PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – With just a few weeks to go, partiers are finalizing preparations for Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, the radical explosion of color, music, dance and creativity that sweeps the dual-island nation every year.
With its massive masquerade bands, colorful costumes, pulsating music and exuberant celebrations, Trinidad’s Carnival, the largest in the Caribbean, is often described as “the greatest show on earth”, attracting visitors from all over the world. Though numerous competitions, fetes, concerts and parties are already in full swing, Carnival revelers are eager for the upcoming “big show”.
While Carnival officially takes place the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday each year, celebrations begin the day after Christmas and continue through Carnival Tuesday. During this time, steel bands make intense preparations for Panorama, the annual competition of steel pan bands, the national instrument, on Saturday, March 1. Preliminary contests are hosted at panyards throughout the country during the six weeks leading up to Carnival. Select bands are then invited to compete before judges and thousands of spectators the Saturday night before Carnival officially begins.
Dimanche Gras on Sunday, March 2, is a fierce competition to determine the King and Queen of masquerade bands. King and queen costumes typically weigh anywhere between 50-200 pounds, depict colorful themes and are often enhanced with lights, lasers, fog and even fireworks. Designers spend months creating the spectacular costumes, and the contest is a Carnival spectacle.
J’Ouvert, the official start of Carnival, takes place just before dawn on Carnival Monday, March 3. Fueled by the excitement of the events to come, revelers take to the streets to the sounds of soca and calypso music, covering themselves in grease, oil, paint, chocolate or mud, a celebration of the darker elements of the islands’ folklore and history and parade through the towns and villages of Trinidad until the sun comes up.
After sunrise, masqueraders return to the streets for Carnival Monday celebrations, donning glittery, colorful costumes, “jumping up” and “wining” (gyrating the hips) to the sound of soca blaring from speakers piled on moving music trucks. Considered just a warm-up for Carnival Tuesday, party goers know they must conserve energy for Tuesday. Carnival Tuesday, the grand finale of the series of events, begins at 8 a.m. on March 3 with masqueraders in full costume ready and waiting to dance wildly in front of the judges. Bands are judged in three categories: small, medium and large. Winners are announced after all the bands have been judged then the grand champion is crowned Masquerade Band of the Year.
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