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CARNIVALS ARE BACK: MY SELF-IMPOSED LOCKDOWN

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

Today, October 10, 2021, is Miami Carnival 2021 Road March and imagine this, I am in bed in Jamaica watching Hallmark channel!! Cho…. Since attending Trinidad Carnival, February 2020, my life has become an ‘endless soca tabanca’. Instead of traveling to ‘make smiles’, I have been relegated to fear, sadness and lockdowns. These lockdowns have curtailed our movements to work, to see our families and to have fun. Recently, with increased vaccination rates in many countries, especially the rich nations of the world, we now see the controlled reopening of many industries, including the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, for many poorer countries with low vaccination rates, like Jamaica, COVID-19 continues to rage and kill many people at alarming rates.


The Dark Chocolate Man - Trinidad Carnival


With so many deaths around me, it seems almost careless to travel in and out of Jamaica to participate in my favourite past time, Soca parties and Carnivals.


I remain somewhat confused with the science of COVID-19. Why do we take the vaccine and can still contract and pass the virus on to others? Why after taking the vaccine we can still get sick and die? Most countries continue to experience multiple spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Scientists surmise that the proliferation of multiple variants of Coronavirus strains, such as Delta and Mu, that are more transmissible and resistant to the vaccines have driven higher infection rates. The Delta variant has appeared in 185 countries (www.washingtonpost.com) and is now driving global coronavirus cases, which now stand at 249 million cases and 5.03 million deaths. Many promoters, party goers and soca chasers, like myself, have been demoralized by the ongoing lockdowns.



A.M. Beach 2020 - Trinidad Carnival


Yaad Lockdowns and Parties


From the safety of ‘mi yaad’, I watched as hundreds of revelers participated in parties and carnivals in different USA cities. These revelers were mainly from the Caribbean diaspora who live in the USA and Caribbean. After watching the graphical images of dead bodies placed in black body bags in hallways of hospitals and in refrigerated trucks in back allies, I was completely traumatized. The spread of COVID-19 has impacted me directly; members of my family were afflicted by COVID-19, I lost my father-in-law, close work colleagues, business associates and friends. This has made going back to my life prior to COVID-19 very difficult. I continuously have whiplash from watching the disparities of how different countries have been responding to the potential dangers of COVID-19. In our ‘Soleil Soca and Suntan’ WhatsApp group, the conversations have been diverse, as persons questioned the judgement of promoters and patrons alike partying during these dangerous times. Governors, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida USA, a Trump-like free radical have resisted COVID-19 protocols and mandates. I think he must be a big lover of soca and dancehall.


Lockdowns in Jamaica have brought the entertainment industry to an almost standstill. Jamaica is one of the ‘party capitals’ of the world and has now become, for the most part, a ghost town. Jamaicans are famous for our music and sports exploits, some of us are also known for our creativity in undermining the law. Illegal parties became the order of the day throughout the island during lockdowns. In December 2020, the Jamaica Gleaner reported that police received over 130 tips on illegal parties. By June 2021 the Minister of Local Government, reported that over 600 illegal parties were held island-wide after the Government announced the reopening of the entertainment industry. Parties held at undisclosed locations were everywhere, the most popular ones were “riva” and “zinc fence” parties. The up-towners were not to be left out, as they flocked to hotels for their piece of the action. The Jamaica Pegasus and AC Marriott hotels became the hot spots in Kingston, while locals and tourists filled up hotels on weekends and holidays in Montego Bay, Negril, Treasure Beach and Ocho Rios.


I predicted in my blog title ‘Jamaica Carnival Postponed’ published on December 7, 2020, that there would have been no Jamaica carnival in 2021. In January 2021, Managing Director, Scott Dunn, of Dream Weekend published an article in the Gleaner voicing his frustration and appealing to the Government to establish COVID-19 protocols, to facilitate the reopening up of the entertainment industry. It was not until June 24, 2021 that the Government responded by introducing new protocols, which included allowing 70% capacity for venues and increased capacity for public transportation and Drive-in Cinemas. On July 11, 2021 curfew hours were changed to 11 pm – 5 am from Monday to Saturday and on Sunday 6 pm to 5 am Monday. This change was welcomed by most, especially promoters and party-goers. Most of the big party brands quickly announced and executed events. Jamaica was buzzing, we were free at last!! Unfortunately, the adjusted COVID-19 protocols led to a massive upsurge in COVID-19 cases and deaths and the subsequent implementation of even stricter lockdown measures thereafter. This included 4 NO MOVEMENT DAYS for 3 weeks, when everyone, except essential workers, were allowed out of their homes.



Carnivals are Back


Soca lovers are now happy, after the successful staging of two carnivals in USA – the New York Labour Day carnival in September and the Miami carnival in October. I told myself that aggressive COVID-19 protocols, reduction in attendance and increase paranoia among soca revelers would have compromised the party vibes at these carnivals. This was not the case, these carnivals will now provide the best benchmarks for all future carnivals in this COVID-19 pandemic period. Fortunately, none of these carnivals have been identified as super spreader events. That is testimony to good planning and execution. The reports from organizers, promoters and patrons are that the COVID-19 protocols were observed in most instances and gave high ratings to most of the events. The parties were said to be top class, filled with lots of excitement, and they quenched the soca tabanca of most patrons.


Soca chasing in USA became a staple on my soca chasing calendar over the past 6 years. I love meeting up with my Caribbean diaspora soca people from DC, AT, NY and FL, who made NYC Labour DAY and Miami carnivals super special. Traveling to NYC and Miami to lyme with my siblings, nephews, nieces and friends is just a special gem. At the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, I told myself that I would not travel for soca in 2021. To discipline me, I stayed away from the pre-planning activities for NYC and Miami Carnivals in Whatsapp and Facebook soca chasing groups. At my age, I considered myself high risk for COVID-19 illnesses. I have no comorbidities, but I still decided not to take any chance with my precious life. The Tabanca I feel from not socaring for close to 2 years cannot be explained. Seeing the party and carnival ads popping up on my IG and Facebook feeds over the last three months has been very distracting. When the texts and calls started coming in asking “what is your party list?” and “which band are you playing in?”, they made my burden even more unbearable. I convinced myself that there was a greater good from not participating in these carnivals, as socaring and then mingling with my aged siblings would be most dangerous.



As NYC carnival week kicked off, I tried convincing myself that my soca memories were more powerful and potent than any carnival that would be held during the COVID-19 pandemic. My best carnival weekend spent in NYC was dubbed “Bachelor and Bumper”, this was my nephew’s JJ bachelor party weekend. It was hot hot. We booked into a lovely hotel in downtown Brooklyn to be close to party central. Our party list included Sunnyside, Dock Work, Rum and Music, Soca Brainwash and Roast. The top events for the weekend were a big soca festival called Soca Brainwash and an intimate soca boat cruise called Roast. Partying with people you love and respect with the backdrop of a big majestic city with lovely sights always enhances the experiences. We left the hotel on a beautiful bright sunny Saturday morning to board the Horn-Blower Cruises for Roast premium-all-inclusive soca party at the Hudson River Park’s Pier 40. The drive felt like the calm before the storm. We chatted loudly about our pending exploits. At the boat, we waited in line before boarding, this was followed by many hugs, kisses, handshakes and chest clenches, and yes, Bill Clinton’s distance waves at those already boarded.


As we drifted away from the shore, the captain's message prepared us for our journey, then throbbing soca music was turned up by the DJ. I will never forget listening to the big song “let us make a memory” by Machel Montana as we sailed. With the feeling of euphoria now building in us, we were distracted by disappointed patrons waving at us frantically in despair and dismay as we left them behind. I was happy for us but sad for them. From that moment onwards, the boat was abuzz with conversations, smiles, hugs and gentle early whines. Crews were meeting crews, strangers were getting acquainted through group introductions and hunters were surveying God's beautiful melanin creations, the Black Pearls. My crew was distracted by our hungry bellies, we knew that our longevity and sustainability would be dependent on a full belly. So, we all headed to the breakfast room downstairs in the lower level, where we secured a large circular table for breakfast. Thereafter, we quickly join the buffet line to collect scrambled eggs, sausages, pancakes and a variety of fruits. The many conversations among us and others were itself a fun experience, there is just something about the friendliness and kind heartened spirits of soca people.


Bachelor and Bumper Crew


Back on the upper floor, the boat was now sailing across Hudson Bay. We were fully encircled with many beautiful sights from all sides; in one direction the backdrop of the Manhattans skyline stood in its majestic glory like a portrait, the massive metal Brooklyn Bridge connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn and Lady Liberty standing tall towering above us with her hand in the air acknowledging our freedom to have fun. There is something special seeing Lady Liberty salute us as we jumped and whined on the Hudson Bay. This boat party was simple in its construct, there were Patrons, DJs, Drummers, Servers and Bartenders. The focus of this party was socaring for 4 hours with like-minded party and soca people. The DJ appropriately played Fay-Ann Lyons song which dramatized the metaphor of this very special moment, “hands over your heads, hands in the air, just let me get moving”. With that, the captain started gently swaying the boat from side to side, which forced us to hold on to our drinks, side rails and sometimes bumpers.


Within an hour of partying, the top shelf liquors were having their intended effects. I knew this because my nephew, who hardly ever smiles and always moved with heavy feet, was suddenly released from the bondage of his shyness, dislike of soca music and antisocial demeanor. Under the obvious influence of ‘rum, sun and soca’, he confidently walked away from our soca line and approached a strong-bodied Black Pearl and proceeded to place the most awkward whines you will ever see on her. He is a lover of heavy metal music, and this was fully reflected in his indifferent movements, what I saw was a frantic jook jook of his hip while his head moved back and forth. Like his dance partner, I felt unstable just watching him. Three hours into the soca boat party, all our inhibitions had fully disappeared, the ‘fun and dance’ was now fully powered by the sun, liquor, soca music and sweating hot soca people. Then in the middle of the soca fest the DJ stopped playing music to allow the drummers to take over the musical soca offering, our African lineage was quickly inflamed by the beating of the soca drums that quickly ignited the mating features of soca music. Some patrons found their strength and were lifting others off the ground, some who were unstable were dancing on a settee in a corner and others that lost their balance, were on the floor of the boat gyrating.


The “Bachelor and Bumper phenomenon”, operation walk and slaughter was now created by the crew providing a cascade of uber wines on our melanin soca goddesses. To be continued…..




COVID-19 Soca Chasing Tips


Many soca frenz told me that I should not continue to hide from the world. My mother use to say “bwoy, prevention betta dan cure”, her unspoken words have been loud in my ears. However, I do accept that we cannot continue to lock ourselves away forever.


The following are my COVID-19 soca chasing tips:

  • Track reliable sources for COVID-19 information on the number of tests executed, confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths over time or against population numbers for the country you plan to travel to.

  • Travel to countries to participate in carnivals that have over 60-70% vaccination rates and ensure that the country is showing a consistent reduction in the number of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Select to party in countries with both public and private sectors COVID-19 mandates.

  • Travel to countries to participate in carnivals where there are robust health delivery systems, proper emergency medical services and adequate Intensive Care Units, testing facilities and adequate health workers.

  • Participate in carnival events that will enact tough COVID-19 control measures, such as requiring proof of vaccination, a negative rapid swab test, temperature test and wearing of masks for all patrons and staff working in the event.

  • Stock up with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) including gloves, face shields, masks and alcohol-based sanitizers which is easily dispensed and convenient to carry around. It is always wise to invest in a hip bag of adequate size that can be utilized to transport the PPEs.

  • Participate in events that are held by promoters who are approved by local public health, states, parish and provincial authorities. Ensure that proof is published by promoters of the approval received from these authorities in advance of each event.

  • Sanitize all tickets, bands, costumes and cups that are distributed for use in all events. Where possible, take your personal cups to all events and ensure that they are only handled by you.

  • Select established COVID-19 compliant hotel, uber/taxi and renter car services that utilize strict COVID-19 protocols to protect their clients. Also, utilize your own sanitizers and cleaning apparatus to clean up all spaces that you come in contact with before and after use.

  • Limit the number of indoor events that you participate in. Try where possible to party in groups that you know will consistently follow the established COVID-19 protocols. Be also mindful of the places you select to shop for clothes, groceries and food.


Conclusion


COVID-19 has created a new world order, that will continue to impact how we live, work and yes, how we create smiles. Sadly, for almost 2 years we have watched the death of over 5.03 million people worldwide. Those of us who live in a developing country, like Jamaica, with low vaccination levels, our lives will continue to be severely threatened. Our culture which is manifested in music and dance, will continue to be dramatically curtailed for the near future.


Carnivals are back, the reviews to date suggested that most soca chasers were glad to once again revel in the melting pot of sweaty hot bodies whining and dancing to soca music. Those of you who are already out and about, please take the vaccine in its recommended dose(s) and adhere to the COVID-19 protocols that are instituted by your governments.


I myself hope to hit the road soon!! Look out for me as I buss my friendly uber whines on my melanin sistas.


Read more of my blogs at http://www.donaldfarquharson.com/blog. After, make sure you subscribe to the email listing and share this article with a friend on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.


If you want to engage with me more and get access to the exercises in the GRED program, book my services at www.donaldfarquharson.com/book-online.


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5 Comments


nikumadiaries
nikumadiaries
Dec 02, 2021

I continue to wait and see. Great article btw.

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I myself still in hiding....the tabanca is realer than real....Can't wait to get back out to the carnival

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Ephraim Dewar
Ephraim Dewar
Nov 24, 2021

Great perspectives as usual. I don't know much about Soca except you have to be in good physical shape to keep up. But, whatever type of entertainment we love the fact remains that Covid-19 has forever changed what is considered "normal". I think the mental health impact is going to be far-reaching.

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Kevin Ormsby
Kevin Ormsby
Nov 18, 2021

Excellent article Soca Chaser.


Can't wait to start the "fiesta) again.)))))>>>>

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Hyacinth M. CLARKE
Hyacinth M. CLARKE
Nov 08, 2021

Dear Fellow Soca Chaser: Thank you for penning this blog that so accurately captures the internal struggles/balance of the call of soca vs. the health and safety of those closest to us whom we love the most. It was not easy to say No me nah go not 1 fete in Miami to decrease chances of catching covid-19 and bringing it home to my underage unvaccinated son or seasoned mama Black Pearl. But I made it and will employ some of your tips above to decide on future carnivals in our new pandemic normal. Thank you Doc

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