By the time J’Ouvert finishes (around 8.30 – 9am), it’s time for Children’s Carnival. The kids’ mas bands (costume groups) dominate the first few hours, after which adults in T-shirts take over, playing dutty (‘dirty’) mas, derived from J’Ouvert. Leave yourself plenty of time to reach the carnival zone, because buses are diverted and some Tube stations are closed.
The mas bands start in different places along a vaguely rectangular route (see map, page 16). The masqueraders put on their best display at the judging point on Great Western Road. Inside the route you have static sounds, food stalls, the World Music Stage and quieter spots like Meanwhile Gardens.
If you reach before 11am, you can watch the masqueraders getting ready. They’ll be gathered round their truck, chatting, trying on and tying up bits of costume, checking each other out, posing for pictures, and wandering off to look for food and loos – two major obsessions of every carnival-goer. Of the two, food is the easier to locate, by smoke and smell, as the jerk chicken stalls begin to open up and revellers appraise competing displays of patties and other delights.
On the big truck, the curtain sides are drawn back, the speakers and electrics checked, and soca music, the heartbeat of Carnival, begins to throb and boom out of the speakers. De Carnival now start! We on de road, people!
Brilliantly costumed children, a mass of feathers and frills and excitement, bundles of scarcely repressed energy and anticipation, line up impatiently in their sections. And then the truck begins to move and joins the longest, most colourful, joyous traffic jam on the planet. Come rain or shine, this is Carnival. Mama, dis is mas!