As the countdown to Trinidad’s Carnival 2009 draws to a close, I find myself listening to more and more of my favorite older Calypso and Soca tunes [Carnival: February 23rd & 2424th]. I also usually listen to the newer music in order to familiarize myself with the popular tunes before I arrive at Piarco airport in Trinidad and go out to any fetes.
This year, however, I made a decision to skip going to “play mas”. “Play mas” is a Trini term which simply refers to purchasing a costume from an organized band and then you dance, jump and wine with that band for two entire days as masqueraders on the streets of Port-of Spain.
In Jamaica, the costumes are called “pretty costumes” and only one or two bands exist on the chosen day designated for Carnival in Kingston, which is usually way later than when the Trinidadians have their Carnival.
In Trinidad, the entire country is shut down for the two days of reveling in the streets and almost the entire country becomes involved in the event many months before the final two days. “Bwoy, Carnival coming!” can be heard in pockets all over the country. Carnival, steel bands, mas bands, calypso and soca music are integral parts of Trinidad and Tobago’s culture just as Reggae, jerk, sand, sea and Bob Marley are parts of Jamaica’s culture.
It is funny how I grew to like Carnival as an adult, as my father’s family – strict Seventh Day Adventists – was not fond of the events. I can still hear my father’s voice, “Foolishness!” he replied, when we children begged and pleaded to be taken to watch the Mas parades.
Instead, we were all packed up and hauled off to the beaches of Mayaro along with another car load of my eight cousins to play at the seaside for the two Carnival days. As a child, I loved seeing my many cousins, so once we arrived at the beach, we soon forgot about Carnival, steel pans and the sailor costumes.
One year, however, my Grandmother must have taken me with her to go “watch mas”. I may have been four or five years old, as I remember sitting on Granny’s shoulders or anybody who would hoist me up for a look at the beautiful ladies dancing by in feathers and beads. “Oh how exciting!” I thought as I clapped, smiled and waved knowing that someday I would make it back to dance in the streets in costume. Twenty-five years later and living in Washington, D.C., this became a reality as I made a trek for Carnival.