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Carnival and Music in Antigua and Barbuda


Antigua’s Carnival is a celebration of music and dance held annually from the end of July to the first Tuesday in August.  It is a celebration of happiness. On 1st August 1834 when slavery was abolished people took to the streets to celebrate their freedom and express their joy and happiness.  This was an informal celebration every year until in 1957 the first Antiguan Carnival was organised.  Since then instead of one day it has developed into ten days of music dance and revelry with street marches, jump-ups and formal evening shows, calypso, pan and Carnival Queen pageants. It is considered that the most important day is that of the j'ouvert (or juvé), in which brass and steel bands perform for much of the island's population.

It is a wonderful time for visitors to get an insight into the culture of the country and to understand the sheer joy that people still feel at this time of year.  The Carnival takes place in the streets of St.John’s and in Carnival City or the Antigua Recreation Ground.  Thousands and thousands of people attend the shows every evening.  There is of course, alongside the Carnival City, a festival village set up where you can buy locally prepared food and drinks.

Barbuda's Carnival, held in June, is known as Caribana. The Antiguan and Barbudan Carnivals replaced the Old Time Christmas Festival in 1957, with hopes of inspiring tourism in Antigua and Barbuda. Some elements of the Christmas Festival remain in the modern Carnival celebrations.

It is an amazing festival of colorful costumes, beauty pageants, talent shows, and especially good music. The festivities, which celebrate emancipation, range from the Party Monarch and Calypso Monarch competitions of Calypsonians, the Panorama steel band competition, and the spectacular Parade of Bands to the Miss Antigua Pageant and the Caribbean Queen's Competition. In addition to these major events, the nonstop revelry of this, almost two weeks long, carnival celebration, includes innumerable smaller festivities, including local concerts, food fairs, parades, and cultural shows.


During Carnival in Antigua there are many different and exciting musical forms to hear. 

The oldest, Calypso, has its roots in slavery and it is said that it was used as a form of communication for slaves forbidden to speak in the fields. It is an improvisational form of music that is largely dependant upon a soloist, (the calypsonian) who weaves the sounds of many cultures into a beautiful lyrical whole. One of the highlights of the Antigua Carnival is its Calypso competitions, something that, if you are in Antigua at the time, will be well worth experiencing.

Steel Drum Music appeared first in Trinidad after the government – British Colonial Rule - outlawed their bamboo bands.  This brought about the formation of the iron bands where any object that could make a distinctive rhythm was used to create ‘music’ (most of which was made of iron or some form of metal). It was by chance in the late 1930’s that somebody discovered that a dented section of a barrel head actually produced a tone. From these small beginnings came the hammered steel pans, cut from oil drums, replacing the bamboo percussion instruments, traditionally used to back up Calypso. Indisputably the development of the steel pan stems from Trinidad but is now to be found all over the Caribbean and in many other parts of the world.  Antigua is in fact home to many of the Caribbean’s finest steel bands.  

Soca began in the 1970’s and by the middle of the 1980’s had become an intrinsic feature of the carnival in Antigua.  It is a musical form that entwines the slower beat of American soul music and the upbeat tempos of the calypso. This music has evolved over the last 20 years primarily by musicians from the Caribbean islands.

Reggae is another musical form very popular in Antigua.  Although originating in Jamaica it has been an integral part of the Antiguan music scene for years.

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