During carnival my social media timelines floods with messages about everything related to the celebration. Messages about carnival in London, Rotterdam, Brooklyn, Aruba, Sint Maarten, Statia, Trinidad or any other place in the transnational Caribbean, usually refer to Soca music in some way or another. One thing I learned throughout the years while visiting different carnivals, is the indispensible presence of Soca music. To enjoy Caribbean carnival, you have to enjoy Soca.
During the taping of a film about Statia that I made with fifth grade students, I learned something new about carnival and it’s relation to Soca. As their teacher I asked the students to visualize how they would introduce their island to a stranger. They decided that they needed to make a film that explained their island and its way of life through local festivities. The film included music, visual storytelling and drama. For every important local festivity the students wrote, directed and enacted a scene. Combined these scenes present their version of Statia. In every one of these scenes the story of global connections is present as the world is present in Statia. It has always been this way. But this presence of the world is heightened during carnival season when young people from other islands in the region visit Statia, and Statians from all over the world come home to admire the parade and enter the pagaent.
In the film the students enacted local carnival. They selected a Soca song about carnival, changed into their leisure wear and danced in procession down the road. While recording that scene they shared that carnival is about celebrating what you already have been gifted with, and what is yet to come. And I learned that it is specifically the task of Soca to put this energy into motion.
When you carefully listen to how children interpret the cryptic and subliminal messages they find in songs, you’ll often hear an optimistic take on things. For example, when life is challenging, acknowledge that “nobody said this woulda be easy” but the key is to stay determined and trust that thing will get better eventually. During Statia’s recent carnival this very determination was a message expressed by a fifteen year old artist from Trinidad and Tobago, Aaron Duncan. During a radio-interview he reached to the microphone to send a message to Statian youth: Never give up. Let your parents support you, because without them we cannot accomplish what we want. Anything is possible. But God is most important.
While carnival and Soca music for many go together with intoxication and ‘winin’, for others it might be about personal growth, releasing worries and celebrating freedom. The youth on Statia proved to me that one does not need to exclude or condemn the other. They go together like all the other seemingly contradicting elements of life.
This post was also featured in the august 2018 newsletter of the Caribbean Studies Association.
 It's Carnival, by Destra
 Better Days, by Aaron Duncan