Just outside Victoria station in London stands a miniature of the House of Commons’ clock tower. Nicknamed ‘Little Ben’, it’s painted black, but it has a silver-painted twin 5,000 miles away that adorns the capital of Seychelles, also called Victoria. Known there as l’Horloge, the ornate monument is the centre point of the town and a useful reference point, though it would take some skill to get lost – Victoria is one of the world’s smallest capitals.
The clock tower is also the focal point for Seychelles’ biggest annual celebration: the Carnaval International de Victoria, which takes place this year from 8th to 10th February. The event is only in its third year but it has already made a name for itself far beyond the Indian Ocean and attracted a strong following, who appreciate its easygoing tropical ambience. Perhaps the best accolade came when neighbouring Mauritius decided to copy the concept last year for its Flic en Flac Carnival. Imitation – even a pale imitation – is the sincerest form of flattery!
Seychelles bills its event as ‘the carnival of carnivals’, because it offers a taste of some of the major carnivals and festivals from around the world. From Trinidad, Lima Calbio is back by popular demand – she’s probably the best-known soca singer in the Indian Ocean now – the Notting Hill Roadshow Company is sending a selection from London’s best mas bands, and a Brazilian delegation is promised too. Those three would be enough to light up any party on the road, but around 20 countries should be taking part, including groups from Belgium – for the first time – Italy, India, China, Indonesia, South Korea, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion.
Notting Hill’s masqueraders stole the show last year and won first prize in 2011 too, while Lima wowed the audiences for the stage events, but it was Mason’s Travel that deservedly won top local honours in 2012. They’ll be taking part again, but the Seychellois have adopted a positively Caribbean spirit of rivalry and competitiveness when it comes to mas. Another local group, JJ Spirit Foundation, has thrown down the gauntlet, with executive director Eddie Charles declaring boldly: “Take note – JJ Spirit is coming for its first win.”
Soca News’s Indian Ocean correspondent will be on hand to see if Eddie can make good that claim and will be bringing you rest of the action on the road and off it in this distant, but passionate, outpost of the carnival spirit.