Below is a guest post by La Toya Sutton, friend to SocaMotion and a lawyer based in Washington DC. She is a West Indian American who enjoyed Carnival in Trinidad for the first time with friends in Island People’s band and a short vacation in Tobago afterwards. Enjoy some highlights of the festival season through the eyes of this “Carnival virgin.”
“MY FIRST CARNIVAL IN TRINIDAD” by La Toya Sutton.
I was unprepared for Trinidad Carnival. Not quite literally, I had travel arrangements and accommodations perfected in advance, arrangements for costume pick up – very important for the overseas reveller – and a suitcase stuffed with short pants, shiny tights, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, sparkling body glitter, and, of course, something to wave. I thought checking things off this list would prepare me for this amazing event I was about to participate in. What I wasn’t prepared for was how fulfilled and happy this experience would make me feel. It wasn’t just about partying from night til dawn or the all you can drink privileges that come with being part of a band. It was the emotional connection of being part of a cultural phenomenon that clearly plays a key part in the lives of almost everyone we met that took my breath away. For that, I was not prepared.
There are many highlights to my trip. I struggle with summing it up, when each moment felt significant and special. However, I’ve to narrowed down my five favorite moments to share:
• Moment #5 – Girl Power. My first night in town, a few hours after having arrived in TT, my friends and I headed to the Girl Power fete, where the dual soca monarch winners Kes and Machel both performed. There are many times that I have gone out to clubs in the US. Sometimes I have fun, but many times, it’s too hot, it’s too pretentious, or the DJ is too boring and I am usually ready to go by closing time. At this fete, I could have partied until dawn – if I had gotten a good night’s sleep before I left DC. Unfortunately I was too excited about the trip to sleep well the night before and so my body and spirit were at odds about how long we should stay out. Eventually, my body won, but the realization of how much fun I would have the next night when I was well rested was wonderful.
• Moment #4 – Wata! On Saturday night my friends and I headed to a party called Insomnia. This highlight of this party is that when the sun comes up and things really start to heat up, water hoses are brought out and the crowd is doused as they dance. It’s a strange thing to wrap one’s head around unless you have experienced it – standing in a crowd calling for more “waaataaaa” – but it was pretty similar to playing in the sprinklers as a child, and just as much fun.
• Moment #3 – Carnival Tuesday. The imagination and creativity of costumes and designs was breathtaking. I played mas with Island People and while my costume was pretty, I was not 100% sure it would hold together. But my headpiece was beautiful.
• Moment #2 – Crossing the stage. This of course is the moment of truth, what being in a band and being part of mas is all about – getting to the stage and showing the judges how you play mas. My band crossed pretty late in the day on both Monday and Tuesday, around 4 pm. Which meant a lot of time spent waiting and wining to the side in the meantime. As frustrating as that was, the animated frenzy that was set off once Machel started calling for us to Take Advantage of the stage more than made up for my weary feet. Incidentally, I could not have been more happy to be wearing comfortable shoes! The standing and walking and waiting was bad enough, but when your bands theme song instructs you to “trample” the stage, you can expect there were a lot of toes being stepped on.
• Moment #1 – Jouvert. Hands down, my favorite part of Carnival was Jouvert morning. Perhaps because my friends and I opted to play with a smaller band in Maraval, rather that going into Port of Spain, the experience was more intimate and much more fun. I suspect that there are only a few circumstances in which strangers covering you with mud and paint would be considered fun – this is certainly one of them. By the time the sun came up, all I could wonder was how in the world it had taken me so long to get here.
• Bonus Moment – I would be remiss if I did not mention how much this experience made me proud to be West Indian. I loved the music, and even though I am not from Trinidad, songs like Benjai’s Trini, expressing positive cultural pride, struck a chord with me. Everyone I spoke with, from cab driver to people I met on the street, had a different opinion, but each expressed some level of pride and love for their country, which was great to see. And finally, I loved the wholehearted embrace of women of all shapes and sizes, all considered gorgeous and worthwhile.
All pictures are by La Toya Sutton and have been used with her permission.