Heat rises off the roads in waves, and the air pulses with the sounds of socca; whistles and drums. Arms are raised high with mugs of rum, and hips and waists whine and shake in the midday sun. It is Grand Kadooment Day, the final hurrah of the Crop Over festival, celebrating the end of the Sugar cane season. People have come together from far and wide to take part and witness the feathered headdresses and sequined costumes ‘chip’ and shimmy their way through the streets of Barbados.
The island is shining and winking at the sun as heat and happiness radiates off sweaty bodies, and pearly white smiles of the many thousands of visitors and locals who have flocked to the island for this fantastical festivity.
Since the beginning of May the island had been celebrating the Crop Over season, partaking in parties and events of all shapes and sizes. I had been charged with accompanying ten media on the ultimate Crop Over experience.
This press tip was not for the faint hearted and the thought of leading a group of ten bright young things through an all-night paint party and three morning breakfast fetes was enough to make me cross myself and say a little prayer before boarding the plane.
The week started off at a gentle pace with cultural tours of the island including visits to the new Heritage Railway at St. Nicholas Abbey, a tour around the working rum distillery and an exploration of the beautiful views of the east coast.
The next day we departed on a catamaran cruise, I shrouded in a kaftan and factor 50, the media, much to my dismay, covered in oil and ready to fry like eggs. Luckily no one fell foul to sunstroke and the only casualty was a pair of sunglasses that slipped through the hammock netting. We also swam with our first turtle of the trip!
Come Friday morning, and when I say morning I’m talking 4:30am, we were up and ready for our first morning fete. These all inclusive fetes start early to avoid the worst heat of the day, and for the price of the ticket your breakfast and all your drinks are included.
Do not be fooled, it may have been the morning but we were all still fanning ourselves madly and sweating like criminals. For most Brits ordering a rum cocktail at 6:00am might be a step too far but I am proud to say my motley crew did not disappoint.
After this we were shipped off to a Wuk-up class, ahead of the all night paint party that night (it was obvious we needed the practice).The wuk-up is a form of Bajan dance. Men approach usually from behind, (mum look away) while the woman bend over, hands on their knees and ‘whine’, i.e move their hips in circular motion, gyrating and generally having a great time.
We were put through our paces and the stiffer limbed of us soon had our edges knocked off. In no time we were all chipping and wining around the class room, headdresses on, feathers flapping and hips wiggling. We were ready for the road!
As the saying goes there’s no rest for the wicked and the Foreday Morning “Jump up” awaited us. To jump means to join a band in the parade and we were lucky enough to be a part of Jambalassie.
Band members are given a t-shirt to cut up and customize, before reporting to the start of the parade where the painting begins. Everyone starts off timidly with artistic intention, but as the jump begins people are putting hands in buckets and covering each other from head to toe. Rum tingles on lips and warms through limbs making expert dancers of us all. The parade spreads through the streets covering the island in vivid colour, continuing on its euphoric journey until 8am the next day.
I am pleased to say my super trooper team of 10 all made it through the night, some of us a little worse for wear, but all still smiling. From here we headed back to The Sands for some well-deserved rest before waking up that afternoon to do it all over again.
The Crop Over festival is a once in a lifetime experience, it swallows you whole and takes no prisoners. Sitting at my desk now it feels like a world away, I could almost kid myself that it didn’t happen if I weren’t constantly humming the socca soundtrack and chipping my way around the streets of London.
Sincere thanks to all the fantastic media that joined us on the trip, to BTMI for organising, and to The Sands for hosting us and making your beautiful hotel feel like home for a week.
Whine: (to whine. Whining) Whine is defined by a Caribbean dance expert as the thrusting or rotating of the pelvic girdle in a rhythmic pattern.
Chip: (to chip. Chipping) A sliding dance step performed while following a band during Carnival.
Wuk- Up: Wuk-Up is a dance from Barbados with roots in Africa. Wuk-Up is said to have come to Barbados via Sub-saharan Africans where isolation of the limbs and movement of the hips are part of the dance tradition.
Fenella Tobey, Account Executive