Going into my first carnival week in Jamaica, I had to constantly remind myself to not let my expectations get the best of me. Knowing how highly anticipated this was, I didn't want me to feel disappointed once the experience was over. Looking back, I can guarantee you that this did not happen.
Carnival was a movie and a large part of this experience is carnival week - the fetes leading up to the big day typically starting from the Tuesday before carnival. Carnival in Jamaica is growing year by year, including the amount of parties to choose from during carnival week. This allows persons to enjoy the spirit of carnival without playing mas.
While I only attended four parties this carnival season, a very small amount compared to some revellers, I enjoyed every single one of them. Honestly, I think I was just happy to be there it being my first real carnival experience at home - but this reminded me that it is all about the energy you bring into a fete. Two people could attend the same event and have completely different experiences. Carnival season can bruk your bank account so it's important to make the best out of what comes your way. Here are some parties that I enjoyed this carnival season and I would recommend you take into consideration when planning for next year!
Carnival Tuesday: Tuesday on the Rocks
From the moment I touched down on Carnival Tuesday, I was ready to go. Sure, I might've had a final paper due the next morning but that was the least of my worries. Tuesday on the Rocks was that night and Kes was - and always is - my main priority. Taking a break from my antibiotics for the first time in months meant that I was ready to physically and mentally embody Mr. Rum.
In my opinion, TOTR was the perfect start to the season. It was the first staging in Jamaica of this well-known concert and an amazing preview to all the madness to expect from the week. While I typically hate concerts due to the disorganisation that typically comes between sets, TOTR took the cake. As opposed to a normal concert format, the night started off with a few DJ's before Kes the Band came out themselves. Kes would perform a few songs, bring out an artiste and repeat that cycle. It felt more united as opposed to a lineup leading up to Kes as the closing act.
As expected, Kes killed it. Every person in the crowd was swooning and tears were shed during Savannah Grass - especially, when he changed the lyrics to "if you coming down from Blue Mountains". From Kes (of course) to Shenseea, Shal Marshall, Sekon Sta, Konshens, Teddyson John to even Munga Honorable, everyone was there. Hell, Dr. Mashup himself, Machel Montanto, was even liming in the crowd. There was a predominant focus on soca with hints of reggae, dancehall and ska tributes. The perfect blend for carnival in Jamrock.
Carnival Wednesday: I Love Soca
I woke up at 8 am on Carnival Wednesday to finish writing my final paper - honestly, probably still drunk. Once it was submitted, I felt a weight off of my shoulders and was ready to tackle the week to the full extreme. As one of the most infamous fetes of the season, I Love Soca was the perfect event for this. For many years, I planned to go to I Love Soca but somehow always missed it. Attending for the first time last Christmas, I told myself that dis party nah miss me AGAIN.
I Love Soca is always a process in the sense that you have to arrive to Sabina Park relatively early to secure good parking or else you'll be walking from far. I wouldn't say that we were the first people to reach the fete but when I walked inside and saw the venue a bit sparse I was well frighten. As usual, I made my way to the front and placed my cooler in a prime position. Naturally, with everyone running on island time and probably mash up from other fetes, the crowd flooded in one by one and the vibes followed suit.
Apart from the stage's amazing graphics and visuals, this might have been one of the best nights of the week. It was one of those parties where I left before the music lock off and was still very content. Machel Montano performed and, as expected, put on a phenomenal show as one of the best performeds in the Caribbean. With appearances from Skinny Fabulous, HoodCelebrityy, Ding Dong and Teejay, the night was definitely memorable (well...based on how many drinks you had). The vibes continued after the performances, and the crowd was one of the most vibrant ones I saw all week.
Carnival Thursday: Xodus Tailgate
The following morning, it was definitely a challenge to open my eyes. I needed a break from hardcore fetein' and Xodus Tailgate was the perfect remedy for that. It felt so refreshing to attend an unconventional party that didn't follow the typical formula. I would call Tailgate more of a lime or a par to go to with nuff of your friends. Hosted in the Stadium parking lot, there were rows of cars lined up in front of a mini stage and a space for a crowd to assemble. We made sure to arrive from early to get our pick of the litter near the front and ended up parking in the first row that separated the stage and crowd from the rest of the lot. While we didn't roll with the biggest team, we still made the best of it.
While I loved our parking spot in the moment, I was also very grateful for a friend's parking spot at the back of the venue. Parking at the front of the venue is a commitment as you will more than likely help security lock the stadium gate on your way out. Waiting for blocking cars to leave is frustrating so make sure to take that into consideration with Tailgate.
With J'Ouvert the following day, Tailgate was the perfect event for Carnival Thursday. Voice and HoodCelebrityy had performances although people were having such a great time socialising I'm not sure that everyone noticed. Eventually, we made our way into the raving crowd where the music definitely did not disappoint. I know that I would've had an even better time if my whole entire friend group was there with all of our cars lined up but the fact that I had so much fun without them speaks volumes. Nevertheless, Tailgate was an amazing party and it's exciting to experience new kinds of parties in Kingston.
Carnival Friday: Caesar's Army's A.M. Bush
With each day that came and went, I had to mentally prepare myself for what was to come. J'ouvert. Carnival Friday was mainly spent trying to rest for Caesar's Army's A.M. Bush that night but, as usual, there's always something to do in the days. It's so important to take care of yourself, mentally and physically, during carnival week as you begin to operate solely on overdrive. Pushing yourself too hard in the week is never a good idea. At the end of the day, it is a marathon, not a sprint.
That night, like many J'ouvert nights, I didn't get much sleep. I was excited to finally experience A.M. Bush - this heavily renowned fete that isn't your typical J'ouvert. It follows a highly selective recruitment process, which was strange to me but also somewhat comforting. It felt reassuring knowing that the team was aware of majority of the people attending the party, incase of any emergency situations. Instead of marching around the streets of town in the early hours of the morning, A.M. Bush happens in, well, the bush, specifically Caymanas. While its price tag is a bit heftier than other J'ouverts, A.M. Bush is an experience which includes a goodie bag, shuttle services at the venue, inclusive drinks and food...and a damn good time. That being said, expectations going into this event are always high - no matter if it's your first or tenth time.
Leaving my house around 2:30 a.m., a bus load of tired but eager soca junkies made their way to Caymanas not knowing what to expect. While I was somewhat acquainted with this 'bush' style of J'ouvert's, from my Crop Over experiences with Mix Nutz, I still was unsure of what to anticipate in Jamaica. Overall, my friend group and I left the fete in the morning with amazing experiences. The crowd was on their baddest behaviour, and everyone was embracing their inner hooligan. From paint to powder, there was not a clean body in sight. While we were ready to go home, wash off, and pass out, we all were very happy with J'ouvert. After all, it's the second most highly anticipated event of the season.
The next day, I discovered that many patrons did not have similar experiences at A.M. Bush mainly attributed to logistic mishaps throughout the night. This ranged from speakers being blown out on music trucks, shuttles being non-existent and some confusion with the food distribution. Looking back, I remember being slightly frustrated with these things and a bit spooked that they weren't checking wristbands at all. However, I generally left the party that morning with a positive attitude. I can only imagine how disappointed these patrons felt, especially on such a big night like J'ouvert just hours away from carnival day. While it's disheartening, I take comfort in our carnival's growth knowing that we will have more options for revellers to choose from next year and that our industry will hopefully come out on top of these issues for a bigger and badder carnival season.
Check out my vlog on all the madness! From the parties themselves, to reviews and picking up goodie bags for A.M. Bush and Carnival day!