Caribbean Datebook (January/February 2013)

Your guide to events around the Caribbean in January and February — from Carnivals to music festivals to celebrations of history

  • Touloulou in French Guiana. Photograph by Stephanie Rousseau /
  • Photograph courtesy Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival
  • Photograph by Stanley Ollivierre
  • Photograph courtesy Holetown Festival
  • Kiddies' Carnival in Trinidad. Photograph by Butch Limchoy

Around the region

Jump and wave!

Carnival: the origins of the festival are disputed by scholars, the name alone evokes different things for different people, but many will agree that in the Caribbean it lives up to one of its argued roots summarised by the Latin phrase carne vale, or farewell to the flesh. Of course, in the days when Latin was spoken, this actually referred to Christians who were abstaining from meat for the forty days of Lent — but I digress.

In the Caribbean, several countries have pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations whose beginnings are intrinsically linked with their colonial past. They include Aruba, Haiti, Cuba, Curaçao, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana — and chief among them, Trinidad and Tobago. And while these days of revelry are not public holidays, no one notices — we’re too busy partying!

This year, Carnival falls in mid-February. For Arubans, it marks the fifty-ninth celebration of the festival. Aruba’s line-up of events begins on 1 January, and continues until Carnival Tuesday, 12 February. There is a Parada di Flambeu on 5 January, a calypso and roadmarch competition, the Tivoli Lighting Parade, and several large street parades throughout the island from 9 February, for both children and adults, all to the beat of tumba, calypso, and Latin music.

Although the main Kanaval celebration in Haiti has traditionally been held in Port-au-Prince, in 2012 for the first time Kanaval was celebrated in Les Cayes. But no matter the location, everyone gets into the spirit of things, as they dance to zouk, konpa, and mizik rasin. Kanaval, even with its open invitation to party, carries deeper political messages, as Haitians draw attention through their costumes and parade floats to issues that plague their daily lives.

Curaçao’s Carnival is a meld of the different cultural practices brought by the peoples that landed on its shores many years ago. The festival is all about tumba and calypso competitions, beauty pageants, parties, and street parades. Carnival season begins on 5 January and ends with the Grand Farewell Carnival Parade on 12 February.

Carnival festivities in Guadeloupe, meanwhile, begin on 6 January and continue until Ash Wednesday, when the King of Carnaval, represented in effigy, is burned at nightfall. A unique feature of Guadeloupe mas is a pajama parade, where night attire is the required costume, as well as other traditional costumed events. The larger events take place in Pointe-à-Pitre and Basse-Terre, although the entire island gets into the Carnival spirit.

The Caribbean’s colonial past has imbued the region with a distinctive blend of cultures and festivities. In Martinique, the Carnival season begins on 11 January and ends on Ash Wednesday with La Fête des Diablesses (Day of the She-Devils), when King Carnival or Vaval is laid to rest. In the weeks preceding his demise, there are parties, parades, puppetry, and masquerade balls.

French Guiana’s carnival, better known as Tululu, begins on Epiphany and ends on Ash Wednesday. On Fridays and Saturdays of the season, touloulous or carnival queens control the parties. They are completely covered in costumes and masks, disguise their voices, get in free at the dance halls (called “universities”), and men, once invited to dance by a touloulou, are not allowed to refuse.

Finally, in T&T, with Carnival falling “early” this year, party promoters, soca artists, and bandleaders have to work with a shortened party season, which ups the frenzy factor. As the festival draws near, there are numerous scheduled events each day. This means that the Carnival season really starts as the clock signals the end of Boxing Day in December — even before the formal opening by government officials. And in the days leading up to Christmas, soca enthusiasts were already on the lookout for potential Road March songs.

When: 11 to 12 February
Where: Numerous locations across the Caribbean
For more info:
French Guiana:
Trinidad and Tobago:



Jazz things up…

What started out in 1996 as a marketing tool, to fill hotel rooms during a slow period in the tourist season, has become one of the largest must-attend events on the Caribbean music circuit. Jamaica Jazz and Blues moved from hosting crowds of 1,500 people at Rose Hall Great House to 35,000 at their new home in Greenfield Stadium in Trelawny. The festival has showcased the talents of famed international singers such as Gladys Knight, Erykah Badu, the Isley Brothers, Eric Benet, Norah Jones, John Legend, Al Green, and Joss Stone.

Music aficionados will be treated to twenty-five live acts over three days, with a separate stage featuring undiscovered artistes, both local and foreign. And you can take home a piece of Jamaica also, as there’s a retail village with iconic images of your island paradise vacation. After the high of kicking off Jamaica’s fiftieth independence anniversary celebrations in 2012, the festival can do nothing better than to take that energy and keep hosting great music.

When: 24 to 26 January
Where: Greenfield Stadium, Trelawny
For more info: visit or follow the festival on Twitter at @jamaicajazz

Rebel Salute

When: 18 to 19 January
Where: Richmond Estate
What: It started as a birthday bash for Patrick “Tony Rebel” Barrett, and twenty years later it’s still going strong, even as it switched location and became a two-day event. Rebel Salute holds true to roots reggae, and continues the legacy of Jamaica’s reggae icons
For more info: visit or call (876) 934-0827


…or get down to the Blues

The celebrated Basil’s Bar is the place for music lovers at the end of January, as the annual Mustique Blues Festival reveals its line-up. Mustique is a privately-owned island, managed by the Mustique Company, one of six hundred islands that make up the Grenadines part of St Vincent and the Grenadines. It has also long been the playground of the rich and famous, who arrive on the island to escape the stresses of the outside world.

Basil Charles started the festival in 1995, all because British blues singer Dana Gillespie sang a cappella one night and the crowd went wild. According to the festival website, Gillespie promised Charles “a true blues festival, if he would only get a proper piano.” Charles did, and the rest, they say, is history. Some of the notables who’ve performed at the festival include Lewis Cohen, Zach Prather, Paddy Milner, and of course, Gillespie herself.

The festival, a mix of good music and food, is the perfect venue for adults and children alike. If you’re unlucky enough to miss this extended jam session, you can check out Basil’s Bar’s website for CDs from every festival. The proceeds from sales go to the Basil Charles Educational Foundation, to better the lives of those Vincentians who otherwise would’ve been unable to attend school.

When: 23 January to 6 February
Where: Basil’s Bar, Mustique
For more info:



Step back in time

Not many of us can really imagine a time before the 20th century, before cars and electricity, far less cell phones or microwaves. But every year in Barbados, homage is paid to an event that occurred centuries ago — more precisely, in 1627. Holetown, on the island’s west coast, marks the location of the first landing of British settlers on the island, and Barbadians remember this occasion every February, with the aptly named Holetown Festival.

Holetown is also the location of a series of firsts in Barbadian history: the first two modern streets, the first governor’s house, the first major fortification in Barbados, and the first five plantations developed in the country. The festival started out as a weekend event, but became so popular that it now runs for eight days. There will be arts and craft stalls, music concerts, tours, a street fair, displays by the police and regiment bands, as well as a vintage car parade. And it all ends with the Queen of the Holetown Festival competition, which has seen many of the ladies who grace the stage moving on to national and international beauty competitions.

When: 10 to 17 February
Where: Locations around Holetown
For more info: visit


St Kitts

Admiral’s Cup Pro-Am Golf Tournament
When: 13 to 17 January
Where: St Kitts Marriot Resort & The Royal Beach Casino
What: Tee off with beach parties, spa sessions, and island tours, as this fifty-four-hole tournament with thirty team spots available puts a whole new spin on golfing
For more info: visit


Caribbean Bee College
When: 3 to 5 January
Where: St George’s
What: A collaborative event by universities and beekeepers’ associations. Apiarists and interested persons are invited to find out the latest techniques and updates in the field
For more info: call (352) 273-3932 or email Jeanette Klopchin at

Grenada Sailing Festival Work Boat Regatta
When: 1 to 3 February
Where: Grand Anse Beach
What: The regatta began in 1994 with working fishing boats made from local hardwoods, but today specially designed racing vessels that cost thousands of dollars to build are used by dedicated racers
For more info: call (473) 534-6731 or 456-0914, email or


Jolly Harbour Valentine’s Regatta
When: 7 to 10 February
Where: Jolly Harbour
What: At this regatta you can BYOB (bring your own boat), charter a racing boat, or book an individual spot on one of the many boats entering the event. Every vessel is welcome: from family cruisers, sport boats and dinghies to super yachts
For more info: call Kathy Lammers at (268) 720-9270 or email her at


The Bahamas

PokerStars Caribbean Adventure
When: 5 to 14 January
Where: Atlantis Resort and Casino, Nassau
What: It first started on a cruise ship and has since become an annual event which is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Players can enter by winning a qualifying tournament or by buying directly in to the live event. Either way, here’s your chance to watch great players bluff their way to win the pot
For more info: visit


Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.