Global Journal: Diplo on Island Parties in Trinidad and Tobago
Just as we were going to re-launch our ‘Global Journal’ we came across Diplo’s post in Vanity Fair. It’s a travel diary from the musician and D.J., as he ventures through the Caribbean paradise during its famous party season. He shares his personal photographs and a travel-journal entry about how to survive Carnival, what the Justin Bieber of the islands is like onstage, and the sex-war paradox of soca-music dancing.
* The last time I was in Trinidad, I lived with a senile white banana farmer. He’d inherited his house from his deceased old granny, and every morning, he’d complain about noise at night while he watered his weeks-dead bushes in his umbrella hat. There is something strange and fascinating about white people with Caribbean accents, I always think. The most memorable part of that trip was skipping Carnival entirely to eat prenatal vitamins and mild sedatives in the jungle while nursing a migraine. But now it’s a new day, a new dawn. I’m here to show a film at the warehouse built in part by Peter Doig—Google him, he’s rich, and he’s actually quite nice, too. I couldn’t tell him apart from the rest of the audience, which is an A+. They showed Favela on Blast to a packed house, then I D.J.’ed.
To understand Trinidad’s culture, you have to understand its entire population is split down the middle between East Indians, brought here as workers through the 19th century‚ and Africans, brought here as slaves until slavery’s abolition. It has a smattering of European, Chinese, and Syrian people, like the rest of the Caribbean. It’s the mix of Indian culture; the celebratory spirit, religion, and food of Africa; the music and dance of Europe; and Latin America’s Catholicism—plus lots of rum. Our first party on this trip was East Indian ladies’ night out. It’s just so strange for me to see Indian kids half-naked with tattoos, screaming and cursing and dutty-wining all through a party. In the U.S., they get the reputation of being med-school robots, not hard-drinking party animals. The star that night was Machel Montano. He’s the Justin Bieber of Trinidad and Tobago. The first 10 rows of people crowding up to the stage were all women—swooning, jumping, trying to get a chance to touch his pants. He screamed to the crowd to “March on” and “Trample them!” or “We have an advantage.” You’d think Trinidad was at war with the Grenadines or Guyana—it was like something out of Club Paradise starring Robin Williams. Now war chants are soca-music mainstays, and Machel gets into that battle zone around Carnival. Everyone was trying to secure the title of soca monarch, and run the town during the three or four days of madness.
Machel told me to meet him where he was going to do one or two songs for a friend’s party. That turned into 20 songs. Suddenly, there were pyrotechnics blasting from the stage, spraying sparks all over the girls who wrestled their way to the front, trying to rip a little bit of thread off his clothes. I had to drink an entire Monster energy drink just to watch the show—it was toooooooo intense. Later, we saw the full band—just half a mile away, performing for three kids. I wonder: we went to three shows that night, and I saw at least half the island. Is it an ordinance that you must go to soca shows until four a.m.?
Machel’s band has a drummer that invokes heavy metal with a double-bass kick pedal, and also three keyboard players and a team of insanely cut dancer girls with cropped blond hair and matching hot pants. They run onstage intermittently to do synchronized dance moves—wining their waists, then stomping the ground—before running back offstage. It’s like some sex-war paradox that I can’t stop watching. This is all the precursor to Carnival—a party that would magnify tonight’s happenings times a thousand, and then be set on fire and have rum thrown over it for 72 hours without breaks. There were the early fêtes—the soca rave, then an after-party, then some eight or nine a.m. breakfast raves sponsored by more liquor companies, then a drive home for a shower, then the day street parade. Then repeat. Times three. The last time I managed 30 hours, one of my teeth fell out. So say what you want—these are a resilient people.