Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Urban Chameleons in Trinidad for Carnival

by today’s Urban Chameleon contributor

This year apart of the HOTUC team attended carnival in Trinidad. For 7 days we traded in the laptops, Blackberry's, latte's, turkey brie sandwiches, Hot 97 and the winter cold for Doubles, Roti's, Salt fish, and Coconut bake to wine our hips under the sun listening to soca music.

In preparation for the trip, I decided to Wikipedia Trinidad Carnival since I‘d never been and wanted to know the history of the elaborate annual celebration. Here is what I found that many people who attend carnival don’t know

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago originally has its roots in the 19th century, from both West African festivals and French Catholic carnival celebrations, where masks were donned and social visits ensued. When the use of drums and religious practices were prohibited following Emancipation (1838), slaves (and then former slaves) found novel ways to pass on their cultural heritage.

Similar celebrations were held by the slaves at the end of crops harvesting, hence the Crop Over celebrations in some other Caribbean islands. In Trinidad, the festival was known as Canboulay (from Cannes Brulees, or burnt cane), and incorporated African derived dancing and music (the precursor to Calypso) to transform Carnival into what we see today.

However, after Emancipation, the festival time was merged with the French settlers' and free coloureds' celebration, the pre-Lenten festival tied to the Roman Catholic carne vale (farewell to the flesh), in preparation for fasting and religious disciplines of Lent. It is now celebrated two days before Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent.

Now having this information I could feel spiritually justified to wine my hips in the streets with barely anything on.

Life in Trinidad during Carnival is like nothing else. For months this country prepares for days of non-stop partying. As soon as we landed we headed to a Bacanal Wednesday, a party where we watched live performances of different soca music artists until we left at 2AM. The next day we attended the Beach party that started at one in the afternoon and lasted until midnight! Eleven hours of endless drinks supplied from numerous open bars consisting of every kind of alcoholic beverage you can think of including white Hennessy, (apparently not sold here in the states), an outdoor champagne room and five different food stations that had at least ten different kinds of rice, Pilau, Doubles, Jerk chicken, seafood and the best lamb chops I’d ever tasted. There was even an out door restroom area that resembled the W hotel. These people do not play. It was a paaaarty!

The following day we decided to chill out and go to Maracas beach. Mind you there was a breakfast party that started at 5AM that we could have gone to, but instead decided to recharge. The beach was unbelievable and apparently it doesn’t even compare to Tobago, which unfortunately we didn’t get to, but was still good enough.

Once there we immediately sought out where to get the best Bake and Shark, (a traditional Trini meal consisting of fried shark and fried bread- oh yes!). The word was that Richard’s is the best, and it was clear, as his stand was the only one with a line in front. It did not disappoint!

Apparently this food critic agrees

After lunch, we dipped into the ocean, which was unbelievably warm, clear of jellyfish, seaweed, or any of that other weird stuff you see floating that messes with a city gal’s swim. The ocean waves were so perfect; they knocked you around so much that you knew you were going to sleep good when you returned home. ‘Cause there is no sleeping in Trinidad!

The next few days blended together. That night we went to Soca Monarch where artists performlive to take home the top title.

The following day we attended Brian Lara’s party, (the famous cricket player), where not only were there multiple open bar and food stations, that included Trini Indian and Trini Chinese food, but also a Hagaan Dazs ice cream station!

Yes people, this might have been the highlight of the entire trip. After all that curry there is nothing like encountering options of Baileys, coffee, vanilla and chocolate favored ice cream.

After being completely satisfied, we moved to where a crowd was forming in front of the stage that Mr. Lara had installed on his property for the party. JW and Blaze came out to perform their hit song PALANCE live! If you are Trini or have your ear to the Trini/ soca music streets you already know the magnitude of this song. See video below

This song was played 417 times during the two day Road March of Carnival. Speaking of which, after the performance it was time for us to go and prepare for Carnival. It begins with J’ouvert at 4AM Monday morning. Umm let's say this wake up call takes some serious mental preparation for a New Yorker.

J'ouvert requires putting on clothes that you’re prepared to have messed up as crowds gather in the streets to jump up to music and be smeared in paint. This tradition stems from when French settlers, in 1783, who were banned from the masquerade balls of the French . Slaves then created their own version using rituals and resources they had available to them including mud and molasses. In these ceremonies they would also mock their master’s balls. The picture above is an example of some people J’ouvert out!

It amazed me that these traditions have been able to stay in tact for so long.

Later that day started what feels like pre-carnival; it’s carnival without costumes. If you’re playing mas, (short for masquerade), you get with your band, (the group of people who have also signed up to your same costume group), to walk the country the entire day accompanied by a couple of trucks carrying humongous speakers blasting soca music, a traveling open bar, bathroom and snack cart. There is even an air-conditioned bus you can hop on and off of if you need a break. The next day you do it all over again in costume!

Trinidad Carnival is truly an unforgettable time. Sure there was a shoot out one night that we had to run away from. We all had Monday morning meetings and can’t be calling in shot. Another night some guy tried to steal our panties using a wire hanger through the window. Those incidents just add flavor to the memories and is rather a testament to how we continue to chameleon. Happy 2010 Trinidad Carnival!

click here for: How the Urban Chameleon Came to be

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1 comment:

  1. My best friend goes every year, seeing that her husband (soon to be ex) is from Trinidad. She cancelled her trip this year the week before carnival began because she was moving out. Looks like fun, hopefully I will get to go soon.