Carnival Glossary

June 29, 2021

If you're a newcomer to a Caribbean Carnival experience there's a lot of lingo that you'll need to familiarize yourself with. I've seen so many questions over the years; What's a band? How do I choose a costume, frontline, midline, huh? What does 'play mas' mean? It does not have to be daunting.

Carnival Kicks is here to guide you.

"What band are you playing in?" - A Carnival Band is a business entity. It is an organized group staffed with designers, artists, customer service agents, a road crew: DJ's, Truck Drivers, security, bartenders, etc. A band's customers are called masqueraders; the band sells an experience, this includes an elaborately designed costume (depicting a theme), and a parade experience. Some 'Bands' offer an all inclusive experience where you receive food, drinks, music plus more amenities on the day of the parade.

"Don't be acting all bougie at Carnival". Bougie is slang for Bourgeoisie which Wikipedia defines as: A social class, especially in contemporary times, referring to people with a certain cultural and financial capital belonging to the middle or upper middle class."
Acting Bougie is a way of saying, don't act stuck up or like you're superior to others.

"I chippin' down the street with mih own woman".  Because Carnivals are usually street parades (there are some like Miami Carnival that are in stadiums), and are led by Music Trucks, the act of walking with the slow-moving DJ truck in a sort of dance shuffle is called chipping. That sentence is from a popular soca song by Farmer Nappy.

"Which fetes are you attending?" A Fête is an elaborate event, festival or party. In Trinidad & Tobago and other English speaking Caribbean islands a fete means a Carnival party, usually playing a heavy rotation of soca music. 

Soca Brainwash Fete (Theme: Far East) - Trinidad

"You playing Frontline?" Frontline costumes are the most elaborate costume of it's design, there may be as many as 3 (or more) variations of one costume design with Frontline being the star of the show, "Backline" being a pared down version, and "Midline" as the name suggests the goldilocks of the three, not as FruFru, but not as basic.

Lost Tribe Carnival - Trinidad and Tobago Frontline Costume
Lost Tribe Carnival Frontline Costume

"That costume have plenty frufru boy!" It means lots of embellishments and extras!

JabJab (Jab Molassie):
"Look the JabJab there" Source: Jab is the French patois for Diable (Devil), and Molassie is the French patois for Mélasse (Molasses). The Jab Molassie is one of several varieties of devil mas played in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. This type of devil is often smeared with tar, grease, lard, and/or various dyes (most often red, green, and blue). 

This traditional Mas Character is often seen roaming the streets of Port-of-Spain for Trinidad Carnival. Grenada's Jab Jab tradition is beautifully portrayed in this short film below. 

"We'll have to wake up early for J'ouvert!" J'ouvert is derived from French (jour ouvert in standard French), the French Creole meaning is Daybreak or break of dawn. The kick off to Carnival is usually a celebration that starts at the break of dawn called "J'ouvert" it's very primal, it involves getting dirty - think paint, mud, cocoa, powder. Similar to Mas (see definition below) revelers take to the street, following music trucks, dancing and throwing these dirty-makers on each other.

Knowing the history of J'ouvert makes the experience that much more special. Source: "J'Ouvert is said to have originated in Trinidad with the festivities of Canboulay, which was a time when sugarcane fields caught on fire and slaves were still forced to harvest the remaining crops before complete destruction. That event was reenacted and male slaves were mocked by their masters. However after emancipation the slaves mocked the masters mocking them. The festival begins way before the crack of dawn and proceeds a little pass sun up.traditions include paint, mud and oil being splotched on participants of the event."

Soaka Fete TrinidadTrinidad J'Ouvert 

Jump with a band:
"Which band yuh jumping with?" Dancing in the streets for Carnival includes jumping, chipping, and wining (see this list for all of those definitions 😄) If someone asks which band you're jumping with, they're just asking if you've purchased a costume with a Band and if so which one.

"Yuh playin Mas?" Mas is the street parade that is the culmination of the Carnival festivities. In Trinidad, Mas is a two day street festival, always the Monday & Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. In other countries that Caribbean Carnivals are celebrated they may have their own historically relevant days, or it's a random day that has been established as their own Mas day.

To "Play Mas" means to be part of a band; that is to get dressed in a costume and be a part of their organized street party, chipping, dancing the days away! 

"Little kids wait to get beads and other costume pieces from the Masqueraders"

A Masquerader is someone who takes to the streets for the Carnival festivities dressed in a costume. In reference to the sentence above, usually little kids who go out to see the Carnival parades love to take bits and pieces of the Masqueraders' costumes home with them to play dress up. It's a tradition in Trinidad (where I grew up) to give your costume pieces to the kids.

Carnival Masqueraders - Trinidad Carnival

Monday Wear:
"What you wearing for Monday wear?" Traditionally costumed masqueraders wore just the bare essentials of their costumes, or one part of their costume with shorts on Carnival Monday, while saving the full regalia for the judging showcase on Carnival Tuesday. Nowadays, masquerader love to show their creativity, individuality, and sometimes even their own costume-designer skills, by wearing bodysuits, wire bras, booty shorts, etc. You can check out our Apparel and Accessories sections for Monday-wear pieces.

Play Mas:
"You playing Mas this year? To play Mas is to be a Masquerader and to be part of a band for the Carnival celebrations.

Bands choose a theme to depict every Carnival season. Every theme is portrayed with several costumes that represent that theme: Example, the Band named Tribe had "Birds of a Feather" as it's 2009 theme for Trinidad Carnival. Each section portrayed a different bird costume. You can see photos of this theme on TriniJungleJuice

Many Carnivals have a judging panel that rate the various Bands' portrayals and award a winner. It's our jobs as masqueraders to do our best to portray our costumes and theme beautifully!

"This year have some sweet Soca!" Soca is the music of Carnival. Oxford Dictionary defines Soca as calypso music with elements of soul, originally from Trinidad. Put simply is means (SO)UL of (CA)LYPSO. 

Every year soca artistes release new songs for that year's Carnival celebrations around the world. Trinidad Carnival is the kickoff and the music travels the world going from Carnival to Carnival. I often think how much more music a soca artiste creates compared to a regular musician who does not have the pressure of pumping out hits every single year. Some of the most popular Soca Artistes and bands are: the founder of Soca, Ras Shorty I; Machel Montano; Bunji Garlin; Kes The Band; Alison Hinds; Patrice Roberts; Nadia Batson, and lots more!

"But why she acting so stush?" By saying someone is acting Stush is to say they are stuck up or acting superior to others.

Vex Money:
"Make sure to take your vex money" Correct me if I'm wrong but I think this is a Trini phrase. Taking your vex money means to have a little bit of cash on hand in case you get vex (angry) with the people or person you've gone out with you'll have cash in case you need to call a taxi, make a phone call, buy some food or I guess worst case scenario book a hotel 😆. 

Our most popular boot the "Sidekick" was specifically designed to be the most perfect Carnival / Festival shoe, it includes a small pocket that's just right to stash some vex money, or for our modern times, your credit card and ID.

Carnival Kicks Sidekick - Designed for Carnival Masqueraders, the perfect Carnival Shoe

"Wine down low" "Jump and wine" Fast Wine" This is not the alcoholic beverage made from grape varietals. Wine also has varietals; in this case some also spell it whine; you can slow wine or fast wine; there's also the way Bajans wine which goes by it's own name wuk-up. Put simply to wine is to isolate and gyrate your hips to the beat of the music. 

I thoroughly enjoyed putting this glossary of terms together. I'm sure there are some that I missed, feel free to comment and let me know if there are any terms that you need me to add!

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