Barbados Crop Over

Roxan Kinas looks forward to this year's Crop Over celebrations in Barbados

Photograph by Eleanor ChandlerPhotograph by Eleanor ChandlerPhotograph by Sean Drakes

Crop Over, Barbados’s biggest festival, begins in early July and climaxes with the Grand Kadooment costume-band road march on the first Monday in August. It is one of the western world’s oldest festivals, dating back to the days when plantation worked heralded the end of the sugar crop with feasting and dancing in the plantation yards.In the 1800s the end of the crop — and the gruelling fieldwork — was cause for celebration. It became a plantation event heralded by the arrival of the last cart of cane and punctuated by a day of dancing and merrymaking.  As the last carts made their way into the mill yard, a labourer would beat a makeshift gong and declare, officially, the “crop over”.

From its one-day origins, Crop Over now offers a month of cultural, historical and musical events including calypso tents and a fiercely contended calypso monarch competition. It all culminates with Grand Kadooment, an explosion of colour and excitement, with more than 25 costume bands competing for top prizes.

Crop Over traditions combine with modern additions to give this festival a character unlike any other in the Caribbean. Original elements like the donkey cart parade and the ceremonial delivery of the last canes remain in some form. Other events, such as the mass-appeal calypso tents and monarch competition, evolved from humble beginnings in the 197os when Crop Over was resurrected after a 30-year hiatus.

At Crop Over time, virtually every regional genre of music can be heard across the island, from the old time “Tuk” to its modern revamp, Ring Bang, steel pan and of course calypso and soca.

Indigenous to Barbados, Tuk is a masterly fusion of British military and African rhythms, involving a small band of hilariously dressed minstrels who play kettle drum, bass drum and penny whistle.

The sequence begins with a slow waltz, then glides into a march rhythm and ends with a frenetic African beat. Like calypso, through more low-keyed, competitions in Tuk and steel pan take place during Crop Over.

Yet Calypso and soca dominate, with tents heating up from late June and building up to the elimination rounds and ultimately the Calypso Monarch finals just before Grand Kadooment.