For the past 54yrs the history of the festival you have to step back in time to 1 August 1834 when slavery was abolished. People immediately celebrated by taking to the streets to celebrate their freedom and express their joy and happiness. Over the years there was a return to this informal celebration until 1957 when the Old Time Christmas Festival, a festival of much culturally significance, was replaced in 1957 by a Trinidadian-inspired Carnival. The Antiguan Christmas Festival included several elements that have been adopted into the modern Carnival.
Christmas Festival traditions include both music and dance, especially related to masquerades and iron bands. The highland fling is a common Christmas Festival dance, also played in the modern Carnival, performed by people wearing Scottish kilts, masks made of wire and bearing whips of cowhide. Dancers wearing banana leaves and animal horns took part in the John Bull, while carolers paraded with long poles covered in lanterns, called carol trees, singing with accompaniment by the concertina. Stilt dancers in robes, called the Moko Jumbie, Jumpa-Ben or Long Ghosts, were also common, and were accompanied by kettle and bass drums, fife, triangle (cling-a-ching) and the boompipe, made from a plumbing joint one meter long.
There are several different musical forms featured during Carnival. Calypso, the oldest, has its roots in slavery; a common explanation of its origins is that it began as a way for slaves, who were forbidden to speak in the fields, to communicate with each other. It is a polyglot, improvisational form that depends largely upon the skill of a soloist, (the calypsonian) who weaves the sounds of many cultures into a lyrical whole. Calypso competitions have long been a highlight of Carnival.
Steel drum music was created when the bamboo percussion instruments traditionally used to back up calypso were replaced by hammered steel pans cut from oil drums. Whereas there is no dispute that the steel pan was developed in Trinidad, the indigenous development of the steel band in Antigua and Barbuda was an outgrowth of the iron bands which were prominent at Christmas time. Steel drum music has been an important part of Carnival since that time, and Antigua is home to many of the Caribbean's finest steel bands. Soca is a musical form that grafts the slower beat of American soul music to the upbeat tempos of calypso. Soca began in the 1970s, and by the middle of the 1980s it had become an integral feature of Carnival.
Jouvert celebrations are the true spirit of our freedom from emancipation. This celebration brings out the ultimate party atmosphere that cannot be found anywhere else in the world but on the streets of St. John's, Antigua. It is a blend of steel pan music and jam bands playing the hottest music on demand. Jouvert is that ultimate event where the 'king of the road' or 'Road March' tune is selected. This is when you are urged to leave all your inhibitions at home and come out to fete and frolic, eat, drink and be merry while having and unforgettable Antiguan and Barbudan good time.