“Scene to Watch: Borderless Sounds” ft. Carnival Routes

“Scene to Watch: Borderless Sounds” ft. Carnival Routes

As the global community where 20 million creators from 190 countries share their sounds with the world every day, SoundCloud connects artists, bridges genres and pushes traditional music boundaries to create change. “Borderless Sounds” celebrates the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly by spotlighting five global music scenes that show how sounds can come together to create new genres and drive music culture forward, across timezones and borders.

Scene to Watch: Carnival Routes

Guest post by Eddie Stats Houghton*

The tradition of “Carnival” has survived so many eras and crossed so many oceans that it’s almost impossible to define it as a single thing. But if there is one theme that unites Carnival celebrations across the globe, it’s the idea of the “reversal ritual” – the moment when “up” becomes “down,” the taboo is expected, and the usual rules are suspended. In hundreds of cities throughout the world, Carnival is an interlude – when traffic stops and the people in the street take charge for a week or a month, and partying becomes a full-time job. 

While on paper, Carnival is a Chrisitan tradition: the last feast before the fasting period of Lent (carne vale translates to “goodbye to meat” in Latin), it’s rooted in pagan origins. The Church Fathers initially condemned this celebration of the end of winter called “Spurcalia,” before realizing, if you can’t beat them – join them. And so, the feast became the precursor to Ash Wednesday, known today as Shrovetide, Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras.

As trade and imperial expansion spread across the New World, this celebration of reversal became the only space where the suppressed drums and dances of the African Diaspora could take full expression. Cross-pollinating with European and Indigenous traditions gave rise to a variety of syncretic forms and characters, from the Blue Devils of Trinidad to the masked Touloulous of French Guiana to the Wild Tchoupitoulas of New Orleans. Mock battles, straw kings burned in effigy, and other Carnival traditions invigorated the old rituals of reversal with the energy of emancipation. In the colonial Caribbean, Carnival surpassed sanctioned holidays, becoming the high point of the yearly calendar, rather than just an interlude between seasons. 

In another beautiful reversal, this version of Carnival has even achieved a reconquestida of sorts, proliferating across five continents and countless islands, from the tip of Latin America to the Indian Ocean. West Indian Carnivals have sprung up in London (Notting Hill), Toronto (Caribana), and New York (Labor Day’s West Indian Day parade, also known as Brooklyn Carnival). Meanwhile, Carnivals in Brazil (Rio De Janeiro) and Trinidad (Port of Spain) compete for the claim to the “world’s largest street party.” 

The full catalog of Carnival-inspired music would be practically endless, encompassing everything from steel drum bands to Hector Lavoe’s salsa classic “La Murga De Panama” to Gabo Szabo’s “Bacchanal” to Kool & The Gang’s “Caribbean Festival.” In the jet age, Carnival traditions have syncretized even further. Toronto’s Caribana is dominated by the sound of St. Vincent-based Fimba. French Caribbean Zouk shapes Angolan Kuduro, which in turn inspires St. Lucia’s Dennery Segment. Kuduro has also found second homes in Lisbon and Rio – even as Brazilian samba has been incorporated into the carnival traditions of Goa, India. As 2020 approaches, Carnival culture is in an entirely appropriate state of joyful overload. Even as a full-time job, partying to it all could take forever.

Forever’s a long time, but you can start to scrape the surface with Carnival Routes – the last playlist in our “Borderless Sounds” series with the United Nations. Missed a post? You can still hop borders from the comfort of your headphones by accessing past playlists on the blog.


“Scene to Watch” is the newest extension of SoundCloud’s To Watch programming that gives you a heads-up on who and what should be on your radar. Because from artists to DJs to scenes: what’s next in music is first on SoundCloud.

*Born in NYC and raised in Detroit, Eddie “STATS” Houghton has made a name breaking international sounds in the US both as a DJ and music journalist since the early 1990s. His work has appeared in FADER, GQ, Pitchfork, RBMA, Interview Magazine, Vogue, and Okayplayer, where he was editor-in-chief and helped launch the Caribbean culture channel LargeUp. He has DJed embassy events in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Armenia at the invitation of the US State Dept. He currently curates music content for the Vibrations community on SoundCloud.