Antigua Carnival – history, winners & pictures!

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Antigua Carnival is a 13-day festival of colorful costumes, beauty pageants, talent shows and especially good music. Visit Antigua for an authentic experience of the historic Caribbean Carnival.

Carnival celebrations in Antigua and Barbuda are a whole lot more than just vibrant colors and fun costumes; these festivities which celebrate emancipation from slavery are a symbol of the country throwing off the shackles of British rule, under which slaves from West Africa were brought to Antigua and Barbuda to work on the plantation fields from the 1670s on. Slavery was abolished on August 1, 1934 – prompting all sugar plantation workers to take to the streets in celebration. Every year, from the last weekend in July to the first Tuesday in August, Antiguan and Barbudan streets are filled with color, joy and the sound of steel pan drums banging with cheer. The overall feeling generated by the Carnival celebrations in Antigua and Barbuda is that of freedom. During this extravaganza there are many exciting events to enjoy, including beauty pageants, talent shows, music competitions, food fairs and other cultural activities.

Antigua Carnival history

The moment slavery was abolished in Antigua and Barbuda, people headed straight for the streets to celebrate their freedom together as a country. Their joy and happiness could not be contained, and erupted into a street celebration which took place for the first time on August 1, 1834 – the rest is history.

With bigger and better events taking place every year, the Antigua Carnival is not to be missed. The celebration was transformed from an informal gathering into a full-on official celebration in 1957, when the Old Time Christmas Festival was replaced by the Antigua Carnival – combining aspects of the culturally significant Christmas Festival with the Antigua Carnival celebrations.

Traditions that live on

Similar to the Old Time Christmas Festival, the Antigua Carnival features music and dance celebrations where a collection of distinctive steel drums form iron bands (also known as steel bands), giving the festival a live energy.

A dance that commonly featured in past Christmas Festivals was the Highland Fling, in which dancers wore Scottish kilts during their performances. This dance form was introduced by Scottish settlers who resided in the Caribbean during British reign.

Antiguan costumes were embellished with masks made from wire and also featured cowhide whips – these elements can all still be seen in the modern-day Antigua Carnival.

Other dancers taking part in the John Bull event generally wear banana leaves and animal horns, while ‘carol trees’ made from long poles covered in lanterns are carried by carolers accompanied by a local concertina. The ‘John Bull’ is a satirical icon of an African witch doctor who represented the slaves’ British masters.

The Carnival celebrations also feature street performances with stilt dancers called Moko Jumbi, Jumpa-Ben or Long Ghosts. Long Ghosts were first seen in the Old Time Christmas Festival, where it was their role to collect donations. They wear long, cylindrical masks and often feature grotesque teeth illuminated by candlelight. They carry brass drums and kettle drums, fifes, triangles and a ‘boom pipe’ constructed out of a regular plumbing joint.

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These festivities which celebrate emancipation from slavery are a symbol of the country throwing off the shackles of British rule

The most awaited event in Antigua and Barbuda

While the prospect of Antigua Carnival always generates much excitement and anticipation, the biggest reward of the event is the sense of community and freedom that it inspires among the participants. A typical Antigua Carnival comprises a variety of activities that bring color, vibrancy and joy to the people.

Sadly, due to the current global situation, the Antigua Carnival 2020 will not be taking place as a precautionary measure.

According to the Antigua Carnival website, this year’s Antigua Carnival schedule was planned to run for a 13-day stretch with activities for every age group to enjoy – the event was meant to take place from June 23 to August 4, the first Tuesday in August, in keeping with the historic Antigua Carnival dates. Much like the Antigua Carnival 2019 schedule, the event was to be held in the Antigua Recreation Ground on Factory Road in St. John’s. This area has been dubbed Carnival City for its strong association with the yearly celebration.

Plans for Antigua Carnival 2021 are well under way, and are expected to be more spectacular than ever.

Antigua Carnival dates and highlights

Antigua Carnival takes place every year, starting at the end of July and ending on the first Tuesday in August.

Some of the long-awaited highlights include the pageants, with the Teen Splash, Antigua Queen of Carnival and Jaycees Caribbean Queen Show, where Antigua Queen of Carnival past winners are celebrated. Antigua Carnival 2019 saw Shannakisha Francis, Miss Cool and Smooth named the Antigua Carnival Queen for the year.

Other events include the Opening Parade and Ceremony where participating bands and Antigua Carnival Mas’ troupes march down to Carnival City, representing their companies with the logos on their T-shirts. Once the entire party arrives at the Antigua Recreation Centre, all participants in the competitions and performances make their final appearance before the show. The Ceremony is rounded off with a display of fireworks, and is soon followed by more parties and celebrations.

During the event locals and residents holding an Antigua visa as well as travelers visiting from across the globe, especially the Caribbean, come together to celebrate the unique festivities. Street parades can gather up to 18,000 participants, while shows and events have an attendance of roughly 15,000.

The energy and enthusiasm during the event are unlike any other – travelling for the Antigua and Barbuda Carnival should be on everyone’s personal bucket list. Contact Relocate Antigua for help planning and booking your perfect carnival stay.

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Past years

The success of past Antigua Carnival events has always been a great motivator for the organizers working on the next year’s edition. Besides all the memories and exciting moments spent with family and friends on the gorgeous sovereign islands in the Caribbean, winning participants in the shows and competitions celebrate their hard work and appreciation and put their passion into creating an even more exciting show for the following year. Holding an Antigua Carnival title carries a lot of prestige in Antigua and Barbuda.

Winners and results in 2019

Most of the events in the Antigua Carnival are held as competitions, where hard working performers are rewarded for their art with an Antigua Carnival title.

Here are just some of the Antigua Carnival 2019 winners…

The 2019 Royal Caribbean International Antigua Commercial Bank Panorama Steel Band Competition:

  • First prize: The Caribbean Union Bank Hells Gate Steel Orchestra
  • First runner-up: Panache Steel Orchestra
  • Second runner-up: Harney Motors West Side Symphony Steel Orchestra

The First Jam Band and the Sweetest Sounding Jam Band:

  • First prize: Revo Band

Band of the Year:

  • Insane Carnival

Insider tip: One of the most keenly anticipated moments of the Antigua Carnival is the announcement of the Monday and Tuesday results on the last two days leading up to the festival’s end. This is when titles for Best Business Float, Largest J’ouvert Troupe and the ultimate T-Shirt Mas’ winners are announced.

Carnival Monday: J’ouvert

‘Jour Ouvert’ is the French Creole word for daybreak, and the Antiguan version, J’ouvert, represents one of the most iconic celebrations during the Antigua Carnival. J’ouvert is probably the most anticipated event of all the Antigua Carnival celebrations.

Celebrated on the last Monday of the Carnival, this event is a colorful spectacle that starts off at 03:00 am, during the very early hours of the morning, and continues on throughout the day. The event takes place at St John’s, where various impromptu jam sessions with featured bands strike up as you walk through the city.

During J’ouvert, locals and visitors to the Antigua Carnival are all very aware that the city’s celebrations will soon come to an end. Because of this, they make the most of their time with generous amounts of rum, blue and brown paint, colorful costumes and a whole lot of dancing.

Carnival Tuesday: Last Lap

It’s Carnival Tuesday – the final day of celebration which kicks off at noon, giving the J’ouvert party animals some time to rest. The afternoon Parade of the Bands, also known as the Road March, is a giant event where troupes, floats and bands fill the route to St John’s with festive spirit for one last time.

This event ends with the crowning of the Road March King. In 2019 Low Rider was named the Antigua and Barbuda Road March King, with his song Fish Dance. But the celebrations don’t end there – an entire evening street celebration known as the Last Lap kicks off at 7 pm, and officially ends at midnight. 

The Last Lap features all of the highlights from Antigua Carnival: fun, colorful costumes, dancing and – most importantly – good music.

Antigua Carnival music

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Music is one of the most beloved arts and pastimes in Antigua and Barbuda, and there are many different genres of Caribbean music to enjoy throughout the Antigua Carnival festival. The oldest music style on the islands is Calypso. Calypso competitions have been a highlight of the Antigua Carnival for a number of years now, and are always greatly enjoyed by both the public and the participants.

Calypso music during Antigua Carnival

Another great musical feature of the Antigua Carnival is the steel drum performances. This music was originally played on the traditional bamboo instruments that were used to back up the Calypso performers, but have since then been replaced with steel drums, originally made from steel pans.

Some of the most popular Calypso bands in Antigua and Barbuda include King De Bear, winner of the 2019 Wadadli Beer Sir Prince Ramsey Calypso Monarch competitions, not to mention 2nd runner up Tian Winter and 1st runner up King Zacari. These star musicians were named the kings of Calypso at the Antigua Carnival 2019.

Soca music during Antigua Carnival

These steel drums make up the iron bands that feature in the Antigua Carnival festivities. This musical instrument was crafted in Trinidad, but the steel pan’s popularity during the Old Time Christmas Festival made it synonymous with Antigua and Barbuda, and especially with the Carnival. This sound is known as Soca music, and is an iconic part of the Antigua Carnival.

The 2019 Flow Party Monarch Competition was divided into two Soca categories, Groovy and Jumpy, where Tian Winter claimed 1st runner up in both competitions. The Groovy segment was won by Menace XL while the Jumpy competition was dominated by Low Rider.

Soak up the fun, frenzy and tropical beats of Antigua Carnival

Antigua Carnival has become a calendar event that locals and residents of Antigua and Barbuda, visitors from the Caribbean islands and travelers from across the globe look forward to year in and year out. This celebration of freedom and emancipation from slavery has quickly developed into a 13-day street party where every member of the community, young and old, gets together to celebrate the historic Antigua Carnival.

Visiting Antigua and Barbuda for this celebration is a great way to experience the true lifestyle and culture of the country during the happiest time of the year. During your visit there will be many Carnival Antigua excursions on offer, but this will not be the only highlight of your visit – this 2-week Carnival includes innumerable smaller festivities, including a spectacular parade of bands. The beautiful beaches, historical sites, traditional food and excellent adventure opportunities are also waiting to be discovered.

Get in touch with a Relocate Antigua expert to discover your best options for visiting the Antigua Carnival.

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