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An Overview of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago has three aspects. There is Mas, Steelband and Calypso. Article by Eric 'Shorty' Lewis,
Panist of the Trinidad Casablanca Steel Orchestra

For the people of this country this is truly a grand occasion. All the people are involved in this venture as it has continued from the christmas celebrations, so in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival starts from November.

1. Mas: The Bandleaders and designers begin as early as maybe April to get their paintings and materials together. Some even begin working on their costumes as early as September, but officially the season is launched about one month before the actual two days which are Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

Mas, as it is called, is something very exciting and colourful, it takes very much artistic skills, hand work and dedication, to have a very good mas band.

Let's begin with the children, at schools throughout the island there are school mas bands, including the pre-schoolers (2 1/2 - 5 years). Then there are bandleaders, who produce mas for children only as there are competitions for children only. The bigger ones being the Red Cross children's Carnival competition. And sunshine snacks are organized where the children have their day to parade on the streets of Port-of-Spain (capital of T&T). This is the Saturday before Carnival and on Sunday, there is the Downtown Carnival for children where they again parade on the streets. So they have their two days like the adults. "Ole Mas" (old masquerade) we call it, as it is something very funny. Most of the time, the town looks like a masquerade ball, were people depict people and things in our own Trinidadian way. There is "Jouvert" which is almost similar to "Ole Mas" but recently there is a lot of mud and oil that is painted or rubbed on the skin. This begins at 2 a.m. in the morning on Carnival Monday and goes on till around 11 a.m.

Then on Monday evening there are also Bands parading throughout the town and country; then, on Monday night, there is also Mas which begins at 12 a.m. or midnight so we call this midnight Mas. Then very early on Tuesday, you see all the splendor of true Trinidad & Tobago Carnival.

2. Calypso: Before, we used the term "Calypso Season". Now, we no longer use this term, as you find it throughout the entire year there are Calypsonian releasing new music, hence the reasow.

But what happens, is that in December - January the Calypso Tents begin to open. Tents are places where a number of Calypsonians get together and have performances every night. Travelling throughout the country of the island, coming together with other tents to have one big show. They also hope to be one of the persons to be piced for the big Calypso shows of which there are several, i.e: the "Young Kings competition", the "Soca Monarch competition" and the "National Monarch competition", and many more. But these mentioned, are some of the more established ones. There are no preliminary rounds for those competitions I have mentioned: the judges visit the tents and select the artists, then there is a semi-final and finals. For the "Young King competition" there is only one round. The same as the "Calypso Queen competition", the semi-finals are held in San Fernando at Skinner Park (there is a saying that once you are able to please the people in San Fernando, then you are a Calypsonian). The Soca Monarch competition is relatively new as this years was its inauguration and it turned out to be a resounding success. The National Junior and Senior competition was very good this year and of a high standard, and for the first time this year the National finals were held at the National stadium.

3. Panorama: Steelbands also start preparing for the panorama competition early. They would start in about December learning other Calypsos but paying more attention to their panorama pieces. Some learn more than others as they have to play at certain functions for their sponsors or they are lucky enough to play in some of the big parties that are held throughout the entire season. Panorama is devided into various parts: Preliminary Zonal, Semi-finals, Finals. First there are preliminary, which are held over three days; Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Friday there is the "Pan Around the Neck" or "Ole Times Steelbands". These bands are the ones that carry their instruments around their necks. So for that reason they use single instruments mainly: tenor, single second, single guitars and single bass or do-dop as they are called.

This was one of the first ways people used to play their instruments until they introduced racks and other things to carry the pans.

Then on Saturday and Sunday there are the Conventional bands or big bands. These bands vary from 55 to 120 players per band. Very few reach the maximum of 120 players. After the preliminaries on these days the bands are then devided into zones for a final to name champion band in each zone. North, East, Central and South. From each zone eight bands will qualify. How? Depending on the point system, thei eight with the highest points are qualified.

Then there is another part to panorama we should not forget. That being the schools or Junior panorama competition. ere, the children are assisted by the big bands or senior bands by allowing them the use of their equipments for this day. This is normally held on the Monday before Carnival Monday. This, we say, is their ground training, because some even play for the larger Steelbands on panorama days. Most of these Junior bands play the same tune as the big bands.

Then, there are the national semi-finals, which are held on the Tuesday before Carnival with 20 Steelbands participating for a place in the National Finals to be held on the Saturday before Carnival. Out of the 20 steelbands that were selected to come up against the winning champion who was Exodus 1992 does not play for the Semi-finals (the winner of the last year competition). They are automatically qualified for the Finals.

There are many things that are wonderful and splendid about the Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. But it's very hard to put it into writing. I think for better knowledge and experience in your lifetime you should come on down to Trinidad and Tobago for Carnival.

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