The bands’ trumpets and trombones have been popular in Aruba since the 1950s and come to the fore during the island’s spectacular annual carnival, this year marking its 60th anniversary. Events are already underway and reach their peak with the grand carnival parade in capital Oranjestad on March 2.
Brass bands play throughout the carnival season and originated in the 1950s as community bands, largely playing marching music for official occasions. It was in the 1960s that a band was formed to play during carnival. The founders acquired a set of instruments, recruited musicians and started to improvise, looking for the rhythm best suited to carnival. The band made its debut in 1967.
For years, brass bands assembled at one of Aruba’ stadiums one evening during carnival season for a musical battle. At stake was a band’s reputation for musical skill and the endurance needed to maintain the complicated rhythm required for carnival.
This tradition has ended but the best of the season is still awarded the Brass Band of the Year title and each year at least six bands line up for the challenge.
Unlike other musical groups, brass bands often dissolve and later join up in a different formation. As a rule, this type of music appeals to the island’s younger musicians, many of them honing their musical skills with a band before progressing their artistic career.
Aruba’s carnival – or carnaval as it is known locally – is a months-long period of frenetic celebration including queen elections, road marches, tumba (a local music style with its origins in Africa but in its modern-day form influenced by meringue and Latin jazz) and calypso contests, parties and jump-ups, all leading to a dazzling Lighting Parade and Grand Parades in capital Oranjestad and the island’s second city of San Nicolas.
With events reaching their height between January and March, carnival is enjoyed by young and old, with locals delighting in visitors also enjoying the free shows. ‘Carnaval’
In Aruba, parades consist of 15 to 20 carnaval groups, each with its own theme reflected by their floats and extravagant costumes. Participants spend months on creating their glittery – and, often barely-there – costumes, some of which are so immense that their trails are put on wheels. Each group shimmies to the beat of its own band playing on a lorry moving with them and infusing the thousands of spectators along the route with their energy.