Carnival — death and resurrection
Carnival Tuesday night, some Carnivals ago, at the western junction of the Savannah, under the samaan tree, I bounced up Earl Lovelace one of our greatest writers—author of The Dragon Can’t Dance. He had just watched the big “bikini and bead band” cross the stage. He said: “I always wondered what happened to Europe’s carnivals. They used to have carnivals like us. How was it possible for all of them to die? Carnival seems so immortal. But Europe’s died. I never understood how. But watching that band cross the stage, for the first time I see how…” Before he finished, I understood.
The producers and consumers of bikini and bead mas—like all the purveyors of the current “Carnival is fete” culture—are completely removed from the “rituals” that produced mas, pan and calypso. What our political and moneyed leaders—and this entire middle class of “feters”—do not understand, is that without the “rituals”, the entire festival will collapse. Someone somewhere has to believe. And less and less people do… And those that do are being strangled of resources. Someone has to believe it’s worthwhile to be in a panyard or a mas camp for 39 nights from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., rather than be in a fete. Somebody has to believe in risking $200,000 on a vision in their head of a story told in mas. Somebody has to believe in something called the Midnight Robber and Fancy Sailor. Rather than being in a fete getting dunk… When that dwindling population of believers reach critical negative mass, the Carnival is over…
When it eventually becomes one big fete without any tradition, then it can be competed against by a bigger fete. Or succumb to any distraction. Faddish distraction can be replaced. Ritual belief does not relinquish its hold so easily. The ascendancy of the ritual-less class and the corresponding pauperisation of the ritual class is the death knell for the T&T Carnival.
How is it that even the most out-of-touch lay person has a better understanding of how Carnival should work more than the people we hire every year to figure it out? Last week I spoke of possible interventions like: establishing secret societies for traditional mas; creating architecturally appropriate houses for each tradition—the House of the Sailors etc. Making Carnival Monday “Acoustic Monday” with only steelband and live band music played. Traditional mas, kings and queens, and village Carnivals will be out in full costume splendour. PTSC could have shuttles taking people to outlying Carnivals. All local TV must cover these community Carnivals equally. Tuesday will be the full blast!
Minshall’s idea is to restrict the big stage to bands numbering 30 to 300 masqueraders with a first prize of $3 million called “The Future of Carnival”—to regenerate costume genius. This should be accompanied by a merit-based (as opposed to welfare-based) grant-funding scheme which honours brilliant submissions. It would work alongside sector venture capital and small business loans and incubators.
Studios can be established for certain old-skills that honour green initiatives like papier mache and mould making. Attention must be placed on creating raw materials currently imported—and which result in delays —like: feathers downstream from our poultry industry; reflectors and beading from our can and plastic waste; and other such elements.
There’s a desperate need to look into the creation of a local swimsuit industry—a tops and bottoms industry—whilst minimising cost of inputs into it. We need to fast-track the creation of mas factories—omnibus mas camps—working year-round on producing mas for the 300 Trini-Style carnivals worldwide. Economies for Laventille and rural areas. There’s work to do.
The creation of the Carnival, steelband and festival museum which will recreate genius costumes from the past—with modern displays—will be the cornerstone of the Renaissance.
I’ve been to panyards. The level of offerings is mediocre. Many bands found problems getting full complements of players. The work ethic of young players is depressing. Panorama would collapse were it not for a handful of very skilled players who play in five to ten bands, hustling money from each. It’s the sound of these players that’s keeping Panorama alive. The flip-side is some players forget which arrangement they are playing! This is not helped by the crisis in arranging with the same scalar runs being repeated ad nauseum.
Where’s the musical genius of pan? Where’s the brilliance of Holman’s “Penny Lane”, Phase II’s “Theme from Exodus”, All Star’s “Woman on de Bass”? All Stars at semis came closest. Where’s the Despers magic? This is 2012. Laventille’s soaked with murder. Despers is exiled to the rim of the Savannah! Where’s the arrangement that speaks from that gut? Where’s the Panorama calypso that speaks to these realties? Where in the entire Panorama are songs and arrangements that speak of rescuing the country from murderous anarchy—that sing of a world where there is the Arab Spring, Kim Kardashian, the world financial collapse, Steve Job, and Mayan prophecies? Where’s music with the terror and sweetness of Jamaican dancehall geniuses Movado and Vybz Kartel, the sonic inventiveness of Kanye West and Jay-Z—a sense of the vastness of the universe?
Where’s music rooted in the best of us, from Kitchener to Sundar to Tanker to Boogsie? If such music was to emerge, it would silence the guns of the gangsters, would have those boys returning to the panyards like their ancestors… They would re-enter society as creative citizens of the mas…
This year, for the first time in decades, in the young soca, such music has started to emerge.