Easter signals bacchanal carnival in Jamaica

Charlie Simpson being feted recently on his 77th birthday.
Charlie Simpson

Unlike neighbors in the eastern Caribbean that revel with abandon prior to 40 days of fastidious sacrifice and dedication to their Christian conviction related to the Lenten season, the end of the period and the arrival of Easter, Jamaicans are ready for Bacchanal Jamaica a high energy, national soca celebration in the land of reggae.

It kicks off from Ocho Rios on the day recalled to be one of Resurrection of Jesus Christ and moves into high gear to the capital city of Kingston where the largest and longest fetes dominate until April 30.

Although towns and parishes observe aspects of the global carnival traditions, Kingston and the second city of Montego Bay claim the lion-share of socaphiles seeking the annual thrill from calypso, steel pan, Roadmarch, jouvert, masqueraders, live stage shows and also integrate local home-grown traditions into the celebration.

Regarded as the newest arrival to the Caribbean carnival circuit, many on the island regard 1989 as the premiere year of revelry when bandleader Byron Lee introduced Jamaica Carnival to soca lovers at Chukka Cove in Ocho Rios and Port Royal and the Camp Grounds Kingston.

However, that theory has been disputed by Charles “Charlie” Simpson, a local promoter and community activist who said he first invited Duke, Rootsman, Baron, Bally, Lady Venus, Gypsy and Shadow and other calypsonians to perform on the island in 1986, 1987 and 1988.

According to Simpson, he staged his “calypso tents” in the rural parish of St. Mary where he launched Soca Madness at Albion Farms. He later staged a Downtown Carnival in Kingston.

The latter was broadcasted live on WLIB-AM, with heavy support from Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, the then owners and operators of the only Black-owned radio stations in New York City.

Simpson explained that the impetus for his carnival was that “there was an Orange Carnival in Kingston” that catered to privileged, uptown residents.

Organized by a group of uptown residents who called themselves the Oakridge Boys, Simpson said, “it was exclusive to society folks” to white and fair-skinned patrons willing to pay in excess of $100 for entrance.

Back then the gate fee seemed exorbitant to average Jamaicans.

Due to the fact Simpson spent part of his time in Brooklyn — where he was exposed to the pre-Labor Day carnival — and Jamaica, he recruited like-minded expats who shared his vision of an inclusive mas’ to band together as AFRIJAM.

With the union soca filtrated the reggae-dominated landscape.

The fact Simpson had frequented Trinidad’s annual and was part of the annual delegation there, the notion of a carnival in Jamaica seemed a doable and lingering task waiting to blossom.

Jamaicans had long dominated the immigrant tourist populous that travelled to Trinidad for the pre-Lenten celebration.

Reputed for attracting favorable notices, delegations of supporters and fun filled revelry, it was only a matter of time many would remain home, delay their revelry and add reggae to the mix.

Although Simpson had a track record, ambition and connections to the calypso fraternity, Lee, a Chinese Jamaican won support from the government and was tasked with staging the first, official Jamaica carnival.

Since that boosted premiere, the after Lent revelry has maintained a presence on the Jamaica calendar.

This year with four unique bands to align for spectacular pageantry and exhibition in Kingston — Bacchanal Jamaica provides a beach jourvert, parade and Road-march, numerous breakfast fetes, parties and stage shows; Xaymaca International, Ocho Rios Carnival and Xodus Carnival also offer varying and specific mas’ experiences.

For instance the only full-fledged carnival outside of Kingston provides a beach experience on the North Coast in Ocho Rios with socasize; and a band featuring five sections highlighted by tributes to indigenous inhabitants known as Maroons, Tainos, Soca Junkies, Red Ants and Arawaks.

Xodus delivers a fusion of music and “unimaginable experiences.”

Negril has its own particular flair with south coast hotels adding attraction to the government-sponsored local events, which include Moko Jumbie, cultural activities and spectacle.

Although initially the church was resistant to the Easter Sunday start of events regarded to be decadent, in latter years the outcry has lessened.


Its been half a century since an informed community decided to better respect this planet by dedicating a day in its honor. Established to demonstrate and promote environmental awareness, “protect our species” is this year’s theme.

Earth Day 50 2019 slates a grand anniversary observance on April 23 on the North Plaza of Union Square at 14th St.

Environmental campaigns including — green initiatives, interactive zero-waste weaving activity to promote sustainable fashion (presented by H&M), live music, art installation, kids’ activities, clean energy incentives and a myriad of giveaways are promised from noon to 6 p.m.

Earth Day is annually celebrated in 193 countries around the world on April 22.

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