Fantasy Becomes Reality on the Nature Isle: The Mas Domnik 2016 Costume Parade

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My favourite costume was worn by Tatyanna Dangleben, first runner-up in the Teenage Pageant.

On Tuesday February 9th, 2016,  a beautiful morning  dawned for Mas Domnik’s Costume Parade on the streets of Roseau.  Slightly overcast

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This was the only ship anchored off the port of Roseau on Carnival Tuesday 2016. I hope the crew and passengers had a fabulous time!  The promontory of Scotts Head can be seen in the background.

 

conditions and occasional drizzle acted as the perfect backdrop for the brilliant costumes adorned by the participants as they made their first pass around the route that mid-morning.  By the time it was over a few hours later, a brilliant sun heated up the streets but didn’t prevent throngs of revelers from jumping up well into the evening as they made the most of their ‘last lap’ of Dominica’s Carnival 2016.

I always delight in the spectacle of the Costume parade and the cheery ambiance that surrounds it. Much respect and admiration is also offered to the designers of these incredible outfits, as it is their creativity and ingenuity that is being ‘shown off’ by the ‘models’. DSCF6852

Once again, I was very fortunate to have a front row seat at the Cat Café on King George V Street . I appreciated the filling crêpe and energizing Viennese coffee as I perched myself on the balcony and occasionally ran down to street level for a different vantage point to watch the activity ‘on the road’.

When the parade passed by my location just after 11 a.m., I immersed myself in the magical fantasy of the seemingly surreal participants in their spectacular wear.  As I watched the King, Queen(s), Princesses and Princes of Mas Domnik, it was easy to forget about my cares and fill my heart with the joy of this celebration of Dominican culture and tradition.

So I gave myself over to the sheer enjoyment that surrounded me on the streets of Roseau during the Costume Parade of Carnival Tuesday 2016.

Pictures are worth plenty of words.  Therefore, I present to you some snapshots of that fun-filled occasion.  It is my pleasure to share a sense of this unique festivity with you.  If you like what you see, then please let me know!

Carnival 2016 Calypso Monarch, King Dice (Dennison Joseph) and Miss Dominica 2016, Queen Tasia Floissac easily demonstrated the essence of Carnival through bountiful smiles and spontaneous merry-making:

 

Then came a train of royalty that well-defined the meaning of Carnival pageantry:

 

 

Plenty of Princesses:

 

Revellers ‘playing mas’ in their own style:

 

Flag Wavers adding to the ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ of this special day:

The Old  Time Sake Band has a solid following.  Year after year, they establish their presence in the Costume parade.  I have had the pleasure of ‘jumping’ with them before.  You can read about that fun experience here:

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Then along came the prolific Thunderbirds band.  Their commanding presence and spectacular costumes earned them  a second place award with their theme: Junkanoo:

I remember the first time I ever saw the Karnival Korner band. It was at a pre-Carnival dance in 1998 at Springfield, my first home on the Nature Island.  There, the Swingin Starz band had everyone jumping to the beat.  I was in awe of the brilliant costumes that this troupe introduced to the enthusiastic party-goers. They’ve been around for a long time, and their annual creations always draw a crowd!  This year, they placed third in the Tuesday Costume parade with their Kaleidoscope theme, but they have been winners many times before.  They also captured the Adult King of the Band prize:

When you see these pictures of the exceptional, amazing, fantastical Afri-Culture Stilt Walkers (Bwa Bwa in Creole), you will easily understand why they won the Band of the Year prize, along with Adult Queen of the Band award. I confess that when I saw them on the parade route, I was  already convinced that they would receive the top honours.  I don’t have to explain further.  You can see for yourself:

I hope you won’t become hysterical when I tell you that I was not able to take photos of the sexy Hysteria band this year.  They were the last formal group to join the parade, on its third ‘lap’ around Roseau – and they won the award for the largest band on the road!  By then,I had taken so many photos that my camera’s battery ‘died’ before I saw them.  If it’s any consolation, you can see a few shots of cool ladies (and men) dressed for the Bacchanal that I took last year.  And unfortunately, ever-popular Mercury band, with its revealing costumes did not take part in Mas Domnik 2016.   But you can find some sizzling photos of their members  here.

Now if you are convinced that you really want to experience this fantasy for yourself, then this is a ‘heads-up’ for next winter’s escape plan:  Dominica’s  forthcoming Carnival Holidays are the 27th and 28th of February 2017.   Hope to see you ‘pon de road’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Magical Way to Start the Day:Dominica’s Carnival 2016 J’ouvert!

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Gwendominica ‘played mas’ on J’ouvert Morning of Carnival Monday 2016.

When I arrived  in Roseau around 5 a.m. to participate in the Dominica Carnival annual predawn celebration called J’ouvert (pronounced joo-vay) , the streets of the city were filled with revellers.  Many of them were in disguise or at least, dressed very differently than one might expect. Some had formed small bands, and  were wearing the same type of costume. They really captured the attention of admiring onlookers. Others were dressed in any old thing, including pyjamas, underwear and very short shorts.  It’s the  bacchanal, after all!  But in keeping with Carnival traditions, plentiful groups of  brightly costumed Sensays added to the magical aura of this celebration on the dimly lit streets.

This year, a number of lapo kabwit  bands, (the drums were

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Some of the people who help to make Carnival happen were on the road very early on J’ouvert morning!  From left, Mrs. Anita Bully, Film Development Officer at the Discover Dominica Authority, her husband, renowned cultural icon Dr. Alwin Bully; middle man not identified;Mr. Colin Piper, CEO, Discover Dominica Authority and Mrs. Piper.

originally made from goat skin),with modern and traditional percussive instruments and horns of all types kept everyone ‘chipping’ (a fast walk) to the beat on the pre-established parade route. I delighted in admiring the costumes and the cheerful ambiance of the participants.  I did not notice many by-standers,other than those situated on porches and balconies.  In my view, almost EVERYONE was on the street, enjoying themselves immensely – seemingly catching hold of authentic Carnival ‘vibrations’.

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Gwendominica hailed the spirits of Carnivals past as day broke at the end of the J’ouvert celebration on the streets of Roseau.

Just before 6:30 a.m., I noticed the sky lightening up over the mountains to the east: almost daybreak!  This is the time of J’ouvert when I can actually feel the spirits of

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The house in the background once belonged to the family of internationally recognized Dominican writer, the late Jean Rhys. When she was a child, she would have gazed down on a similar scene in the late 19th and early 20th centuries!

Carnivals past descending from the hills and infusing everyone who cares to ponder about this ancient ritual with a little intrigue and  appreciation for the magic and mystery that represents the true meaing of Carnival.  If this concept sounds a little far-fetched, well, you have to be here to appreciate my meaning!  I am sure friend Jen, who has ‘jumped J’ouvert’ with me before has a good idea of what I am trying to say! You can read about our  earlier fun-filled experience here.

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Charismatic  Chester ‘Daddy Chess’ Letang, calypsonian and lead singer of the Swingin Starz band is surrounded by adoring fans and other members of the band.

In the full daylight of this Carnival Monday, I abandoned the streets and enjoyed a Viennese coffee along with a feta and egg crepe at the Cat Café, located upstairs at 50 King George V Street.  I appreciated this tasteful French inspired meal, and was grateful to have a front row seat on the porch.  Of course, it wasn’t over yet – in fact, Carnival street festivities had only just begun.

From 7 a.m., huge hi-fi trucks with mega-amplified sound systems and some local bands appeared as if out of nowhere, with hundreds of weary but ecstatic fans immersing themselves in the blasting, pounding sound that could only infuse the spirit of Carnival into one’s soul.

After I finished my delicious breakfast, I leaned against the railing, and moved my body to the incessant beat of the passing hi-fi trucks. I enveloped myself in the vibrant ambience of a memorable morning, unlike any other, because I had willingly succumbed to the

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Check out some scenes from magical J’ouvert below.

magic of J’ouvert in Dominica.

DSCF6852Many thanks to Mylène, proprietor Cat Café, for the early opening, delicious food and available porch for my Carnival enjoyment.  Also, big up to Melinda, who willingly took photos of me and served up the wonderful meal.

 

Here’s a glimpse of some of the faces on the road:DSCF6720

 

The musicians kept us moving to the incessant beat:

There were traditional Sensays with a colourful twist:

Some of the ‘trucks’ on the road:

 

Revellers filled the streets as dawn arrived on the Nature Island:

Dominica’s Calypso Fever: It’s Contagious!

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Showdown Mas Camp is one of two popular weekly ‘tents’, where enthusiastic audiences watch and hear member calypsonians in the run up to the formal competitions during the Carnival season in Dominica.

I’ll never forget the first calypso show I

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King Dice did it again!  He won the 2016 Calypso Monarch competition last night – that’s his 8th crown! (Photo taken in 2012).

attended in Dominica. It was Carnival season 1998 and I walked in to the Stardom Monarch of the Tent competition at the Sisserou Hotel with a young Dominican lady that I had only recently met.  The place was packed – with hardly a space to move, but somehow this attractive young woman was able to charm bystanders so that we could step in front of them to stand directly below the stage.  I looked up at a handsome man, known in calypso circles as ‘De Hunter’ who was dressed in traditional Kalinago attire.  He was singing a composition called  ‘Carib Bacchanal‘.  I was so caught up in the  powerful refrain, the throbbing beat and the sweet repetitive melody that I instantly fell in love with this special genre of music. And that year, ‘Hunter’ went on the win the big Carnival Calypso Monarch  competition with that enduring song.

Since then, I don’t attend as many shows as I once did:  too many late nights for me in the damp, chilly air (relatively speaking) that prevails in January and February.  But that doesn’t stop me from continuing with my deep affection for this art form.  I listen to all the songs each year, the detailed professional commentaries and  also contribute to lively discussions with friends and strangers alike.

So, what makes calypso so ‘hot’ on the Nature Island?  “Let me tell you something…” to use a Dominican expression.  It’s true, it didn’t originate on the Nature Isle.  That honour belongs to Trinidad, where Carnival, in which calypso plays a huge part, is a  VERY big deal. But that being said, Dominica’s brand is not to be underestimated. Part of the fun is the intimacy of the performances, the familiarity of the political and social issues and the overall popularity of the songs amongst a small population that gives tremendous support to its calypsonians.

The concept of calypso evolved from a fusion of West African and Latin rhythms, with the idea of a lead singer with crowd responses about social injustices during the periods of slavery and colonialism.  A more detailed description of its background can be found on the web site of local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, right here. In Dominica, calypso competitions became formalized in the 1950’s, where one singer discreetly performed/presented a certain social or political issue to a listening audience. More details are available in a previous piece on Ti Domnik Tales right here.

The Dominica Calypso Association is a formal organization that ensures that standards

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Daryl “De Bobb” Bobb is a gifted and  longstanding calypsonian who also writes his own lyrics.  He placed second runner up in the Calypso Monarch 2016 competition.

are met in terms of the art form and the calysonians’ performances.  If you think that writing a calypso or performing it is just a simple matter of venting one’s concerns in any old way, then think again!  Specific guidelines exist that outline the way in which this genre of song must be written, composed and performed. A detailed breakdown of the components required in a calypso song can be found  here on the avirtualdominica.com web site.  Lyricists must cleverly disguise the outstanding theme in the literary guise of double-entendres, puns, metaphors, similes, and parodies, with plenty of satire, allusions and sometimes parables.  The point is that the message is not supposed to be glaringly obvious, but it can be deciphered by the listeners as a result of the careful crafting of the composition: the obvious subject often alludes to an entirely different matter.

When I taught students  English Literature at Orion Academy, I derived tremendous pleasure from using examples of literary devices from the calypso songs of the day to illustrate their meaning and usage.  The kids really enjoyed it too.  On one occasion, we were graced with the presence of prolific veteran calypso songwriter Pat Aaron, who writes exclusively for 8-time (2016) Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph.  He had written lyrics for a calypso entitled ‘Animal Farm’, which was performed by ‘Dice’.  It was based on themes presented in the allegorical novel, ‘Animal Farm‘ by George Orwell, which I was teaching to second formers at that time.  He carefully explained to the class  about his methods for incorporating some of the ideas from the novel into the calypso song, making it relevant to various political, social and topical issues of the day in

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Tasha ‘Tasha P’ Peltier was the first woman to ever win the Calypso Monarch Competition in 2011.

Dominica.

There is one caveat, however.  If one is not familiar with the issues of the day in Dominica, then it is more difficult to interpret the message that is being relayed by the calypsonian.  I found this out in my early days here. Apart from being entertained by the spectacle of the staged show, and being caught up in the excitement of the crowd, I often did not understand the disguised message in the songs.  But after almost 20 years on the Nature Isle, I can assure you that I am well versed in the issues of the day, as I follow current events very closely and frequently discuss them with my Dominican friends!

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Janae Jackson is a very talented 17 year old girl who went all the way to the Calypso Finals this year.  While she did not place, she did win the Calypso Queen 2016 award. She is definitely one to watch!

So last night was THE big night for the Calypso Finals.  This enormously popular show is traditionally held on the Saturday before Carnival Monday. While I didn’t attend this year, I was able to listen to part of the show on the radio. But it went well into the early morning hours, and I fell asleep before it was over. When I woke up sometime later, I immediately went to my computer to find out the results.

Calypso fever finally spiked and King Dice did it again – the eighth time in fact! He’s now tied with Trinidad’s  ‘Mighty Sparrow‘, renowned all over the world – who previously captured the crown in his country that many times.  Congratulations to ‘Dice’ for a superb performance and to his songwriter, Pat Aaron, who has an uncanny gift for creating the best in calypso lyrics.  What a team!

I am also delighted for Webster ‘De Webb’ Marie, who was awarded the first runner up position.  I have had the pleasure of singing with this young man in the RiverSong choir many years ago.  He has a wonderful tenor voice and is a natural on stage.  He was a longstanding member of the well-known Sisserou Singers and was the first winner of Dominca’s annual Cadence-lypso competition in 2012.

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I have to update my photo with King Dice, now 8-times a Calypso Monarch.  Wendy Walsh took this photo of me with the talented calypsonian a couple of Carnival Mondays ago.

Now that this year’s calypso fever has broken, I’ll prepare myself for tomorrow’s early morning J’ouvert and all the fun that follows in the next two days (Carnival Monday and Tuesday).  I’ll be on the lookout for the amazing Calypsonians on the Carnival route and will certainly offer my heartfelt congratulations for keeping Calypso music very ‘HOT’ in Dominica!

 

Under the Spell: Carnival Magic in Dominica

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Carnival Queen 2015, Odessa Elie and Calypso Monarch 2015, Gregory ‘Karessah’ Riviere warmly greeted spectators while their float guided the 2016  Opening Parade along the streets of Roseau Dominica.

When the Carnival Dream berthed at the Roseau Cruise Ship Pier on the same

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The Carnival Dream arrived in Dominica on the same day as Dominica’s dreamy Opening Parade!

day as the Opening Parade of Mas Domnik 2016, I felt that it had to be a magical coincidence.

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What’s going on?  This band of ‘Darkies’ wanted everyone to know that it is Carnival time on the Nature Isle!

I arrived at the start of the parade route near the Fort Young Hotel on Victoria Street just before the 3 p.m. start time.  The bands, that is, specific groups of participants were assembling and warming up for this celebratory afternoon.  It would be the first major event on Dominica since the devastation of Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015.  While the country continues to recover and rebuild, I noticed that this much-anticipated Carnival  event brought joy to the faces of the revellers and spectators that afternoon.

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This pretty Carnival Princess contestant  welcomed everyone as she processed in her float along the parade route.

Although the parade started a little late, it was well worth the wait.  To see the smiles of delight on the streets after several stressful months lifted my spirits and brought tears of happiness to my eyes.

Of course, there were hundreds of cruise ship passengers viewing the spectacle too.  I spoke to a few of them and they were completely in awe of the creativity and colour that surrounded them on this beautiful day in paradise.

Traditionally, the Opening Parade gives everyone a taste of what will come over the next few weeks, culminating in two days of street jump-ups on Monday February 8th and Tuesday February 9th this year.  Those particular days precede Ash Wednesday and the commencement of Lent.  You can read more about the origins of Dominica’s Carnival in an earlier post right here.

Beauty pageants, along with calypso song competitions form a big part of the Carnival activities.  All of the Queen, Teen and Princess contestants looked lovely and sported their sweetest smiles in anticipation of winning their ‘crown’.

Here is a peek at some, but not all of the lovely ladies and girls who made their presence known on that beautiful Saturday afternoon in Roseau:

 

From top left: Carnival Princess 2015 Lytleen Julien; Supporters of their  Convent High School Teen Pageant Contestant; Teen Pageant Contestant from Convent High School

From bottom left: Contestant in the Dominica State College Jambouree; Miss Dominica Contestant Nawana Shillingford; Miss Dominica Contestant Tasia Floissac

All of the young ladies sparkled and shimmered in their finery.  I succumbed to the magic of their Carnival charms as if I were walking around  in a fairyland!

But there was much more than beauty on the streets of Roseau that dreamy, steamy afternoon in the nation’s capital.  After the procession of pageant contestants, plentiful beasts emerged en masse, creating an extreme juxtaposition with the earlier serene scene. The prolific masqueraders clearly portrayed what ‘playing mas’ is all about!

Scary  bestial Sensays in horns and masks, the fiersome and feared ‘Bann Mauvé’  with their wizard-like hats from the village of Colihaut, frightening ‘darkies’ covered in black, cracking whips all added to the sinister side of Carnival magic.  Some of them did actually try to scare me as I boldly stepped on to the street to capture them with my camera.  However, I did not succumb to fear for one good reason: despite their attire, they all appeared to be having a fantastic time.  I could only smile and laugh along with them.  What better Carnival dream than that!

Here is a glimpse at what they looked like ‘pon de road‘:

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Then the Carnival dream changed direction again, and I found myself admiring a large band of little boys pushing their cleverly constructed home-made toy trucks, called

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Young boys proudly push their  creative kabouways in the Carnival 2016 Opening Parade.

kabouways. This longstanding Dominican tradition has recently regained prominence, and the craft is a tremendous source of pride – especially for fathers and sons who make them together.

And little girls demonstrated their rhythmic and athletic prowess in coordinated movements, despite the soaring temperature, as renowned ‘Flag Wavers’.DSCF6517

DSCF6451I also admired an ornately-dressed band of Kalinago people from the northeastern village of Sineku.  Their pride of traditions was clearly evident and they too, were clearly enjoying themselves.

After an hour and a half, the late afternoon sun began to cast long shadows, as well as an intense glare on the road. The magical dream switched again and this time gorgeous revellers and other vibrant characters, suggestive of the bacchanal appeared on the street, captivating onlookers with their flamboyant costumes, like this:

This Carnival fantasy just didn’t seem to end.  But I began to return to reality with the pounding beat of the traditional lapo kabwit (goat-skin drum) bands.  Sweat poured from their brows as they marched along the parade route.  But there was no stopping them: the rhythm of the magical Carnival season is in their blood!

 

There were reality checks too:  The Police Band posted this sobering suggestion on the front of their Carnival truck:DSCF6489

As I awakened from my personal revelry, I realized that I did not see the ever-popular stilt-walkers (Bwa Bwa), as they must have entered the parade further along the route.  I’ll be sure to include them in my next Carnival dream!

Once again, I had fallen under the spell of Carnival magic in Dominica.  I suspect the potion should last until Ash Wednesday.  Be assured that I’ll let you know about other reveleries I experience during Mas Domnik 2016!