Trinidad & Tobago Carnival: Key Elements

Image: HARTS frontline Carnival 2019 ©
Sokah2Soca proudly features the music and culture of Trinidad and Tobago, with an emphasis on the music. We strive to feature other cultural elements of the Twin Island Republic, but there is so much to consider. We have centered our efforts on presenting the latest music offerings in Soca and Calypso. Having said that, we like to think that we can provide an insight into the music of the culture as a starting point for those thirsting to learn about our rich cultural heritage. Our goal, for this menu link, "Carnival," is to start presenting the key elements that make up our carnival culture. 

We found an excellent place to start. Discover Trinidad & Tobago has an excellent article, titled "Trinidad Carnival: the birth and evolution". From that article we found a start point. We have an excerpt of that article from which we will be posting "key elements of Trinidad and Tobago's carnival.

As mentioned above, we have a starting point but that doesn't mean we plan to strictly follow the points listed below. As an example, our first link will be about Stick-Fighting, which is also called Bois in French. We also plan to feature Moko Jumbies and Limbo in these series of posts. If you have any ideas send them to 

Trinidad Carnival: the key elements:

  • Calypso: indigenous Trinidadian music with roots in West African songs of praise and mockery, strongly influenced by calinda (Stick-fighting) chants and Lavways that Chantuelles sang to lead Carnival bands. Originally sung in Patois (a local French derivative)
  • Kambule or Canboulay Riots: significant uprising in 1881 against the British governor who attempted to ban the Carnival festivities
  • Limbo: sacred folk dance indigenous to Trinidad, once performed at wakes in African communities; the lower the dancer could go, the higher the spirit of the dead could ascend
  • Ole mas: traditional Carnival characters like the ominous Midnight Robber, talkative Pierrot Granade, and gender-bending Dames Lorraines; best viewed at traditional character parades and Viey La Cou (two Sundays before Carnival)
  • Playing mas: masquerading, usually in costume with a band. Some bands sell out from September, but returns can be grabbed last minute. Of course, you can make your own costume (or band) – and don’t need a costume to band-hop
  • Pretty mas: mass-produced costumes, usually skimpy bikinis, feathers, and beads
  • Road March: song played most often by bands at judging points.
  • Soca: fast-paced, high-energy offspring of calypso, pioneered by Ras Shorty I (Garfield Blackman) in the 70s, fusing African and Indian sounds. Trinidad’s pop music, it has absorbed R&B, dancehall, hip-hop, reggaeton, house music and other influences.
  • Steelpan: developed in Laventille communities in the 1930s, the only non-electrical instrument invented in the 20th century. Began as single “ping pongs” hung around the neck playing just a few notes, now covering full western scale in bands topping 100 players.

Copyright © MEP Publishers | Trinidad Carnival: the birth & evolution | Discover Trinidad & Tobago

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History of Carnival © Ministry of Education Trinidad & Tobago

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