The Trini-Style Carnival In Jamaica

The time has finally arrived in the Jamaica Carnival where there are actually choices for fetes.  No longer does Bacchanal Jamaica monopolize the fete market because there are new players who are offering a better fete experience.  The fete scene is doing so well that in true regional spirit, promoters from Trinidad and Tobago have been slowly trying to get a slice or two of the fete cake.  But this is not surprising especially considering that in the region, Jamaica represents the biggest market for CARICOM imports valued at about US$1 billion. It was only a matter of time before these imports began to include those of the creative economy.

The carnival industry in Trinidad and Tobago is estimated to bring in about US$25 million.  The foreign exchange earnings is further estimated at US$20 million (Nurse, 2002). The musical artistes, steelbands, and DJs have experienced the most success in this area when they perform outside of Trinidad and Tobago particularly in Caribbean and diaspora carnivals.  The design/production of mas for these carnivals has also been successful for some.  Even with these accomplishments, the potential of the carnival industry as an export or “transnational economic flow” has not been adequately developed by Trinidad and Tobago.

Because Trinidad and Tobago is currently facing the implications of being an oil-based economy, the potential of building a creative economy cannot be ignored and the export of the franchise styled fete is a step in the right direction.


The opportunities for these franchise fetes lie in the carnivals outside of Trinidad and Tobago. As more carnivals across the region and in the diaspora try to gain legitimacy and attract more local and foreign patrons, they have been mimicking the Trinidad Carnival model.  The events (mainly jouvert and the fetes) and the mas have all begun to look like a mini version of the festival. This trend has been quite notable recently in Miami, Barbados, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries but with Toronto and Nottinghill being the biggest exports of the Trinidad-style Carnival.  This model adapts aspects of the Trinidad Carnival events that are seen as profitable and appealing to a mass audience.  The history of carnival in Jamaica has  always been based on importing this model- from the EC students at the Mona campus and from Byron Lee and the Raiders who visited Trinidad every year. So it is not surprising that the current set of promoters are also returning to Jamaica from Trinidad with those ideas.

The numbers indicate that Jamaican promoters already have a dominant share in the fete market which would ultimately benefit the larger creative economy. According to Tull (2005), “carnivals around the globe offer much to the further economic development of their host locations. Research indicates that carnivals stimulate commercial activity and are significant generators of revenue within key sectors of the economy, particularly cultural industries, tourism and hospitality”.  Although the profits will be returned to Trinidad and Tobago, venue rentals, permits, security, caterers, bars, tent and stage rentals, and DJs represent areas that will profit from fetes held by the Trini promoters.

Jamaica Carnival Fetes 2016

The word has gotten out that Jamaica carnival is an effective treatment for post carnival depression.  And where there’s a carnival, Trinis will be there.  So hotels, guest houses, car rentals, taxis, restaurants, carnival concierge services are seeing additional business not only from Trinidadian visitors but also from other Caribbean countries and the diaspora. Tull links this increase in visitors to a “growth of carnival-driven festival tourism that has created an alternative and sustainable source of tourist revenue”.

With the competition, Jamaican promoters will need to step up and ensure that their product is top quality.  With the advantage of local corporate sponsorship and a Jamaican fan base, these promoters are positioned to succeed. The presence of Trini promoters can be seen then as an opportunity to deviate from the Trinidad model and put a Jamaican stamp on the Carnival.

Featured Image: Lehwego


UTECH’s Research, Technology, and Innovation Day

Currently I am researching the representation of female masqueraders (in the Jamaica Carnival) on Facebook.  The research uses quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the physical features that photographers pay attention to and do not pay attention to.  Through the process of deciding the subject of the photo, framing, editing, and selection, they are positioned to dictate how female masqueraders are presented on their Facebook pages.  In this sense, they construct a norm of what female masqueraders in the Jamaica Carnival look like, which does not necessarily represent all Jamaican women.

So far, I have presented some of the initial findings of the content analysis at the Edna Manley Rex Nettleford Arts conference last October.  For UTECH’s Research day, I decided to do a poster that summarized these findings.  Because the poster is only a summary, it helps the researcher to simplify the ideas which is significant for knowledge dissemination.  At the end of the day, your research should be easily understood by anyone.

Kai B Research Poster pdf

Thesis Submission


In December 2015, I finally submitted my thesis to fulfill the requirements for a PhD in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.  The thesis is now with the examiners and once those reports are submitted, I will prepare for the oral defense.

There were times, where I felt that completion was impossible, but now that I  have submitted, I feel a sense of relief but nervous at the same time.  It also seems unbelievable that I have actually finished (for now)…

Here is the abstract of the thesis:

abstract page

A Tale of Two Carnivals

Trinbagonians buy into the idea of the Queen’s Park Savannah as a sacred space where all carnival bacchanal culminates. It is also seen as a space that levels out everyday social inequalities so much so that it has become a significant center of the Trinidad carnival.

After emancipation, the former slaves celebrated the festival in downtown Port of Spain away from the middle and upper classes whose celebrations took place in the Savannah.  Ann Lee writes that for the second half of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century, there was a clear division in the carnival:

There were two carnivals. Whites were hardly a part of the downtown Carnival. Their circuit was the Queen’s Park Savannah (1991, p. 427).

The Savannah was also home to elite carnival events such as the Carnival Queen competition. So for a time, it operated as a site for the carnival of the middle and upper classes.

In the independence period as the carnival became more organized under the Carnival Development Committee (CDC), there was a push to host all major events in the Savannah.  The need to make the festival a national one meant that it had to be sanitized. The organizers sought to get rid of the violence of the panorama, the lewdness of the pissenlit ,and the general blackness of the Jamette Carnival. This sanitized version would also attract the much needed sponsorship for cash prizes and other expenses. Eventually all major competitions and carnival events found their place in the Savannah. But the social divisions were not completely removed. The creation of the Grand and North stands, the sit in by mas band, Poison, the Greens for Panorama, and the separation of onlookers and masqueraders all show that the QPS itself struggles to be a representation of all ah we is one.

Today, the QPS is home to several carnival competitions, mainly the Kings and Queens, Kaisorama, Panorama, Dimanche Gras, and the Parade of the Bands. For the main parade, no one could dispute that the stage at the Savannah cannot sustain all of the masquerade bands especially on Carnival Tuesday.  Even so, masqueraders have put up with hours of just waiting to cross this scared stage because they feel that it represents the height of their carnival experience.  With the National Carnival Commission (NCC) having failed to come up with a solution to ease the congestion at the Savannah, the Socadrome located at the Hasley Crawford Stadium was created in 2014 as an alternate stage.  The problem is that the proposal came from bands- Harts, Tribe, Bliss, and YUMA who signify today’s version of the elite carnival.  A popular opinion has been that the Socadrome is dividing the Carnival not only geographically, but socially.  It seems, however, that the move from Savannah to Socadrome today is similar to the move from downtown to the Savannah in the independence period. There are similar socio-economic conflicts that surround this move- brown vs black, rich vs poor, traditional vs bikini and beads, space vs congestion, culture vs commercialization…

As an alternative to the traditional Savannah stage, the privately managed Socadrome has raised controversy. Photo by Dwayne Watkins
Socadrome     Photo credit: Dwayne Watkins

 It is also important to note the absence of the NCC in the decision.  The Ministry of Community Development, Culture, and Arts has made it clear that it does not support the Socadrome with the Minister, Dr. Nyan Gadbsy-Dolly not showing any support for the alternate venue citing the lack of police resources to manage the unofficial route.  It is interesting that the Minister also made accusations of elitism:

What we had discussions about is that their use of the socadrome is a response to congestion on the streets and we understand the value of easing that. Using the other venue has spawned a feeling of elitism that wasn’t intended.

The carnival has never operated as a space that embraces social equality.  The all ah we is one sentiment is just one of the many narratives created to package the festival as a national one, but it has always served to sustain the status quo. As a festival in a post colonial time and space, these divisions are expected. The social divisions not only resonate in class, but in gender, race, and sexuality. And as the history of the carnival tells, the separations are not new and may always characterize the Trinidad carnival culture. Yet, the history also says that while these elite spaces were created, it also inspired spaces and moments of contestation.  It may not be in the same numbers or captured by photographers, but the “other” carnival is there.  It may be that one jab molassie who inspires a collective memory of the cannes brulee and the struggle of the former slaves. Even within the dominance of the pretty mas, there is a darkness that cannot be ignored, giving carnival more than one face and space.

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