Trinidad and Tobago fest
Women take part in the Trinidad and Tobago carnival in 2013Getty

The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is one of the biggest events in the Caribbean calendar, with thousands flocking to the islands to see the glittering costumes and energetic celebrations.

Taking place every year on the two days before Ash Wednesday, the street party sees an array of costumed bands take the streets. This year, the carnival will take place on 16 and 17 February.

The tradition dates back to the late 18th century, with French plantation owners organising masquerades and balls before the fasting of Lent. Labourers and slaves who were unable to take part in the carnival formed their own parallel celebration called Canboulay, from the French cannes brulées, meaning burnt cane, which became the precursor to modern celebrations.

Calypso

Traditionally, the festival is associated with calypso music, but this has more recently been replaced with Soca music. Costumes, stick-fighting and limbo competitions are important components of the carnival.

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival 2012
The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival in 2012Reuters

Calypso music developed in Trinidad in the 17th century from the West African Kaiso and canboulay music brought by African slaves sent to the Caribbean island to work on sugar plantations. The music was used as a form of communication between slaves but many early calypsos were sung in French Creole by an individual called a griot. Over time, the role of the griot became known as a chantuelle and then a calypsonian.

Steelpan

In response to the Canboulay Riots – when the descendants of freed slaves on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago protested against attempts by the British police to crack down on aspects of the carnival – stick fighting and African percussion music was banned in 1881.

They were replaced by bamboo "Bamboo Tamboo" sticks beaten together, which were themselves banned in turn. In 1937, pans, dustbin lids and oil drums were used a percussion and became a popular section of Canboulay music contests. In 1941, the arrival of the US Navy on Trinidad, steel pan music became popular among soldiers – which led to its international popularity today.