An interview by Kimberly Wilson for Essence.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who understands how special it is to revel in the glory of feteing and playing mas during Carnival, then you know the experience is one to be treasured. For Kandi King, she has not only made it her life—but her livelihood…and a successful one at that.
After attending her first carnival in Trinidad, she later realized how difficult it was to have a premiere experience if you didn’t know the ins and outs of the carnival scene, so she sought to make it easier for other revelers. While Airbnb is always a favorite option for accommodation, navigating costumes choices, fetes, bands and more can be overwhelming—even for veteran carnival-goers.
Through her company, Karnival by Kandi, King is a carnival concierge offering first-timers and veterans the experience of a lifetime. Now, five years later, she’s become the “King” of carnival, and her business is only growing—now extending beyond Jamaica and Trinidad to other carnivals internationally.
The Jamaica native talked to ESSENCE about why Jamaica Carnival should be on your radar, how she’s become an “it” girl, and what makes Xaymaca so special after all.
ESSENCE: You’re known as the go-to carnival girl in the Caribbean. How did you first get involved?
Kandi King: Growing up, we always had carnival as part of our culture. For many, it was because our parents were involved with it, but It wasn’t really what it is now. It actually was much more unifying at the time because people of all social classes used to participate, versus now, which we don’t really have in Jamaica. Once I got to an age where I could participate in a carnival, I did. When I got to a stage where I could afford to go to Trinidad, I did. My first Trinidad Carnival was in 2011 or 2012, and when I came back the following year a couple of people asked me if I could help to go. And every year I started helping more and more people. Then I became known as the girl you call when you want to go to carnival. So, I started a carnival concierge service called “Karnival by Kandi,” and I would create packages that would help people get to carnival around the region. I started it in 2014 as a paid service and that’s how I got my start in the industry.
ESSENCE: What sets Jamaica apart from all of the other carnivals?
King: Honestly it’s the price point. We don’t have the economy that Trinidad has. So you get the Trinidad experience but for a lower price point here in Jamaica. So that has been a big part of why it has grown significantly. Outside of that, it’s just really fun. As a differentiating factor for Jamaica, we have lots of unique activities like caves, waterfalls and beaches that enhance the experience during carnival. So you almost get a two for one vacation experience.
ESSENCE: If I’m a first-timer attending carnival, what do I get through the Karnival by Kandi experience?
King: We offer flights, accommodations, party tickets, costumes and transportation. You can mix and match any of those things. What I try to deliver is a seamless carnival experience for each of the masqueraders. I do five carnivals around the region: Jamaica, Trinidad, Cayman, Miami, and Barbados. For Trinidad, I typically have over 100 clients, and for Jamaica as well I now have over 100 clients, and they all request a combination of those services.
ESSENCE: What in your opinion, is the best carnival experience in the Caribbean?
King: Trinidad, for sure. It is the mecca of all carnivals. It’s the one you have to go to before you go to the others. It’s the one that will make you understand what carnival is. That’s really the one with the best experience, carnival-wise. But Jamaica is right behind it.
ESSENCE: As director of Xaymaca, what makes that mas band special?
King: As I mentioned, I’ve had the reputation as thee carnival girl in Jamaica. In 2016 Andrew Bellamy brought the idea for Xaymaca to a couple of people, myself included, and he asked if we were interested in starting a band here in Jamaica. Of course, we all were. The seven of us then became the directors of the band. That’s how I became a director. As far as Xaymaca is concerned, we don’t care to be the biggest band in the world, or even in Jamaica. We focus on the experience, and that is our selling point. We want you to have the best carnival experience when you come to Jamaica. Every touchpoint for our masqueraders — from registration to the road — everybody will have a good time and a seamless experience. We want to make sure that everyone who is in the band, has a really good time.
ESSENCE: What are your tips for first-timers on the road in Jamaica?
King: It has a tendency to rain in Jamaica, but as carnival masqueraders we are never afraid of rain. It’s also extremely hot — so sunblock, sunblock, sunblock! The route is also very long, so wear comfy shoes. I also recommend masqueraders to wear stockings or fishnets just to give you an extra layer — you’re rubbing up on people all day, and you’re probably going to sit down on the floor. This will help to protect you from germs. And just come prepared to have a mind-blowingly good time. It always exceeds everyone’s expectations and we get that feedback all the time.
ESSENCE: What are your top fete picks for 2019 Jamaica Carnival?
King: My top three would be: Moonshine on Tuesday, Sunrise Breakfast on Saturday morning and the PM Fete on Saturday night.