Top 6 Carnivals for People of African Descent this February
By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Saturday, February 4,
Rio Carnival -24-28 Feb
Rio de Janeiro’s carnival, the world’s biggest, can be traced
to the 18th century and runs from Friday night to noon on Ash Wednesday.
Fesivities begins on the Friday when the city’s mayor hands
the keys to the city to the mythical King Momo who leads the festivities.
Hundreds of street parties – blocos – are held from
mid-January to mid-February. Bands, costumes and revelers make up the millions partying
in Rio’s city centre on Carnival Saturday.
Carnival’s spectacular highpoint is the parade of floats and
dancers of Rio’s top samba schools competing at the sambadrome arena until
Samba, the heart of carnival, was born in Rio de Janeiro in the
early 17th century at Pedra do Sal the site of a former slave market for
kidnapped and enslaved Africans in the old town. The first samba, a ritual
Candomble dance to drums and handclaps, is believed to have been composed
In 2017 Vincentians and visitors will celebrate the
40th Anniversary of Vincy Mas, the island’s premiere cultural
The Mardi Gras Parade of Bands and the Dimanche Gras Show are
the climax of the National Calypso Monarch Competition, the King and Queen of Carnival
Junior Carnival (Mas), Junior Calypso (Primary and Secondary
Schools) Junior Soca Monarch and Junior Panorama join with the Soca Monarch
competition in Victoria Park’s Carnival City.
In 1976, the Carnival Development Committee (CDC) with
Calypsonians, Panists and Mas makers, decided to move Carnival from its
traditional pre-Lenten period to 25 June – 05 July of that year in order to
generate revenue at a later period in the year, to ensure more participation by
Vincentians of the diaspora and in recognition of the stiff competition from
TTs bigger, more renowned festival.
Shakespeare and Carnival in one place? Carriacou is the place for that. Of
course, there’s the street parade, soca, pretty mas bands, calypso and Jab
Jab. But the unique Shakespeare Mas is a standout as brightly dressed orators
exchange verses. A stroke of the
opponent’s stick is the punishment for those who mess up their lines.
Carnival in Jamaica began in the 1940s when students at the University
of the West Indies recreated campus versions of their home islands
festivals. Take a jump to the late 1980s and JA’s carnival history moves on
with music pioneer Byron Lee and others bringing the event to the Land of Wood
April 22 1990, culminated a week of activities which saw the
first Mas festival as Byron Lee & Friends staged the inaugural JA Carnival.
Three decades later, it became the Kingston Metropolitan Area’s premier
festival and one of the biggest Jamaican events. Bacchanal Jamaica is the
number one Mas Camp formed 17 years ago when Oakridge Boys, Raiders, Revellers
and others joined together as one.
JA’s jump up begins when Lent is over, with a series of big
fetes, and climaxes with a day’s road march partying on the Sunday
after Easter Sunday when masqueraders chip through the capital city’s New
Kingston area passing through famous thoroughfares – Hope Road, Constant
Spring, Half Way Tree.
2017 sees the event’s return after a seven-year break. Expect
to see reggae superstar Beenie Man as well as Trinidadian soca artist 5 Star
27 – 28 Feb Aruba
A series of small street festivals heralded the birth of Aruba
Carnival in 1954. Festival organizing body Stichting Arubaanse Carnaval (SAC),
was founded on November 11 1966, and at
11:11 a.m. each year kick starts the season.
1955 saw the island’s first Carnival and debut of the official Aruba
Carnival queen. Two years later, traditional Grand Parades began. Aruba’s
oldest social club, Tivoli, the first to have a pre-Lenten celebration in
capital Oranjestad, in February 1944, has produced the Lighting Parade, a
nighttime parade since 1981.
Aruba also witnesses Children’s Parades and with Grand Parades
in second city San Nicolas and capital Oranjestad revellers shut down both
cities. Whilst the capital city has the largest and longest parade with the
most spectators and participants San Nicolas’s jouvert lasts until dawn.
Winning songs selected at carnival competitions include the best calypso and
the best road march.
Like sister isle Curacao, the midnight burning of King Momo on
Shrove Tuesday announces the end of the season.
27 – 28 Feb
Government support and the enthusiasm of volunteers and
carnival lovers has sustained Curacao’s carnival since 1969. The island’s Tumba
music has become the major influence since the people took the reins from the
elites and organized a more mass orientated festival.
With the history of Holland’s intervention and colonization
expect to see a Dutch flavour mixed with the ingredients of the pre-Lenten
events seen in other Caribbean islands – j’ouvert, kids and adults’ parades,
masquerade and music trucks.
Curacao carnival’s unique selling point is seen with Prince
and Pancho, vestiges of medieval European characters modernized for the culture
of Curacao. Carnival Queens on decorated carriages are a highlight of Carnival
Sunday’s 'Gran Marcha' (The Great March).
After the 'Marcha di Despedida' (Farewell March) a massive
Willemstad crowd watches a fireworks show which sees the burning of Rei Momo
(King Momo). Representing the sins to be cleansed by Lenten fasting, the effigy
is set ablaze the day before Ash Wednesday.
Carnival lovers can expect a slightly different experience
with Curacao’s carnival.
Hutchinson is Thenewblackmagazine.com’s Deputy Editor.