land of the Hummingbird".

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