I had the opportunity to talk to members on the management teams of two carnival bands whilst in Jamaica to find out more about the Jamaican carnival experience; Michael McMorris, Director of Bacchanal Jamaica (an established band) and Mark Lalor from the newly formed Xamayca International. First up, whilst collecting my costume at the Bacchanal Jamaica mas camp, I spoke to Michael McMorris.
How long has this Baccahanal Jamaica been on the road? Well we have been doing this for 18 years.
Were you the first band on the road? No. Originally, there were a few other bands before Bacchanal. Two of these bands merged with a J’ourvert band to form Bacchanal. So this was Oakridge Carnival and Revellers. These were two pretty mas bands and Raiders which was a J’ourvert band. So we got together and created a mas camp and this band.
What was the reaction the first time it started? Well originally what I think was difficult was the exhibitionism. You know carnival is street mas and Jamaicans don’t naturally lend themselves to that. At night yes, but not on the road, during the day, that kind of thing. So there was a bit of clash of cultures there. But we have been able to overcome that. And as you will see on carnival day, even though the numbers comparatively to Trinidad is smaller, those playing in costume, the numbers on the road, participants and spectators will be about 100000 people.
Is it mainly expats and internationals who play mas? Because there was a thought that playing mas would be perhaps too expensive for the average Jamaican? It’s a mix but it primarily local Jamaicans. There is a variety of options for anyone to participate. And yes it is not a cheap thing to have a costume. But remember what we do on the road. It is an all inclusive band. You get breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks on the road, entertainment. All of that is included in your costume money. So you don’t have to bring money on the road. That will put a price point that some people will not be able to afford. We actually created the concept of an all inclusive band as it comes from the idea of our all inclusive hotels. We did that before Trinidad.
Has Bacchanal Mas expanded? This is my first time here. But my friends have played before and said that there are many more bands now… Well we have been on the road for 18 years. For the majority of it we have done it alone. There was only Bacchanal Jamaica. So we have had to become all things to all people. It is not an indigenous thing for Jamaicans. We have kept the flame going. We have fetes, we have j’ourvert, we have road march. There are sections in Bacchanal where other bands could join us and be a section in our band. This year however, there are two new bands and one band that used to be around about 15 years ago called Jamaica Carnival which used to be one of the original pretty mas bands.
What makes Jamaica carnival distinctive? Well the first thing I would say is that it is completely unexpected. You come to Jamaica and find a Trini style carnival.This was created for promoters and musicians who went to Trinidad and really loved the vibes and philosophy behind Trinidad carnival and brought it back to Jamaica. But of course over time, it has become our own. So it has that special touch of Jamaican spice with it.
And what is the Jamaican spice? It is how we like to party. So there is great preponderance of night events. Our J’ourvert is very vibrant. We mix up a little bit of our music in there. And the food. And just being being on the road in Jamaica. What’s different from Trinidad is that our carnival is not state funded. It’s only now that the government is thinking that this can increase tourism to Jamaica. But in Trinidad it is part of their culture so that is understandable.
Are you a bit concerned that Jamaica carnival might become a complete replica of Trinidad carnival with all the international bands coming in? We certainly hope that it does not happen. This has never happened to us before so we don’t really know. Bacchanal Jamaica is purely Jamaican. We will see how it goes. There are a few fetes that are for Trinidadians coming into Jamaica just to do the fetes. I mean, it’s carnival, there is always space for one more when you look at it.
At a very wet Scorch Duck Wuk cooler fete whilst sheltering from the rain, there is a chance meeting between my friend Chan and Mark Lalor one of the founders of Xaymaca International. She introduces me to him and I manage to ask him a few questions to get to know more about this new band for Jamaica Carnival.
Why did you guys decide to start this band? Seven of us cam together to form Xamayca; Andrew Bellamy (Xaymaca director, event promoter and Sleek CEO) Ian Bourne (of I Love Soca and Sunrise Breakfast Party Fame) Akil Strachan and Steven Lofters (of Soca vs Dancehall, and Carnival Website LehWeGo), Kandi King (owner of Karnival by Kandi), popular soca disc jockey Richie Ras and myself. All of us are soca lovers, carnival lovers. We saw the opportunity as carnival lovers to build a movement. We are partnered with Lehwego from Barbados and Tribe from Trinidad.
How many people will be in your band? We will have about a thousand masqueraders, all adults. It’s feasible to cater for that many people as we are partnered with Tribe who have a lot of experience.
Will you be focusing only on Jamaica? Well we are looking at expansion, at Crop over in Barbados. We will have a section there and are looking at other opportunities.
Are you at all anxious that Jamaica carnival will lose its identity with other international bands now taking an interesting Jamaica carnival? No, not really. We won’t lose our identity. We have our local artists and there is the fusion of reggae and soca music. On the road, you will hear reggae as well as soca.
I didn’t have the opportunity to spend much time on the road with Xaymaca Internatinol so I can’t comment much about this band. What I can comment on is my road experience with Bacchanal Jamaica and it has been one of my best carnival road experiences hands. No exaggeration. I was told it always rains on carnival day in Jamaica so I brought my poncho. However, there was no rain which was a blessing. There was no sense of danger on the road. I liked the service on the road. There were runners at some points providing bagged rum punches. There were enough bar trucks to get what you wanted. There was a cooler truck and toilet truck all reminiscent of Trinidad carnival. The music was a mixture of soca and reggae/bashment which marked it as Jamaican carnival. There was enough space on the road so you did not feel cramped. Kes from Kes the band sang and hyped the masqueraders as we crossed the stage. Nice touch.
However, what marked Bacchanal Jamaica out for me was the lunch and dinner times. At lunch, there was a stop area where there was seating provided with tables and seats. Actually seating down whilst having lunch is a bit of a luxury for me. Seating on a chair with a table in front of me? I’m sold. And the variety of food was nicccccceeeeee. With menus which immediately stamps this as Jamaican. BBQ chicken with rice and peas, pork, fish. There were snack bars where you could get snacks. There was also a massage parlour where some had a lunch time massage to get ready for the second part of the road. The road was from 10-6 so massaging those limbs could be a good call.
At the end of the carnival day, dinner was also provided at the same spot with entertainment which included Kes the band. And security was tight in the space. If you didn’t have the Baccahanal Jamaica wrist band, you would not get into that place for love or money.
For me jumping with Bacchanal Jamaica was fun and safe. The mas camp pick up was very organised. The road experience for me was second to none. And the costumes in general were quite good. Our section from Frenchmen Party ‘Trance’ won best design I think. I loved it. Loved the blue and the back pack was super light. Would I come to Jamaica carnival again? Yes. Would I play with Bacchanal Jamaica again? Absolutely.