Born in Trinidad and raised abroad, my parents would often revere the carnival experience at our family gatherings, hence why I think I’ve always had a great respect and appreciation for the culture and tradition. So many childhood memories over Sunday lunches were centered around ‘playing Mas’ (participating in the costumed masquerade on Carnival Monday and Tuesday). It’s something that I always knew was an honor and a privilege to do (one-because of the high costs often associated with it and two-the prestige).
At this point in my life, I would consider myself a seasoned carnival reveler. I’m not quite an expert as yet but after participating in and documenting carnival for over a decade now, it won’t be long before I can confidently add that stripe to my repertoire. Each year, I like to try out different bands, which gives me a well-rounded perspective on the masquerader experience from every vantage point.
You have to understand something. Many people of the Caribbean diaspora center their entire year around carnival and that is especially heightened when we’re talking about Trinidad. From planning of flights, lodging, fetes and costumes as early as 10 months in advance, it’s all apart of the very elaborate process that makes Trinidad the mecca of all Caribbean carnival experiences.
Picking a Mas band in itself is a welcomed task. First, you have to coordinate with your crew, decide the band and section (hope that it’s available) then make your deposits to secure your space. Typically sections sell out for the bigger bands (like Tribe, Bliss, Yuma, Fantasy and Harts) within days of going on sale after their launches in late July. Once you’ve gotten through that process, planning the intimate details to ensure that you and your crew have the most epic experience takes up the remaining countdown to the carnival itself.
After many years of playing Mas in Trinidad with various bands, I felt like I finally found my footing as it relates to what I was looking for in an exhilarating masquerade experience. First: the vibes must be amazing (no stush people or mediocre vibes for me). I love a band that has a warm atmosphere and high energy from start to finish; a band where strangers act like family. As much as I love the pretty Mas experience, I still need freedom to “get on wotless” and misbehave if the music takes me there. That is what carnival is all about; no judgments, no pressure, just pure bliss with friends and strangers alike for two unforgettable days that creates a lasting memory. This year, I opted to immerse myself into a band known for all of those positive qualities; Paparazzi Mas Band.
Known for their one of a kind hospitality and amazing vibes on the road, Paparazzi Mas band checks many boxes that deliver a complete carnival experience. Friends who’ve played with Paparazzi always brag about the service and friendliness of their staff, so I was eager to see for myself. Let me go ahead and say; Paparazzi IS one of the bands to watch as they grow in popularity and size because they’ve got the number one necessity for an amazing masquerade experience on lock; they’ve got the vibes!
Here’s my take on the Paparazzi experience this year as you gear up for Trinidad Carnival 2020 and begin to make plans of your own.
Let’s get right to it. The costumes- For many, choosing that perfect costume is a large part of their carnival experience. If you’re disappointed from the beginning, it can play a role in your mood on the road. I was pleased to see that Paparazzi had a variety of costumes tailored for every shape and size as well as several fit options (monokinis, one-pieces, high-waisted options and extra coverage bras and tops). For many masqueraders who are coming in just days before carnival, having viewing options and on-site customization is a huge plus.
The pickup process was also efficient and timely. On average, the wait was less than an hour from start to finish (which we know is crucial to avoid cutting into feteing hours). The customer service as well during pickup was an good. Seamstresses and additional staff were on site to handle any concerns and needs to ensure that costumes were to every masqueraders satisfaction.
Side Note: I like to give half of my costume away to children on the roadside who line the streets to watch the parade each year. With the many pieces that came with this years costume package, we were able to make quite a few young revelers very happy.
Next, the price: Paparazzi package prices varied between $500-$850 US which is moderate in comparison to some of the bigger sized bands. Costumes were made with quality and many matched exactly what you saw during their band launch and on their website. I appreciated the option for Monday only as well, where masqueraders could opt in for a one-day experience instead of two for a reduced price. Overall, you do get you money’s worth.
The Service: The lunch break held at Fatima Grounds this year was swift. Outside of a need for a bit more places to grab shade and shelter, the break was much needed to regroup before beginning another round on the road. The drinks truck was also present during the break so if you needed a top up you were good to go. Unlimited Drinks flowed from start to finish and the band never ran out of chasers or premium liquor. Another added bonus that I appreciated was their ample amount of staff on hand so there was no race and hassle to get a drink from the drinks truck (which any masquerader will tell you can be frustrating). This really made the road experience pleasurable.
The Vibes and the Bacchanal: As I mentioned many times above, the vibes are so crucial in a band experience. With Paparazzi, we had a time! The DJ’s were on point and their energy carried us through from carnival Monday until late Tuesday evening where we ended with a street party and jam session. We literally were not ready to go home when the band did their last lap. As most masqueraders know, there’s always one truck and music crew that catches your ear each season. When you find them, you stick with them throughout the Mas. For us, music truck #4 with DJ Sean XP was pure euphoria. He hit every tune just at the right moment to elevate the vibes. He made our carnival experience even more memorable.
The Overall Experience: Known as the medium sized band with the pure vibes on the road, Paparazzi checked many boxes that would attract any serious carnival reveler. Their all-inclusive experience included full costumes for both days, breakfast and lunch, unlimited drinks, security and of course unmatched energy. Paparazzi’s high-octane atmosphere and diverse group from all across the diaspora made for an unforgettable experience with them on the road. I’m already getting emails and requests for details on next year and I would absolutely recommend them.
They say carnival is contagious and that once you catch it, it’s impossible to let go. As you can see, I’ve caught the bug! Whether you come for the culture, the vibes, the Jouvert, the Mas or all of the above, you’ll feel right at home in Trinidad. As carnival culture continuous to grow, I’ll continue to showcase the variety and options for every reveler. Carnival is more than my pastime, it is my passion and I’ll continue to share stories, insight and content to elevate and enhance the experience for fans and revelers alike. So I guess I’ll see you on the road in 2020 and yes to answer your question, I’m already booked!
Written by Vanessa James. All opinions are my own.
Suffering from carnival tabanca aka withdrawal? A look back at my experience in 2018 with Bliss and The Lost Tribe. Click here or below.
Headed to Jamaica for Carnival this April? You’ll want to check out my review on Cool Runnings in Kingston while you’re in the capitol city. Click below.