An explosion of colour, music, revelry, and creativity, Trinidad's Carnival has spawned similar celebrations around the world; but nothing on earth can rival the abandon, euphoria and stunning spectacle of our festival.
With its massive masquerade bands, spectacular costumes, pulsating music and unparalleled stamina for partying, Trinidad's Carnival is often described as the greatest show on earth. It is a time for release and everyone is invited to join the party.
To learn more about Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival and find information on shows, music, activities and events, see the links below.
Trinidad & Tobago Music
Local music, primarily Soca and Calypso play a key role in Carnival Celebrations. Sample some of the rhythmic, pulsating flavours of Carnival and other types of music from Trinidad and Tobago.
Things To Do When The Party Is Over
The music has slowed. The party is over. You want to go from the brisk to the serene. What to do? Here's our Top 5 list.
Wit, ingenuity and the ability to think quickly define extempo calypso.
National Carnival Commission
The National Carnival Commission is responsible for the development, management and coordination of Carnival events in Trinidad and Tobago.
The world governing body for steelpan, Pan Trinbago organizes steelpan shows, competitions and festivals.
Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO)
TUCO is charged with the promotion and development of calypso, one of Trinidad and Tobago's many indigenous musical arts. The body also produces calypso shows and concerts.
Each year at 4 am on Monday, Carnival begins under a cloak of darkness. Fuelled by exhilaration and the energetic rhythms of soca music, revellers take to the streets for the predawn party of J'Ouvert.
J'Ouvert (from the French 'jour ouvert' or 'day open') is almost ritualistic in its celebration of the darker elements of the island's folklore and history. Bathed in chocolate, mud, oil and paint, bands of revellers depict devils, demons, monsters and imps. Choose your medium of expression; J'Ouvert is a time for loosening of inhibitions.
Come daytime, the J'Ouvert revelry clears and massive costumed bands of "Pretty Mas" players flood the street with riotous colour. A cast of thousands take to the street "jumping up" and "wining" (gyrating of the hips) to the sound of soca blaring from speakers piled on music trucks. The excitement is at fever pitch, but Carnival Monday is only a "warm-up" for Carnival Tuesday.
Carnival Tuesday begins promptly at 8 a.m. Thousands of masqueraders are in full costume, ready and impatiently awaiting their chance to strut in front of the television cameras as bands cross the main judging points. Each band has its own historical, mythological or tropical concept with various sections depicting aspects of the main theme.
Bands are judged in three categories: small, medium and large and winners are announced after all the bands have crossed the stage. The Champion Band is crowned Masquerade Band of the Year.
Officially Carnival is the Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday but celebrations begin right after Christmas.
From Boxing Day it is non-stop partying until Carnival Sunday.
It is during this post Christmas period that calypso tents open their doors to the public and cultural shows, from Limbo competitions to massive soca concerts, begin.
Radio stations begin to play the latest soca hits and many masquerade bands launch their new themes.
Steelbands begin intense preparations for Panorama, the annual competition for steel pan bands. Preliminary contests are hosted at panyards throughout the country during the six weeks leading up to Carnival. Panorama finals are the ultimate test of musical skill. Representing the best of the best, selected bands compete before judges and thousands of spectators the Saturday night before Carnival officially begins.
Origins of Carnival
Like the cosmopolitan mix of peoples and cultures that shaped the island, Trinidad's Carnival has many influences. The Spanish and English colonial powers, French planters, African slaves, Indian indentured labourers, and the many other ethnic groups that settled here have all left an indelible mark on the festival. In 1783 the French brought their culture, customs and Carnival, in the form of elaborate masquerade balls, to Trinidad along with African slaves. The period stretching between Christmas and the start of Lent was a time for feasting, fancy dress balls and celebration for both the French and British. Banned from the festivities, slaves in the barrack yards would hold their own celebrations mimicking their masters' behaviour while incorporating rituals and folklore. Once slavery was abolished in 1838, the freed Africans took their Carnival to the streets and, as each new immigrant population entered Trinidad, a new flavour was added to the festivities. Today, our diverse culture has influenced the music, food and traditions of Carnival.
What are the major Carnival events?
The first Panorama was held in 1963 and the preliminary contests for this annual competition are now hosted by each region (North, South, Central and Tobago) in the weeks leading up to Carnival. Held the Saturday before Carnival at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Panorama finals are the ultimate test of a steelband’s skill and selected bands compete before thousands of spectators.
Kings and Queens Costume Competition
The leaders of masquerade bands, King and Queen costumes typically weigh between 50 – 200 lbs, and depict colourful themes from nature to fantasy dreamscapes. Costumes are enhanced with lasers, fog, light shows, fireworks and sound effects.
A massive cultural show, Dimanche Gras is held the Sunday night before Carnival at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.
Mas, steelpan, calypso and soca music are showcased at the event, which features the Calypso Monarch competition in which 10 to 12 calypso singers battle in song.
The official start of Carnival, J’Ouvert takes place before dawn on Carnival Monday and bands of revellers dressed in old clothes cover themselves in oil, grease, paint, chocolate or mud and dance through the streets till the sun comes up.
Carnival Monday and Tuesday
Masquerade bands consisting of thousands of people ‘jumping up’ (dancing) in glittery, colourful and often revealing costumes rule the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Each band has its own historical, mythological or tropical concept with various sections depicting aspects of the main theme.
The costumes worn by masqueraders on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, these costumes can be simple or elaborate in design.
Originating in Trinidad and Tobago, calypso music or kaiso is characterized by social or political commentary and/or satirical lyrics sung to ballad style rhythms.
Derived from calypso, soca’s fast beats and saucy lyrics provide the soundtrack to Carnival. Many of the lyrics are instructional in format e.g.; “Jump and wave”.
These parties can be large or small and during the Carnival season feature live performances from soca musicians, with popular fetes attracting massive crowds.
A type of calypso where rival performers must quickly improvise entertaining lyrics, based on a given subject, before a live audience. Performers are judged on wit and lyrical ingenuity.
Originating in Trinidad and Tobago, the infectious rhythms of chutney music is derived from a combination of traditional Indian folk songs, soca and Bollywood tunes. Lyrics are sung in Hindi and/or English.
Chutney Brass is a massive musical event attracting lovers of chutney music with performances from top chutney bands. Each bands’ repertoire must be no less than 60 per cent chutney music.
The term “brass” refers to brass bands, but it is also used to describe massive concert type events such as the Caribbean Brass Festival and the iconic Brass Festival, which feature performances from top brass bands.
All-Inclusive Fetes are parties where the cost of food and drink (including alcohol) are incorporated into the ticket price.
Usually staged during J'ouvert celebrations on Carnival Monday, the popular Bomb competitions for steelbands refer to European, American and other non-calypso music performed in a calypso style arrangement.
Where can I purchase a steelpan?
Steelpans are available for purchase in Port of Spain at the following outlets:
Panland Trinidad and Tobago
Corner Eastern Main Road & Dorata Street
Panland specialises in brightly coloured powder coated steelpans. Small souvenir steelpans start at US$58 or TT$350 prices for an authentic professional instrument start at TT$4,000.
Simon’s Music Supplies
59 St Vincent Street, Port of Spain
A double chrome tenor pan at Simons Music Supplies will cost TT$4,250. You can also purchases cases (TT$695) and collapsible stands (TT$895) at the store.
Where can I find party (fete) information?
See the TDC Carnival Calendar of Events here