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Calabar carnival is the biggest street party in Nigeria.
This isn’t just any extravagant street party; the Calabar Carnival has metamorphosed into a yearly event that blends dexterity in colors, cultural diversity, choreography skills, musical concepts and costumes of five different bands.
Without doubt, the Calabar Carnival is one of the liveliest parties in West Africa that happen in December. From dusk to dawn, over two million people fill the streets for a fun fiesta. There’s unusual vibrant energy which the dancers exhibit, as they move to the loud music. Women wander round in flamboyant costumes and men prance about in similarly colored outfits. Flashes of colors and bursts of glitters fill every corner of the street, as the bands move around.
If you are there, you’d immediately realize you haven’t seen anything more excitingly colorful before.
How the Calabar Carnival started
The Calabar carnival began in 2004. It was started by then governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke, who had a vision of making Calabar a hub for tourism and hospitality in Nigeria and Africa.
The local heritage and culture of the people of Calabar have a massive influence on the way the carnival is being celebrated. The event has now become a great way to boost tourism and the local economy. The idea was to turn Cross River State into the number-one tourist destination for Nigerians, and West Africans in general.
If you are looking for a great way to party in color this December, then the Calabar Carnival should be next on your list.
About the 2019 Calabar Carnival
The Calabar Carnival is set to hold officially on the 3rd of December, 2019, all the way to the 2nd of January, 2020. The theme for this year’s Calabar Carnival is “Humanity”, which is aimed at promoting the idea that every human has the right to existence. The theme was selected to encourage and charge mankind not to be the source of the problem to another’s person’s life. The emphasis is on the need for humans to shun war and embrace humanity.
The carnival this year is going to be beyond dance and colorful displays, it will focus on passing a message that shows the importance of being human.
At the heart of Carnival are the loud, in-your-face music and dance-all-day-long street parties that would start as early as 12:00 am and end exactly by 11:59 pm. There would be brass bands and vocal groups snaking their way around every block in the street, playing everything to Afro-pop to traditional beats, while the people will sing and dance along, hands up in the air.
As usual, the carnival events will happen in Cross River State, precisely in Calabar. Calabar is the young, lively central city of Cross River where you will find several fun places as well as the best bars and clubs, and local chops selling Nigerian delicacies.
The majority of the events will take place in the Calabar Cultural Centre and the Calabar Stadium, but the parade groups will march through many city streets in Calabar.
What to expect at the Calabar Carnival
There’s a positive energetic, anything-goes vibe across the city during the Carnival period. More than one activity takes place across the city during the carnival period – annual highlights include performances from Calabar’s five major bands, which chugs its way along the street with trumpets and other brass instruments, drawing in crowds of more than 10, 000. Each band is distinguished by different names and colors and has up to five kings and queens that are dressed in large scale costumes which interprets the Carnival’s theme.
Bayside Band (Blue)
The Bayside Band can be distinguished by the color blue and is led by the creator of Calabar Carnival and the former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke. The band allows membership even from foreigners.
Freedom Band (Yellow)
The Freedom band can be identified by the color yellow and has always been ranked as one of the top three bands since the inception of the Calabar carnival in 2004.
Seagull Band (Red)
Seagull Band is recognized by the red color. The band is the most stylish and co-ordinated band. Everything about the band relates to Nigeria and can be likened to its patriotism. They are fiercely proud to show off their roots.
Passion 4 Band (Green)
Passion 4 Band is also called “the Green Band” and is actually the most successful band of all time. It has won the competition more than any other band. The band is one of the most outstanding of all. The band is also the only band that has two sections – one for children and another for adults.
Masta Blasta Band (Orange)
Masta Blasta Band’s color is orange. The Masta Blasta is the largest of all bands with well over ten thousand members from all corners of the world. They are famous for their inclusivity, and how entertaining they can get.
Other festivities that will take place at the 2019 Calabar Carnival
There are other highlights of the carnival apart from the band parades. The events actually follow a sequence.
There are four characteristic parts:
a. The millennium week
b. The sports week
c. The TINAPA Family Festival
d. The carnival week.
The main carnival events occur in the last two weeks of the carnival. In the first three weeks of the carnival, there are musical performances, food competitions, a solidarity march, street parties, fashion shows, a prestigious essay writing competition, art shows, traditional dances and masque events to keep the festivity alive.
Other side attractions to the festival include the Annual Ekpe Masquerade Festival, enormous illuminated UFO floats spinning around and followed by troupe of cultural dancers, performances by J’ouvert Band fetes, the crowning of the Carnival Kings and Queens for each band, the Christmas Party Cultural Carnival, the children’s carnival, and the Mary Slessor Golf Charity Dinner, etc.
Calabar Carnival Sports Week
The Calabar Carnival sports week would happen within the second week of the carnival. There would be a soccer tournament for competitors to win the Carni-Cal Cup during the carnival. Other sporting events include a golf tournament, a boat regatta, and various other sporting events.
Calabar Carnival live music performances
There is no celebration without music. Many musical concerts would happen throughout carnival, featuring performances by local and international acts including Fat Joe, Young Jeezy, Nelly, Kirk Franklin, 2 Face Idibia and the former P-Square brothers. Other local Nigerian artists you probably haven’t heard of would be given an opportunity to perform too.
Calabar Carnival African Food Expo
The Calabar Carnival African Food Expo is an absolute highlight of the carnival. There would be many amazing meals you can enjoy and most likely would be something you’ve never had before. The air would be filled with so many intoxicating aromas and you won’t be short on options.
Calabar Carnival Christmas
Since the Calabar Carnival takes place during the month of December, a lot of Christmas festivities get infused in the carnival activities.
Carnival Week is the final week of Calabar Carnival and this is when most of the highlights take place. This is the week that draws the most tourists. Some of the more popular events include:
27th December: The Bikers parade occurs in the morning
27th December: Miss Africa beauty pageant occurs in the eventing
28th December: Calabar Street Parade & Band of the Year Competition
29th December: Wonders on Wheels occurs in the evening in Calabar Stadium and displays vintage cars
30th December: Green Carnival occurs in the morning and displays actions favorable for the environment. The event culminates in a street party held in the evening.
31st December: New Year’s Eve Fire Works display.
The Calabar Carnival Parade
The carnival is more than just a big street party. The carnival is about displaying the best of Africa’s culture and heritage. Every year, the theme guides all the carnival bands who have to interpret and then represent it through their costumes, music, dances, floats, and displays.
The Calabar Carnival Parade features up to 50,000 costumed revelers who perform in five major carnival bands and 10 non-competing bands. The carnival groups compete against each other to win the ‘Best Band’ title.
The parade takes place over a 12km parade route. There is color, sparkle, DJs, live musicians, steel bands, incredible floats and costumes. As all these go on, hundreds of thousands spectators line up the streets to watch the parade and the electrifying atmosphere.
The Carnival Parade terminates at the UJ Esuene Stadium and is followed by the award ceremony for the ‘Band of the Year’. At the stadium, expert judges hand out various awards for categories in costumes, music, floats, choreography and the title for the prestigious “Band of the Year”.
Other things not to miss while in Calabar this December
It’s not just the carnival that gives Calabar its appeal. Of course there are many other attractions the city has to offer. If you can take a moment away from the parties, there are plenty more to see.
It has an inviting gorgeous beach at the edge of the pool which it flows into. Somewhere, you can have a picnic, while watching the sparkling waterfall.
Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort:
Tinapa Leisure and Business Resort was created to give tourists an ideal vacation. It is located by the Calabar River. The facility offers many forms of exciting entertainment.
Cross River National Park:
The Cross River National park is an eco-tourism destination. It is one of the most preserved tropical rainforests in West Africa. For the adventurous, while here, you can watch rare birds and animals in their natural tropical rainforest habitat.
Obudu Mountain Resort:
The Obudu Mountain Resort is a popular tourist destination located in the highlands of Cross River State. The Obudu Mountain resort has a serene and picturesque environment worth visiting.
The Agbokim Waterfalls has seven streams and each cascades over a steep cliff.
It is a quiet spot recommended for an afternoon relaxation away from the city’s partying moments.