Carnival — of genius and ceremony
I’m still putting my thoughts on this year’s Carnival in perspective—so hold this plate of pelau in the meantime…
I’ve been a judge at many Trini competitions: Soca Monarch, NACC calypso shows, private sector, government and national art competitions. In these competitions I’ve found certain patterns.
There’re always some competitors who are very bad. So bad you wonder how no one from their family, friends or neighbourhood ever intercepted them and told them they should stop what they’re doing—immediately—before embarrassing everyone on a national level.
Then there’re the obviously brilliant talents. Clearly ahead of everyone else. These people understand their craft. Their mastery of materials is exceptional. They grasp the history and tradition of their form. They are rooted, yet global. Their work just works. Many are natural geniuses, without formal training. These two groups—the very good and the very bad—have the same numbers. They’re a small bunch.
What is plentiful in T&T competitions is the mediocre, the bland and the boring—people who learned the rules, but have absolutely no poetic bones in their body applying them. They are dull. They’re the students who read the book teacher said to read, repeated what the book said, enough to pass the test. The majority are like this. Mediocre. Instantly forgettable.
Normally my scorecards look like this: in a field of 100—with marks out of 100—ten people are soooo bad they get fewer than ten marks! About ten people score over 80—about three are absolute genius… The vast majority—80 per cent—score between 48 and 52 points, with just a decimal point separating them! There is hardly anything separating their mediocrity!
Why have I spent so much time talking about this? Because listening to those boring essays passing as calypsoes at Dimanche Gras showed me again that our judges are failing us. Our gatekeepers have been promoting the 80 per cent mediocre—at the expense of the ten per cent genius. I know this because in the competitions I’ve judged, my scorecard differs greatly from the judges around me who are using criteria other than excellence to judge art…
The collapse of Trinidad and Tobago’s culture is due to the advancement of mediocrity by elite gatekeepers in media, Government and the private sector. One result has been the collapse of the competitions that came from the belly of the people.
I am making two cases here. One is the importance of genius to civilisation. The other is about the brilliance of Trinidad and Tobago’s civilisation which evolved certain competitions connected to our soul to keep us healthy. Destroying these competitions destroys the community.
First let’s talk about genius. We in Trinidad and Tobago do not understand how the world works. We don’t understand that the whole point of all civilisations is the facilitation of genius. Subtract the works of geniuses from any civilisation, you realise what a wasteland that nation will be, how much it depends on genius for life.
Let’s deal with my percentages. What is America in the last century if we subtract just ten geniuses from it? Not ten per cent. Just ten. Steve “Apple Computer” Jobs; Michael Jordan; Jim “Sesame Street and the Muppets” Henson; Steven Spielberg; Louis Armstrong; Elvis Presley; Frank Lloyd Wright—the architect; Walt Disney; James Brown; and Michael Jackson…
Subtract those people from America, and all of a sudden America’s footprint in the world is reduced substantially. These ten people alone have been worth trillions to the US economy! They transformed its soul and that of the world. You remove genius and every horizon has severed several Mt Everests. All is now flat land. America is as bland as Finland. The point I’m making is genius makes all the difference. A real civilisation facilitates its genius class. It creates systems whereby it identifies, advances, rewards, resources them. America does. Despite its demonic racism America has enough systems of merit for the emergence of Beyonce. The failure of Trinidad is that it seeks out and destroys its genius.
There’re no trustworthy indigenous systems whereby local geniuses advance—except in the African and East Indian folk culture—especially in Carnival. The monarchies created by the people have been the only institutions we could have trusted: the Dimanche Gras Calypso Monarch; King and Queen of Carnival; Band of the Year; Panorama Champion; Road March; and now Soca Monarch…
Each crowned genius. Each genius captured the mood, hopes, fears and dreams of the nation—and delivered it back to us in a cup of beauty and truth to astound. Up to 25 years ago we knew we trusted those institutions—with one or two blips. But in the last 25 years the same systems of mediocrity, graft and corruption everywhere else in the society infected these institutions.
Our very best have been silenced. What we’ve been seeing this last 25 years is the best of the rest! I’m begging our leadership to give genius a break. If decent grant money were given to ten geniuses for Carnival—the entire vibration of the nation would be transformed. Let them give us back our civilisation.