What you need to know about Antigua Carnival

What do you get when you cross Steelpan, Calypso, Soca Music, a Carnival street jump up, and a twin island in the middle of the summer?

The answer is: ANTIGUA CARNIVAL!

Ten-days of celebration in St. John’s, the capital city of the twin island country Antigua and Barbuda, one of the most beautiful sights in the Caribbean. Their festival comes complete with costume parties, beauty pageants, talent shows, and of course lots of great music. One of the most prominent among these events is the Soca competition.

It starts from the last week of July up to the first week of August—practically signaling the end of summer. If I were to choose where to spend the last warm days of my summer before the cold winds start to chill everything up, I’d say in Antigua and Barbuda.

So you’re probably asking, what kind of music gets Antiguan Carnival pumping?

Music of Antigua and Barbuda

Considered as the second home of many Caribbean music genres, Antigua and Barbuda has produced a number of artists in Steeldrum, Zouk, Reggae, and most especially Calypso and Soca Music. Among these, Calypso and Steeldrum are considered to be the most prevalent in today’s Antiguan music scene.

Soca Music is the fastest growing genre in the island thanks to the influence of Trinidad’s Soca scene. Interestingly, these genres are imports from Trinidad and Tobago. Music historians ascribe Antigua’s loss of Antiguan traditions to various and inevitable factors. Regardless, it remains one of the most active in producing and consuming Caribbean Music.

Now that we have established a general look of their music scene, let’s explore the musical events that happen annually within this ten-day summer celebration.

Junior Calypso: Calypso Music Competition for Children of Antigua and Barbuda

English speaking Caribbean have been singing Calypso as an instrument to express societal and political stands by utilizing witty lyrics that only the insiders can understand. Antigua and Barbuda is one of the Caribbean nations who have greatly contributed to Calypso’s growth.

Styler is a Calypsonian artist hailing from Antigua and Barbuda who went into prominence by becoming the first Antiguan Calypso King in 1957. He did not only paved a road for future Antiguans to become more involved in the Calypsonian music, but he also strengthened his countrymen’s patriotism. By 1960’s, Zemaki, and Lord Canary came into the Calypso music scene who both competed for the brightest spotlight during that time. Burning Flames acquired a pan-Caribbean acclaim when the 80’s came cementing Antigua’s inexhaustible source of great Calypsonian artists.

Today, Antigua and Barbuda envisions to continue its legacy by annually hosting a music competition focused in Calypso Music. Aspiring enthusiasts as young as 5 years old can join the competition. Some of the popular artists who have won the said competition includes:

Party Monarch: Soca Music Competition of Antigua and Barbuda

As mentioned earlier, Soca Music is considered to be the fastest rising genre in Antigua and Barbuda. Refusing to get left behind by their Caribbean neighbors, they have ramped up their carnival music scene so much that their Soca Music competition is one of the most attended event in the summer.

To spice things up, they have two categories to compete for—the general “Groovy” segment and the more daring “Up-Tempo” segment. The winner of the competition gets the title ‘Party Monarch’ which is also the official title of the competition.
Some of the more popular artists who have snatched the title are:

Antigua and Barbuda prides the competition as the fastest growing Soca Music competition in the whole West Indies.

In addition to Party Monarch, Jam Bands also play Soca Music during the Antiguan Carnival. Jam Bands are a collection of bands leading the street parade. They provide Soca Music to the street dancers from start to the end of the parade, and sometimes even long after the parade is over. Some popular bands who participate in the parade are:


Panorama: The Steel Pan Competition of Antigua and Barbuda

Aside from Calypso and Soca Music, Steelpan has been a staple music to the people of Antigua and Barbuda. Around a hundred Steel Orchestra, various forms of steelpan, battle it out in a music competition called Panorama.

Popular Steel Band performers are:

  • Gemonites
  • Harmonites
  • Ebonites
  • Hell’s Gate
  • Halcyon
  • East Vybes

Other popular Antiguan artists:

  • John “Quarkoo” Thomas, a benna singer who sang up-to-date stories on legal scandals
  • Patrick “Johnny” Gomes, Soca artist
  • Oscar Mason, an indigenous artist
  • Roland Prince, guitarist
  • Courtney Winter, saxophonist
  • Wendell Richardson, vocalist
  • Charmain Bailey, world jazz vocalist
  • Billy Rose and Wayne Daniel, recording artists
  • Basil Hill, owner of Midas Records

You might also like to see:

Claudette “CP” Peters

Lady Challenger

Toriano “Onyan” Edwards of the Burning Flames

Antiguan music scene