The Tourist Guide to the Barbados Carnival
The Barbados Carnival is central to island life for two long (and rum-filled) months! If you’re in Barbados between June and August, you absolutely must explore it.
But the thing is: the festivities get overwhelming.
In this article, we are looking at all the major things that happen during the Crop Over festival – the music, the parades, the parties. This way you go into the madness that is this carnival more or less prepared!
The Origins Of The Barbados Carnival
The Crop Over used to be called “Harvest Home” and it dates back to the 17th century. It marked the end of the sugar cane harvest. That’s why they would crown a King and Queen of the carnival – those were the slaves that collected the most cane throughout the season.
The king and queen tradition remains today and so does the singing, dancing, and feasting on local delicacies.
The carnival was disbanded after the Second World War. It wasn’t until 1974 that some local stakeholders and the Barbados Tourist Board decided to revive it.
Today Crop Out resembles the Trinidad carnival quite a lot. Still, it’s a central event in any self-respecting Barbadian’s year. The carnival is a time for complete freedom, for lots of dancing, and just generally a lot of fun!
Barbados Carnival Basics
The Crop Out festival starts in June. It ends on the first Monday in August, known as The Grand Kadooment.
Kadooment Day is a national holiday in Barbados and that’s when all the festivities culminate. The weekend leading up to the Grand Kadooment feels out of this world!
Lesson learned: if you want total immersion in the spirit of Crop Out, go in late July or early August.
There are festival tents and fun events all throughout the island. Still, Bridgetown remains at the hotspot of the carnival. Rihanna even visited a couple of years ago (well, we assume she had also been to the carnival pre-fame). The otherwise orderly colonial town turns into party central for three long months!
You don’t need a ticket or a pass to go to Crop Over. In fact, it’s not a single event – tons of things are going on at the same time. Think of the Barbados carnival as a party period, rather than a proper festival. The great news is that even if you’re not the best dancer or rum drinker, there is still plenty of you to enjoy!
Let’s start with…
Barbados Carnival: The Music
Music is everywhere during Crop Out. It’s blasting from the bars and tents, there are street bands all over the place, and live concerts are a daily event.
There are three main genres you can expect:
- Calypso, which is super danceable but it’s also about the lyrics (more on that in a little while)
- Soca originated from calypso (“Soul Of Calypso”) and it’s meant for dancing, dancing, and more dancing. This is what most Caribbean people listen to during the off-carnival season, too. Soca is a fun, fast-paced, and weirdly wonderful mix of African rhythm!
- Tuk is completely native to Barbados. It’s all about the drums – in fact, tuk bands usually consist of just two drums, a flute, and a triangle. The bands are actually based on British military bands from the colonial era. Don’t worry, they’ve evolved quite a lot!
All About The Tuk Band
Along with the musicians come some key costumed figures. Here are the main ones:
The Shaggy Bear is the most emblematic. It’s meant to represent the African witch doctor and it always makes an appearance. That’s why they also call it Bank Holiday Bear!
The Mother Sally always has a huge… Backside? She is there to symbolize female fertility, though it’s usually a guy that dresses up like a Mother Sally. She’s a favourite among carnival-goers!
The Stiltman is skinny and tall (that’s why he wears the stilts). This character represents the Bajan resilience for surviving tough times.
Finally, they all travel in a donkey cart. This used to be the main means of transportation on the island and it is used this day. The carts are colourful and richly decorated. They usually come with a Donkey Man who drags them!
Calypso: At The Heart Of The Carnival
Calypso music deserves a full article on its’ own. Not only is it key to the Barbados carnival, but it’s also one of the main components of Caribbean culture.
Calypso has always been the voice of the people. It started on sugar cane plantations, where slaves would use it to mock their masters. It was first sung in French Creole but quickly moved to English-speaking islands like Barbados.
During Crop Out, calypsonians enter competitions to showcase their talent. There are new songs each year. Don’t let the rhythm fool you! These are always a social commentary – humorous, yet somewhat bitter. Calypso music is an outlet for Barbadians to share their thoughts and worries. It is always fun to mock the politicians, too!
Join the best calypsonians at Pic-O-De-Crop, where they compete to become the carnival monarch. The packed audience should be evidence enough that this is one of the central events of the carnival! A People’s Monarch is always elected, too, as well as a Party Monarch, where a panel of judges chooses a winner.
If all the music and dancing have worked your appetite, it’s time to head to the Bridgetown market. This should already be on your to-do list, even if you’re not coming during the carnival. But it is before the parade that the market truly comes to life.
There is music everywhere, amazing street food stalls, and plenty of rum to wash it all down. Make sure you try the flying fish cutters and the fried fishcakes! You can dance all the calories off!
The name of this event actually stands for a “stew with essentially everything we found in the fridge”. Or close enough to that.
There is no good way to define Cohobblopot – it’s a little bit of everything. There are calypsonians here, too. The soca flows. Bands and dance crews showcase their talent in exuberant costumes. The Cohobblopot is all things Barbados carnival on a single stage!
It’s almost criminal to be calling these ‘party tents’. Also known as fetes, these are huge, always crowded, and always fun after-party locations throughout Bridgetown. Most are simply gatherings of locals. Don’t worry, though. As long as you are being respectful (and fun), everybody is welcome.
If you are feeling a little too shy to crash a party, at least stroll around the streets. People try really hard with the decorations and taking a little tour of town never hurt nobody. Be a little more mindful of safety- yes, everyone is on the street, but most people are a little drunk, too. Don’t let that lull you into getting stupid… Dark alleyways will always be dark alleyways – a.k.a. not a place to be!
Children are not left out of the celebration. Bring them to the Kiddies Kadooment for some family-friendly fun! It’s a parade where Barbadian children get to hit the streets in their best, most colourful costumes.
While the “grown-up” parade is the true culmination of Crop Out, don’t miss the Kiddies Kadooment either. These kiddos are adorable (not to mention super fun and entertaining) and the atmosphere is amazingly positive!
All good things must come to an end. In the case of the Barbados Carnival, it ends in the Grand Kadooment parade. Masquerade Bands make their way to Spring Garden highway – as many as 15K revelers walk down in exuberant costumes. Plenty of sequins, feathers, and dancing are always a must.
Even if you don’t have your Kadooment costume ready, you can jump on one of the dance trucks or party up on the street. The great thing about this parade is that’s it’s super outrageous and super inclusive. Everybody is welcome – Barbadians and visitors alike – and everybody celebrates.
Make sure you grab a cocktail at one of the stalls. This country claims to have invented rum. That enough should inspire you to get tipsy!
The Grand Kadooment parade runs the entire length of Black Rock road to where it meets the Spring Garden Highway. The final show is held at the Frank Worrell Round-a-bout there and it is not an event to be missed!
The Barbados carnival is definitely a highlight of the island’s life. Not only does it bring locals and visitors together, it’s also the most condensed representation of Bajan culture. But while you are at it, make sure you also explore the amazing natural wonders of Barbados. It’s also a great post-party activity to flush all the alcohol out of your system.
Finally, don’t be too discouraged if you don’t see Rihanna partying it up with the locals. The woman is pretty busy these days and you won’t be disappointed with all the non-superstar gorgeous girls you meet. Have fun, drink responsibly, and come back with the stories!