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   Friday, January 22, 2021 

Trinidad and Tobago Flag Trinidad and Tobago: Carnival  

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This is second to none and is comparable to any, anywhere in the world. Trinidad and Tobago Carnaval is a grand pageantry of beauty and color overflowing the streets of this little nation. Although officially a five-day celebration of partying, steelband music and calypso singing, the unofficial party is jumpstarted just after Christmas with the launching of the Mas Bands, and climaxes with the grand parade of thousands of colorful masqueraders dancing and celebrating to the sound of hot spirited calypso music on the streets of the capital city -Port of Spain. The entire nation as well as visitors participates in this celebration, rich and poor, employee and employer, this stage becomes a unifying force of one country, and all barriers, status and inhibitions are broken at Carnival time. The celebration begins with J'Overt (pronounced jooVEY), which sets the stage for the parade of bands on Monday and Tuesday. Although there are other part of the world have carnaval, Trinidad and Tobago Carnaval is as unique as the people.

The Word "Carnaval" some say originated from Latin and thus adopted by the Catholic Religion is a traditional festival held before the first day of the Lenten season, which was spread throughout the Catholic countries in Europe. The practice is said to have traveled with the French, Spanish and Portuguese as they took control of the Americas and other parts of the world. It is true that both the Spanish and the British ruled the little twin nation at one time or the other. It is said that Carnaval was introduced to Trinidad around the period of the late 1960's. It originally was a ball for the elitist slave owners, when they wore masks and gowns and danced. The slaves who were not allowed to these galas began their own, using their African customs and costumes. This continued on an annual basis and it grew larger and soon outshined the balls of their former owners.

Year after year this festival gets larger and larger, as it overtakes the country the content of which is breathtaking. The serenading of the steelpan as the players delve deep down into their very being to bring out an instrumental version of one of the Calypso sung by the many calypsonians during the season.

J'Ouvert (pronounced "joo-VEY") is the beginning of the official celebration. The parade begins in the early morning of Monday morning. A total opposite of the Monday evening "pretty mass" parade this is called "Dirty Mass". Revelers are covered in body paint and torn-up clothing depicting characters of wild uneducated people.


The songs and music that are sung during the carnival season. Calypsos range in themes from extremely political, and mentions both the good and bad of the government's actions. They tell a general story of life on the Island, speak on behalf of the injustice towards the population, or they can be also raunchy comedy. Skilled musicians expertly arrange the music, which makes it easy to be transferred to steelband.


These are the men and women that write the calypsos that make the music for the steel bands and the parties during the carnival season.


Mass Players clad in exotic and colorful costumes depicting themes of each individual Band. There are hundreds of Bands that produce costumes each year, with different sections telling a part of the story of the theme of each individual band. Costume prices vary depending on size and designs. The preparation for Carnival is nothing less than phenomenal. It begins months in advance as the costumes for a chosen theme are designed and printed, and each band conducts a launching of their costumes, that show the style of costumes they would be offering for the upcoming festival, and the prices that goes along with each costume. Prices per customer range from $100.00 US and up, ranges in sizes and are custom made to the size of the masquerader. Costumes come in all sizes, from small to the extremely large, which are entered into a competition, the winners to be judged as the King and Queen.


The National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago birthed from the depressed area of the capital city Port of Spain. The Pan is the only instrument to be invented in the 20th century. Created from oil drums in 1946 by a native Trinidadian Winston "Spree" Simon. A very versatile instrument that has six categories and covers every chord of music can be played singularly or in 100+ orchestras from the streets of Trinidad to the concert hall of Madison Square Garden.

Pan as it is called, came out of the creativity of the underprivileged, and unemployed young men of Trinidad who took simple empty oil drum and created this legendary musical instrument. It was soon discovered that the indentations with a hammer on the base of an empty Oil Drum, when struck with a stick, brought out a sound and the possibility of music. The discovery sparked a series of experiments, and as time went on it was realized that heating the drums, and by varying the sizes and dept of the indentation, it was possible to get more notes with different tones when cut at varying lengths. A piece of stick with rubber wrapped around one end became the tool that would be used to stroke the notes from these drums. As time went on the development and variation of the instrument changed to where the drum could play a complete eight-note scale. This brought about the formation of bands across the land. The bands were made up of the Tenor pan (which was called the Pin pong), double seconds, guitars, cellos and bass.

Pan Yards

Pan Yards, where the bands were housed became the place where all the experimentation of this new instrument took place. Improvement came fast and furious as the pitch of the pan became more pronounced, more pans were introduced to extend the range and depth of the bass drums, causing the bands to grow in the number of pans that were needed to formulate one band, and the number of players that was needed to play each instrument.

In the fifties men such as Ellie Mannette and Melville Jules became top-notch tuners of the steel pan.

The Steelband is now being recognized internationally, though gradually, it can still conjure up the visions of exotic, tropical Islands, palm trees and scantily cladded women. The standard of performances is steadily rising, until today the Steelband can almost cover the range of the symphony orchestra in the execution of the classical works of the great masters. The sound of the Steelpan is frequently used in popular recordings and regularly featured on works of international artistes. The sound has also been simulated on the synthesizer.

T+T Steel-Bands

1963 was the year that the Steelband began to compete against each other. This competition was called Panaroma, which caught the fancy of both the public and the panman. The competition required no special effort from the bands, thus a tune was selected from what was already known by the players and played on stage for the judges.

The popularity of this competition grew in leaps and bounds and became more serious as each band strived to keep and edge over the other competitors. The size of the band grew and the number of players grew. This became the highlight for the bands, as their total focus was to play to become the Panaroma Champions. This served to grade the bands. Panaroma is now the biggest event on the annual calendar of events for the steelband movement. Prior to 1963 the Steelband Competition was called Steelband bacchanal. It is said that the then Chairman of the National Carnival Commission Committee Mr. Ronnie Williams was the person that eventually changed the name to "Panaroma".


The Pan/Jazz Festival is a competition, which features a series of elimination contests with pan orchestras from all over the world. The musical pieces are judged and bands are eliminated until there is a final that determines the winner. Points are given each round of the competition and those points are carried forward to the next round. The competitions are usually so close that it is very intriguing and many people attend to hear and see what beautiful music can emanate from steel drums. There are countries from all over the world that are now pushing Trinidad and Tobago, the land of birth of the steel band music to greater heights. These bands usually consist of ex-Trinidadian nationalists who have gone overseas to introduce pan music to other countries.

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