IT’S CARNIVAL TIME!
By Tristan Ralston on 1st April, 2016
By Marianne Tefft
The costumes can be quite dazzling in their vibrant colors.
DESTRA has three little words for St. Maarten Carnival: “Music, Vibes, Energy.” As she prepared to take the stage for Carnival’s TelEm Night of the Hitmakers 2015 for an evening of Caribbean classics with regional icons Kerwin du Bois, Youth Waves, Carimi and Era, Trinidad’s soca songbird could barely curb her enthusiasm.
“Soca people are my people,” Destra says. “When you hear the music and you love it, you’re my people.”
Since 1969, thousands of ‘Destra’s People’ from both sides of the island, the Caribbean region and the world have found their way to the cultural kaleidoscope of sun, sequins, music, feathers and fun known as St. Maarten Carnival.
Carnival 2016 runs from April 14th to May 3rd, but the event, known as the biggest party in the northeast Caribbean, already has revelers in the mood by mid-March, carrying on the festival spirit of the smaller but equally colorful French St. Martin Carnival, held in February.
Carnival traces its origins to the pre-Lenten bacchanals of medieval Europe and the festivals of ancient Africa, which include circling through villages in costumes and masks.
As in centuries past, no Carnival costume is complete without feathers, which were used by Africans to express the human capacity to ‘rise above’ day-to-day woes into a realm of spirituality. Similarly, no Carnival parade is complete without larger-than-life puppets, dancing mobiles, stick fighters and stilt dancers; all propelled through day-long dance marathons by pounding drum rhythms.
In March, Carnival fever begins in earnest with the Causeway Jump-Up, which sees crowds of revelers stream across Simpson Bay Lagoon to kick off the festive season. In the month leading up to Carnival’s official opening in Philipsburg’s Festival Village, Carnival lovers will enjoy the annual Road March and Calypso competitions, the children’s balloon parade and Rio Productions’ Lighted Parade.
During Carnival, Festival Village is the place to be for a low cost smorgasbord of Caribbean specialties. Operating nearly around the clock, more than 80 food booths serve island favorites such as Johnny cake, fungi, hearty soups, barbecued chicken and ribs, Indian curries, roti and unique beverages to please all tastes and budgets.
After Opening Day, Festival Village is alive from sunset ‘til dawn with nightly concerts featuring St. Maarten’s top singers, dancers, performers, and international stars. Not-be-be-missed events include Fyah Under Yuh Foot, an all-St. Maarten event; African Flavor; Youth Extravaganza, with local up-and-comers in all musical genres; and Night of the Hitmakers, featuring the ‘household names’ that power dance floors around the Caribbean.
Befeathered and sequined troupes dance down the road in the main parade.
On Jouvert morning, the action moves back to the road, when hundreds of revelers set out before dawn to ‘play mas’ in Carnival spirit. Everyone is welcome to ‘jump up’ or join in the fun with local bands, but dress casually; you can count on being painted with peacock-hued Holi powder and water in this exuberantly colorful event.
In the week after Jouvert, music-lovers arrive early and stay late at Festival Village for much-anticipated Latin Night, featuring international salsa, bachata and merengue orchestras (and a designated dance floor), and Zouk Night, which brings out the fans of sensual French Caribbean zouk and kompa rhythms.
On April 30th and May 1st, Carnival cognoscenti appear on the streets of Philipsburg at dawn to secure curb-side spots for viewing the Grand Carnival and Labor Day parades. From 9 am to 6 pm, costumed dancers of all ages and nationalities pose for photos as they trace a great loop from Emilio Wilson Park to Front Street and the head of town before winding up at Festival Village. For photo buffs and anyone who wants to share a great time with the locals, the people-watching doesn’t get better than this.
If you still can’t get enough Carnival, there’s more great music on tap at International Reggae Night in Festival Village and the Closing Jump Up, followed by the annual burning of the straw-figure King Momo.
For a taste of Carnival all year, St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation provides regular updates at www.sxmcarnival.tv and on Facebook at ‘St. Maarten Carnival’. Tel. 1 721 522-5133 or 520-4788. Tickets for all concerts and events are sold at Van Dorp bookstores and other island locations. Tickets cost $25 per person in advance and $40 at the door. Multi-show passes also are available.