Trinidad Carnival (4)
After an ever-more fete-heavy week, Carnival Friday sees the first of the full-blown Carnival fixtures, the Soca Monarch competition, usually held on the hallowed turf of the Oval cricket ground. Featuring all the big- name soca acts in the Caribbean, it’s a similar, if slightly more orderly, scene to Brass Fete – lots of flag- and rag-waving, wining, drinking and crowd response; if you see chamberpots placed on the stage, or a flurry of toilet rolls aimed at a performer, you can be pretty sure they’re not going to win. Come Carnival Saturday, the city is all set and raring to go: with a mini-village of huts constructed around the edges of the Savannah, and stalls along the main streets, selling roti, bake-and-shark, com soup, doubles and, of course, rum and beers. If you’re not at the Savannah for the Panorama Finals, then Saturday night should see you grooving away at one of the numerous fetes or getting a decent night’s sleep in preparation for the taxing few days ahead.
Jouvert is the raw side of Carnival – pure, unadulterated bacchanalia, in which people wear wickedly satirical home-made costumes or choose to play “dirty mas”, daubing themselves from head to toe in mud, grease, body paint and chocolate and then slithering along the streets with a mass of happy, drunken, dirty humanity, anonymous enough to do pretty much anything that takes their fancy, while a steelband, sound-system truck or rhythm section (a band of percussion players) marches alongside. It’s immensely joyful, and it’s a good idea to dress in something old and brief – wear white, and you’re guaranteed a host of filthy hugs. The crowning point of the night is an anarchic crossing of the Savannah stage in all your muddy glory.
Many people just head out onto the streets independently to play Jouvert – you’ll find that it won’t take long for someone to cover you in mud, and there are plenty of music trucks and wandering pan bands to which you can attach yourself. However, if you’re new to Carnival it’s a good idea to sign up with an organized Jouvert band. Names to look out for are Mudsters Inc, Mudders International, and Sunday morning is best spent watching the fabulous traditional Carnival characters in Victoria Square, while the afternoon offers a pick of several last-minute fetes: TASA all-inclusive fete in the Queen’s Hall car park is usually one of the most intense of the lot. However, if you’ve any sense, you’ll be at home with your feet up, because Sunday evening should see you back at the Savannah for Dimanche Gras, when the huge king and queen costumes are presented to the judges. Here, calypsonians competing for the Calypso Monarch title give equally lavish performances, with plenty of special effects to enhance the music. Inevitably, the show drags on into the early hours so, if you can, leave yourself enough time to get out onto the streets for Jouvert, which starts at about lam. The band created each year by Rapso group 3-Canal, but new outfits spring up each year. As with the main costume bands, organized Jouvert bands charge a fee (from US$45), which includes a rudimentary costume, purified (and sometimes heated) mud, body-paint and drinks, as well as mobile toilets and facilities in which to shower off all the gunge before going home. Furthermore, most of the established outfits avoid the traditionally manic downtown area, and have posses of burly security men to look after their revellers – a comforting thought given that robberies and even assaults amidst all the madness are becoming increasingly common. Whether you’re with a band or not, leave all jewellery at home, secrete your money away carefully, and be wary of getting too inebriated.
Carnival Monday and Tuesday
At six or seven in the morning, the Jouvert crowds start to drift home for a quick shower (those with real stamina head for Maqueripe Beach to wash off in the sea) before meeting their Carnival band at around 8am for the Parade of the Bands. Most start in Woodbrook, and make their way towards central Port of Spain, winding through the streets towards the Savannah, where they’ll cross the stage and then head homewards. Many bands ask their revellers to wear only some of their costume (or something entirely different) on Monday, saving their best outfit for Tuesday’s parade, though the sound trucks that accompany the bands are still out in force. By the evening, the best plan (if you’re not already exhausted and sunburnt) is to find a steelband truck that’s headed in the direction of wherever you’re staying, and follow it home.
The final Carnival Tuesday sees bands out on the streets again at 8am, this time dressed in all their finery. If you’re not playing mas and want to see the costumes, position yourself at any of the judging points, where the ground troops’ costumes and enthusiasm are assessed, and where someone keeps track of what mas players’ feet are moving to – the song that’s played the most at the judging points is awarded the coveted title of “Road March”. In the Savannah, the Grand Stand and North Stand provide the best views, as masqueraders summon every last ounce of energy to impress the judges as they cross the stage. Some of the larger bands, which can number several thousand people, can take hours to pass, much to the fury of security guards and the bands behind, but now that the massive Poison is no more (ten thousand revellers was too much for the organizers to handle), passage across the stage should be smoother. Standing in the tracks is perhaps a more atmospheric viewpoint, though, and you can join in the dancing anywhere on the street (though woe betide you if you try and mingle with a costume band anywhere near a judging point). The partying continues non-stop all day, with “last-lap” parades on the streets allowing the most dedicated their final dance. By midnight, it’s all over – though most continue the fun the following day by heading to huge beach parties at nearby Maracas and Manzanilla, along the east coast.