Trinidad Carnival is serious business.
No, really. The star-studded annual bacchanal kicking off next week, attracting upwards of 40,000 revelers, including the likes of Jay-Z and Richard Branson, is an intricately staged set of sumptuous events beginning just after Christmas and lasting through the grand parade on Carnival Tuesday. It’s said to generate over $30 million in revenue, and for creative entrepreneurs in fields ranging from music to fashion and art, this means opportunity: to build brands and launch empires. Enter ten Trinidadian masterminds who not only make Trinidad Carnival the magnificent celebration of life that it is, but have lately begun carrying their brands throughout the Caribbean and its diaspora, all in the aim of making the world a better place: Whatever time of year it is, it ought to be Carnival somewhere.
THE ENTERTAINER: Machel Montano Carnival without music is like a car without gas. The man who’s consistently supplied the best of this music for 33 years now—he’s the undisputed king of soca: the studio-produced, fast-paced descendent of calypso—is Machel Montano, a star since age ten. Notice I dubbed him an entertainer, not simply a musician; attend one of his dozens of live performances during the Carnival season and your jaw will drop at the stunningly high-voltage show he delivers, fete after fete. Dare I say that no one—in any genre—entertains more exhaustively? I dare.Machelmontano.com
THE BAND LEADER: Dean Ackin Many Carnivalgoers want this man’s head on a platter. Why? Because he runs Tribe, aka the Carnival band: the one you’d sell your first born to get into, the one that sells out instantly, that simply has to attach its name to something to turn it trendy. Eleven years ago Ackin invented the concept of an all-inclusive Carnival band: For two days on the streets of Port of Spain, some 5000 Tribe revelers sport sexy costumes and follow massive music trucks, cared for by top-notch security and fast-on-the-draw bartenders. Included in the two-day package are costumes, an open bar, meals, cool-zone trucks, mobile restrooms and more. The band has hosted the likes of Richard Branson and actor Malik Yoba, and it’s popular enough to launch spinoff bands: Bliss, catering to a more upscale, smaller crowd, was born in 2011; this year marks the debut of The Lost Tribe, with costumes that look beyond the beads-and-bikini style of modern-day Carnival and allow designers to get extra funky. Carnivaltribe.com
THE HOTEL MANAGER: Russell George There was one Carnival during which I did not stay at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad. Never again. Since its opening in 2008 as the island’s first new full-service hotel in 48 years, the well-appointed 418-room property along the Port of Spain waterfront has changed the hospitality game in Trinidad. Carnival is when the hotel truly comes alive, thanks to daily soca-driven parties at the infinity pool, a stellar staff that will all but sew your costume on you if you need them to, a diverse crowd of Carnival revelers perpetually on hand for spur-of-the-moment fetes on the waterfront terrace and, on the Wednesday before Carnival, the Hyatt’s very own all-inclusive fete, LIME, arguably the season’s most extravagant. Wear white or lime and be prepared for top-notch soca performances, a dazzling setting, a sexy crowd and an array of food and drinks that borders on downright gluttonous. Trinidad.hyatt.com
THE STYLE GURU: Anya Ayoung-Chee She’s a former Miss Trinidad and Tobago and the 2011 winner of hit TV show Project Runway. More than that, though, Ayoung-Chee is a full-on creative force. For five years now the designer has branded her own section in the band Tribe, and this year she’s also co-creative director of its new offshoot, The Lost Tribe. Her pop-up cANYAval shop is the place to pick up your Carnival fashion statements, particularly for Carnival Monday, a day on which most revelers eschew full-on costumes for barely-there getups of their own making. The shop is located at Exhibit A, a showroom for young designers curated by Ayoung-Chee, and it’s all part of HOME, another Ayoung-Chee endeavor: The Caribbean’s only shared work space is really a creative hub boasting a café and an impressive calendar of arts-related events. Last but certainly not least, her annual pre-Carnival cANYAVAL Fete is the celebrity bash of the season, having hosted the likes of Will Smith and Selita Ebanks. Anyaayoungchee.com
Anya Ayoung-Chee attends HP Project Runway Designer Reunion at Empire Hotel in New York (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for HP)
THE KING OF FETE: Kwesi “Hypa Hoppa” Hopkinson Look up “fete” in the Carnival dictionary and you’ll surely spy the Scorch logo. A Carnival fete, see, is more than a simple party—it’s a full-on production, often including food and drinks, usually featuring hyperactive performances. And a Scorch fete is more than just any old Carnival fete—it’s the sort of event where quite literally the only ones not dancing are working, where the energy level is enough to make even the hottest big-city club look tame. The man behind Scorch—and a host of related endeavors, from Scorch’s magazine, TV show and music label to his own restaurant, Mr. Hops—is Kwesi Hopkinson, better known by his DJ name, Hypa Hoppa. He’s made the Scorch name go global, staging the most popular events at Carnivals across the globe, from Miami and Jamaica to London and Grand Cayman. Thescorch.com
THE ARMY GENERAL: Jules Sobion It’s an army whose weapon is paint and fuel is rum—a peaceful, joyous army. Picture hundreds of people deep in a cane field or in a deserted Caribbean cove at 4 in the morning, dancing behind mobile music trucks until the sun comes up, dousing themselves and each other in paint, then being hosed down with water while breakfast is served and not a single soul stops dancing. That, in a nutshell, is the stunningly well-coordinated Caeser’s Army, launched in Trinidad and now a staple feature of Carnivals around the Caribbean, from Barbados to Jamaica. Caesarsarmy.com
Aerial view of Caesar’s Army A.M.BUSH
THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Colin Williams It’s tough to take a bad picture of Carnival. But the really special ones, the ones that capture not just pretty girls in pretty costumes but the traditional elements and touching moments that embody the depth, history and spirit of Carnival—for these turn to New York-based, Trinidad-born photographer Colin Williams. He’s shot everything from supermodel headshots to Adidas ads, but his real passion is on display in his Carnival photographs, showcasing an eye for quirk and nuance that’ll take your breath away. Colinwilliamsphotography.com
Carnival photo by Colin Williams
THE MAN WITH THE MIX: DJ Private Ryan Before getting to Carnival, you’ll want to get a taste of the soca music you’ll be dancing to for days on end. And when you will leave, you will be utterly addicted to that new music—to the point where not hearing it for a full day will leave you in states of withdrawal. Private Ryan knows this. The popular radio DJ doles out pre-Carnival mixes to get you up to speed, also serving up free instant classics in the form of his “Soca Brainwash” mixes (the name is no hyperbole). They’re so popular—his downloads regularly exceed one million—that they spawned the DJ’s annual eponymous pre-Carnival fete, over which he presides. It is, naturally, one of the must-attend parties of the Carnival season. Djprivateryanmusic.com
THE DOCUMENTER: Andre Choo Quan Call it the Carnival version of “Where’s Waldo”: “Where’s Andre?” The founder of Trinijunglejuice.com—the be-all-and-end-all website for Carnivals worldwide, featuring exhaustive fete calendars, photo galleries and its own TV show, Destination Carnival: Your Guide To Carnivals Around The World—is such a staple at Carnival events, you’ll wonder how he manages to be in more than one place at one time. The team also hosts events at Carnivals around the world, from Berlin to Bermuda. TriniJungleJuice.com
Andre of TriniJungleJuice at Berlin Carnival
THE EMPRESS: Jeanille Bonterre She’s not literally an empress. But the TV personality—recognized island-wide as the face of the Caribbean, ever since she made her international TV debut on MTV’s Caribbean channel, Tempo, in 2005—has the effervescent grace of one. She’s hosted and produced shows for such international TV stations as BET, Tempo and, currently, CBS affiliate One Caribbean TV, home to her travel show Island XClusive. The Trinidad-born, St. Lucia-based beauty has also acted in Caribbean productions and lent her time and face to a host of charities across the region. Jeanillebonterre.com
Jeanille Bonterre (PHOTO: Stephen Clarke)
GETTING THERE One airline has, to the benefit of us all, conquered the Caribbean: Jetblue. With daily flights and well-curated getaway packages to nearly every island, from Trinidad and Grenada to St. Maarten, Barbados–it recently launched its premium “Mint” service on this route–and, as of late last year, Cuba, the airline is your direct connection to all Caribbean carnivals. And unlimited Amazon content streaming on most flights means you’ll be fully entertained the whole way there. Jetblue.com
About the Author
Travel Tales: Where Luxury Meets Local & Wanderlust Meets Culture-lust Full Bio «
I am: writer, globetrotter, professor, culture-hound. Born and raised in New York City, with one foot fixed in the Caribbean, I have written about travel, the arts and identity politics for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and many more; I produce on-air segments about global music and culture for National Public Radio (NPR). I am ceaselessly curious, fearless in my journeys, relentlessly ravenous to see and learn more. My global routes marry luxury with local, which is the essence of this travel blog: Welcome to a place where wanderlust meets culture-lust, where otherworldly high-end meets rootsy down-home.