An insider’s guide to Spicemas
Want to join Grenada’s greatest party? Candi Licence gives the lowdown on how
Grenadians light up when they talk about Spicemas. The island’s annual Carnival extravaganza is an explosion of sound, colour and movement – an exciting multi-day celebration combining pageantry, parades, competitions, shows, good food, rum and fun. Throngs of well-wishers and party-makers crowd the streets and venues to see, hear and participate in this pulsating spectacle. It’s a safe, family-friendly celebration, and a time when the warm and welcoming Grenadian people embrace visitors and encourage them to join in – don’t be surprised if you go home with a new group of friends. The continuous events, jam-packed into five days, create an unforgettable experience.
There are so many memorable Spicemas moments. I remember watching a sea of dazzling masqueraders – some scantily adorned in feathers and jewels, others cloaked in traditional costumes – as they danced down the avenue to pounding soca music. After dark, these same bands flaunted glowing neon props that they twizzled and twirled with choreographed precision and flair.
And I remember being awed by the devil-inspired Jab Jab masqueraders, who were slathered in motor oil and carrying chains, with raw fish clenched in their teeth. Their glistening bodies gyrated in the pre-dawn light as they shocked the crowd with their outrageous antics.
I particularly love the music of Spicemas. It’s a privilege to hear the talented singer/songwriters showcase their original calypso, groovy and soca lyrics and melodies as they battle for the coveted Monarch crowns. Calypsonians create set designs and skits to go along with their songs. Groovy and soca stars fill the stage with dancers, lights, smoke and special effects. Meanwhile, mesmerising pan orchestras belt their steel drums as they duel to win the competition. Some bands have more than 100 players, all moving to the enthralling, joyous beat.
A year of preparation
Planning for Spicemas begins as soon as everyone recovers from the previous year’s event. Musicians and vocalists start composing and rehearsing their entries for the upcoming competitions, and then begin performing their entries so everyone will be familiar with the songs by August. The Pretty Mas bands choose their themes, unveil their looks and begin creating their elaborate costume designs. Parishes select their contestants, who start practising their talents as they prepare for next year’s Carnival Queen competition.
Spicemas really kicks off with an expansive free Carnival launch event in May. Everyone gets their first glimpse at what the year’s Carnival will include. Parish queens make their first appearances on stage. Mas bands perform. The launch gets everyone in the Carnival mood. Parishes also kick off their own launch events. Traditional Mas bands, the parish queen and local favourite singers and musicians perform for their delighted audiences. Everyone hopes their parish favourites will win the final competitions in August.
Serious parties begin to be held, and billboards on local buses announce events that take place almost every weekend all over the island. There are bikini cruises, sunset sails, beach parties and lots of musical events of all varieties. Most musical events begin around 10pm and last all night. It’s not unusual to see party-goers staggering out of venues the next morning as they make their way home to rest up before work begins on Monday…
Jump into July
In July, semi-final competitions for calypso, groovy, soca and pan take place to determine who will qualify to perform in the finals and compete for the Monarch crowns. The final competitions take place at the national stadium during the second week of August.
All significant events and national competitions take place in or near St George’s, Grenada’s capital city. However, each parish also has a full calendar of local events including J’Ouvert and parades. It is not unusual for revellers to move back and forth between their parish and St George’s to see the extensive variety of activities in each place.
At this time, relatives from overseas begin to arrive home to join their families from this three-island nation to celebrate and showcase Grenada’s history, culture and heritage. Curious visitors quickly engage in the fun.
Carnival began in the 18th century as a celebration that took place before Lent began. The word originates from the Latin words carne levare, meaning ‘farewell to meat’. French colonial masters feasted and celebrated at masquerade parties and balls before abstaining from meat during Lent. Slaves were not allowed to participate, so they created rituals based on their masters’ events combined with African traditions, and dressed in costumes to disguise themselves.
After emancipation, former slaves covered themselves with burnt cane or molasses and called themselves Jab Jabs. Jab Jab characters evolved to become a representation of the devil, and revellers often carried a whip and wore horns and a tail as they terrorised their neighbourhoods. Today, Jab Jabs cover themselves with used motor oil, wear horns, drag chains, often have raw fish in their mouths and carry torches.
Jab Jabs participate in all Carnival events, but they come out in full force for J’Ouvert. J’Ouvert means ‘dawn’ or ‘daybreak’ and is a pre-dawn parade of revellers who strut and dance down the street to blaring soca music. Merrymakers who do not want to cover themselves with oil opt for colorful paint or, more recently, melted chocolate. This event is a highlight of Spicemas.
In constrast with its origins, J’Ouvert is now a fun event. Wear clothes you will be happy to discard after one use – because if you participate in the partying, revellers will bump up against you until you become a multicoloured masterpiece.
Observing the origins
Traditional Mas players keep the original Carnival culture alive by wearing historical costumes. Grenada’s heritage is portrayed by six Traditional Mas bands, including Jab Jab bands. Wild Indians represent the original inhabitants. The Vieux Corps depict the fight between good (the church) and evil (the devil). Maypole Dancers make intricate designs with their streamers. Moko Jumbies are costumed characters who strut on huge stilts. Short Knee bands are brilliantly costumed masked characters with short trousers, mirrors and bells who dance in complex patterns, sing and throw powder in the air.
Each parish proudly portrays their interpretation of these bands as they carry forth the traditions of Carnival. The Traditional Mas bands compete for awards for the best representation of each style.
Making new Mas
Pretty Mas bands are a more recent addition. They are the masqueraders with the beautiful plumage, extravagant costumes and jewelled headdresses. Not all Pretty Mas bands compete for awards, though each band’s size reflects the popularity of its themed costumes. By keeping the Traditional Mas groups vibrant, and embracing the Pretty Mas bands as well, there is something for everyone to enjoy and appreciate about Carnival.
The Children’s Carnival Frolic is one of my favourite events. The Frolic gives Grenada’s youth the opportunity to participate fully in the Carnival experience and to develop their understanding of Grenada’s rich cultural traditions. In this event, the children of each parish dress up in their favourite traditional or age-appropriate Pretty Mas costumes and enjoy a separate parade and competition. Seeing these children strut their stuff and revel in the admiration of parents and onlookers is a complete joy, and keeps the Carnival traditions alive for future generations.
Music is an integral part of Grenada’s culture and is the highlight of Spicemas. Calypso music is sometimes called the ‘poor man’s newspaper’. The lyrics focus on issues that might otherwise get overlooked, and put pressure on authorities to make changes. The topic of a calypso song is almost always political. There are two contests, Junior Calypso for young competitors and Dimanche Gras for adults. Both groups tackle serious issues facing Grenada, such as education, healthcare and child abuse, with songs that are both enlightening and timely.
Grenada thrives on soca music, which has a thumping African beat that is impossible to ignore. Your body responds, and whole crowds move as one with the music. There are two types: sweet, slower-paced groovy and fast, high energy soca. Competition for each crown is fierce, and pandemonium breaks out as the winners are announced. Then frenzied partygoers dance the night away until dawn.
There is something for everyone to love at Spicemas. You can hear pounding soca music, listen to the commentary of the calypsonians, feel the vibrations of Panorama, experience the pageantry of the Carnival Queen show and the many parades, and get covered in colour at J’Ouvert. Or maybe you just love the infectious joy the Grenadian people have for this special celebration, and want to be part of the party.
• Tickets are sold at www.GoToFete.com, at the Spicemas office on Kirani James Boulevard and at local outlets.
• To join a band or get costumes, call the Spicemas office on 473 440 0621, which will give contact information for all the bands.
• Decide which activities you most want to do. Events are almost non-stop from Friday to Tuesday – you probably won’t be able to do everything without catching some sleep, so you’ll need to prioritise.
• All street parades start at the Lagoon and end at the Carenage.
• Roads close early on parade days. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk a fair way.
• Most competitions are at the National Stadium. The Queen Show is at the Spice Basket.
• Bring an umbrella in case of rain.
Spicemas 2019: top tips on where to be when
• Saturday 3 August Children’s Carnival Frolic
Sit in the stands if you want shade. Be on the field for the best view and for great pictures.
• Thursday 8 August National Carnival Queen Competition
Held just outside St George’s. Buses available.
• TBD Junior Calypso Monarch Competition
Not always too busy because it often conflicts with Soca Monarch, but an excellent event.
• Friday 9 August Groovy Monarch followed by Soca Monarch
The field is where the most action happens – it will be crowded, loud and jubilant. The crowd sitting in the stands is more restrained.
• Saturday 10 August Junior and Senior Panorama Competition
Walk to the lot behind the stands to see and hear the bands practice.
• Sunday 11 August Dimanche Gras (Calypso Monarch competition)
This event usually ends near dawn. Most people go directly from the stadium to J’Ouvert.
• Monday 12 August J’Ouvert
If you want to watch, stand on the sidewalk near the Lagoon. If you want to participate, stand in the street or anywhere on the Carenage. Wear old clothes and wipe baby oil or lotion on your body in advance to make cleaning up easier afterwards.
• Monday 12 August Pageant and King/Queen of the Band Competition
Sit in the stands if you want shade. Be on the field for the best view and pictures.
• Monday 12 August Monday Night Mas Parade
Line up anywhere along the Lagoon or the Carenage. The bands are more animated when they approach one of the judging stands. It will be more crowded, but you’ll get the best show.
• Tuesday 13 August Parade of the Bands
As above, line up along the Lagoon or Carenage, with the most raucous displays happening by the judging stands. Revel in the crowds and atmosphere.