Carnival Countdown (Part 1)

Your complete guide to this year's Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, the first of the new millennium. What happens, what to do, how to join in; costumes, fetes, mas' bands, steel orchestras, Panorama, calypso tents, soca and chutney, Kiddies' Carnival, Calypso Monarch, J' Ouvert...It's all here, together with the story of how it all came about and glorious pictures of last year's festival

  • Hands in the air, it’s time to fête. Photograph by Sean Drakes
  • WITCO Desperadoes, Steelband Panorama champions 1999 — steelpans await players on the track leading to the Queen’s Park Savannah stage. Photograph by Sean Drakes
  • David Rudder. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Sanelle Dempster’s The River washed away all contenders for Road March 1999. Photograph by Sean Drakes
  • Kizzie Gift, Junior Queen of Carnival 1999, in her winning portrayal Carmen Miranda — Toast to the Century. Photograph by Sean Drakes
  • Carnival Tuesday in uptown Port of Spain. Photograph by Jeffrey Chock

It’s Carnival Time Again

It seems like only yesterday we were being swept along on the tide of Sanell Dempster’s The River and “dusting away” Kurt Allen’s bees. Singing Sandra’s Voices from the Ghetto was moving our hearts and souls. WITCO Desperadoes were making their way back to the winner’s circle with their sweet rendition of In My House. And Peter Minshall’s The Lost Tribe, swaddled in bedouin-like robes, were anything but lost, actually finding their way to the Savannah stage before lunchtime. It was also the beginning of what is sure to be a long and fruitful collaboration between BWIA and the Invaders Steel Orchestra. If none of this makes any sense to you, it simply means you weren’t here for Carnival 1999.

What will the 2000 Carnival bring? A nice, long season, for one. With Carnival Monday and Tuesday falling this year on March 6 and 7, the first Carnival season of the 2000s has a good two and a half months to unfold.

As we get primed for this feast of fêteing and bacchanalia, Caribbean Beat’s Carnival Countdown looks back at some of the memorable moments of Carnivals past. Pat Ganase and Tony Hall set the scene for the Carnivals of the 21st century with a look back at the earlier days of the masquerade, the development of the steelband, and an examination of the salacious joy of the Carnival dance. Georgia Popplewell looks forward to Carnival 2000, offering a taste of what the senses can expect to experience over the season. And, as always, Carnival Countdown presents a comprehensive listing of the events, the places, the people — all to help you get prepared for the rites of Carnival, the greatest show on earth.


MAS’

You don’t have to be in costume to take part in the non-stop street party which begins on Carnival Monday morning and ends abruptly at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday. Yet there’s clearly something about donning a costume that makes the experience all the more special.

The Parade of the Bands on Carnival Monday and Tuesday is the culmination of the Carnival season. Part procession, part over-scale party, it’s dominated these days by the mega-bands, the thousands-strong, multi-section groups which take the stages by storm, each striving to put on a better (or longer) show than the other. For the spectator on the sidelines it’s a feast for the eyes: a day-long banquet of colour, bodies and motion.

Anyone can register to be a part of any of the Carnival bands. Some bands even have websites displaying the year’s designs and prices (see Virtual Carnival). Even if you choose not to play, a visit to a “mas’ camp”, one of the workshops where costumes are made, is worth it.

In Port of Spain, bands are required to cross several stages or judging points in order to be eligible for the Band of the Year title, and streets are closed to vehicular traffic for the two days of street parade. A motley jumble for much of the route, bands will organise themselves into sections for stage crossings at Victoria and Adam Smith Squares (Woodbrook) and South Quay (downtown Port of Spain), which makes these the best points to stand and watch. For a true ringside view, buy tickets for the stands erected in each area or at the Queen’s Park Savannah, whose vast, elevated stage offers the ultimate spectacle. The Savannah’s “Big Yard” becomes centre stage for the most important performances, for television and still cameras, for radio commentary, and, more recently, for transmission to the outside world via “live satellite link.” Over the past two years, live images have also been transmitted via the Internet.

Young mas’ players compete in several children’s competitions throughout the island in the weeks leading up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday, and parade in the streets of Port of Spain on Carnival Saturday.

MUSIC

Trinidad and Tobago’s national music form, calypso, is inextricably linked with Carnival. In its early days calypso had a slow beat, relying more on clever lyrics and innuendo to keep the audience’s attention. Today, the scene is dominated by calypso’s uptempo modern form, soca, which is more of a party music, better succumbed to in the context of a massive public fête than contemplated. Popular practitioners of the form include Machel Montano and Xtatik, SuperBlue, Kurt Allen, and Iwer George. Traditional calypso, meanwhile, is kept alive in the calypso tents, where committed traditionalists perform their leisurely-paced, acerbic satires on Trinbagonian life. It is here that the calypsonian fulfils his role as troubadour, watchdog for social injustice, and general piss-taker. Bridging the gap between the two styles is David Rudder, a brilliant lyricist and composer who operates with equal ease in both large and intimate spaces.

The mettle of the season’s music is measured in several competitions. The Soca Monarch, the most raucous event of them all, tests mainly crowd appeal. The Calypso Queen competition is self-explanatory. The Young Kings Competition is open to newer performers. All are eligible for entry in the Calypso Monarch competition, which judges the best overall performance. The Road March title goes to the tune played most often at judging points at Carnival Monday and Tuesday. A schools’ competition is also held for younger talent.

PAN

It’s commonplace to measure the success of the steelband by its accession to shrines like New York’s Carnegie Hall, but until you’ve heard a steel orchestra on the Panorama stage you haven’t heard half the story of what “pan” is all about. It is here, playing the music on which it cut its musical teeth, that the instrument is at its most confident, that steel orchestras demonstrate the ecstatic, breakaway quality that is the essence of their sound.

Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of this oil drum-turned-instrument, and no other population lives and breathes pan quite like this country’s. The Panorama competition is one of the highlights of the Carnival season, and it nurtures the movement the way the NBA nurtures basketball — giving players an opportunity to play a great deal, show off their skills, and, moreover, test those skills against those of other players. Comprising a gruelling series of rounds, during which orchestras play arrangements of the season’s tunes, the Panorama competition is judged both by the official adjudicators and the 1.2 million music experts who make up the Trinidad and Tobago public. The preliminary round is one of the first major public events of the season, and is awaited with bated breath by pan aficionados and party animals alike. The marathon North/East zonal leg in Port of Spain begins in the morning and goes on till the wee hours of the next day. At no point, however, does partying subside in the Queen’s Park Savannah’s legendary North Stand.

In preparing for the season, orchestras spend weeks learning and refining the arrangements worked out with wizard-like acuity by arrangers like Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and Jit Samaroo. These arrangements will usually be altered several times during the season, often quite radically, as judges’ comments and crowd reception are taken into account. Pannists must therefore adapt quickly, sometimes mastering the new arrangement in a matter of hours — a miracle, considering that many of them play exclusively by ear.

Most steel orchestras are community-based, and their practice arenas, known as “panyards”, are often important meeting places for the people of the district. Panyards vary radically in terms of size, location and amenities, so don’t think you’ve seen them all until you’ve seen them all. Visitors are always welcome; no Carnival itinerary, in fact, is complete without a panyard tour.

FETES

The New Year celebrations will simply be the warm-up. Trinidad and Tobago during the Carnival season is the party capital of the world, with a revel to suit every taste.

The biggest are the public fêtes, which seem to grow in number every year (and in a long season like 2000, watch out). The airwaves over the season are awash with fête ads, each louder and wilder than the next, and, if you happen to be staying near a fête venue — well, either give in and go with the vibe or invest in a good pair of ear plugs: many decibels are involved.

Clever promoters give their fêtes inventive names (Soca Flowing Like Water, Soca Under the Silos), but it’s safe to say that most events will feature live bands, thousands of people moving in time to the music, and will go on till morning. Popular venues include Lion’s Civic Centre, St John’s Ambulance Brigade and the Savannah, but any large empty walled space will do. The King of them all is the Brass Festival, where the season’s top bands perform on several stages in front of thousands packed sardine-like into the PSA Centre in St James. Wise folks travel with a posse.

At the other end of the spectrum are the all-inclusive fêtes. A flat (and fat) fee entitles you to all the food and drink you can consume in a night. These usually take place in more picturesque surroundings, the clubs and gardens and beautiful spaces of the nation. Some are fund-raisers organised by institutions such as the University of the West Indies, Bishop Anstey High School and the Blood Bank. Most are privately organised. Some even feature live bands, though don’t expect a full-length performance. The best are liberally endowed with food booths, snack stands, buffet tables and top-drawer bars. Tickets are usually only available from organisers, but this is Trinidad and Tobago, somebody you know is bound to know somebody who knows one of them.

J’OUVERT

This early morning intro to Carnival (pronounced “jouvay”) has always had a fin-de-siècle quality: Trinbagonians haven’t typically waited for the end of the century to cross-dress and act like the apocalypse happens tomorrow. From 4 a.m. on Monday, as the year’s Carnival is declared officially open, bands of creatures smeared in mud and grease, men in bras and nighties, masked beings carrying placards making fun of government screw-ups and international scandals, and steelbands pushed by throngs of fans, followed by stragglers beating anything that will make a noise, will take to the streets. And they will remain in the street until the sun comes up.

J’Ouvert is the flip side of the glittery “pretty mas’” which erupts in the streets in the two days following. It’s a turning inside-out, a reminder that everything has a seam and that it’s important occasionally to put it on display. Many of the long-gone qualities of traditional mas’ persist in J’Ouvert: roles are reversed, pomposity subjected to mass ridicule. The ritual smearing with mud and grease is the prelude to a Lenten cleansing, a literal plunge into the abyss of filth. J’Ouvert is the arena, too, of the traditional Ole Mas’, the ragtag, politically-charged masquerade where the mickey is taken out of local and international shenanigans and visual puns are the order of the days.

J’Ouvert bands charge a nominal fee which normally entitles you to a rudimentary costume or a few handfuls of mud or grease. Following a steelband is another good option, since steelbands don’t come out much in the daytime any more. In Port of Spain, check out the “Bomb” competition in front of Pan Trinbago’s headquarters on Edward Street, where steelbands pull up and play rousing non-calypso numbers. Roving around independently, sampling the various selections, is another good choice.

By the time daylight arrives, those who have been revelling since Sunday afternoon begin straggling home to wash off the mud and grease at the garden hose and grab a few hours’ sleep before the party begins again around midday, when the bands congregate for the Monday leg of the Parade of the Bands.

 

2000 MASQUERADE BANDS

Band Presenter Portrayal Address

Bacca & Assoc. Mohammed Abu Bakr Fanfare 2000 Observatory St., Belmont

Barbarossa Richard Affong X-Tassy Taylor St., Woodbrook

Berlin Inc Charles Mendoza Africa Alive L’Anse Mitan, Carenage

Breakaway Prod./N. Aming Neville Aming Moods of the New Millennium Boissiere Village, Maraval

Chris Humphrey & Assoc. Chris Humphrey Fruits of The Caribbean Panka St., St James

D’Lakotas Tashunka Witko The Flowering Tree Thomas St., San F’do

D’Midas Associates Stephen Derek Tribal Rage Kitchener St.,Woodbook

De B.O.S.S. Churchill George Mezo America the Priestly People Belmont Cir. Rd., Belmont

Fireworks Promotions Raju Nathu Vistarama Independence Ave., San F’do

Funtasia Ernest Turpin Take One Maraval Rd., POS

Hart’s Ltd Thais Hart-Robertson Life: A Helluva Time Alcazar St., St Clair

H. Ramdin & A. Jackman Henry Ramdin Mandan Dandies Victoria Village, San F’do

Ivan Kalicharan Ivan Kalicharan Anthony & Cleopatra Harris St., San F’do

Jason’s Associates Stanley Beguesse A tribute to Jim Harding Charford Court, POS

Journey Wade Coker Masque Rockhart Lane, Belmont

Legends M. Antoine/I. McKenzie Streets of Fire Roberts St., Woodbrook

Lionel Jagessar Lionel Jagessar From Brazil to Broadway Gransaul St., San F’do

Lincoln Evans Lincoln Evans Deep Rigsby St., San F’do

Majikal Ekstasy Lloyd Nurse Paradise Isle Gallus St., Woodbrook

Mas Factory Albert Bailey Buller St., Woodbrook

Masquerade Earl Patterson New Moon 2000 Cipriani Boulevard, POS

Medicine International Frank Smith Festival 2000 Dyette Estate, Cunupia

Minshall Mas Peter Minshall Western Main Rd., Chaguaramas

Mt Hope Connections Keith Carrington The Decorative Arts of Africa Gerbea Ave., Macoya

Owen Hinds & Assoc. Owen Hinds Fantasy of D’Elements Rushworth Street, San Fernando

Poison Michael Headley Tropicana Harroden Pl., Petit Valley

Rampage Masmen W. Brown, M. Castle Amazonia Opp. Charford Court, POS

Rising Stars Rita George National Heraldry Victoria Village, San F’do

Showcase Associates Showcase Committee Colour Fest 2000 Oxford St., POS

Stoley & Associates Simeon Walters Tribal Extracts of Africa L’Anse Mitan, Carenage

Trini Revellers David Cameron Serpintini & the Forbidden Land Queen’s Park East, POS

Victor Rique Victor Rique Ship Ahoy Roberts St., Woodbrook

Winston Daniel & Friends Winston Daniel Kiowa Trail Petit Valley

Yakima Warriors & Assoc. Rupert Sherry Joseph Heroes of the Yakima Tribe Beetham Ave., Beetham Estate

CALYPSO MONARCHS

YEAR CALYPSONIAN SONGS

1999 Singing Sandra Voices from the Ghetto, Song for Healing

1998 Mystic Prowler Vision of T&T in the Year 2010, Look Beneath the Surface

1997 Gypsy Rhythm of a People, Little Black Boy

1996 Cro Cro All yuh Look for Dat, Dey Cyah Stop Social Commentary

1995 Black Stalin In Time, Tribute to Sundar Popo

1994 De Lamo(tie) 31 Years Old, Trinity is My Name

1994 Luta(tie) Good Driving, Licensed Firearm

1993 Chalkdust Misconception, Kaiso in the Hospital

1992 Mighty Sparrow Both of Them, Survival

1991 Black Stalin Black Man Feeling to Party, Look on the Bright Side

1990 Cro Cro Political Dictionary, Party

1989 Chalkdust Chaffeur Wanted, Carnival is the Answer

1988 Cro Cro Three Bo-rats, Corruption in Common Entrance

1987 Black Stalin Mr Pan Maker, Burn Them

1986 David Rudder The Hammer, Bahia Girl

1985 Black Stalin Ism Schism, Wait Dorothy Wait

1984 Penguin We Living in Jail, Sorf Man

1983 Tobago Crusoe Don’t Cry Now, South Africa

1982 Scrunter The Will, Lee Kee Ting

1981 Chalkdust Things that Worry Me, I Can’t Make

1980 Relator Food Prices, Take ah Rest Mr Prime Minister

CALYPSO TENTS

TRINIDAD

Calypso Revue, SWWTU Hall, 10 Wrightson Road, Port of Spain

Calypso Spektakula, Spektakula Forum, 111-117 Henry Street, Port of Spain

Classic Ruso, The Soca Boat, Cruise Ship Complex, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain

Junior Roving Tent, roving tent comprising schoolchildren playing at schools around the country

Kaiso House, Deluxe Cinema, Keate Street, Port of Spain

Kaiso Karavan, roving tent playing at several venues

Kaiso Showkase, Palm’s Club, San Fernando

TOBAGO

Tobago Powerhouse and Eastern Stars

PANYARDS

PORT OF SPAIN

Amoco Renegades

138 Charlotte Street

Blue Diamonds

George Street

BWIA Invaders

Tragarete Road

Carib Tokyo

2A Plaisance Road, John John

Merrytones

1 Bagatelle Road, Diego Martin

Neal and Massy Trinidad All Stars

46 Duke Street

Pandemonium

3 Norfolk Street, Belmont

T&T Police Steel Ensemble

Central Police Station, Wrightson Road

T&TEC Powerstars

114 Western Main Road, St James

Trinidad Casablanca

31 Belmont Circular Road, Belmont

WITCO Desperadoes

Laventille Road, East Dry River

EAST/WEST CORRIDOR

Arima Angel Harps

Eastern Main Road and Olton Road, Arima

Birdsong

Connel and Harris Streets, Curepe

Curepe Scherzando

Evans Street, Curepe

Exodus

St John Village, Eastern Main Road, St Augustine

Inncogen Pamberi

Santa Cruz Old Road, San Juan

Nu Tones

6 Coryat Lane, Arima

Samaroo Jets

Surrey Village, Lopinot Road, Arouca

Sangre Grande Cordettes

Moonoo Street, Sangre Grande

Solo Pan Knights

Eastern Main Road, Barataria

White Oak Harmonites

Churchill Roosevelt Highway, Barataria

CENTRAL/SOUTH

Fonclaire

Dottin Street, San Fernando

Hatters

Lady Hailes Avenue, San Fernando

Hydo Agri Skiffle Bunch

Coffee Street, San Fernando

Kalamo Kings

116 Pleasantville Avenue, San Fernando

Tropical Angel Harps

Enterprise Village, Southern Main Road, Chaguanas

TOBAGO

Carib Dixieland

Mt Pleasant

Katzanjammers

Black Rock

T&TEC East Side New Dimension

Zion Hill, Belle Gardens

Tobago All Stars

Wilson Road, Scarborough

West Side Symphony

Patience Hill

CARNIVAL INFORMATION

National Carnival Commission

Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain; tel. 627-1350, fax 623-1391

National Carnival Bands Association

Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain; tel. 627-1422, fax 625-9772

Pan Trinbago, Secretariat office

Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain; tel. 623-4486, fax 625-6715

Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation

NCC Compound, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain; tel. 627-5912/8826, fax 627-5817

THE REIGNING CHAMPIONS 1999

Band of the Year

1 Legends: Dynasty

2 Masquerade: Trapeze

3 Peter Minshall and The Callaloo Company: The Lost Tribe

Medium Bands

1 D’Midas Associates: Muthos

2 Trini Revellers: Savage Garden

3 Rampage Committee: The Jewelled Box

Small Bands

1 De B.O.S.S.: Conceptions of Africa

2 Henry Ramdin and Anthony Jackman: Pontiac

3 Robert Miller: Dance Caribbean

Junior Band of The Year

Roslyn Gabriel: Carnival Time Again

Calypso Monarch

1 Singing Sandra: Voices from the Ghetto, Song for Healing

2 Sugar Aloes: The Stage is Mine, Power of Prayers

3 Gypsy: Soul of the Nation, Last of the Better Days

Soca Monarch

1 Kurt Allen: Dust Dem

2 Iwer George: Iwer and a Half

3 Superblue: Countdown

Road March

Sanelle Dempster: The River

National Steelband Panorama

1 Witco Desperadoes

2 Exodus

3 Nutones

Queen of Carnival

1 Inez Gould: The Tempest

2 Jeanille Bontere: Queen of Sheba

3 Anra Bobb: Hera, Queen of Heaven

King of Carnival

1 Geraldo Viera Jr.: Let there be Light

2 Curtis Eustace: Pazuru, Protector of the Dark Crystals

3 Roland St George: Mimic — J’Ouvert to Carnival

Extempo King

Black Sage

Carnival on the Web

www.visitTNT.com

TIDCO’s site is a good place to look for events, background information on Carnival and links to other Carnival websites

Barbarossa www.barbarossaintl.com

Callaloo Company www.callaloo.co.tt

Funtasia www.funtasiainc.com

Harts Ltd www.hartscarnival.com

Legends www.legendscarnival.com

Masquerade www.masquerade.co.tt

Mudders International www.angelfire.com/mi/muddersinternational

Poison www.poison.co.tt

Rosalind Gabriel community.wow.net/rosalind/

3 Canal www.callaloo.co.tt/3Canal/dmas/1999/default.html

Tourism Information

TIDCO (The Tourism and Industrial Development Company)

10-14 Philipps Street, Port of Spain; tel. 623-6022/3, 623-1932/4, fax 623-3848, e-mail: tourism-info@tidco.co.tt, website: www.visitTNT.com

International toll-free lines: USA: 1-888-595-4TNT; Canada: 1-888-535-5617; UK: 0-800-960-057; Germany: 06-131-73337; Italy: 1-678-77530

International representatives:

  • Morris Kevan International Ltd., Mitre House, 66 Abbey Road Bush Hill Park, Enfield, Middlesex, EN1 2RQ England; tel.(181) 350-0225, fax (181) 350-1011
  • The RMR Group Inc., Taurus House, 512 Duplex Avenue, Toronto M4R 2E3; tel. 1888-535-5617 or 416-485-8724, fax 416-485-8256
  • Keating Communications, 350 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10118; tel. 1212-760-2400, fax 1212-760-6402
  • Basic Service Group, Ges. Fur Tourismus und Dienstleistung mbH Am Schleifweg 16 D-55128 Mainz; tel. 49-06131-73337, fax 49-06131-73307
  • Cheryl Andrews Marketing Inc., 331 Almeria Avenue, Coral Gables, Florida 33134; tel. 305-444-4033, fax 305-447-0415 (for press information)

Local information office:

  • Piarco Airport, Trinidad; tel. 669-5196

Trinidad Hotels Restaurants and Tourism Association

36 Scott-Bushe Street, PO Box 243, Port of Spain; tel. 627-4515/624-3928, fax 627-4516, e-mail: hotelassoc@wow.net, website: www.tnthotels.com

Trinidad and Tobago Tour Guide Association

Apt. 1A, Cumana Court Condominiums, Western Main Road, Pt. Cumana, Carenage; tel. 632-1017, fax 633-1759, e-mail: khackshaw@trinidad.net