The Crop Over Festival: Barbados' Annual Carnival Celebration

  • 01 of 08

    An Introduction to Crop Over in Barbados

    ••• Costumed revelers celebrate Crop Over in Barbados during the Kadooment Day parade. © Colin Williams for the Barbados Tourism Authority

    Bridgetown, Barbados is the sort of Caribbean city that reveals its colonial heritage at every turn. At nearly 400 years old, the capital of the island known as “Little England”—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is chock-a-block with historic buildings and structures, including the third-oldest parliament in the Commonwealth and a centuries-old statue of Admiral Lord Nelson. It perfectly embodies the prim-and-proper, oh-so-British vibe that the island is known for.

    Except, that is, on the first Monday in August.

    On that day, the streets of Bridgetown look anything but prim-and-proper. Dignity goes to the wind; in its place comes something known as “wukking up”: blissed-out men and women—decked out in beads, bikinis and vividly colored headdresses—gyrating their hips with verve. Frenetic soca music blaring from colossal speakers on moving trucks; Mount Gay rum flowing freely; Caribbean flags representing islands from St. Lucia to Jamaica waving in the hot sun. Weaving through the grand parade...MORE in playful costumes: is the well-endowed “Mother Sally,” cleavage on bacchanalian display, followed by the “Steel Donkey,” wukking up a storm in his donkey costume. Even Bajan pop star Rihanna joins in the festivities, waving her Banks Beer rag alongside ecstatic revelers.

    This is Kadooment Day: the rapturous climax to Barbados’s Crop Over, the largest summer carnival in the Caribbean.

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  • 02 of 08

    Barbados Crop Over Festival: Wukking Up!

    ••• Couple 'wukking up' at Crop Over in Barbados. © Colin Williams for the Barbados Tourism Authority

    A five-week festival filled with music, dance, culture and plenty of rum -- on the island that claims to have invented it -- Crop Over has its roots in the eighteenth century, when slaves celebrated the end of the sugar-cane harvest. Modern-day Crop Over commemorates this legacy, even as it ups the ante with more contemporary fetes and events; 2011 was the best-attended Crop Over yet, with tens of thousands of revelers on the road on Kadooment Day.

    A carnival-phile, I’d long had Crop Over on my calendar, so I arrived on island ready to fete. I checked in at the new Courtyard by Marriott (Book Now), which seemed, at first glance, distinctly un-Carnival-esque: a sleek business hotel decked out in touch-screen TVs and computers. But as more and more Crop Over arrivals checked in, the only business being taken care of was carnival business; a slew of revelers from Trinidad and Jamaica transformed the lobby and pool deck of this Garrison hotel into nonstop jams.

    Crop Over had actually begun...MORE weeks earlier, with the ceremonial Delivery of the Last Canes and the crowning of the King and Queen of the Festival, commemorating the most productive male and female cane cutters of the season. There were folk concerts, calypso competitions and art exhibitions, including one at the Central Bank, which I made a point of visiting.

    Impressed by the diversity of the art on display -- some local artists depicted joyful carnival revelers; others gave homage to slavery and a painful past via multimedia work -- I spent an hour taking it in, then strolled through the Bridgetown Market, which transforms, in the days before the big parade, into an all-day street party. Stalls sold flying fish cutters and tasty fried fishcakes. Music was omnipresent: calypso bands performing live, speakers blasting the latest soca CDs. A man selling peanuts and fresh fruit—“just call me Nut Man,” he said—explained that Crop Over isn’t dubbed “the sweetest summer festival” for nothing. “This time of year, Bajan people are just sweeter,” he declared assuredly.

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  • 03 of 08

    Barbados Crop Over Festival: Pic-O-De-Crop

    ••• Bajan Calypso star Popsicle performs at the Pic O De Crop concert during the 2011 Crop Over festival on Barbados. © Colin Williams for the Barbados Tourism Authority

    Nights -- and I mean late, late nights; the kind of nights that became mornings -- were spent at fetes and shows. I knew not to miss Crop Over’s two major concert events: Pic-O-De-Crop and Cohobblopot.

    At Pic-O-De-Crop, local calypsonians compete for the coveted title of Pic-O-De-Crop Calypso Monarch. From my box at the Kensington Oval, a decked-out cricket stadium, I got schooled in local politics via song lyrics, and was thrilled when the winner was the people’s favorite: Popsicle, a newcomer who pulled off commentary about recessionary woes and political corruption via a playful song about an ass (the animal, of course!).

    “Calypso is in safe hands: the young people are staying with the social commentary,” explained Red Plastic Bag, an esteemed Bajan calypsonian known for taking uproarious jabs at local politicians. “It keeps our ministers in check. Calypsonians are the historians, you see.”

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  • 04 of 08

    Barbados Crop Over Festival: Cohobblopot

    ••• Soca Queen Alison Hinds performs at Cohobblopot, part of Barbados Crop Over Festival 2011. © Colin Williams for the Barbados Tourism Authority

    At Cohobblopot -- local slang for “a stew from a variety of ingredients” -- the mixture was all things carnival: calypsonians and bands displaying their costumes and performing to packed audiences. The 2011 highlight was an energetic show by Trinidadian soca star Machel Montano, known for his rubber-band waist and supernaturally supple backup dancers (“Did she really just do that—upside down?” the man next to me exclaimed to himself as Montano and company performed their 2011 hit “Bend Over”).

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  • 05 of 08

    Barbados Crop Over Festival: Fetes

    ••• Bliss fete at Porter's Great House during Barbados Crop Over 2011. © Anthony Maugee for

    After the official carnival shows come the Crop Over fetes. To call them parties is a gross understatement; they’re open-air extravaganzas, often complete with food, performances by local artists, and a crowd dressed to the nines. I took in as many as I could fit between occasional naps (one doesn’t sleep during Crop Over; one steals an hour or two every now and then).

    At Glow, the crowd was decked out in white and the night was capped off with a performance by Bajan soca star Edwin Yearwood, whose catchy groovy soca tune “Good Time” was an apt summation of the festivities. And at Bliss, held on the stunning grounds of Porters Great House, a 17th-century sugar estate, I went on a glorious post-wuk-up eating spree: plentiful food and drink stands served everything from martinis to Thai cuisine, shrimp pasta and curried goat.

    Such elaborate fetes are reminiscent of the Caribbean’s biggest carnival, in Trinidad, where days and nights are spent at one fete or another. But what Barbados has...MORE over Trinidad was right outside my door, making daytime fetes unnecessary: some of the most spectacular white-sand beaches in the region. I whiled away several days there, recovering from the night before amid the crowds and coolers at Accra Beach, one of the island’s most popular liming scenes. I was also lucky enough to find myself catching some rays and that rare nap aboard a catamaran to Sandy Lane, Barbados’s most exclusive resort.

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  • 06 of 08

    Barbados Crop Over Festival: The Booze Cruise

    ••• The party is on at the 2011 Barbados Crop Over Booze Cruise. © Kwesi Marcano

    And then there was the Booze Cruise. All of my Bajan friends back home had insisted that if I attend a single Crop Over event, let it be the famous Booze Cruise. The whole of Barbados seemed to have gotten the same memo: When I arrived at the boatyard at 10 in the morning, lines snaked down the block and the party had started; a steel-pan band was jamming and drinks were flowing. Revelers piled onto one of three boats and, well, boozed and cruised—while dancing to Bajan soca, of course.

    I alighted on the Jolly Roger, a faux pirate ship, along with a celebrity posse: Bajan soca artist Rupee, former Miss Universe winner Wendy Fitzwilliam, visiting from Trinidad, and Trinidadian television personality Jeanille Bonterre. Before long and a few Mount Gays later, we three ladies were swinging off the ropes and into the Caribbean sea. And when we clambered back on deck, cool and refreshed, Rupee was performing an impromptu set, singing his omnipresent Crop Over hit “I am a Bajan.”

    “I may not be...MORE a Bajan but we all are Bajans during Crop Over!” Fitzwilliam declared with a smile.

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  • 07 of 08

    Barbados Crop Over Festival: Foreday Monday

    ••• Painted revelers enjoy Foreday Monday during Barbados' Crop Over festival. © Colin Williams for the Barbados Tourism Authority

    My “I am a Bajan” moment came in the wee hours, at one of the highlights of Crop Over. Foreday Morning is the Barbadian version of what other carnivals call J’Ouvert: the parade that runs from 3 in the morning until the sun comes up, at which revelers cover themselves in everything from mud and paint to cocoa. I found myself welcomed into a band somewhere around 4 a.m., and before I knew it I was marching and wukking up with a band of strangers, magically knowing all the words to songs I’d heard for the first time only the day before.

    Soon I was covered in cocoa; soon after that I was dancing under a water hose at the Oval, home to Foreday Morning’s afterparty, watching the sun come up, reveling in the cool-down and marveling at an entire stadium full of dirty -- literally! -- Bajans and Trinis and Canadians and Americans, dancing together as if all of we were indeed, as the saying goes, one.

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  • 08 of 08

    Barbados Crop Over Festival: Kadooment Day

    ••• Celebrating Kadooment Day during Barbados Crop Over festival. © Colin Williams for the Barbados Tourism Authority

    By the time Kadooment Day came around, it could only be the icing on the cake. I played mas (in other words, I participated in the parade) with a band called Baje International, which was clearly the year’s it band: What was good enough for Rupee and Rihanna was surely good enough for me.

    As the day passed and I marched in the sun and the rain, dancing between the raindrops and ending up in Spring Garden, a massive park, I paused every now and then to admire a Barbados I’d not seen before: one in which decorum was replaced by free abandon, all of us imbibing every last drop of a festival sweeter than, well, sugar itself.