by Ruth Tesfai
In college, a dear friend turned me on to Reggae and Dancehall and I fell in love. Two years later, the Caribbean nightlife in London turned me on to Soca and it was a wrap. Coming from Los Angeles, I had little exposure to these styles of music and upon my return, I was very disappointed to find barely anything here! Depressed more like! Fast forward to a couple years and seemingly out of nowhere, LA has become a major carnival player! On June 27th, Los Angeles will be celebrating its 4th Annual Hollywood Carnival and it looks to be bigger and better than ever!
LA will be kicking off this year’s Carnival with its first ever J’ouvert on Saturday, June 20th! For those who are unfamiliar with this term, J’ouvert is the official start of Carnival. At this event, you drink, wine and cover yourself in anything – mud, oil, colored powder, etc. As someone who has jealously watched videos of people celebrating this event in other countries, I am EXTREMELY excited. The following quote describes J’ouvert in a way I wish I could:
“J’Ouvert is wild. J’Ouvert is frenzy. J’Ouvert is pounding bass on a big truck, steel pan, rattling cowbells or just the “ting-a-ling ting-a-ling” of bottle of spoon. J’Ouvert is masquerade with or without actual masks. J’Ouvert is whining and “back back.” J’Ouvert is sexuality both liberated and restrained. J’Ouvert is the sacred and profane, the humorous and the macabre. J’Ouvert is the warning hint of a riot that organizes itself into chaos. J’Ouvert is ex-slaves with flaming torches and chains threatening to burn it all down. J’Ouvert is rum. Lots and lots of rum. J’Ouvert is devils–red devils, blue devils, devils dripping black tar and spitting fire. J’Ouvert is baby powder and paint. J’Ouvert is MUD. MUD. MUD. J’Ouvert in the end, is magic. Wonderful, fantastic, dangerous magic.” (For more, read this very informative history of this event.)
Excited yet? Extacy Mas, one of this year’s mas bands (aka: masquerade bands), is hosting the event and tickets can be found here. Tickets are $30 in advance and will be higher at the door. And don’t worry – no mud or oil here. Just colored powder! You can also bring your own or pay for more powder once inside.
The official events of the Hollywood Carnival include the following concerts: Lead Pipe and Saddis on June 25, Soca King Machel Montano on June 26 and the Epic Afterparty with Lyrikal on June 27! (Click here for tickets or a festival pass). The unofficial events hosted by the different Mas Bands and DJs that have not sold out can be found on the individual band or DJ websites or on their other social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, IG, etc). Trinifeters crew in particular has quite a few events to check out.
Now for the main event, Carnival day! As quoted from the LA Culture Festival website:
“On Saturday, June 27, Los Angeles’ Hollywood Blvd. will miraculously transform into a Grand Carnival & Street Extravaganza with parade-goers and masqueraders dressed in vibrant, breathe- taking costumes dancing to pulsating rhythms of Calypso, Soca, Reggae, Zouke, Latin, Punta, Meringue, Mariachi, Reggaeton, Blues, Jazz, Steel-pan, Indian, Asian and other worldly music.”
My first experience at LA carnival was as a spectator but I couldn’t help but feel the music and jump on the road with the bands! This year, I will be playing mas (aka wining down the road in a gorgeous costume) with Colours. For anyone interested in playing mas, it’s still not too late to register for your costume! Here’s the list of mas bands participating this year. Click the individual band links for costume information. They are all fabulous but my faves this year go to Exstacy and Colours. Deadlines are approaching fast, so hurry! For someone unfamiliar with playing mas, you might be turned off by the prices of the costumes but trust me, in the Caribbean you’d be paying double or triple the cost you get here! And really, you’re paying for the experience (including breakfast and lunch, refreshments, goodie bags, etc) which will so be worth it!
For anyone new to Carnival, I would suggest coming early, finding a nice spot in the shade (the last couple years have been HOT) and enjoy the show. Then after being wowed by all the beautiful costumes and amazing energy, I’d suggest returning the following year and registering with a band!
In addition to the mas bands, the Carnival day parade includes cultural groups from all over the world representing their homelands. If you are interested, you can register your cultural group for next year! Information can be found on the LA Culture Festival page.
After the parade ends, you can pay a minimal fee to enter Carnival Village, where vendors will be selling Caribbean food and drink and where you will find more musical performances from Caribbean artists. Tickets for the village can be purchased ahead of time at the LA Culture Festival website or in person on the day of the event.
But wait – there’s more! On Sunday, there will be a couple more after party events. LA Culture Festival is partnering with BETX to present the Carnival Experience. It’s a free live concert with the legend Mr. Vegas, everyone’s Reggae crush Gyptian, Jamaican and Canadian artist Kreesha Turner, Machel Montano (!!!) and DJ Buddha. It will be held at the LA Convention Center. DJ Stephen Music will also be hosting an after party in Hollywood (click here for more info and tickets).
I think I covered most of the events but I’m sure there are some that I am missing. There’s just too much to choose from! But whatever events you decide to attend, it’s sure to be an amazing introduction to Caribbean culture and Carnival! You’ll probably be a zombie come Monday but trust me, you’ll be coming back for more!