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Chante mas (which means "masquerade song") and Lapo kabrit is a form of Carnival music of Dominica. It is performed by masequerading partygoers in a two-day parade, with a lead vocalist (chantwèl), who is followed by the responsorial chorus (lavwa), with drummers and dancers dancing backwards in front of the drummer on a tambou lélé. The Carnival has African and European roots and is otherwise known as Mas Dominik, the most original Carnival in the Caribbean.

Carnival in Dominica is held in the capital city of Roseau, and takes elements of carnival that can be seen in the neighbouring French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. Notable events that take place during the season leading up to carnival include "j'ouvert" the opening of Carnival celebrations, the calypso Monarch music competition, the queen of Carnival Beauty Pageant and bouyon music bands. Celebrations last for the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Dominica's carnival is known to be the most original and least commercialized in the Caribbean giving the carnival its name the original mas

The songs and music were the backbone of Dominica masquerade. It is celebrated by blowing conch shells or horns, beating lapo kabwit (goat skin) drums, iron, cowbell, and shaking the ckak chak (a maracas) while singing folk songs known as chanté mas. The mimicry and ridicule of the costumes were matched by the satire of the songs, which is full of double meaning and innuendo. This pattern is reflected in the Old Street ballads of Dominican masquerade.

As in such West African instances, it was the woman who led the song while the other dancers and onlookers gave the refrain or lavway. In Dominica, she was the chantuelle, and the "chante mas" songs she led were composed during the two or three weeks before Carnival.


Chante mas

The chanté mas (masquerade song) tradition is based around pre-calypso Carnival music performed in a responsorial style by partygoers. Chanté mas lyrics are traditionally based on gossip and scandal, and addressed the personal shortcomings of others. Lyrics are almost all in French creole and are traditionally sung by women (chantwèl), while the instrumental tradition are predominantly practiced by men.

A closely-related aspect of carnival Chante Mas consists of satirical songs that also comments on historical, political, and social issues. Chante mas is related to a similar tradition found among the Fon people of Benin, where songs were used to critique and even ridicule unsociable behavior. In Dominica, chante mas songs provide biting commentary mixed with raunchy humor; innuendo and double meanings are part of the charm. The colorful lyrics are usually in kwcyol, sometimes in English. Targets are local members of the community, politicians or celebrities.

The leader of the chante mas is typically a woman called a chantwelle, who calls the songs while the lavway chorus responds. (The chantwelle and lavways are also found in Trinidadian calypso.) The songs are presented before carnival, and are then repeated for several weeks, with lyrics continuously evolving. 'ITiey are then performed in the days before Mardi Gras, accompanied by the lapo cabwit drums.
Since the 1960s, calypso and steel pan bands have increasingly


Lapo kabwit

Traditional carnival parades in Dominica are accompanied by bands called lapo cabwit (“the skin of the goat”).

These consist of African goat-skin drums, closely linked to the Martinican bele, and which also date from slavery days. The bands are complemented by more conventional bass drums, snare drums, and other percussion instruments.

The Dominican Carnival masquerade lasts for two days of parading through the streets, with a singer dancing backwards in front of the drummer on a tanbou lélé. Traditional instrumentation includes, the lapo kabwit drums, tambou lélé, chak chak (a maracas), scraper-rattle, cowbell, tambourine, triangle, conch shell, iron, and several horn players.


A Decline in tradition

The chanté mas tradition started to become dominated by imported calypso and steel pan music in the early 1960s. After a fire in 1963, the traditional carnival was banned, though calypso and steelpan continued to grow in popularity. Calypso appealed to Carnival-partygoers because the lyrical focus on local news and gossip was similar to that of chanté mas, despite a rhythmic pattern and instrumentation which contrast sharply with traditional Dominican Mas Domnik music.

Though the traditional Chanté mas and Lapo kabrit declined in popularity due to imported calypso and steel pan music, several villages on Dominica, such as Grand Bay, have preserved the unique Dominican tradition. On modern Dominica, Chanté mas and lapo kabrit has become a part of bouyon music.


Tewe Vaval

Tewe Vaval Dominica's dramatic and fiery end to carnival. Tewe Vaval is the symbolic burning of an effigy and a coffin representing the spirit of carnival that takes place annually on Ash Wednesday. There are usually two Tewe Vaval ceremonies; one in the west coast village of Dublanc, the other in the Kalinago village of Bataca.

A large bonfire is lit and young men pluck up the courage to run and jump through the flames. The festivities end with the traditional burning of the effigy and coffin, symbolising the close of carnival celebrations for the year.

Accompanied by chanting and drumming, the effigy and coffin are paraded through the village in the style of a funeral procession. When darkness falls.


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