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The Five Disciplines of Carnival

There are five key disciplines that together create the spirit of carnival. They are masquerade, steel pan, calypso, Soca and sound systems. See below for more details on the five elements that make up the roots of carnival culture.

Notting Hill Carnival street parade.

Steel Pan

Steel pan was the first style of music represented at the Carnival. The steel pan is the original musical instrument of Trinidad and is either placed on a stand or carried in front of the musician hanging on a strap that goes around the neck. The steel pan has its origin in the African skin drum.

The steel pan, made from a steel drum, was born through experimentation with empty milk cans, large paint pans, butter tins, garbage can covers, caustic soda drums, motor car hubs and anything made of metal.

BAS - British Association of Steelbands. Pan Podium

Watch news footage of Trinidad & Tobago's 2013 Panorama winners Phase II.


Calypso is the traditional music of Trinidad and a development of the West African heritage of the Caribbean culture. As the common language of carnival, calypso can verbally illustrate the social commentary of everyday life.

Kaiso (Calypso) started as verbal sparring using the lyrics as narrative to humourously debate news and social commentary with cleverly concealed political subtext.

ABC - Association of British Calypsonians

Mighty Sparrow, Roaring Lion and Lord Kitchener talk about the history of calypso.


Soca is the modern evolution of calypso, a livelier and jazzier music that grew out of Calypso's waning years during the 1970s. It is an inclusive form of calypso with Indian, soul, funk and disco enriching the experience.

CMA - Caribbean Music Association


The word mas is derived from the French masquerade. The first Carnivals were more about the music and the street partying, and the first carnival costumes did not hit the streets of Notting Hill until the Carnival of 1973. The Mas dancers wear fabulously decorated costumes evoking the spirit of Carnival.

J'ouvert (joo-VAY) is the start to the Carnival celebrations. It begins in the pre-dawn hours of Carnival Monday and lasts until daybreak. J'ouvert (which is a Creole corruption of the French Jour Ouvert - day opening) is also known as 'dirty mas' and is an opportunity for masqueraders to party covered in mud, chocolate or anything messy. Once the sun rises they clean up and don fabulous costumes. Notting Hill Carnival's first J'ouvert took place in 2004.

CAMF - Carnival Arts and Masquerade Foundation

Trevor McDonald visits Trinidad Carnival to see how costumes and steel pans are made.

Sound Systems

The Static Sound Systems blasting Jamaican, African and other music from the beds of trailers strategically placed along the route are the last keystone of the Notting Hill Carnival experience. There are about 35 of these systems on the Carnival route every year and they are usually the same ones year on year.

The static systems came into being during the 1970s and were initially unwelcome. Today they are undoubtedly the biggest crowd pleasers, with many coming for the 'rave' atmosphere, rather than the route carnival itself.

BASS - British Association of Sound Systems

A costumed masquerader at London's Notting Hill Carnival

A costumed masquerader at London's Notting Hill Carnival

Play Pan

Tabernacle and bass pans

Steel pan bands provide the live music in the carnival procession. The National UK Panorama Championships kicks off Notting Hill Carnival weekend.

Play Mas

Notting Hill Carnival costume

Mas is short for masquerade. The first carnival costumes appeared at Notting Hill Carnival in 1973.