Tobago Carnival City: Cultivating culture
  Michael A.T. Stewart
September 2014

It takes long to come and it goes so quickly. I speak of the Tobago Carnival cultural experience.  It is unlike any other.  Maybe it is my bias speaking as I am Tobagonian, but I am persuaded that while Tobago Carnival offers the same level of excitement and trills as that of its Sister Isle Trinidad, there is a subtle difference.  In Tobago there is a genuine familiarity of participants as is to be expected on an island of only 60,000.  Everybody knows everybody.  Who is not your friend is your family.  There is a unique affinity that gives you unspoken permission to “clash” with somebody.


Carnival City is located next to the Dwight York Stadium and was officially launched in February 2014 by Secretary of Community Development and Culture Councillor Dr. Denise Tsoi-A-Fatt Angus. 


At the opening, Dr. Angus said that what makes this year different is “...Carnival is no longer the staging of a series of events but the development of a product.” She said that the product is based on attracting community participation, exposing the art forms as pan, mas and calypso, reflecting Tobago’s uniqueness, expanding economic opportunities and making Carnival marketable to locals and visitors. The Secretary boasted that centralising the venue for Carnival City saved the Tobago House of Assembly close to one million dollars on infrastructure costs and increases opportunities for entrepreneurs as food and craft will be offered day and night throughout the season.

Carnival City is where prancing patrons converge as birds instinctively fly south for winter.   Carnival is “bacchanal” and “bacchanal” is Carnival. Bacchanal is used to mean an exceedingly jubilant spirit that may include alcohol and lascivious dancing. 


This year, 2014, was the year for visitors to the island to feel the pulse of our people.  It was madness; and being carnival-mad is a compliment, not an insult.  Carnival City gives patrons a unique portrayal of the true Tobago culture embedded in the celebrations. Beautiful ostentatious costumes, indigenous dances using common paraphernalia, as bamboo and fire, are all part of this explosive event.   Many of these cultural dances have their roots in Africa but may not have retained their originality.   


Carnival City allows for a more organised production of events such as Panorama and calypso competitions in one space allowing event organisers more time to focus on the production aspect of things rather than the cumbersome set up and dismantling of bleachers that goes along with each event. As a result, each show on every night promises a production in its unique way.

The culture of Tobago is preserved during carnival using educational booths set up by the Division of Community Development and Culture in the Tobago house of Assembly.  They are strategically set up in the village showcasing various traditional art forms of the forefathers. Users and City assistants have adorned traditional carnival costumes such as the Baby Doll, Dame Lorraine, Minstrels and Jab Jab.


Of course, there is the Tobago food.  Everyone is sure to get a true taste of Tobago from one of the many local vendors; crab and dumpling, fish broth and souse of all kinds.  You could have your choice of souse which stems back from slavery. The meat in the souse is made from parts that the slave master rejected but has become a delicacy in the Caribbean.  You have chicken foot, cow head, pig foot, cow skin and even cow tongue.  These are boiled and soaked in pickled water; simple but, oh so tasty.

Carnival City also showcases a variety of Carnival acts in a bid to wet the appetite of what is to come. Calypso and soca artistes such as Princess Adanna, All Rounder, Squadee, Cavell Gordon and Leeann Ellis were on the line up.  National Calypso Competition Winner, Candice Robinson, one of Tobago’s finest, performed her tribute to Calypso Rose in 2014.


If you visit Tobago, never be accused of missing our spectacular limbo dancers, our ever graceful bele dancers and Tobago’s mas bands, Ole Mas and Kiddie Mas.


The mud mas band is thought of to be the largest, (14,000 strong) of its kind in the country and one that has fought long and hard to become an integral and recognized part of Tobago Carnival. Apart from their traditional parade of mud covered revellers from Bagatelle into Scarborough on Carnival Tuesday, there is a Mud Mas Queen Show Competition. The visitors get to see  potential queens as they paraded on stage to the mud mas anthem for 2014, “Dutty Wine” (sung and composed by Kaspa D’Lyrical, one of Tobago’s young soca artists and a contender in the finals for the T&T Soca Star Quest Competition). The mud mas band turned out to be of the best acts of the celebrations yet as they become more organised with each passing year.

Being one of the first performers to put on a show at the Carnival City, Kaspa D’Lyrical says that he is very impressed with the initiative as a whole. He also says that he can see that the Division of Community Development and Culture had invested heavily in 2014 to make the whole experience of Carnival a better one for the performers, patrons and the organisers.  That said, everyone was in for a blast as events proved to be more organized and of course, more secure. With adequate parking and all you need under one roof, everyone enjoyed the festivities with little to worry about.


Looking forward to 2015, Carnival City is expected to be an even grander event with more bacchanal! 
















By: Michael A.T. Stewart | FEATURES | September 2014

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