Jamaica Carnival – Is it Worth it?

Jamaica Carnival

One word that describes my recent trip to Jamaica Carnival would be …… huh????

Don’t get me wrong – I was excited and extra pumped for this trip. Not only did I want the experience of visiting the island, but I was curious to see what the hype was all about for Jamaica Carnival. Jamaica is the home of the legendary Bob Marley, reggae, and dancehall. So I personally, wanted to understand how soca made a footprint in the streets of Kingston.


As a hardcore soca-lover, I was ready to hear steelpan, or soca songs when I landed in Norman Manley International Airport. Needless to say, I experienced, what I would call, a culture shock. Instead of Machel Montana, I heard Alkaline (who is one of the newer dancehall artists of the day.) Wait. What??? There I was, at the start of my Jamaica Carnival trip, and no soca? Okay. This was different. But I adjusted.


So In typical carnival junkie fashion, I had all of my fetes lined up gearing up for the main road show – Jamaica Carnival. I didn’t have one worry or thought about what was going on in New York. My backbone and waistline was ready.

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At the first fete, the crowd looked very orderly. Too orderly for carnival.  I thought maybe something was wrong with them. Did they not know the latest soca songs? Were they not drinking enough liquor? Did their puppy die? I couldn’t understand what was going on. Then it happened. The DJ put on [INSERT POPULAR DANCEHALL SONG HERE] and the crowd went crazy. No! Crazy was an understatement. They went bonkers! All kind of gun fingers in the air and fake gunshot noises (which is the typical form of expression Jamaicans use when they enjoy the dancehall music.)  I mean, I literally thought I should duck for cover.


This scene continued to play out at each subsequent fete during Jamaica Carnival. Eventually, the culture shock wore off, and I was able to enjoy the fetes for what they were. But initially, I did not know how to respond because in mind I was thinking, “I am at Carnival and I should hear soca straight through ’til the sun goes down after Road March”. This was like seeing snow at Miami Carnival; It just did not make any sense. But when in Rome, you do as the Romans do, right?

Jamaica Carnival

So now, Carnival Sunday finally arrived and I was ready for the road! Customized costume? Check. Cup, flag, and wristband? Check. Beatface Carnival Makeup? Check, check, and check.


When I got out on the road there were plenty people there – which got me excited. I was ready to jam down the place. You couldn’t tell me anything! But when I really watch what was going on, I realized there were more spectators than masqueraders. Even at some points, the security was having a difficult time keeping the crowd back, to allow the masqueraders to dance in the streets.


Granted, there were probably about 4 or 5 mas bands there (way less than the 30-something bands at Trinidad Carnival), but they definitely out outperformed other up-and-coming carnivals across the Caribbean and the United States! Ladies, the costumes on their masqueraders, were hands-down beautiful! Top-notch. The feathers, the colors, and the bling, were all present at Jamaica Carnival.


So…. is Jamaica Carnival worth it? Sure. Just like with any other carnival, you would hear more of that island’s music, than the popular soca road hits at Trinidad Carnival. (When you think about it, do you expect to eat roti or cou cou in Jamaica? Not really.) In this case, Jamaica’s national music is dancehall and reggae, so this is why you would hear it during Jamaica Carnival, too. It’s definitely a hard pill to swallow for die-hard soca fans, but this is what makes their carnival unique.  

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