It had been a few years since I ‘jumped in a band’ (put on a costume and played masquerade with an organized group) during
Dominica’s Carnival celebrations. Most of the time, I had remained on the sidelines, contenting myself with plentiful photo opportunities and bountiful smiles from enthusiastic parade participants. But this year, I felt I was overdue for a little spontaneous merrymaking ‘on de road’, which, for two days forms part of the traditional pre-Lenten festival’s claim-to-fame on the Nature Island.
It all started for me on Carnival Monday night. As the sun set, I parked the car well away from the parade route and ran through the streets of Roseau to rendez-vous with the Old Time Sake band.
The organizers had arranged a ‘Glow Band’ for our evening warm up before Tuesday morning’s Hawaiian ‘chip’ (shuffle to the music’s beat) around town. By 7 p.m., we glowed as we moved along the parade route in Roseau to beat of the rhythms emanating from the huge speakers on the hi-fi truck.
I stayed at the front of the `band`so that I could turn around, run back and forth beside the group and take plenty of pictures. As we moved through the streets, others joined us with their glow gear. Soon we were about 100 strong. A lovely cooling breeze blew down to town from the mountains and tempered our exertions. I was quite comfortable in my black attire and I kept moving to the momentum of the music. By now, other big bands ( I mean real ones with instruments and singers) were now on the road. Sidewalks filled with keen observers and children ran to and fro in great excitement. Now I was sure that I felt the presence of `Spirits` from carnivals past: shadows and silhouettes of uncertain shapes and sizes seemed to grace darkened door ways and unlit alleys. As I was only drinking spring water, I knew that it must have been my imagination… In my mind, it`s all part of the fun!
After about an hour, I stepped out of the band, citing this little trip around as my warm-up for the next day to those who expected me to keep going until 10 p.m.
On Carnival Tuesday morning, I felt refreshed and ready for a bigger and hotter endurance test ‘on de road’. The brilliant sunshine bouncing off the steamy streets of Roseau would definitely enhance my daytime ‘glow’. Just after 10 a.m., the truck started to roll, and within minutes, over 200 happy and colorfully costumed revellers set out to show the gigantic crowd how the Old Time Sake Band’s Hawaiian theme complemented the collective cheery mood of participants and spectators.
Again, I took a place in the front line of the band. I liked being able to move in and out, on and off the road as I pleased to take photos and see what was happening in the other bands. The only challenge in my starter position was my urge to ‘chip’ too quickly. As an habitual walker and hiker, I am used to picking up the pace. But the skill attached to chipping is the discipline of the rhythmic slow shuffle: no long strides. Occasionally, I found myself pacing too far ahead and then I was caught between the music of the band in front of me and the Old Time Sake tune behind me. It was a challenge for this musician to try to move to two different beats simultaneously. But what can I say – you just had to be there – to take part in all this fun!
We hadn’t been on the road for an hour yet when I stepped out to find the pageant winners who were at the head of the street parade. They were decked out in traditional costumes, and I wanted to capture their fresh faces and gorgeous creative attire before the day got too hot. I was definitely not disappointed. The day was relatively young, and there was still space on the street for me to boldly move among the winners and contestants to get good shots of them. Here is a sample of what I saw that enhanced my growing smile as I admired them all.
Then I ran around the parade route and jumped back into the front of the band again. As we chipped along to the calypso and sometimes soca beats, I fixed that permanent smile
on my face as I greeted familiar faces and strangers too. All of a sudden, I realized that I was absolutely and completely without a care in the world! For me, this highly unusual state-of-mind was trance-like. If I was thirsty, I drank my water. If I was hungry, I ate a snack provided by the band and looked forward to a big lunch. When I needed relief from the scorching sun, I stepped into a shaded side street for a while. I did wear ear plugs and a big hat, along with strong sun screen, so I really was completely carefree. Ah…this is what Carnival is all about! If you want a glimpse of why this is so true, take a look at the piece that I wrote a few years ago about the history of Mas Domnik. You will find it here.
I also had fun watching the crowd have fun!
By the time 2 o’clock rolled around, over 200 of this brightly adorned band, consisting of mainly (but not entirely) members of the 50+ club had been around the expansive parade route a few times. The hi-fi truck stopped for a break, so I headed up to the Public Service Union building, where a substantial Dominican lunch was being served. I devoured a big bowl of pelau, which is made up of rice, chicken and lentils.
Others were planning to go back for a ‘last lap’ before sundown. As it was after 3 p.m., I was content to return to the parade
route area in search of an ice cream cone. I cooled down with a refreshing scoop of the coconut variety from Island Ice Cream and chatted with a returning Dominican, who was accompanying his resident granddaughter to watch the remnants of the parade.
As I walked through the sizzling streets, I could see that the real Bacchanal was about to begin. With only a few hours of Carnival 2014 remaining, the action on the road was set to get even “hotter.” I chuckled to myself and admired the risqué ( but hopefully harmless) antics of some of the revellers.
(It was very peaceful, by all official reports). I headed home to put up my sore feet, review fun-filled photos and remind myself that playing ‘Mas’ in Dominica’s Carnival is definitely great, for old time’s sake!
* With special thanks to the organizers of the Old Time Sake Carnival Band for their efficient management, colourful costumes and delicious lunch. I had loads of fun and certainly recommend that others take a `jump`with this notable Carnival band.