My earliest memories consist of watching my grandmother, her sisters, and brothers wine to the wee hours of the morning to tiny whiny and various old school soca tunes. I often joke that soca is the techno of black music. If you want to hang at a soca jam it requires stamina. There is no standing on the walls there is no chilling off to the side. Soca envelopes you.

In 2016 I attended Trinidad’s carnival for the first time. Being of Caribbean descent, carnival, soca music, and the culture, in general, was very familiar. This trip was special because it was the first time that I experienced this culture fully embraced by society. In Toronto you have Caribana and it’s fun but the city tolerates Caribana because it brings in so much money. In New York you have the West Indian Labor Day parade and that’s a good time except for that time I almost got ran over by a cop trying to disperse crowds. New York also seems to tolerate the West Indian Day parade. But Trinidad is down for the whole thing. Municipal buildings are closed carnival in Trinidad. This is a nationwide celebration. Throughout the days leading up to the Mas, You can hear various steel pan ensembles practicing throughout Port au Spain from late at night till the early hours of the morning. You can peek into storefronts that are filled with costumes in various states of completion.

To experience that particular version of carnival was a freedom that I had never ever seen. One of the great things about it is that it’s a multi-generational event So you see your grandma, your auntie’s, the children everybody participating. The whole place shuts down just to have this release. It’s a celebration of color, movement, dancing, everything and it seems like everyone understands that this releases imperative to the workings of society.

Waiting to get through customs I conversed with a gentleman who told me he had been slowly upping his intake and alcohol so that he could be ready for the amount of fetes that he was going to have. A fetes a party, or lively gathering, for many of them the ticket price includes food and liquor. You have breakfast fetes, boat fetes, dinner fats lunch fest pre carnival fetes etc. Throughout carnival you’ll often see people with multiple plastic bracelets that act as tickets to various fetes.

Before we get into these lovely bodies and reminders of warm sunlight on our skin, let’s get into the history of the celebration. Carnival is a Christian festive season that occurs before the liturgical season of Lent.The main events typically occur during February or early March, during the period historically known as (or Pre-Lent). Carnival typically involves public celebrations, including events such as parades, public street parties and other entertainments, combining some elements of a circus. Elaborate costumes and masks allow people to set aside their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity.Participants often indulge in excessive consumption of alcohol, meat, and other foods that will be forgone during upcoming Lent.

From an anthropological point of view, carnival is a reversal ritual, in which social roles are reversed and norms about desired behavior are suspended.

And like most things in this region of the world black folks got a hold of carnival and took it to the next level, these elaborate multi-day celebrations. They were not invited to the ceremonies of their masters and would put on their own festivals making fun of their masters and so this became a partially satirical event.

This whole experience got me really thinking about the idea of being completely free losing one’s inhibitions and being able to practice ceremony without judgment, over-policing, or unnecessary parameters. Basically, what’s it like to be free? How do we cultivate ways in which we can perpetually tap into that experience?

Years later many some of the images I shot on this experience would be used for various design projects particularly for Machell Montana’s soca volume one and soca volume two both of these design projects sit extremely dear to my heart as they depict current visual representations of us by us. They depict rarely publicly displayed cross-generational expressions of freedom and joy within blackness.

I’m reflecting on this experience in a chilly 23 degree Philadelphia artist space. I’m sharing this because in a time where it’s so challenging to gather, be around people and share this type of energy I hope these images serve as a reminder that it exists and It’s part of our narrative.