Caribbean Datebook (January/February 2015)

Events around the Caribbean in January and February — from Trinidad Carnival to Jamaican jazz to sailing in Grenada

  • Photograph by Chris Anderson
  • Soca superstar Machel Montano. Photograph courtesy Machel Montano
  • Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival. Photograph by Barry J Hough Snr
  • Detail of Head Boy, by Jamaican artist Cosmo Whyte. Photograph courtesy The National Gallery Of Jamaica
  • Grenada Sailing Week. Photograph by Tim Wright
  • Photograph courtesy St Barts Music Festival

Trinidad and Tobago

Carnival top ten

Trinidad and Tobago’s modern-day Carnival is different to that of yesteryear, although important elements of the festival have endured the decades. The 2015 Carnival season was officially launched in November, but big mas bands have been previewing their 2015 Carnival costume collections from as early as last June. And as this year’s Carnival season is relatively short — with the festivities climaxing on 16 and 17 February — Christmas was a brief interruption in the pre-Carnival frenzy of soca, calypso, costumes, and fetes (parties).

There are literally hundreds of different events during the Carnival season, more than any single person can possibly take in. But some shine brighter than others under the spotlights. Here are our picks for the top ten events in the Carnival calendar:

KI, Ravi B, and Rikki Jai will be among the performers going head-to-head in the Southland on 31 January for the title of Chutney Soca Monarch. Skinner Park in San Fernando will see the contest celebrate twenty years with a new format and competition rules. Expect the show to go until the wee hours of the morning, and wear comfortable shoes so you can break out your best moves as you listen to soca infused with East Indian melodies and rhythms.

Carnival isn’t just a “big people party” — the kiddies have their day in the sun too, at the Red Cross Kiddies’ Carnival on 7 February at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain. Maybe the young masqueraders get the better end of the deal, as they also parade on Carnival Saturday and Sunday (14 and 15 February). Expect to be enchanted as you see tiny costumed tots wiggle in their parents’ arms or while being pushed in their strollers, even as their older fellows jump and wave across the stage.

Whether “all-inclusive” (food and drink are included in the cost of the ticket), “cooler” (you walk with your own libations, no glass bottles allowed), or “public” (you pay for everything), Carnival fetes are a staple of the weeks leading up to the festival, an opportunity to hear every new song and try every dance move. For many, the soca artiste headlining the party determines which fete stands out on the Carnival calendar. There are dozens of options to choose from, in every part of the country and in different price ranges, but the most popular include Machel Monday, Fall Out, Lime at Hyatt, Beach House, C’est La Vie, and Vale Vibe.

It is said to be the only acoustic musical instrument invented in the twentieth century, and there is an entire competition dedicated to it. Steel pan aficionados turn out in ecstatic droves for the National Panorama Competition, which has not one but two finals. The small and single pan finals will be held on 12 February in Skinner Park, San Fernando, but the main event, for large and medium bands, is on Carnival weekend: 14 February at the Queen’s Park Savannah. The Panorama title is one of Carnival’s most coveted. Serious fans don’t just support their side from the audience — they’re in the thick of it, helping to push the heavy mobile racks of pans onto the Savannah track.

The re-enactment of the Canboulay Riots on 12 February travels to Skinner Park in San Fernando this year. It’s traditionally performed in Port of Spain at Piccadilly Greens, but for 2015 T&T’s second city will echo with the cries of those who resisted the colonial government’s suppression of Carnival in the nineteenth century. The re-enactment performance takes some liberties with the story, but it continues to provide a fresh look at the mas, and is street theatre at its most gripping.

On 13 February, Carnival Friday at the main Savannah stage in Port of Spain brings out the most elaborate and ambitious mas costumes, for the finals of the senior and junior Kings and Queens competition. Elaborate structures of feathers and foil, satin and sequins, some even equipped with special-effects lights and smoke, parade across the stage and for a live TV audience.

What’s fondly known to Trinis as Fantastic Friday also brings both the International Power Soca Monarch (for uptempo songs) and the International Groovy Soca Monarch (for slower songs) competitions — on the same night, at the same venue, the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain. Soca stars go to unprecedented lengths to outdo each other with their live performances — the costumes, stunts, special effects, and celebrity cameos will be the talk of the town for days.

Traditionally the final event before the arrival of the Merry Monarch, Dimanche Gras — on the night of Carnival Sunday, 15 February — has been tweaked and revamped over the years in an attempt to make the once hours-long show into something more manageable. Calypso has been at the heart of Carnival since its inception, so it is only fitting that this night sees the Calypso Monarch being chosen and crowned. The show starts at 7 pm in the Grand Stand at the Queen’s Park Savannah, and for real Carnival jumbies it leads straight into . . .

J’Ouvert is Carnival stripped of pretence, formality, and sparkle. Carnival Monday’s opening act  is a return to the streets and to the elements, as revellers coat themselves in mud, oil, paint, powder, and even chocolate. Imagine all that on your skin before the sun is even up! That’s right, the official start to J’Ouvert is 4 am — but many people head straight to the celebration from fetes and Dimanche Gras. Stamina is key. And rum. And coffee!

And then it’s finally here. Carnival Monday and Tuesday on 16 and 17 February reveals the pomp, the ceremony, the colour, the sparkle, the splendour, and the bacchanal that is T&T Carnival. Anyone can take part in the Parade of the Bands: just sign up with a Carnival band and wear your costume. But you don’t even need to do that to take a wine on someone — masqueraders are almost always eager to oblige. The parade follows a specific route, with several judging points, the most celebrated being the Savannah stage, so you can set up camp and wait for the bands to go by. Admire the talent and creativity of a people — not to mention the well-honed bodies.



Get snapping

The music world may think of Jamaica as the land of Bob Marley, reggae, and dancehall — but there’s a lot more to listen to here. The 19th Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival is a good place to start. Trelawny Stadium will resonate with the five-octave sultry voice of headline singer Mariah Carey, drawing on her extensive twenty-six-year repertoire for her debut Caribbean performance. Also performing in the Caribbean for the first time at Jamaica Jazz are SOJA (Soldiers of Jah Army), an eight-member American reggae and dub band whose sound “blends reggae, go-go, DC hardcore, Latin, rock, and hip-hop into sweet packages of music.”

When: 29 to 31 January
Where: Trelawny Stadium, Falmouth
For more info: visit or follow @JamaicaJazz on Twitter


Jamaica Biennial

When: runs until 14 March
Where: National Gallery of Jamaica, Devon House, and other venues in Kingston and Montego Bay
What: This biennial survey of the Jamaican art scene has been ambitiously reconceived to mark the National Gallery’s fortieth anniversary. For the first time, the juried exhibition expands beyond the gallery’s downtown Kingston headquarters to other venues, and selected works by non-Jamaican artists open the biennial to the wider Caribbean
For more info: visit



Grenada Sailing Week

When: 29 January to 3 February
Where: Port Louis Marina and Prickly Bay Marina
What: Don’t let not having a boat stop you from enjoying this regatta, as there are many charters for you to choose from. Or if you’re a die-hard sailor, be sure to enter to grab any of the daily prizes in the different racing classes
For more info: email or follow them on Facebook at



Paint it out

There’s an entire festival in the Caribbean dedicated to painting outdoors — and no, we don’t mean sprucing up the outside of buildings. The Plein Air Curaçao Art Festival is a biennial international event where artists gather to paint the world as they see it at locations in the open air, using a variety of media: oils, pastels, watercolours, or whatever else they can get their hands on. Since the festival’s launch in 2011, artists have interpreted Curaçao on land and underwater (using special non-toxic paints), and this year they will re-imagine it from above as well. Hosted by Art Foundation Curaçao, the festival includes special exhibitions, workshops, and a paint-out competition. Of course, work produced during this event is also available for sale, so come prepared!

When: 26 February to 7 March
Where: venues around Curaçao
For more info: visit


St Vincent and the Grenadines

Don’t be blue

It all started one night at Basil’s Bar on the tiny island of Mustique in the Grenadines. An a capella performance by British blues singer Dana Gillespie led to the creation of the signature Mustique Blues Festival. Celebrating twenty years in 2015, the festival, of course, will once again feature Dana Gillespie and the London Blues Band, along with British blues singer Ian Siegal, Dino Baptiste, Julien Brunetaud, Eugene Hideaway Bridges, and Shemekia Copeland. The line-up even heads off to nearby Bequia for the Mount Gay Music Fest on 23 January. All proceeds, along with the revenue from the sale of live CDs of the festival, go towards the Basil Charles Educational Foundation, formed to help young Vincentian students.

When: 21 January to 4 February
Where: Basil’s Bar
For more info: visit


Puerto Rico

San Sebastián Street Festival

When: 15 to 18 January
Where: the streets of Old San Juan
What: First founded as a fundraising religious festival in the 1950s, when the San Sebastián festival was revitalised in 1970, no one imagined it would grow this big, with thousands of visitors. The open-air four-day street festival has parades, food, live music, dancing, and a craft fair. All you need to do is follow the music




When: 23 February
Where: Georgetown
What: A Carnival that’s also a patriotic holiday — what could be better than that? Guyana celebrates its forty-fifth Republic Day with parades, steel pan, calypso, and chutney competitions, as it promotes the theme of One People, One Nation, One Celebration. There will also be a lecture series and art exhibitions
For more info: email


St Barthélemy

Soak in the notes

With a population of just over nine thousand people on the island, chances are that by the end of the St Bart’s Music Festival you’ll probably feel like you’ve been introduced to almost everyone. Whether you remember all their names — well, that’s another story. The programme is a mix of both live music and dance performances, from classical and opera to jazz and ballet. These performers have graced the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala in Milan, and the Paris Opera Ballet, among others, and have been trained at some of the most prestigious schools of music in the world. And the best part? According to the festival’s website, “Advance tickets to performances are not necessary, just come to the island and pay at the door — the old-fashioned way!”

When: 9 to 25 January
Where: venues around St Barths
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.