Covered in green and yellow paint, I stay up late to join thousands of Crop Over’s Foreday revellers
“Dis ting cyan be over.”
Biggie Irie.It’s 8am, I’ve had two hours of sleep, my legs have turned green and yellow from paint and I’m walking through Bridgetown, Barbados sandwiched between two trucks.
Don’t worry, I’m not alone.
I have been joined by thousands on the streets celebrating the beginning of the end of Barbados’ Crop Over Festival in a party called Foreday.
What is Foreday? What is Crop Over? Good questions.
Which is why before we can move on in this week’s Rock Fever column we will have a Crop Over beginner’s vocabulary lesson (don’t worry Foreday is explained below):
Crop Over: Barbados’ version of Carnival, though it does not occur before or during Lent like many carnivals do.
Crop Over began in the 1780s to mark the end of the sugar season and celebrate a successful sugar cane harvest. Over the years it declined, only to come back in 1974 as a culture-infused celebration for the island and its thousands of visitors!
Pan Pun De Sand: a free steel drum band concert offered on a beach from early afternoon and into the evening. The steel drum bands have become more involved in the Crop Over celebrations over the years (and it was fantastic!).
A tent: No, not the thing you sleep in when you camp. At least not in Barbados in July. There are tents (competitions) in different parishes in Barbados to decide who is the best performer (oh and they are also great parties!). Each tent then sends its top performer to the finals of the soca, calypso or social commentary tents!
Soca Royale: the culminating competition between the various soca tents on the island; it crowns the Sweet Soca Monarch (slightly slower soca) and the Party Monarch (power session).
Foreday: a night-time street party with a parade of organised bands of revellers covered in mud and body paint partying through the streets. It is the precursor to the last main event, the Grand Kadooment Celebrations. It started in 1995 and can average 15,000 participants, all divided into bands.
A Band: A group a person will join to participate in Foreday. These bands are identified by their T-shirts, shorts. They are followed by a truck with a DJ and speakers. There were 23 bands when I went!
Mas: More like playing ‘mas’ or masquerading, it involves getting dressed up to parade down the streets during festival time (this includes both Foreday and Kadooment)
To jump: used in reference to the Kadooment celebration. Revellers dress up and are said “to jump” up to the beach front (end of the route).
Grand Kadooment Celebrations: Final celebration of Crop Over and offers a parade of thousands of costumed band revellers and masqueraders.
End of the lesson (of course, I have missed events, but like I said . . . this is a beginner’s guide).
The best part of Crop Over? While I would have to miss Cup Match in Bermuda, I would have Crop Over through the month of July to keep me busy. Yes, we celebrate two days of Cup Match, can you imagine a full month?
As my Trinidadian friend in Barbados said: “Carnival time just requires a different mindset.”
So the best way to prepare for your Crop Over experience? Start with Pan Pun de Sand. It’s free and fun. People are in a great mood and the ability shown on the pans is intense.
Next? Head to the tents because this is where the music for the end of Crop Over and the next year is decided upon. So which tents? Well, that depends on your music preference. There are soca tents, calypso tents and social commentary tents. Me? I like soca. Of course, you can visit all of the small tents, but that depends just how much of your mindset has changed.
My suggestion? I waited until the finals of the Soca tents, which was called Soca Royale and was held in a field/racetrack in the middle of the island. Isolated between sugar cane fields and empty land, the site was just enormous; maybe the Somerset Cricket Club multiplied by five.
Surrounding the pitch were rum vendors, which makes Barbados slightly dangerous, and the pig tails and other local delicacies which make sure the rum doesn’t take over.
But these amenities, including clean Porta-Potties, barely registered as the performers took to the stage. Okay, keep this in mind, these men and women are competing for thousands of dollars and a new car as well as the title of Party Monarch and Sweet Soca Monarch so it’s fierce.
Each performer is judged by various attributes which include the song, the crowd’s response AND their delivery. Trampolines, guys on stilts and even an ambulance were used to deliver performers to the stage. The creativity was amazing and the stories told through the acts on stage were . . . well nuts.
By 10.30pm I had my Crop Over music down and one week later, I was ready to be up . . . all night for Foreday, or so I thought.
How did I arrive at the beginning of this column at 8am covered in paint and wandering the streets of Bridgetown?
Step one: I decided on a Band to join. Instruments are not expected, but a performance? Yes.
Two: The Band gave me a T-shirt and other paraphernalia. There were 23 bands on Saturday morning.
Three: I joined the band at the Bridgetown Wharf at 12am to begin at 1am, Yes, I told you it requires a different mindset.
Four: Paint, paint, paint, more paint! This was part of my performance and everyone in my band helped me. Paint is thrown on your clothes, legs, arms, and face . . . well everywhere!
Five: Movement. Each band consists of a truck with speakers and a DJ which leads. Behind is a truck handing out drinks (mostly alcoholic). Ropes between these two trucks makes sure that the US$50 I paid goes towards drinks for me, not those outside on the streets.
And finally it was time to go! Chaos. Mayhem. Nuts. People trying to jump the ropes. Security throwing them out. And music!!
Really, the enjoyment of the Foreday event is up to the music. If you don’t recognise the songs then the experience really will be lost. So following our pied pipers we wound through the streets of Bridgetown, along the coastline and finally at 8am the music petered out. Some bands headed to the beach. Others grabbed breakfast.
Myself? With green and yellow paint everywhere, it was a shower and then bed!
I can only imagine what Grand Kadooment is like. Maybe next year!
Oh Barbados, I don’t know how you do it. Until next week, when I recover, bye.