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T&T Carnival

...flagship for Caribbean unity
Published: 
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Every year Bajan pop superstar Rihanna takes a break from her musical commitments to take part in Crop Over and her presence there draws huge attention from the international press. AP PHOTO)

Calypsonian Brother Mudada branded T&T as “the mecca of the steelband,” but it is also true to say that T&T is the mecca of Carnival, inclusive of calypso and mas. 

Having spawned over 100 Trini-style carnivals worldwide, the T&T Carnival brand and influence is significantly obvious in regional carnivals, especially in Barbados and Jamaica.

Though the most northern Caricom neighbour to T&T and just 1,500 miles away from New York, Jamaica resisted the lure of embracing our Carnival for a very long time, despite the popularity of New York’s Labour Day Carnival. 

Fifteen years after being involved in Jamaica’s Orange Carnival, iconic music band leader Byron Lee came to Trinidad in 1989 and invited a contingent of locals to come to his country to organise his island’s first Trini-style Carnival. 

Making that historic trip to Jamaica in 1990 were local Carnival luminaries of the day, including Peter Minshall, Stephen Lee Heung, Stephen Derek, Peter Samuel, Allyson Brown and Queen of Carnival Denyse Duncan. 

Artistes also included in the expedition were Sparrow, David Rudder, Black Stalin, Tambu, Crazy, Poser, Duke, Calypso Rose, Shadow, Rootsman, Denyse Plummer, Iwer George, Baron, SuperBlue, Colin Lucas, Charlie’s Roots, Atlantik, Shandileer, Blue Ventures, Second Imij and Sparrow Troubadours. Also on board the flight were DJs Chinese Laundry, Hurricane George, Mad Man Maddy, Davy Scorpion and King Chow. 

Over 150 nationals made the trip and made the first ever Jamaica Carnival possible. It was the largest ever contingent of locals attending a regional carnival on official business.

Joining Jamaican luminaries in art to judge the first Jamaica Carnival were Allyson Hennessy, Angela Fox, Gerald Agostini, Holly Thomas and Peter Ray Blood. 

All regional carnivals have unique titles for various component for their festival. 

For instance, in Jamaica, bandleaders are referred to as ‘marshalls’ and bands as ‘cells’. Barbados’ calypso monarch competition is called Pic-o-de-Crop; Dimanche Gras is ‘Cohobblopot’, and its J’Ouvert, held along Spring Garden Highway, is ‘Fore Day Morning’.

Jamaica Carnival, now in its 26th year, is held on Easter weekend, with the parade going past the Wyndham and Pegasus hotels in Kingston, through Half Way Tree, Constant Spring Road, King’s Plaza and culminating at the Police Officers Club at Hope Road, Kingston.

Initially, Jamaica Carnival met stiff opposition from many quarters, including the reggae music fraternity and church people. To appease the population and assure citizens that T&T wasn’t coming to impose its culture on Jamaica, Lee organised a mammoth, free open air concert at the Half Way Tree intersection featuring acts like Chalice, Third World and calypsonian Poser and others.

Jamaicans were left awestruck in 1990 when half a million people assembled at Half Way Tree to view the first parade of bands, something previously unheard of as it meant that the well heeled denizens of Uptown Kingston were rubbing shoulders with the masses of the Downtown suburbs.

The day after the parade, Lee told the Gleaner newspapers about the Half Way Tree turn out: “It was a long time since tears came to my eyes, but on more than one occasion, I cried. It was a phenomenon, everybody—black, blue, white—just came together (in peace) and had a good time.”

Jamaica Carnival has not been the same since 1990. Each year, new Trinis make the journey north, embellishing the product, especially the party circuit.

World renowned party promotions outfit Caesar’s Army, led by Jules Sobion, having conquered the fete scene locally and in the New York and Miami, invaded Jamaica Carnival in 2014 with its A.M.Bush party. 

It was a wildly-successful venture which further cemented ties between the young people of both islands.

A festive time to mark the end of the sugar cane crop, Barbados’ Crop Over Festival (Kadooment) was revived in 1974 by a group which included Julian Marryshow, Flora Spencer, Emile Straker and Livvy Burrowes, in conjunction with the Barbados Tourist Board. The festival resembles T&T Carnival in some ways and iconic local masman Stephen Lee Heung was one of its initial architects. 

Late Barbados calypsonian Mighty Dragon (Edrick Jordan) was the person who insisted that calypso be incorporated on the Crop Over programme. The first monarch competition was held in 1974 and the winner was the Mighty Destroyer (Keith Christian).

With the state becoming involved in the festival in the ‘70s, it rapidly grew and improved, its earliest producers being Nigel Harper and Elton “Elombe” Mottley. Crop Over peaked in 1983 with the establishment of the National Cultural Foundation. Today the Crop Over Festival adds approximately Bds$240M to the Barbadian economy.

Beginning in June, the Crop Over Festival runs until the first Monday in August when it culminates in the finale, The Grand Kadooment. Its programme includes several competitions including Bridgetown Market Street Fair, Cohobblopot, Pic-o-de-Crop and Foreday Morning. 

Stacey Hutchinson, Senior Business Development Officer for the Caribbean & Latin America of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI), said that Barbados has been hosting T&T Carnival artisans, artistes and media “for many years.” She added: “There are some (Crop Over) events with Trini connections, but not all are all-inclusive events. Since the ‘80s, the tourism group has also hosted media practitioners of Trinidad and Tobago.” Each year, the BTMI sends an advance contingent to Trinidad to market Crop Over and some of the country’s hotels and guest houses.

n The influence of T&T calypso, soca, mas and band on the region will be highlighted in tomorrow’s continuation.

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