April 01, 2017

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History of Carnival in Jamaica

2016 marks the 28th anniversary of carnival in Jamaica. This was introduced in 1989 to Jamaicans by a group of carnival loving revellers who had been accustomed to making the annual trek to the carnival capital of the Caribbean, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to party and play mas.

The story is that as a result of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 coupled with an election in 1989, the trip to Trinidad carnival was cancelled and so the revellers decided to bring carnival to Jamaica. This was a great success among the small group who called themselves The Oakridge Boys.

By the following year (1990) Byron Lee, who was a stalwart in the Trinidad carnival, decided to establish Jamaica Carnival and it was an instant success. The Road March (pretty mas) featured a grand parade of costumed sections creating a colourful and magnificent spectacle as the revelers wound their way through the streets of Kingston. In those days sections were judged based on various criteria and the top spots were awarded special prizes One of the sections in Jamaica Carnival was the Revellers group which soon became the most dominant band in the entire carnival winning the trophy for the first three consecutive years.

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It must be noted that the timing of Jamaica carnival was designed not to compete with Trinidad which, like other traditional carnivals, was celebrated just before lent and so ended on the Tuesday before Ash-Wednesday. It couldn’t be held during Lent as organisers respected the religious significance of the period and so the carnival week was scheduled to begin on Easter Sunday and end on the following weekend. This week was jam packed with activities running from Easter Sunday and continuing every night until the Road March on the following weekend. A significant part of the activities was Kiddies carnival which took place on the Saturday before the adult parade.

After a few years into carnival, another group, the Raiders decided to introduce J’ouvert to Jamaica, adding to the excitement of the weekend. This of course brought in what is referred to as the “dirty mas” which came with chocolate and paint covered bodies parading before day break. In due course other events such as the Wet Fete were added. By the mid-1990s, the Frenchmen started to play a major part in the parade as well as added to the calendar of fetes.

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The concept of carnival grew in popularity and despite some detractors, became a permanent feature on the island’s entertainment calendar.

As the turn of the century approached, some of the bands in Jamaica Carnival felt it was time for them to strive for autonomy and established Bacchanal Jamaica comprising Oakridge, Raiders and Revellers. Bacchanal Jamaica soon established its first home at Oxford Road which became popularly known as “Mas Camp”.

The Mas Camp, as it still does up to now, became the staple Friday afternoon lime for carnival and soca lovers. Here persons were able to view and purchase costumes and enjoy prime entertainment featuring popular Trinidad bands and Jamaica’s and the Caribbean’s top DJs.. This is the place where soca fans came to learn the music of the year and to start the process of “letting go”, in preparation for the grand finale of the Road Parade. In addition to the Friday night activities the popular Socasize was added to help people get in shape for the Road March.