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A splash for pan

By Alfred Aguiton

While it seems reasonable to point out the many flaws in the Pan Splash venture at Panorama (Marie Diane Dupre (“Trick them into doing the right thing”, Express, February 17) was her usual, flag-waving, enjoyably feisty self!), we may want to do what the country seems to need a lot of these days: take a step back, take a deep breath and take up a slightly different perspective.
Was the pool put-on well-intended? Must have been. The guys I know at Pan Trinbago—Diaz, Serrette, Forteau, Bryan, et al—are not about malice aforethought. They’re desperate to do something good for pan. Clear the way for the music, and at the same time get pan out of the dark money hole. They should be applauded and encouraged. But we all know about the “asphalt” that’s used to pave the road to hell.
Well thought out? Up to a reasonable point. But it seemed that the Ps had it: pan+pool+paediatric patrons=paydirt! The downsides, already well-ventilated elsewhere, appear to have been met by the pool promoters with the bravado not out of place in many a pan gathering—courage and confidence, spiked with shots of both testosterone and oestrogen. Before you know it, the decision-makers in the meeting are bobbing heads and saying: This bound to be a hit! Yeah, to besides... a splash!! Not thinking about the wettin’ you could get from the devils-in-the-details when you trigger an innovation.
But here’s the pause to consider: this is largely how pan has reached where it has: by guts, heart and soul. (Musicians always prefer more Bernstein than Einstein.)
That’s how Carnival has unfolded before our very eyes and ears—try this, try that; if those don’t work, then try these.
Anyone who has ever been anywhere near the creation/production/management of Carnival—as well as that of its God-given progeny mas, pan and calypso—knows the golden rule: one year’s Carnival informs the following year’s Carnival. Often, it takes an actual Carnival to determine what’s good for the next Carnival.
There is no wind-tunnel to test the Carnival. No mice can be injected to gauge response (Teddy has served his time and is now gone). As much as we’d like it to realise all its financial potential, Carnival is not simply a massive business (and even businesses have to take risks and invest venture capital). As much as we’d wish it to be a giant art gallery, Carnival is not simply art (and even art is allowed to be mundane). As much as we’d hope for it to cure our social ills, Carnival is not simply a pharmacy for our national psychoses (and not all medicines work well either).

It may be time we let Carnival breathe again. Hold it lightly, stop choking the life out of it, and refrain from demanding of it a perfection it has never had and perhaps never can. For a long time—say in the golden period of Bailey, Saldenah, Hart, MacWilliams, Lee Heung, Aming, Berkeley and Minshall, when men boldly put their name to a band or a mas camp and didn’t stay behind some titular burglar-proofing such as “Barbarossa” or “Poison”—it was about sheer fun and spontaneous eruptions of talent meant to make people happy, not make them money.
If, however, it is to evolve—as all things natural must—then let it grow by experimenting.
If one idea doesn’t work, try another. Let’s kill the unworkable idea, but not the sacred spirit from which it came.
New band route? Think it through carefully, plan the details fully, then try it out cautiously. One year’s “disaster” doesn’t kill the next year’s Carnival.
There may be a limit to how much “order” we can bring to a phenomenon which has always had chaos as part of its spiritual diet. Carnival is not the train system in Germany.
To share an illustrative story: back in 1993, we were in talks with the Toronto police to pass on lessons of Carnival to Caribana authorities when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police fellow admitted painfully, “We could never understand why other nations would parade in the city by marching forward, but the Cari­bana parade took longer because masqueraders were chipping forward, running back, then dancing forward again?” We explained: That’s how we play mas in T&T—we chip, we go back, we stop to talk and take a drink with friends and family, then rejoin the band! The textbook Torontonians just moved the “parade” to an out-of-downtown area, and fenced it in.

As for the pool promoters... they can recover from their “wetting after wetting” by presenting a handsome cheque to Pan Trinbago (to make the point that pan and pool pay); then—because they’ve claimed “success” this first time, and are even planning to do it again next year—they should re-install the pool for this year’s Ash Wednesday, open it up to the hardworking pannists to bring their families to have a much-deserved pool-side celebration (a great alternative to the nightmarish beach parties!), and let’s sit around it and talk about what else we can do to attract generations of players and patrons to the future of pan, as well as the generation of funds for the present of pan.
That might be a splash.

• Alfred Aguiton is a former Carnival worker.
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