Najib Chentouf has been travelling around the world to carnivals for 12 years – returning to one of the most popular, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival 10 times.
His first carnival experience in its true form was Caribana in Toronto, Canada at 15 years old. Although, he didn’t go on purpose and tagged along with his aunt and her friends on a summer road trip from Ohio, Najib fell in love with the experience.
“I purposely went to carnival in 2007, in Trinidad”, he said. “From there, I was pretty much hooked. I’ve always enjoyed soca music but I feel as though it was to the extent that most Bermudians enjoyed it – it was summer music and when the summer was over we’d go back to being reggae fans.”
After returning home, Najib dove into carnival culture and began researching the costumes and the meanings behind them, understanding the music and collecting it and learning about traditional competitions such as stick fighting.
He said: “from there I realised that you can carnival many different ways. You could go and fete in a very upper-class expensive way, spending $100 on a party or you can spend $10 and see the same artist but have a completely different experience. I was very lucky the first time that I went because I really didn’t have much of a set plan so there was a lot of stuff I had stumbled upon. The only thing I really planned was Mas, the parade of bands. I didn’t have fete tickets (I wouldn’t do that now), so I just ended up at events through a very well-established Bermudian carnival network.”
Najib insists that this first adventure gave him perspective and allowed him to appreciate the meaning behind the celebrations more and taught him to properly plan in order to have the best possible experience.
“Something that a lot of people miss about carnival is that it generally takes a lot of organisation. With reference to Bermuda Heroes Weekend, it’s not what Bermudians are accustomed to doing – planning well in advance.
“There are some things that we plan in advance here, like marking a spot on Front Street for your family on Bermuda Day, but that’s what’s been cultured over the years. What I think Bermudians will realise as it continues to grow is that you have to plan your carnival. Whether that’s planning to attend multiple events or it’s getting involved with a band and getting a costume.”
Currently a partner of Intense Mas Band – Najib has played mas with them for the past two carnivals and in terms of Bermuda Heroes Weekend, he still prepares accordingly.
“Normally what the week looks like for me is Drench’d on Wednesday night, Evolve on Thursday, Mas Camp on Friday and Saturday, Raft-up on Saturday along with Pan in the Park, Glow and Pure on Sunday and J’ouvert on Monday morning before the main event — the parade of bands.”
His home is normally packed with guests and they are equipped with a spreadsheet noting everything that has been planned to do; from transportation to the event costs, to dress code, in an effort to try to do as much as possible and have as much fun as possible.
Overall, Najib believes that a good problem that Bermuda’s carnival has is that we are leaps and bounds ahead of what we should be in terms of carnivals.
“It’s growing really fast in terms of popularity but if you look at what our bands are producing in terms of costumes — they are putting out top notch costumes and you don’t find that in many carnivals that are this young,” he said.
This then presents another problem in terms of competition, because Bermudians are highly competitive and leaders have put extreme amounts of money into producing mas bands. He noted that we seem to have skipped a lot of steps.
“We have top notch designs, in an expensive market without the ability to produce them on island. There’s a lot of moving pieces, plus shipping which is difficult in Bermuda which adds to cost. It is difficult for an overseas masquerader because they look at Bermuda and can’t understand why the cost is high, so finding a right blend for Bermuda is a difficult task that band leaders have.”
Running a carnival band proves that organisation is key. Maintaining a customer service element, encouraging people to buy a product while making sure to perfect the experience.
Have you gotten your truck? your box? your local and international DJ’s? airfare, accommodation and work permits for them? — all of these things factor into the experience on carnival Monday.
“The average consumer, without getting any insight into what’s going on behind the scenes wouldn’t know this, so education is necessary in order to understand and appreciate the celebrations,” Najib added.
“If I was to say anything to the Bermuda carnival-goer I would say be aware that we’re going where we haven’t gone before and we’re going in a right direction that is beneficial to our island. We all have to help it get there.”
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 edition of RG Magazine.