The sound of a beating drum can be heard from miles away, a chorus of voices ring across the city echoing from every corner. The crowd erupts in large cheers as dancers thrill them with movements that are pleasing on the eye. Oh and the drums, these drums when played resemble the inflexion of the voice. The traditional African dances are performed by dancers adorned in vibrant colourful attires with smiles on their faces.
For a carnival, you’re going to pull out all the stops because each purpose demands a different dance style. No, this is not your average gathering, it’s the much famed Calabar Carnival.
Origin. You know you’re doing something right when your festival is tagged ” Africa’s Biggest Street Party”. The first-ever Calabar Carnival was initiated in 2004 by the then governor of Cross River State, Mr Donald Duke. His vision was clear, the state would go on to become a hub for tourism and hospitality in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The Calabar Carnival isn’t just any fancy street party, rather it has metamorphosed into a yearly event that blends dexterity in colours, cultural diversity, choreography skills, musical concepts and costumes of five different bands.
Location. The Calabar Carnival has become an annual state event to look forward to and takes place each year on the 26th of December often lasting till the 31st. It is a high point of the series of activities organized by the Cross River State Government to celebrate both the end of the year and the Christmas season. The carnival takes place in Calabar, a city in Cross River State, in the coastal South-Eastern part of Nigeria. The city in itself enjoys two springs of water; The Calabar And Great Kwa Rivers and the Creeks Of The Cross River.
Attire. The Carnival has always been a showcase of talents, the performing arts and culture, and an exciting rallying point not only for residents and indigenes living away from home but also a host of foreign tourists from different countries around the world. An array of colourful and interesting costumes are usually on parade at the Calabar Carnival. The different groups wear attires symbolizing different spheres of societal constructs. A quite wonderful sight to behold, it’s no surprise tourists swarm the place during the carnival season.
Colour. The Calabar Carnival filled with enthusiasm, colour, and glamour has attracted millions of tourists, who gathered in the city of Calabar to see this spectacle. The aesthetics of colour use at the carnival is both personal and corporate, incorporating traditional African colour symbolism as well as individuals’ perceptions about what is global. In 2019, Freedom band, a troop known for its vibrant yellow attire, emerged winner of the 2019 Carnival Calabar, fifteen years since the festival started.
Bands. At the Carnival, annual highlights include performances from Calabar’s five major bands; Bayside, Freedom, Seagull, Passion 4 and Masta Blasta. The Bayside Band can be distinguished by the colour blue and is led by the creator of Calabar Carnival and the former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke. The Freedom band can be identified by the colour yellow and has always been ranked as one of the top three bands since the inception of the Calabar carnival in 2004. Seagull Band is recognized by the red colour and is the most stylish and co-ordinated band. The Passion 4 Band, also called “the Green Band” is actually the most successful band of all time. Masta Blasta Band’s colour is orange and is the largest of all bands with well over ten thousand members from all corners of the world.
Themes. Since its inception in 2004, there has been a theme for each year. And since 2015, the Carnival Calabar themes have been of the present-day relevance and global in appeal. 2015 saw the focus shift to “Climate Change” and the theme was again maintained in 2016, designed to entrench the culture of preserving the environment and emphasize the effect of doing so on individual lives. The 2017 theme tagged “Migration” addressed sensitive issues such as Slavery and Colonization. 2018 followed with ‘Africanism’ telling Africa’s story from an African perspective before we were ushered into ‘Humanity’ in 2019. A theme coined to challenge mankind that every human being has a right to existence.
Beauty. The beauty of the Calabar Carnival is quite simply breathtaking and unmatched in all of Africa. One could argue that the beauty of Nigeria is wholly expressed in the Calabar Festival. The stunning sights leave tourists wowed. You simply have to see it for yourself because words don’t quite do it justice. Also showcasing the beauty of the carnival other than the band parades are the weekly highlights. These events actually follow a sequence. From ‘The millennium week’ to ‘The sports week’ then to ‘The TINAPA Family Festival’ and a final pit stop at ‘The carnival week’.
Ecotourism. The Calabar carnival was born on the premise that it would become the number one tourist destination for Nigerians and tourists all over the world. There’s so much to see starting from the soaring plateaus of the mountain tops of Obudu to the Rain forests of Afi, then to the Waterfalls of Agbokim and Kwa to the spiralling ox-bow Calabar River. These nature gifts provide sights and images of the Tinapa Business Resort, Calabar Marina, Calabar Residency Museum and the Calabar Slave Park along its course. There is always a thrilling adventure awaiting the eco-tourist visiting Cross River State.
Without an iota of doubt, the Calabar Carnival is the biggest, best and longest tourism event in West Africa. It attracts over two million revellers and features participants from over 25 different countries. And like old wine, it keeps getting better as the years go by. The global phenomenon currently boasts of 35 countries and 20 Nigerian states showcasing their culture at the carnival. Included in its many positives, the carnival also boasts of a platform for the youths to engage themselves. It is drama on the move; all the elements of theatre are found in it. And as time goes on, it will become a rallying point for people all around the globe.