Caribbean Carnival 101

You’ve probably seen the extravagant costumes, heard the sweet sound of the steel pan, or felt the rush of excitement as you watch masqueraders dance through the streets without a care in the world, but do you really know what Carnival is? This history behind Carnival, playing mas, and Jouvert is fascinating, and it’s worth exploring to truly appreciate the experience.  

A Brief History of Carnival

Caribbean Carnivals are held throughout the year, not only in Caribbean nations, but also in cities across the world including Toronto, Miami, London and Berlin (to name a few) as a celebration of Caribbean culture. While the history of each Carnival in the Caribbean varies by country, many of the Carnival traditions that are synonymous with Carnival today originated in Trinidad and Tobago.

In Trinidad, Carnival was introduced in the late 1700’s by the French. Each year between Christmas and the start of the Lenten season, the French plantation owners threw lavish masquerade balls. Banned from attending these festivities, the African slaves created their own celebrations in their yards. After slavery was abolished, the Africans continued to host Carnival celebrations in the streets and has since grown to become the largest Carnival celebration in the Caribbean.

Mas

In Trinidad, Carnival is held annually on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. This is the pinnacle of the Carnival season, where masqueraders dress in extravagantly colorful beaded and feather costumes and dance through the streets of Trinidad’s capital city, Port of Spain, to soca music. This grand parade is called Mas. The groups that participate in the parade are called Carnival bands. Each band chooses a theme for each Carnival year and creates beautiful costumes for those who participate, with that band. Masqueraders dance, or chip, down the road with their designated Carnival band and this activity is called “playing mas.”  

 
 

Jouvert

Jouvert (“jou-vay”) is another tradition that is closely tied to Carnival celebrations. The word “jouvert actually originates from the French word “jour ouvert” which means day break. Historically, Jouvert was closely tied to folklore and to this day folklore characters are a part of the festivities. It is very common to see people dressed up as devils covered in paint or oil.  Like Carnival itself Jouvert traditions very from one Caribbean nation to the next in terms of when exactly it is celebrated. In contrast to daytime mas, or pretty mas, as it’s often described, Jouvert celebrations begin long before dawn and finish shortly after the sun rises, and the festival typically involves participants dancing through the streets smearing one another with any combination of paint, powder, oil, mud or cocoa.

 
 

Soca

We would be remiss if we did not talk about soca music - the heart and soul of Carnival. Soca is a genre of Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago. An offshoot of calypso music, soca music is influenced by chutney, funk, and soul. As soca music has increased in popularity, various sub-genres have emerged including groovy soca, power soca, and chutney. Leading up to Carnival in Trinidad, a slew of  new soca songs are released. This set of tunes becomes the soundtrack of Carnival, not just in Trinidad, but in other Caribbean nations and in cities around the world all throughout the year.

Carnival represents a time of freedom, happiness, and brotherhood. In any city or country it is a unique experience that everyone should try at least once. If you have a chance to participate in Carnival, don’t stick! Let your inner Bacchanalist out and embrace the experience.

What to Wear to a Soca Fete

For many women, a night out on the town consists of dressing up in their tightest dresses and highest heels and heading out to the club where they spend the majority of night sitting or standing in once place so as not to cause their feet any additional pain. This post is a PSA to urge you to not be THAT GIRL at a soca party. Please.

A soca party, or fete as we will call them from here on, is all about fun, fun, fun! At a fete you can expect to be partying, jumping around to power soca tunes and wining up your body to groovy soca. So your outfits should be cute, but practical to allow for maximum bacchanal. Comfortable shoes are a must. The majority of women at a soca fete can be found in flat shoes, but if you can get on bad in heels, by all means do you. The goal is not to be sidelined by a bad wardrobe choice.

To add another level of complexity, we should go over the different types of fetes you might attend. The most common types of fetes are: Carnival Chic fetes, Beach/Pool or Boat fetes, and Fancy fetes. Standard feting attire rules still apply to each of these categories but the execution may differ depending on what type of fete you attend. Below is a list of fetes you might find yourself in and examples of the types of outfits you might choose.

Carnival Chic

Carnival Chic fetes probably account for the vast majority of soca fetes and allow for the most flexibility in attire. Shorts, jeans, and leggings with a cute top, and rompers are worn most often to these fetes since they allow for the most movement without having to worry about flashing anyone while you are shelling dung. Examples of Carnival Chic outfits include:

 
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Beach Fete or Boat Ride

Beach or pool fetes and boat rides are more often seen in the islands and call for, you guessed it, swimwear! You may or may not get wet at these fetes but it’s always good to come prepared. A cute swim suit with some kind of full or partial cover up is perfect for these parties. Examples of good options include:

 
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Fancy Fetes

Fancy fetes are exactly what they sound like – fetes that are a little dressier than normal. This is where you are likely to see more heels and dresses and maybe a little less bacchanal. But, just because you are at a fancy fete does not mean you need to act stush and hold up the wall. Remember, you still came to have a time! Some examples of what one might wear to these fetes include:

 
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A soca fete is not the place to overdo it with your outfits. Take note of the type of fete you’re attending and dress accordingly, minding any theme if there is one (all white, neon, etc.). Of course you want to look cute, but don’t let a bad fashion choice ruin your good time.

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