Wednesday 28th February, 2007

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Spreading the Carnival

  • Allowing artistes and creators of a previous generation to return.
  • For social groups with differing tastes to once again enjoy the elements of the mas.
  • The growth of calypso cannot be constrained.

Over the last ten years, five years for certain, the Carnival has been spreading, room and space being created for social groups with differing tastes to once again enjoy the elements of the mas that meet with the stage-of-life, cultural tastes, physical abilities, even spiritual dispositions of larger numbers of people.

In this evolution, the Carnival is also allowing for artistes and creators of the festival of a previous age and generation to return, if not to centre stage, assuredly to the aprons of the stage and to once again feel part of the expression their generation fashioned into this thing we call (with our exaggerated sense of importance) the Greatest Show on Earth.

“The old man trying,” was the demure response of four-time calypso king, the Mighty Duke, as I congratulated him during the intermission on his performance of Carnival Monday night when he got on stage at the Jean Pierre Complex and allowed the over-40s and 50s, my generation, to play we self on stage. Not with anything like the mid-torso dexterity of the fierce winer girls of the age, but in that sweet mellow way “we use to dance when we was young;” that time when “Nello” would encourage us to La, La...

On the night at Jean Pierre, from Sparrow, whose wining ways have slowed to a gentle swivel but whose voice is as powerful and captivating as it was when in the 1960s it was raised in that deep visceral, native triumph of the “Congo starting to laugh and giggle” in anticipation of “going to take ah little taste,” to Stalin, to Baron, who once had that evergreen Doreen Gray look, they all lived again and we marvelled at story-telling in calypso “bouncing,” as we did, “on the laughter of the melodies” created by our griots and poet laureates.

All night, Tommy Joseph, with a powder puff pink outfit—which he admitted to buying at some famous store in Brooklyn, all be it after a heckler in the audience asked, to the amusement of all, where he got such an outlandish outfit from—had been talking about the foundation role of the likes of the bards named above, plus Explainer, Crazy and King David, in the modern Carnival.

Incidentally, we missed Shadow. Mr Martineau, you should contract him from now for 2008.

Tommy understands, in his crazy way, that we cannot simply throw these men and their music away while indulging in the present crop and their offerings.

But I got carried away into descriptive detail at the expense of painting the broader picture of a Carnival that is expanding to include the historical and cultural roots of the festival handed down by our African, Indian and French-Creole ancestors.

The re-enactment of the Canboulay Riots on fore-day morning Carnival Friday is becoming the most significant aspect of the festival, grounded as it is in the time when the jamette society, with bois, flambeau in hand and determination in intent, intervened to tell the “fast and out of place” Captain Baker that he and his colonial arrogance and ignorance could not stop the Carnival.

The NCC should issue a decree that every year the winer girls and the social upper and middle classes who play the frothy thing of the present should come to the spot outside Hell Yard to “play one”—no “wine one”—for them jamettes from “behind de bridge” for saving the Carnival.

It was wonderful to hear bits and pieces of the French-Creole Patois, the language widely spoken in the 19th century by the ordinary people, retained in the language of the Calinda chants. I looked at this woman I know to be Dominican sitting on the bleachers revelling in the Creole, which in her country is alive and well. John Cupid never gets tired of saying that part of ourselves as a people is wrapped up in Patois; we must recapture that self.

But even in the midst of madness and mayhem of Carnival Tuesday, the artistic space has begun to widen. Brian MacFarlane’s splendid India and the story of Boyie climaxes the return to costuming and meaning in “the mas” that Minshall, Stephen Derek and Tribes have struggled with over the period.

Yes, no one is going to deny the winer girls their own space—but I got the impression that the waists were not spinning the Carnival around and around in that same maddening circle as previously.

Maybe I did not pay as much attention, but it seems the waists are being tamed by the wild Indians and frightened into silence by the Midnight Robbers—Brian boy ah hear yuh band speeching-off the Prime Minister on Tuesday while holding-up the passage of the winer girls; thing does happen boy! Remember Rudder predicted that a couple years ago?

So yes, the foundation established by Bailey and Saldenah is beginning to support another generation of mas makers that is prepared to open the mind to creativity beyond the bikini thing that has exposed our vulgar impulses.

For many of us who grew up on the wonderfully mellifluous sounds of pan, J’Ouvert morning at Victoria Square has become a kind of mecca for sweet pan—man holding he woman and dancing in the road while he mouth humming some “Bomb” tune resurrected from memory, they have their own space in the Carnival.

Imagine they used to call steelband music “noise.” How light and beautifully fragile this sound—even the strains could be lost if you stay too far from them in the morning air—compared to the electronic cacophony coming from the boxes.

And perhaps it is good that as the decentralisation of the Carnival spreads, the steelband Panorama has taken flight to San Fernando.

Ironically, a few weeks ago I was provoking a man from Guapo in Point Fortin, “Black James” his calling name, that for sweet pan he had to come north and he, self-assured in his “southness,” was displaying contempt for me and north calling names such as Earl Rodney as being among the foundation stones of the steelband.

The one aspect of the core of the Carnival that shrunk rather than expanded this year was this one-song thing. The monarch has to demonstrate range and capacity for the different genres of the calypso; a one-song king can only rule half a kingdom.

The development and growth of calypso to continue playing its historical role cannot be constrained by the desire of organisers for a “tight show.”

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

Designed by: Randall Rajkumar-Maharaj · Updated daily by: Sheahan Farrell