The planes get smaller, the Antilles get lesser, the Carib beat gets more distinct, the further you fly into the Caribbean's Windward Islands.

I love the Caribbean, especially during Carnival, and my new party central discovery is Dutch Sint. Maarten, the crossroads of the Greater and Lesser Antilles. St. Martin holds 29,000 French souls on 20 square miles of volcanic rock, while 37,000 people share 17 square miles on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. As a demarcation of meridians, ths island counts 82 nationalities as citizens, including Haitian, American, German, African, European, Canadian, Guyana, and all other Carib island people. With this diverse mix, no wonder the island's music is a conglomerate of polyglot sounds. Everyone seems to turn out for Carnival, and many turn in late, or not at all.


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Even though I spent only one week at Carnival out of the 17 days of non-stop beat, from April to early May in 2002, I grooved into the spirit like music notes on a score sheet.

Compared to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Sint Maarten is a laid back vibe with an ease of moving around, except when gargantuan, two-story towers of speakers, called tractor trailer trucks snake down Front Street.

Our jetted-in contingent of revelers gazed with awe at the Grand Carnival Parade from the balcony of the famous Bearden Art Gallery on Front Street. We had a box seat and could reach out and touch the visible vibration posing as steel band floats "gliding" down the narrow 17th Century avenue like one huge note—LOUD—with every steel drum on the island participating. Each float was followed by a choreographed bevy of island beauties, brightly costumed young female Carnival celebrants, with massive feathered headdresses, flags fluttering, shimmering bright mono colors, gilt and sparkle, rotating so spectators could pop a photo.

We followed the parade (actually the entire island that could walk, crawl, or stroll, followed the towers of power) to the Carnival Village, in reality, a huge empty parking lot behind Back Street, where the carnival stage presented the first band of the evening, and where vendors' food stalls dispensed $1 Carib beers and spiced chicken BBQ to 10,000 carnivalers.

The 2002 carnival theme was: "We Potpourri of Splendor and Fun."

The carnival season celebrates Netherland's Queen Beatrix' birthday, culminating on April 30. It takes a couple of more days to wind down from the month long party, so they toss in a holiday for rest, and the carnival spills into May, with the Last Lap Jump Up and presentation of prizes and burning of the straw King Momo on the final day. Carnival is a historical festival "Jump Up," a sea of unification with no borders or generation gaps, banging through the island for over 30 years. The Queen wasn't present, and I doubt anyone really cared if she was having a birthday—it was just an excuse to "ParTee." Everyone was here for the music!


2002 CARNIVAL CONCERTS

When the bands played, I knew why they called it a "Jump Up."

The Rolling Tones

The headline marquee one evening was the Caribbean group that was restarted in 1994 by well-known businessman Adolphus Richardson, an original member of the band's first generation, formed in 1964, with him as trumpeter and singer. The senior group dispersed in 1992 and reformed in 1994. Their 1999 Barbados produced album, "A Six for ah Nine," is their best yet. The band blends a mix of soca, reggae and calypso, as a united group of professional musicians. The band's musical journey landed it two USA-based 1997 Sunshine Award nominations for "Soca Man,"—for the promotion of calypso and steel band music. The Rolling Tones CDs are very difficult to find, and are quite collector items, so it is probably best to rip your own in an MP3 file.

Taney and The Boys

The string band started in 1969. At the Carnival bandshell they played calypso, tumba, bolero, waltz, pop, blues, polka, merengue, and mazurka. Yup, polka in the islands, with a lilting bent of a beat, carried across the crowd, but I didn't see anyone actually doing the polka. The next thing I know Lawrence Welk will walk by with dreadlocks!

Beres Hammond

Berres was a headliner one night, and he is an acclaimed superstar from Jamaica. His most famous international album is "A Day In The Life." He has several Caribbean compilations, composed and recorded with various friends, and runs his own clothing line with artists Luciano Triston Palma, Michigan, Marcia Griffiths, et al. His other popular albums are "Sweetness," and "Have a Nice Weekend." His special night at carnival brought in a record, young, hip crowd to jump up with glorious reggae and riffs and ruckus and eponymous fusion from his latest fabulousity album, "Music is Life." The organic, electronic live show shot lyrical nutrinos rappeling off the stage, piercing the crowd, bouncing around like a pinball.

CARNIVAL
CONTACTS


Carnival Village
PO Box 256
The Great Salt Pond Land Fill
Great Bay
St. Maarten, N.A.
Contact: Fabiana Arnell
011- 599 543-3036 or 011- 599- 551-1905
Contact: Michael Granger
011-599-522-5233 or
011-599-542-5597

LATIN NIGHT

My favorite carnival musical night was Latin Night, with Elvis Crespo. Latin Night brought a quasi romance to the scene, (Eddy squeezing Tikki onelove) because after all, Latin music is expected to be romantic. Crespo's Latin coronets and brass never missed a note, wailing into the cool but lucid, starry evening air. The dynamics of the audience seemed to change each night with the jambanders. It was wonderful to see live instruments mastered by live lovers of the element, rather than recreated by soulless techno. There wasn't much improvisation on Latin Night, like reggae, or even more trance like beats, but the high energy musicians knew their lines with an intensity and power trailing the blowing trade winds into seemless galactic night. I think Crepo's next album should be self- titled: "Latin Galactic."

Other 2002 Performers

Shaggy, an international superstar; Zouk Explosion; PID2; Dream Stars from Haiti; a local Jamorama; Youth Waves; Explosion Band; Impakt; WCK from Dominica; Mr. Cool's Calypso Show with MC Rachel Price; Shadow; Denyse Plummer and Sugar Aloe; Youth Extravaganza; Byron Lee and the Dragonnaires.
Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.

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