Jamaica Carnival is a vibrant celebration of the island’s rich cultural heritage, and it is something that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. This year the highly anticipated staging of the festivities is set to take place in the streets of Kingston on Sunday, April 16, 2023, a week after Easter—with EBONY and United Airlines partnering to host a select group of celebrities, influencers and VIP guests during a curated trip to the island from April 12 through April 18.
To get you hyped, here’s a quick guide on everything you need to know about Carnival in Jam Rock.
The ultimate Black diasporic tradition, Carnival became a celebration of freedom and resistance after enslaved Africans were emancipated in 1834. Black people took to the streets to rejoice in true unadulterated fashion. Today, it’s celebrated in several major cities in Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean, combining the pillars of Black lineage: incredible food, heart-pumping music, deep history, and above all, community.
Traditionally, Carnival is rooted in religious practices dating back to the European Catholic church. The Latin interpretation of “carnival” comes from the term “carnem levare,” which means “farewell to meat.” Historically, Carnival takes place just before the fasting of Lent, leading up to Easter, when abstaining from meat and other indulgences is observed.
In the 18th century, carnival in the Caribbean evolved when colonists upheld the tradition with huge celebrations just before Lent. Slaves on the plantations then created their own observance by incorporating elements of African music, dance and dress codes, while taking the opportunity to mock and challenge their “masters.”
Popular forms of Carnival are now observed in New Orleans (Mardi Gras), London, Venice and Rio de Janeiro.
In the Caribbean, it remains a vital cultural expression with several islands, including Grenada, St Lucia, The Cayman Islands, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. And while Trinidad may hold the mantle as the home of the Caribbean carnival—with the soca genre of music originating in the twin-island republic, Jamaica, the island known for reggae is hot on TNT’s bake and shark.
Carnival as a business in Jamaica started in the 90s when renowned Jamaican music producer and pioneer, Byron Lee, and his team brought the merriment over from Trinidad to Jam Rock. Since then it has steadily grown to be one of the biggest and most thrilling popular events on the calendar, with a slew of exciting fetes and parties all over the island leading up to the main parade, which is now a fusion of both soca and dancehall, that usually takes place on the Sunday after Easter.
Jamaica Carnival is all-inclusive in nature. As the music bumps, you will never have to leave the road march to re-up on drinks as they flow throughout the day on trucks and with concierge services on the road. Each band also has a designated lunch spot for quick nourishment, make-up fixes and even massages.
There are numerous locations to stay in Jamaica when coming for Carnival, but we recommend you check in at an accommodation in Kingston, where the Carnival is being held, at least the day before the festivities for proximity reasons. Look into an Air BNB, a guesthouse or popular hotels such as ROK Hotel Kingston, AC Hotel Kingston, Spanish Court Hotel, Jamaica Pegasus and Courtyard Kingston for your stay in the area
Everyone is welcome to participate in Jamaica Carnival, provided you purchase a costume in advance from one of the registered bands—GenXS, Xodus, Yard Mas and Bacchanal—to join the festivities. The costumes are colorful and elaborate, boasting gems, glitter, feathers and beads that glisten under the sun. Yet, while they are beautiful, they—ahem—lack fabric. So if being scantily clad is not your jam, you can always purchase one of the carnival T-shirt looks that provide a bit more coverage.
The sun will be blazing, the streets will be jam-packed and the music will be on full-blast. To get you prepared for the fun-filled parade, below are a few amenities that we suggest you bring along.
For more information on Jamaica Carnival, visit the Jamaica Tourist Board at visitjamaica.com.
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