Ok, first of all ask a Trini when carnival starts and they’ll be like “after Christmas”. LOL NO, BITCH. Ain’t nobody got time to just hang out in Trinidad for 3 months waiting for carnival to start. So for the regular, shmegular tourist, Trinidad Carnival is a week-long affair.
To read more about the other events and their historical significance, click here. But for just the Carnival Tuesday event, see below a break-down on the process and scroll down to How Not To Choose A Costume And Play Mas Like A Basic Bitch.
Words To Know:
Playing Mas: Mas is short for masquerade because this tradition started when French plantation owners started throwing masquerade balls before enduring the fast of Lent. The slaves were unable to participate so they started their own. Mixing this French tradition with African, Asian, and Arawak traditions, we get the Trini Carnival. To “play mas” describes participating in the event from dressing up to dancing.
Wine: I can’t explain it. Just watch the video, ok.
Paying For A Carnival Costume
These costumes come out in July every year leading up to Carnival Tuesday. Now, once you see the price tags on the costumes (which range from $500-$2000), you will surely clutch your heart and scream out to the heavens WHY GOD, WHY. But fret not, the price tag is not just for the costume and actually includes so many things that I’m not sure how they’re able to cover it all.
Below is everything that the price includes:
- Your Costume–obviously.
- The Band. Bands are an organization of DJs and live bands who have meshed together their favorite Soca songs and have set up their equipment and speakers to a truck that will blast music for two days while you dance in the streets.
- All-You-Can-Drink. Yes, you heard me correctly. It’s all you can drink on both Monday and Tuesday. There’s a premium drink truck that follows the Band that passes out free drinks all day long, including WATER/COCONUT WATER/POWERADE, CAUSE ITS NECESSARY.
- A Goody-Bag. This isn’t a regular goody-bag. It’s a professionally packaged tote with a beach towel, that includes all of the necessities you’ll need to make it through your Carnival Tuesday, such as, a plastic bottle to refill your drinks, instant coffee, ibuprofen, shampoo, Epson salt for soaking your feet, Kotex pads, and a brochure that tells you the rules and where you can find the medic and lunch station, etc. etc.
- FOUR meals. You get dinner on Monday, and breakfast/lunch/dinner Tuesday. If you’re basic like me, you might only make two of those meals because you were off being belligerent and didn’t know what time it was or where you were going.
- Security. Security is necessary and they are really well-trained to be efficient and to help you out during any time of need
- Medical. First aid and ambulance service.
- The Pre-Party and the After Party. Just more, ok. MORE MORE MORE. For two straight days.
- Bathroom Truck. A truck will drive behind the Drinks truck and offer a clean bathroom that you can fit in with your costume. And since it’s moving with you, you can just hop on and hop back off.
- Water Station. A sprinkler system set up to cool you down, should you need it.
But let’s get this straight, not all costumes are created equal.
Choosing A Carnival Costume
The Set Up: Each costume is associated with a section. Multiple sections are associated with a band. Each band has a theme. These bands compete for the title Band Of The Year and they get judged on the theme, cohesion, design, and overall visuals, including how well you can wine in your costume.
Choosing A Band: The popularity of the band and/or their theme for costume is usually what determines whom people will play mas with.
Some popular bands are: Tribe, Bliss, Lost Tribe, Fantasy, Yuma, Rogue, Harts, Papparazi and Passion. Tribe, Lost Tribe and Bliss are the larger bands. Yuma, Fantasy, Rogue, Paparazzi and Passion are bands that have come about within the past 5 years that pull in a young crowd with special pricing for high school and college students (specifically Yuma).
Harts was one of the first bands and has a lot of incredible history, read more here. But upon going to purchase a costume, I noticed it had a predominantly White crowd, so I promptly left.
Getting A Costume: Once you’ve chosen a band, find the section you want to be in based on costume. Then email the person associated with that section. They email you back and you send them your sizes. Then they tell you when to come pay for your costume and when to pick it up. It’s imperative to do this right away because sections usually sell out.
I didn’t do any of that. I went the day before Carnival Monday to the house associated with the band. And just picked up the costume they had left in my size. But keep in mind, there isn’t a lot to choose from, they may not have it in your size, you may not get your preferred section, and if you’re a group, you may not be in the same sections.
How Not To Play Mas Like A Basic Bitch
- Be organized – it’s very stressful to both you and the costume house to organize a costume last minute. So follow the bands you want on social media and be on top of your costume purchasing.
- Buddy System– make sure you have good friends cause if you have ain’t shit friends, fuck around and get drunk, in trouble, lost. Whatever the case is, make sure someone is holding you accountable for their life and vice versa. Carnival shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is a marathon drinking session in the Caribbean heat and it’s easy to lose consciousness. You’ll want to be with someone when/if you do.
- Consent – Pay attention to people’s body language. Wining is an intimate experience, with lots of skin-to-skin contact (although it doesn’t really mean anything sexual). But even though it is cultural, it doesn’t mean you want it all the time. If someone says no, respect it.
- Wear comfortable shoes – It’s TWO DAYS OF WALKING LIKE DON’T PLAY YOURSELF TRYNA BE TOO CUTE.
- Don’t get mad – When you get powder-bombed or a wing slaps you in the face, that shit happens. After 12 hours of dancing and drinking and very little food, it’s natural to get upset. But getting confrontational in a situation like this is not in the spirit of carnival and has the potential to erupt into something dangerous. Don’t do it.
- Don’t go with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Cause no lol. I mean, you can, but I mean… like I’d rather go with my parents.
- Delay your period – Take a pill, get pregnant, whatever you got to do to postpone your period because there’s just way too much movement and sweat and not enough down time to change out a tampon. I did none of the above. Just prayed to the Carnival gods that my period would come a week late and they answered. Hallelujah.
How Not To Do Carnival Like A Basic Bitch
Alongside Brazil for most popular worldwide carnivals, Trinidad has attracted major foreign popularity for this event. As a product, the event has started to cater to tourists and strayed away from its original form.
In its origins, carnival used to be a parading of costumes that changed every year and was a delight for onlookers. Locals showed up to see the creativity that bands would come in and compete for Band Of The Year. Now, with the monotony of the same basic feather costumes, locals aren’t showing up to watch the parade. Headlines splashed across every newspaper say how spectating is at an all-time low. No one wants to see the same shit every year, no matter how hard you think you’re slaying.
While the feather outfits are beautiful and will always remain traditional, holding with the indigenous roots of the Carib and Arawak tribes, there’s a movement to push designers to become more creative. Very little difference exists from year to year with the feather costumes; just a basic moving around of crystals and changing feather colors. These designers are playing into what foreigners think carnival should look like.
The Lost Tribe does away with that completely. They are what I would call Vogue Carnival in complete art form whose motto is “A Revolution In Mas”: to bring back the creativity that the carnival was originally meant for.
Before I go on, I want to say this post was NOT SPONSORED. I just really fuck with creativity, ok?
Why The Lost Tribe Is The Least Basic Band To Play Mas With
1.Their costumes are majority produced in Trinidad.
In comparison to other bands who may outsource many of their materials to China and other countries, The Lost Tribe makes a conscious effort to have as much local production in Trinidad as possible.
2. The premise of their designs is “no feathers”.
While other bands hold onto the feather imagery popularized on the Internet to pull in the tourist crowd, veteran carnival Trinis have expressed their weariness of the monotony in costumes, yearning for creativity of what carnival used to be. So in order not to fall back on what tourists think carnival is, the designers refuse to have any feathers on any of their designs, bringing a modern, fresh-take on playing mas.
3.Pricing includes a costume in its entirety.
While other bands baseline their costumes at around $550/600 for just a bikini and give the option of add-ons from arm feathers, leg feathers, headbands, and feather backpacks rounding out to well over $1,000 up to $2,000, The Lost Tribe stays true to their artistic theme and does not allow for their members to go without full costume for artistic cohesiveness. For ~$750, members get the bikinis, but also their full leg and arm pieces, along with capes and a backpack.
The feather costumes (left) were upwards of $1000, while the art ones (right) were $750
4.Their creative director travels with them.
Playing mas complete with sewing kit and scissors, the creative director, Val, travels with the band and makes sure his creations are looking runaway ready, willing to fix anyone and everyone’s costume who needs fixing on the roadway.
5.The male costumes are more involved.
In other bands, the male costumes usually include shorts and maybe a necklace or feather neckband, but in all honesty, they look lazy next to the beauty and extravagance of their female counterparts. It’s actually a disgrace. The Lost Tribe gives males the honor to compliment their female counterparts as equals in a costume that matches their artistry.
6. The Lost Tribe makes it a point to be social activists.
An interview with committee member, Yvan Mendoza said, “It’s more than just mas. We try to make a statement of positivity. So this year we had a theme of love where we asked masqueraders to write what love is on their t-shirts.”
Who can say no to mas with a message?
While everyone who came out to play mas looked exceptional, no one is a basic bitch in this situation. This article isn’t meant to insult everyone who didn’t play with The Lost Tribe nor the designers who spent so much hard work in producing their feather costumes. But creativity lies in pushing the edge and creating unique and original costumes, not just adding onto a design that the public feels like they’ve seen before.
To test the public, I did a poll on Instagram to see what people liked more: feathers or art, using the Band’s models. Below are the results.
Now check the results after the costumes were seen on actual humans and not on the models.
In conclusion, its clear there is a demand for change. I feel like Trinis and tourists alike have a responsibility to choose carefully next year to bring back what carnival used to be. Let’s not let this amazing event evolve into the basictry that plays into foreign wants and needs, but instead pushes for and allows Trini artists to have a platform for the whole word to see.
Special thanks to Yvan Mendoza for his time fact-checking this post and explaining the premise behind The Lost Tribe and Malaika Ammon for editing and setting up the meeting with Yvan.