Trinidad and Tobago Carnival – Calypso, Masquerade and Steel Pan

The King of Carnival Float

By Earnell Brown

(Photo at left of “Pacific Tsunami, King of Carnival ” courtesy of National Carnival Commission of Trinidad and Tobago)

This was my seventh Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago and the experience was still euphoric! For some, one Carnival is enough, but for me it’s addictive, bringing me back to Sweet T&T again and again. This Carnival season was a long one. It began on December 26 (Boxing Day) and ended on March 7 (Carnival Tuesday), proving that Carnival in the Caribbean island nation is so much more than the big Monday and Tuesday parades. It’s nearly two months of total immersion into all that is Trinidad and Tobago – the food, the music, live calypso shows, the sound of steel pan and the legendary fetes.

In Trinidad, a fete is a party, but a Carnival fete is no ordinary party. Jam-packed with people and lasting half the day and into the night, revelers are surrounded by the sounds of soca (soul calypso), live music, laughing, joking, dancing, drinking, and the back-slapping, gregarious greeting of friends. Everybody comes to the fete: the store clerk, the taxi driver and even the President chip (dance) together. It’s a smorgasbord of local Caribbean delights – the famous bake and shark, corn soup, doubles, curried chicken, rice and peas dotted with homemade pepper sauce and washed down with an ice cold beer or Black Label rum.

carnivaltobago2 300x235 Trinidad and Tobago Carnival – Calypso, Masquerade and Steel Pan

“Dis is Carnival!” Photo by Earnell Brown.

Every night the entertainment was plentiful and in the true Caribbean carnival tradition, it was non-stop. We heard live music at one of the many calypso tents around town. In the early years of calypso these shows were held on outdoor stages covered with tents. Some traditional tents still exist but many of today’s calypsonians offer up their songs for the Carnival season inside a hall or auditorium. Nearly everywhere we went we heard the sound of steel. Steel bands practice late into the night in their “pan yards” in preparation for Panorama competition when the champion steel band is crowned. The atmosphere was electric. You couldn’t help but move your body to the beat.

All of this momentum – the months of anticipation, laughter, the fetes, competitions and the adorable Kiddies’ Carnival – is simply a prelude to the grand finale that begins on Carnival Sunday night. Trinidadians call it Dimanche Gras. Literally translated, it means “big Sunday” and what a big night it was! This year the theme was “Back to De Savannah” when Carnival returned to the Queens Park Savannah, that immense 296 acre circle of grass that’s as much a part of Trinidad as steel band and calypso. It’s The Big Yard, where the heart of Carnival beats loud and long. For masqueraders, there is nothing like the buildup, the anticipation, the adrenaline rush and finally the thrill of crossing the Savannah stage.

fete Trinidad and Tobago Carnival – Calypso, Masquerade and Steel Pan

Playin’ Mas’! Photo by Earnell Brown.

Carnival Monday was a wave of color and splendor as the masqueraders or mas’ bands took to the streets in costumes made from sequins, feathers and colorful, glorious fabrics of orange, yellow, pink, purple and green stretched over bent wire. Others wore nothing but bikini bras and thongs. On Carnival Tuesday we threw ourselves into the spectacular grand finale, chipping for more than eight hours through the streets accompanied by deafening soca music blasted from huge 18 wheel trucks. Later that day we grabbed the chance for our 15 minutes of glory when we finally crossed the Savannah stage.

Carnival 2011 was wonderful – dancing through the streets, beer flowing, crowds on every corner lining the streets, young and old, no sleep, uncontrollable rhythm in your hips and feet. “Ain’t dis de greatest show on earth?” It was. And the countdown for Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival 2012 has already begun!

For more information on Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, past and present, click on the links below:

ebrown Trinidad and Tobago Carnival – Calypso, Masquerade and Steel PanAbout Earnell Brown:  Earnell Brown is an author and international traveler who was born and raised in Washington, DC. Earnell is a retired United States Government Internal Revenue Service employee. She ended her career as the IRS Section Head with the U.S. Embassy in Port of Spain, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) as the management consultant to the T&T Ministry of Finance. Her journeys have taken her across the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America, but she especially loves the Caribbean, snorkeling, its beaches, and savoring its sunsets. Visit Earnell at

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