08/15/2006, St. Georges, Grenada
August is the time…This is the start of the refrain of one of the 4 theme songs of Grenada Carnival, called Spice Mas . We thought we’d seen parties and celebrations, but Grenadians REALLY know how to party…for days at a time, around the clock. And in this festive time of year, everyone knows the rules – safety and fun go together – while you party, party, party.
Spice Mas is August 14th and 15th. Prior to this though, a number of music competitions and concerts leading up to the 2-day extravaganza take place. Anchoring in the St George’s lagoon gave us easy access to all the events. However, it was also the ideal location for speakers the size of small garages on trailers and flatbeds positioned all around the perimeter of the lagoon. And the rhythms of the festival boomed out day and night. (It was like being anchored off Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto for Caribana.) We heard Soca, Calypso, Hip Hop and the carnival “jump up” theme music over and over at all hours but mostly starting from 9:00 pm until 5:00 or 6:00 am in the morning. It’s amazing what you get used to when you need to sleep.
The Pan Competition
Friday night’s competition was Soca, Saturday was the Pan Competition and Sunday night was Calypso Fest. Preliminary competitions had taken place earlier in the month in smaller communities around the island, so these were the finals. The Pan Fest or Steel Band Competition was the one concert we were not going to miss. With our friends, Susan and Randy (sv Nancy Dawson), we headed to the outdoor concert area. We found a spot in the packed bleachers, with about 3000 other fans. When the competition started however, we moved onto the field along with more than 1000 spectators. Being back in the bleachers you felt distanced from the incredible energy of the Steel Bands.
The Bands There were 8 Steel Bands competing for the title of Panorama Winner and the first prize purse of $40,000 ($EC). The bands ranged in size from 32 up to 87 members and the number of pans (steel drums) could be anywhere from 60 to 170 on stage for the one performance. The set- up for each performance was simple for some and elaborate for others. The smaller bands carried their instruments up on stage one piece at a time, while the larger bands pushed and rolled groups of instruments on steel-framed trolleys, some with musicians already in position. To signal the start of the performance, band members bowed to the judges, and then quietly composed themselves. Within seconds, the field came alive with the incredible rich rhythms of Steel.
The 4 hour competition wrapped up around midnight. At 12:30 the winner was announced and at 12:31 the field had erupted with enthusiastic supporters jumping up and down to the sounds of the winning performance. It was quite something to be at field level surrounded by ecstatic fans. A small group of visiting Chinese workers (here building the new Cricket stadium), standing in front of us, looked all around like us and marveled at the enthusiasm. I can’t imagine how different this is from their own culture. Within 10 minutes 3 of them were grovin’ to the music and sharing in the joy of the mood as well.
A short time later, the next concert was set-up and ready to go – international Soca star from Trinidad, Marshall Montana – got the place really jumpin’ and wavin’ the rags. All around us, people ranged in ages from 2 to 75 years old jammin’ on the field, dancin’ in the bleachers, even the food vendors were grovin’ to the music. People were enjoying themselves. And that’s what Carnival is all about – enjoying the party at all hours. David and I made our way home just a couple of hours before sunrise.
For us, this was the start of Spice Mas in Grenada. It’s going to be a busy next couple of days with Calypso fest tomorrow night, Jouvert before dawn on Monday, Mas Band Competition on Monday afternoon and Monday Night Mas before the final parade through the city of the Mas Bands on Tuesday. Thanks Grenada for making visitors feel welcome and merci to the French for introducing Masquerade so long ago. More about that next time. Now, it’s time for a little sleep.