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.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Carnival 2k6 in Jamaica

One thing that I noticed that may be a recurrent theme in our Carnival that sets it apart is the level of service.

We Jamaicans are truly an innovative bunch, and while our population at large does not have the widespread appetite for soca music and Carnival activities, it was interesting to observe where we have taken the basic carnival formula and improved on it dramatically.

For example, in all my years of playing mas with Harts, Poison and Tribe, I have never witnessed “waiter-style” service. Yet, there it was on the road with the Bacchanal Jamaica band (which in Trini terms is more like a large section.) Men and women were walking around with plates of sandwiches, chips, freshly cut slices of watermelon and cantaloupe, water, juices, and probably a whole bunch of other treats that I did not get to myself.

I thought this was a unique touch that was a far cry from the sullen service one gets in Trini carnival bands on the food and drink trucks.

I also had the chance to attend my third or fourth Frenchmen’s Fete, and as usual the standard was amazing. The ticket system they have put together involves purchasing a ticket in a sealed envelope, the outside of which is printed the message: DO NOT OPEN.

Only when I got the fete did they actually open the envelope, where there was not only the usual integrity lamp, but also a remote bar-code reading system that just blew me away.

Also, upon entering the party there were women handing out champagne and wine (albeit in fluted plastic glasses) to all the entrants. It was a wonderfully sweet touch that set off an evening of music that was just perfect (without live performances,) and food that was also excellent.

The usual fare in Trini fetes around Carnival time is quite pedestrian, with the usual choices: Creole, Indian, Arab, etc. The food at the Frenchmen Jamaican fetes is simply outstanding, and makes the evening well worth the money (which worked out to about US$70.) From the shrimp soup, to the sushi, to the desserts, to the _very_ wide variety of choices… I thought it way above any fete I have ever been to in Trinidad.

And the servers were doing their jobs with the usual good humour that comes with superior Jamaican service.

In these respects, Trinidad has a great deal to learn from us Jamaicans.

On the other hand, on essential element of Carnival everywhere has been taken out of ours and never restored – a stage. The whole idea of playing mas revolves around the concept of building up energy for that 20 or so minutes that are spent on stage, on television, showing off to the world the costumes, joy and excitement at “letting go.” At the moment, we have no stage, or even a judging point, which strikes me as a big ingredient that needs to be restored.

I remember more than once rushing to cross the stage with my band in Trinidad, knowing that that was the high point.

Without a high point to the day, the result was a sort of muted energy without a focal point in time (at least in our band.)

It would not take much to make this correction as there are several points that are natural judging spots that could be converted to “stages” like the judging points around Port of Spain away from the Savannah.

I believe this would give the experience of playing mas the kind of zip that it has in playing mas in Trinidad, and be a match for the excellent service and food that we are so good at providing.


At 5/08/2006 7:45 AM, Anonymous B said...

Having never played mas in Trinidad, I can't comment on the comparison but I was definitely impressed by the service on the road. Looking forward to next year. :-D

At 5/08/2006 12:03 PM, Blogger Rhythmwize said...

The ticket system they have put together involves purchasing a ticket in a sealed envelope, the outside of which is printed the message: DO NOT OPEN.

So, I have yet to figure out what the envelope thing was all about.
Both the Blocko fete and Pan Night were also using that ticket system. Must have something to do with security and the selling/giving of tickets to undesirables? First time I've ever seen this anywhere, so anyone have an explanation?

Regarding the service on the road, the people delivering the food and drinks are called "runners"...there was a thread on awhile back about this and appearently it has been used in a few sections in Trinidad on a very limited basis.

However, the use of the small plastic bags of water, fruit juice and rum punch is totally unique to Jamaica as far as I know. In previous years when it was really hot, people had great fun squirting each other with the cold water, but this year was relatively cool so I tried too avoid most of the water.

Also unique to Jamaica as far as I know are the Beach Jouvert fete at James Bond Beach and the Soca On the Sandbar beach party at Lime Cay. At least for me, those are two of the best carnival events in the Caribbean.

At 5/08/2006 1:40 PM, Anonymous Georgia/Caribbean Free Radio said...

I'm one of those Trinis who doesn't view the incursion of all-inclusive elements into the street Carnival (and I'm talking about Trinidad's here, not Jamaica's) as a wholly positive development. It's deprived the community of Carnival street vendors, for instance, of a good part of their livelihood, and I find the expectation that the experience of playing mas' will replicate that of being in a restaurant or living room somewhat unreasonable.

(I'm also bearing in mind that Jamaica Carnival has entirely different origins from Trinidad's and that the requirements of that market are probaby quite different.)

That said, however, good service is good service, and I'm all for people doing things well. The innovative and creative use of technology also gets my vote every time. So congrats to the shapers of Jamaica's Carnival for what they're doing to make events efficient as well as uniquely Jamaican.

At 5/08/2006 2:09 PM, Blogger Rhythmwize said...

I'm one of those Trinis who doesn't view the incursion of all-inclusive elements into the street Carnival (and I'm talking about Trinidad's here, not Jamaica's) as a wholly positive development.
I tend to agree for a place like Trinidad carnival, although you and I are in a distinct minority with that opinion.
But in Jamaica, there are simply not the multitude of drink and food vendors on the road so an all-inclusive makes more sense.

What I dont like about the all-inclusive is I'm very hesitant to eat the food thats been sitting in foam containers for hours(once, several of us got sick in Jamaica from this food)and many times its a big hassle and dangerous to get a drink off a crowded moving drink truck located way in the back of a band. I would just as soon buy my drinks from vendors on the side of the road.

At 5/10/2006 8:37 PM, Blogger Mad Bull said...

Yes, Francis, Frenchmen simply ROCK!!! Did you make their New Years Fete... Trust me, that was a PARTY! Most likely it will rate as the party of the year for me! US100 well spent.

Re the stage thing, if you jump with Byron Lee's massive, you cross a stage and show off your costumes. At least, you did when I jumped wioth them and for many years afterwards, not sure about in the last three or so years.

Re the food and drinks thing (waiter-style), I am sure that is just a feature of Bacchanal Jamaica! Certainly I have never seen that going on with Byron Lee dem.

Not knocking the waiter thing though.

At 5/11/2006 12:59 PM, Blogger Rhythmwize said...

Its my understanding the food and drink served by runners was limited to the Frenchmen Premium Sections, ie the Azteca and Persian sections and the T-Shirt folks. The other Bacchanal Jamaica sections did not appear to receive this service.

At 5/13/2006 3:49 PM, Blogger fwade said...

Mad Bull,

Yes - I did make it to the New Years Party and it was an awesome event. I think it is one of the best parties around the region. Well worth the cash, in my opinion.

It seems as if the stage thing has disappeared, and I can remember watching on TV as people crossed the stage here in Jamaica.

Even in Broward Carnival, they have a stage of sorts.

At 5/13/2006 3:52 PM, Blogger fwade said...


They also had that level of security at Frenchmen's New Year party. I had never seen it before, and it is all to ensure that there are no counterfeit copies made.

Here in Jamaica, we know how to do security (I've never seen anything like it in Trinidad.)

I have never made it to that LimeCay party, and have vowed to do so next year!

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