The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is the country’s most important cultural and touristic event.
The festival takes place two days after Ash Wednesday, but there are numerous cultural activities that begin during the end of the previous week as a prelude to the parade through the streets that takes place on Monday and Tuesday.
The carnival is a huge party, recognized internationally, that is full of brilliant colors and the sounds of calypso, soca and steel pan music. These rhythms are unquestionably the heart of the festival.
Calypso is an Afro-Caribbean rhythm that originated in Trinidad and Tobago and is very popular in the rest of the Caribbean islands. Calypso songs can be heard in French as well as in English. It is also popular in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela and in northern Brazil.
Soca — or calypso soul — is a musical genre derived from calypso that combines calypso’s danceable melodies with an insistent percussion that is usually electronic. Soca music has evolved over the past 20 years mostly by musicians from Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua and some bands in St. Kitts and Nevis and Jamaica, among other countries.
The musical and limbo competitions are other very important elements of Carnival. One of these competitions is called the Calypso Monarch and winning it is one of the top honors anyone on the island can achieve. The winner gets a trophy, a car and cash. Other competitions, which take place on the Sunday before Carnival (Dimanche Gras), involve making elaborate costumes and are called King and Queen of the Bands. There is also a soca competition and a steel pan competition called Panorama. The latter takes place on Saturday. On Monday and Tuesday of Carnival, the musical groups enter the competition for the title of group of the year.
As in other carnivals, the members of the bands wear elaborate costumes and dance through the streets to the rhythm of the music. One thing that separates these competitions from those of other carnivals is that both tourists as well as locals can participate in the parade.
Certain characters that are an essential part of the carnival are often part of the groups. These include moko jumbie (a dancer on stilts who participates in other Christmas and festival festivities). Another traditional group is the Devil Mas, which is divided into three main groups of characters: the imps, the beasts and the rulers. Other essential characters are the bats and the midnight robbers. The latter are Carnival’s most colorful and popular characters.
Carnival is part of the national educational curriculum in Trinidad and Tobago, so many activities related to the event take place in the schools on the islands. There is also a governmental agency, the National Carnival Commission, that is in charge of organizing this important activity every year.
Author: Neeltje van Marissing Méndez
Published: April 11, 2012.
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