Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Carnival Coming Just Now

As the end of the year approaches, I've started to do what all Carnival lovers around the world do. Now is the time to engage in a focused study of the new Carnival music.


Well, between December and Febuary the time must be invested in learning the latest songs, so that the right vibe can start to take hold. This is even truer for those of us who live outside Trinidad and must rely on a combination of bootleg CD's, fetes, radio stations and music sites such as

The issue here is avoiding the 1-2 day soca-shock that comes when a visitor to Trinidad lands in their first fete, and struggles with the new music that inevitably sounds (at first) like a bad version of last year's music. By the end of Carnival, however, it all gets wonderfully sorted out as the music works its way into the bones the way no other music does. The result is that I am here in December listening to February 2005’s Carnival music while writing this blog.

How and why does this happen?

After all, isn't Carnival just about drinking too much, wearing too little, suffering in de heat, de dust, de mud and de paint, jostling up with strangers, being tired all the time and ultimately breaking every boundary of decent behaviour?

Well, yes.

It's been almost impossible for me to explain the importance of Carnival to other people, and especially those who are intent on judging it as wrong, evil, satanic or sinful. Notwithstanding verses in the Bible that speak to “making a joyful noise,” most of the Good book’s verses are used to condemn a public activity that millions enjoy in the open. And, hey, there is plenty happening in the average fete to condemn, if that is one's intent.

Trying to explain the experience to people in such a frame of mind reminds me of explaining "computers" to my 90 odd-year old Grandmother (who determined that since I was using one, I had to be "studying" them.)

Grandma - "Francis, what is this thing you are talking about so much - computers? I don't understand. Can you explain it?"
(I at least knew better than to use a bunch of jargon.)

Francis - "Well, it's a little like a typewriter, and a TV and a calculator rolled into one, and it helps you do things more quickly."

Grandma - "Like what things?"

Francis - "Ahm.... like word-processing and programming."

Grandma - "What's that?"

Francis - pause... "Like using a typewriter, but with a TV attached..." - I trailed off when I noticed her blank stare turning into a pitiful look that said "Oh no.... my Grandson is some kind of idiot who is wasting his life with some kind of office appliance...."

Trying to "explain" Carnival is just as hard. Actually, it's harder... as evidenced by the following loaded question from my mother:

"Son, I hope you're not out there at this Carnival thing rubbing up and doing all kinds of nasty things in the street."
Me - "Let me tell you.... dat's one of de be BES' parts!" She wasn't amused at or informed by my explanation for some reason.

(Somewhere, while in recovery mode on past ash Wednesdays, I seem to remember seeing evidence in the form of pictures and videos of someone with my face doing the nastiness that that she had described... and by the way, “It Wasn’t Me.”)

The truth is that Trini Carnival is a multi-dimensional experience with no comparison. My first visit to Trinidad in 1997 was for that purpose and while my passport records over 50 trips for business through 2005, the few years I missed Carnival were the years I forgot.


Yeah. I forgot what it felt like to with abandon -- like you just don't care.
feel the sexual energy of a fete -- to qet on bad
... see such beautiful faces and forms – pretty, pretty
... drink just enough to feel good, but not enough to get drunk-- feeling tight
jam with a stranger, and feel the exhilaration of instant and perfect timing... I'll be your melody, and you'll be my harmony
... singing, chipping, jumping, waving, eating, drinking, resting, running, caring, sharing, laughing and flexing with a mas band for 2 days -- real playing mas
... letting it all go at Jouvert, covered in paint or mud -- Bacchanal
... marveling at how sweet a "free wine" can be -- jamming on some man woman
... loving the soca music, which happens to be the happiest music in the world --
and at it's best, having a spiritual experience of joining with tens of thousands of others in celebrating life, enjoying each other, releasing fears and inhibitions and renewing ourselves for another year... enjoy yuhself in de mas'

And there's more, but words just aren't sufficient.

So, as long as there's a Carnival, and I'm able to experience it, I'll be gearing myself up for it at just about this time each year.


At 1/20/2006 7:19 PM, Anonymous Rhythmwize said...

Trinidad Carnival...I went three times with my wife from 1999 to 2001, then 9-11 hit and then the stock market slumped so I stopped going. On top of that, the carnival prices in Trinidad have kept on rising so I probably never will return. Like, almost $2000 for a 5 night carnival package at the Crowne Plaza and $300 for a costume plus airfare from Los Angeles at almost $1000 each RT and Im up to 5 grand before I've bought my first Carib.

So, right now, we satisfy our carnival needs by gong to Jamaica Carnival and to the so called small island carnivals. So far, we've been to carnivals in Barbados, Grenada(twice)and just last month the Christmas carnival in St.Kitts. St. Vincent is next.

But Jamaica Carnival is our favorite because its very convenient for us(direct flight on AJ), relatively cheap and lots of fun. We've been every year except one from 1998. We go to Ocho Rios for the carnival kickoff fetes, then on to Kingston on Tuesday for all the rest of the carnival events. We play mas with the Bacchanal Jamaica group, and sometimes we go to the Saturday night Frenchmen party, one of the best fetes in the Caribbean. I say sometimes cuz sometimes we just stay at the Pegasus Hotel and watch the Byron Lee show from our balcony. Why? Because Sunday morning is showtime and we must get up early to don our costumes, eat breakfast by the pool,walk to the mas camp for the bus ride to the parade assembly area at Mona Heights where all the fun begins.

Maybe we see you there this year.

John & Emily
Carnival Jumbies

At 1/23/2006 2:49 PM, Blogger fwade said...

The carnival prices are something else... yes. As Trinis are fond of saying, each year you are asked to pay more and more for less and less.

This year, there are so many all-inclusive sections and bands with painful-looking initial asking-prices.

I'd love to visit those "small-island Carnivals" -- I think I'll make that a goal of mine. So far, I have not even been able to make it to CropOver in B'dos, however, although a couple of times I got there the day after.

This year I believe we'll be playing mas for the first time in Jamaica in costume -- and those Frenchmen parties are definitely among the best... and I'm only saying that because I have not been to all!

I was in Trini a couple of weekends ago and went to a couple of fetes, and the rage this year is Trinidad's first World Cup. It's not such a big deal for us Jamaicans, especially as their team was not as good as ours, but the luck of the draw and a Wild-Card spot were enough to get them through.

I'll be looking for you guys at Ja C'val.

At 1/26/2006 12:35 PM, Anonymous Rhythmwize said...

Bacchanal Jamaica has a website, but as of now it hasnt been updated for 2006. Soon Come!

We've joined the Frenchman section for the last few years, as its the premium section; However, we havent been happy with the huge influx of people in that section in so-called T-Shirt costumes.
Kinda spoils the overall mas experience for us and it seems that every year there are more and more T-Shirts and less real costumes. I don't think its the cost($50US vs $110US) but the fact that these arent really carnival people and they dont want to dress up in traditional costumes.

Hope to see ya in the real costumes this year, it is such a
great experience and so much fun.

Been following both Jamaica and TnT soccer teams from a long time back, seen them both play many times in the Gold Cup in Los Angeles. Jamaica messed up this time and didnt get in but at least we have one Caribbean team in the World Cup this time around. Jamaica was clearly the better team at one point but TnT has improved considerably since they changed coaches so lets hope they represent the Caribbean with a decent showing; But, like the USA, they are in a very tough group and not likely to advance.

At 2/02/2006 9:12 AM, Blogger fwade said...

I also visited the site but it still hasn't been updated.

I walked the road last year from one band to another, and our carnival is really more about spectacle than anything else -- makes me wonder if it has a future.

In either case, I plan to play mas for the first time tis year, and hopefully not in a T-shirt section!


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