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An explosion of colour, music, revelry, and creativity, Trinidad’s Carnival has spawned similar celebrations around the world, but nothing on earth can rival the abandon, euphoria and stunning spectacle of our festival.
With its massive masquerade bands, spectacular costumes, pulsating music and unparalleled stamina for partying, Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival is often described as the greatest show on earth. It is a time for release and everyone is invited to join the party.
In 2010, the annual Carnival season will climax on Monday, February 15 and Tuesday, February 16.
Each year at 4 am on Carnival Monday, the festivities begin under a cloak of darkness. Fuelled by exhilaration and the energetic rhythms of soca music, revellers take to the streets for the predawn party of J’Ouvert.
J’Ouvert (from the French ‘jour ouvert’ or ‘day open’) is almost ritualistic in its celebration of the darker elements of the island’s folklore and history. Bathed in chocolate, mud, oil and paint, bands of revellers depict devils, demons, monsters and imps. Choose your medium of expression, J’Ouvert is a time for loosening of inhibitions.
At daybreak, the J’Ouvert revelry clears and massive costumed bands of “Pretty Mas” players flood the street with riotous colour. A cast of thousands take to the street “jumping up” and “wining” (gyrating of the hips) to the sound of soca music blaring from speakers stationed on music trucks. The excitement is at fever pitch, but Carnival Monday is only a “warm-up” for Carnival Tuesday.
Carnival Tuesday begins promptly at 8 a.m. Thousands of masqueraders are in full costume, ready and impatiently awaiting their chance to strut in front of the television cameras as bands cross the main judging points. Each band has its own historical, mythological or tropical concept with various sections depicting aspects of the main theme.
Bands are judged in three categories: small, medium and large and winners are announced after all the bands have crossed the stage. The Champion Band is crowned Masquerade Band of the Year.
Officially Carnival is the Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday but celebrations begin right after Christmas.
From Boxing Day it is non-stop partying until Carnival Sunday.
It is during this post-Christmas period that calypso tents open their doors to the public and cultural shows, including Limbo competitions and massive soca concerts, begin.
Radio stations begin to play the latest soca hits and many masquerade bands launch their new presentations.
Steelbands begin intense preparations for Panorama, the annual competition for steel pan bands. Preliminary contests are hosted at panyards throughout the country during the six weeks leading up to Carnival. Panorama finals are the ultimate test of musical skill. Representing the best of the best, selected bands compete before judges and thousands of spectators the Saturday night before Carnival officially begins.
Like the cosmopolitan mix of peoples and cultures that shaped the island, Trinidad’s Carnival has many influences. The Spanish and English colonial powers, French planters, African slaves, Indian indentured labourers, and the many other ethnic groups that settled in Trinidad and Tobago have all left an indelible mark on the festival. In 1783 the French brought their culture, customs and Carnival, in the form of elaborate masquerade balls, to Trinidad along with African slaves. The period stretching between Christmas and the start of Lent was a time for feasting, fancy dress balls and celebration for both the French and British. Banned from the festivities, slaves in the barrack yards would hold their own celebrations mimicking their masters’ behaviour while incorporating rituals and folklore. Once slavery was abolished in 1838, the freed Africans took their Carnival to the streets and, as each new immigrant population entered Trinidad, a new flavour was added to the festivities. Today, our diverse culture has influenced the music, food and traditions of Carnival.