Welcome to Trinidad and Tobago Carnival 2020 – A TOURIST IN THE CARIBBEAN

Welcome to Trinidad and Tobago Carnival 2020

 It is called the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ and year after year it lives up to its name.  The origin of Carnival on the island began around the late 18th century when plantation owners celebrated their harvest with a feast where they would dress-up as masqueraders.  The slaves were prohibited from taking part in their master’s festivities so they formed their own festival and called it ‘Canboulay’ known today as ‘Carnival’. 

The activity is celebrated just before the Lenten season. Trinidad’s carnival, known as one of the best Carnival celebrations in the world is best described as calypso, soca, steel band music, and other activities celebrated with zest and exhilaration on the beautiful tropical island. It’s a street party like no other any part of the world. Today Carnival has evolved into a spectacle of color culminating with street parades on Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  But carnival is just not two days in Trinidad and Tobago, it’s a season.  The true spirit of the carnival season starts soon after the Christmas holidays with a series of band launching, pre-carnival fetes, and major cultural competitions leading up to the finale on Carnival Tuesday. 

The dynamic and compelling creativity behind the originality and talent of Trinidad’s carnival has sparked its replication throughout the Caribbean and the world at large.  The festival has attracted many high-profile personalities including Hollywood celebrities and carnival enthusiasts around the world.  It will not be exaggerating to say that the carnival in Trinidad starts as soon as the current one ends.  Because of the massive interests of foreign masqueraders all over the world, the entire year is taken up with a superb organization which sometimes could be total chaos or ‘madness’ as they say in the Caribbean.  The key ingredients to this total madness that culminates on Carnival Tuesday are costumes, DJ music, and the island’s own steel bands.  But the party really begins about one month before the spectacle of thousands of costumed revelers transformed the streets of the Capital City into a sea of beautiful costumes and characters.  There are plenty of fetes, calypso tents, performances, preliminary, semi-finals, and final competitions for all categories of carnival engagements that take place prior to the street parade. The beauty of carnival celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago is the unique ability to bring people of different ethnic races and diverse backgrounds together in the truly spectacular affair on the nation’s streets Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

Pre carnival Activities:

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There is a plethora of pre-carnival activities like fetes, band launching, soca, calypso tents, and steel band competitions that take place prior to the two days of Carnival.  The calypso tents are venues where calypsonians perform nightly, singing their satire on social and political scandals that are taking place in the country. It can be compared to ‘Rap’ except that it is not spoken but sung by some of the sweetest voices in the land. Soca pronounced, ‘sew-ka’ is a modern form of calypso with an upbeat tempo or as some say a fusion of soul music and calypso. Band launching is where the designers of the costumes display the current year’s presentation to the home public and online at social media platforms. The launching itself is normally a big party at the band headquarters, which in itself is a fete that usually goes till the wee hours of the morning.  

Kiddies Carnival:

The children’s parade takes place on the weekend prior to the adults’ parade on Monday and Tuesday.  The ‘Kiddies Carnival’ as it is known is a celebration for children that mirrors the parade for the adults and has almost the same activities.

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The Steelband Competitions:

The steel pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and is known to be the only musical instrument invented in the 20th century.  

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The sights and sound of the steel band music is something you really have to see to believe. The pans were originally made from oil drums but today it is made of high-quality steel and tuned by local pan tuners. Aside from being a major part of the road activities on Monday and Tuesday, steel bands have their own competitions during the carnival season.  There are junior steel band competitions for children of school age and a senior competition for adults.  Crowds gather in their numbers to support their favorite ‘pan side’ as it is called in Trinidad and Tobago at the various competition venues throughout the island. The main competition which is called the ‘finals’ takes place at the ‘big yard’, the Queens Park Savannah, on carnival Saturday where an overall winner would be crown, Champion.

Other Competitions:

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Carnival is not just the festival but a series of competitions that take place prior to the parade of bands on the streets. There are plenty of competitions including Panorama competition for steel bands, a month-long competition in and around the island culminating in the finals on the Saturday before Carnival; Calypso and Soca competitions of which the finalists of both compete for the right to be called King – in the Calypso Competition and Soca Monarch Winner – in the Soca competition and the finals of the King and Queen of Carnival Competition takes place on Sunday night at the Dimanche Gras Show, which is the grand finale of all the competitions before the parade of bands on the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

J’Ouvert: 

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The word J’ouvert comes from the French word ‘jour overt’ meaning daybreak.  It is the official start of the two-day carnival celebrations.  It starts around 4:00 am in the morning when the Mayor’s office announces the official start of the carnival at one of their competition venues.  J’ouvert is a time when the masqueraders are dressed as traditional folklore characters from robbers to devils and other comical characters covered in oil. mud and paint.  It is a time when the revelers use the occasion to free up and get loose and dirty.  Some characters are organized in bands while others just play individuals on the streets.  There are a couple of judging points for the winners of the J’ouvert competition and some masqueraders take advantage to parade before the judges.  The J’ouvert celebrations

Carnival Monday:  

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Carnival Monday starts around 11:00 am soon after the J’ouvert has ended.  Thousands of masqueraders will flock to the street for the first of the two-day festival in their Monday wear costume.  Monday wear usually consists of a very light t-shirt and shorts or bikini type clothing as no one is in full costume on the first day.  The beauty of Monday mas is just being on the streets with music and entertainment and partying well into the late hours of the night.  

Carnival Tuesday: 

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On Carnival Tuesday, the masqueraders are out in full costume very early in the morning. Spectators line the streets, which are covered with makeshift temporary viewing points (with seating), as early as 7:00 in the morning to watch the ‘Parade of the Bands’.  The costumes can be simple or very elaborate with their historical or mythological concepts divided into various sections with each section depicting aspects of the main theme. On carnival Tuesday the bands are in competition to win ‘Band of the Year’, led by a King and Queen, who carry extremely large costumes often requiring wheels to take it to the various judging points along the route.  The Mas Bands are accompanied by very loud music trucks and trucks supplying food and drinks along the way.  There are also temporary bathrooms on trucks for the masqueraders’ convenience.  Usually, the weather is beautiful and sunny around this time of year on the island so masqueraders enjoy themselves till sundown and wait for the next year to do it all over again.   

Last Lap

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 Yes, some of the masqueraders do cool down after the hectic season at the various beaches around the country, mostly Maracas Beach, one of the best beaches on the island.  Some of the locals and those who have later flights to catch take advantage of cooling down in the beautiful island waters.  The scene is all about rests, sun-bathing, and fun but some still keep the party going with lots of music, food, and entertainment into the late hours of the evening. 

MAS, COLOR, AND MUSIC – FEEL THE POWER OF CARNIVAL 

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