Beginning as early as the first years of the University of the West Indies, (UWI) in Jamaica, the seeds of Carnival were planted. Students from other Eastern Caribbean islands and especially students there from Trinidad and Tobago, in keeping with their own national traditions brought a modified version of their elaborate Carnival festivals to the campus. This new celebration became a tradition that continues on the Mona campus today. UWI Carnival is still a part of the newer Jamaica Carnival experience.
Byron Lee, and a group of believers in the late eighties got together to conceive a plan that would bring the music, pageantry and fun vibes of Trinidad & Tobago Carnival to Jamaica. Though they were met with the expected naysayers, the first Jamaica Carnival was born with a full week of activities from April 14-22, 1990. The event which has evolved into one of the biggest and most anticipated events in Jamaica annually.
Although Carnival is still relatively new to Jamaica, it follows the similar pattern of weeks of parties (fetes) culminating with a costumed parade to finish it off. Known as the Road March, the parade now hosts multiple sections and bands masquerading in the streets of Kingston.
Jamaica Carnival which was founded in 1990 by Byron Lee and his group, took a leave of absence from participating in the festival when he passed away in 2008. They returned last year and are back again for 2017 to continue the legacy that was inspired by Byron Lee’s vision for Carnival in Jamaica.
Bacchanal Jamaica is the most well-known masquerade band and was formed when bands, including Oakridge Boys, Raiders and Revellers, came together as one. They’ve been the driving force of Jamaica Carnival for years and their events and street parade have been synonymous with Jamaica Carnival.
This year two new bands have joined in the festivities, Xaymaca International, which is partnered with the famous Tribe Carnival band in Trinidad, and Xodus Carnival a teaming up of Trinidad’s YUMA Carnival band. Many events from various well known Trinidad promoters have brought their events to Jamaica and expanded their brand into the local fete scene. Among them are Caesars Army (Mai Tai & AmBush), Scorch Carnival (Duck Work), and new this year is Private Ryan’s (Soca Brainwash). While to some it may seem like an infusion of Trinidadian events, it is also a great expansion of Carnival Culture to the Jamaican shores, and an affordable opportunity for those that missed out on the Trinidad festival to get a taste of the revelry.