Carnival culture alive

Debbie Jacob  -
Debbie Jacob -

Debbie Jacob

WELCOME TO Carnival Monday and what we call “the greatest show on Earth.” We can dream, can’t we? By now we have crowned a calypso monarch. The blue devils and jab molassies of J’Ouvert have made way for pretty mas.

We are chipping, dancing and wining our way to a Road March and counting the most played songs at designated judging venues throughout TT. Big trucks blare soca music and their bass drums serve as the beating heart of Carnival.

As Carnival bands and big trucks take over the streets, look around you and savour those nostalgic notes of bygone days that thread their way through Carnival.

Steelbands remind us of our musical roots and unique history. How can we ever forget that Trinidad is the island where pan was invented? On the road steelbands stake their claim to musical history.

Some mas bands are large enough to feel like a sea of people bobbing up and down. Masqueraders spill onto the stages. Look for themes declared in the mas bands’ names and sections that divide the mas like chapters in a book.

Fancy Indians with their colourful feather headdresses weave their way through these streets too. There’s fancy Black Indians and Red Indians, Guarahoons.

The Savannah stage or downtown streets will grow quiet sometimes out of respect for Midnight Robbers delivering their speeches. Roots grow deep in Carnival.

If you’re lucky, you might spot some bats doing their strange dance, bowing and dipping and flinging their wings through the air. There’s a fierce breeze these days, perfect to make a bat’s wings flutter.

I often read that baby doll mas is extinct, but Carnival has a way of resurrecting its history, so don’t be surprised if a woman approaches you with a baby doll in her hand and demands money to feed this child she says is yours.

Burrokeets are sure to make an appearance. Those costumes that make a masquerader appear to be riding a donkey always evoke smiles.

Minstrels strum their twangy banjos and remind us of the US influence on Carnival. If you're lucky, you’ll see these minstrels dressed in striped trousers, tall hats and gloves do a little shuffle.

The pierrot grenade may look like a clown in his tattered, colourful clothes, but he can drop some lines from Shakespeare on you, just so you know Carnival characters can be humorous and profound too.

Dame Lorraines bounce their way through the streets. Their exaggerated busts and behinds, cosquel dresses and hats evoke smiles, but their message is serious.

In our history, dame Lorraines provided a way for black women to poke fun of slave masters’ wives. The message went over the heads of colonial masters and their wives. Listen for the hidden messages in our history – especially in our calypso.

Calypsonians are well aware of how slaves used double entendre in their calypsoes as a way to communicate their feelings and creativity. Slave masters couldn’t understand their brand of creativity.

It may sometimes seem like we have strayed far from our roots. Soca songs with frantic tempos and lyrics that resemble rap more than melodious messages rule the fetes and spill onto the streets during Carnival, but someone always comes along with a defining song that has a melody and lyrics to haunt us.

Performers like Bunji Garlin, once the outsiders vying for a place in Carnival, are now entrenched in Carnival while singers emerging from the wings like Mical Teja Williams remind us that the energy comes from the music and lyrics – not the blistering tempo.

Calypso and Carnival mean bacchanal and humour; celebration and contemplation. As Machel Montano sings, “Calypso is soca and soca is calypso.” They are our history, our expression, our heart and soul – the heartbeat of Carnival unfolding in front of you right now.

Every year is different, but every year finds a way to echo the past. Celebrate and be part of this rich tradition.

Be safe on these streets. Dance and jump to your heart’s content. Enjoy being you. Find your voice and your spirit. Make memories. Appreciate our rich culture and our ethnic diversity. Celebrate the hope Carnival brings in the way it brings us together and instils pride in all of us. Know that no one can rob us of our culture. We keep it alive. We recognise its importance.

Enjoy yourself like never before. Play yourself. Be proud. Above all, remember, you can’t play mas and ’fraid powder.


"Carnival culture alive"

More in this section