A newbie at Trinidad’s Carnival

By Oscar Wailoo

I should have known that the Stars were aligned in my favour when, on my way to my first Trinidad Carnival, I cleared Caribbean Airlines check-in, Canadiancustoms, and was sitting at the departure gate at Pearson International Airport in no time flat. The good omen held when we took off on time, given as fine a service as one could expect in these austere times of air travel, and landed at Trinidad’s Piarco Airport 40 minutes ahead of schedule – 5pm Sunday 11th February, Carnival Sunday.

Trinidad carnival
Trinidad carnival

Despite what the Stars promised, all did not go my way. I arrived one day too late to witness Panorama, the world’s largest and most prestigious steelpan competition. Later on Sunday night, I couldn’t work my way to be at Dimanche Gras, the calypso competition at the famous Queen’s Park Savanah. But that

evening I managed to crash a couple of fetes and made it home around midnight to be aroused 3 hours later to follow my host, Tommy Crichlow, to sit in the judges’ stand to view J’ouvert. Unfortunately, times have changed in Trinidad: there was no old mas, no Jab Molassy, no paint, no mud, just a pan competition to view and to be judged.

Trinidad carnival

Being a bit of a pan man myself, I did not complain watching some the finest musicians making the instrument sing. It was basically a showcase for the smaller bands to get their moment in the sun. They did not disappoint. They produced a sweetness and a sound far beyond their size. It was worth missing some sleep forthis truncated J’ouvert jam anyway.

By this time, and long before I set foot in Port of Spain, the city was alive with music: trucks blasting the tunes composed for the season, moving through town gathering their masqueraders, and heading to the Savanah on Monday night to lead off the big parade for Carnival Tuesday; the Trinis tout this as the greatest show on earth. I concur.

Trinidad carnival

And so on Tuesday, I stood at the entrance of the Savanah, where all the mas bands must pass on their way to show off their stuff on the big stage – the dream of all masqueraders.

Playing mas is a time when women free themselves from all of society’s norms – lines that must be toed except on Carnival Day. And boy, did they ever thumb their noses at “proper society” or, more correctly, shake their sumptuous backsides in “dey face”. There were so much of thongs framing shimmering, shaking flesh that after a while it was no longer a novelty. Nobody seemed to notice the gyrating mounds.

But amid the blasting sounds and the unending march of colourful masqueraders, the thousands of Trinis milling around the Savanah, with vendors everywhere serving corn soup, roti, bake and shark, all kinds of fish, jerked and barbeque meats, ices, rum, beer, souvenirs, the thousands of well-served spectators took in the scene with a quietness that belied what was passing before them. These people, seasoned by a history of carnival and mas, allowed the bands to pass with no interference; something the yahoos who invade the bands here in our Toronto Carnival should learn from.

Trinidad carnival

By the time I left the Savanah, after many hours of sun, music and beauty, there were still three hours left before midnight, when a firm curtain will come down on another season of bacchanal, my heart was filled with the lovely gift bestowed on me by Trinis who are at their best during their carnival. Yes, Their Carnival.

As I walk out onto the streets of Port of Spain on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday morning, a quietness had descended on the streets which only a few hours before were filled with a joyous madness. No costumes, no music, just working people’s

uniforms, open stores, well-dressed children on their way to school. And, shockingly, no thongs! Just the tolling of church bells, calling the people to come for their cross of ashes on their foreheads, and have their soul cleansed after their “measured leudness” in last couple of days. No questions asked.

I think I’ll be back next year in time for Panorama.