Friday, May 22, 2015

Beyond the bacchanal

In his classic Beyond a Boundary, CLR James used cricket as the vehicle for analysing the social environment in T&T including its social stratification. In similar fashion the annual Carnival celebrations can provide useful if less profound insights into the evolution of the society. Sociologists for instance, can have a field day assessing the implications of the so-called Socadrome and whether it is an entirely new initiative or merely a regression to the class cleavages of an earlier era.

Apart from valid concerns about the increasing vulgarity in the mas there was the usual bacchanal and controversy with protests over the results of several competitions. The disputes included the prestigious Band of the Year title which went to a steelband, the popular Neal and Massy Trinidad All Stars. It is the second time that a steelband has captured the coveted award with Silver Stars achieving the milestone in 1963 with a memorable portrayal of Gulliver’s Travels. While there may be some justification in questioning the criteria used to select a winner, it is still an important victory as it points to some new possibilities for the steelband movement.

One of these is a greater involvement of steelbands not only in the two days of mas but also in Kiddies’ Carnival and the Junior Parade of Bands. It seems a natural progression that would capitalise on the increasing number of young persons who are flocking to the panyards. In so doing they would become, as the late Lloyd Best suggested, “Centres of Learning” where not only music but all the arts would be taught while preparing for the annual festival. It is also good to see the increasing interest of “prestige schools” in playing pan and this suggests that the prejudices of previous generations are fading away.

There were other positive developments in the Carnival. One of the more obvious was the Dimanche Gras. The 2014 edition was far superior to 2013 and the shift in fortunes was due primarily to the recruitment of a more competent team of local professionals. After the fiasco last year, I half expected someone to hire a foreign adviser since this seems to be the norm whenever problems arise.

Just recently a political party sought the intervention of a Canadian consultant to help improve its electoral stocks. And what was the revolutionary, ground breaking advice? Go into the communities and talk to the people. Wow! Unfortunately this perennial need for foreign validation and guidance will continue to inhibit the search for effective solutions.

So kudos to TUCO for recognising that there is no need to wallow in mediocrity or look overseas and there are people in this country who are capable of producing high-quality work. However such persons are unlikely to support a project or an organisation which merely wishes to use them for window-dressing or tokenism. To attract them one must rise above nepotism, political allegiance or even ethnic considerations and focus solely on their ability to do the job. This is a fundamental tenet of a meritocracy where bogus degrees and “false papers” are anathema.

As long as narrow, partisan criteria dominate the selection process, incompetence will flourish resulting in numerous square pegs in round holes. This inevitably leads to the constant chopping and changing of personnel and a perpetual state of uncertainty. The situation is even more damaging when the instability involves senior officials in both the public and private sectors.

Much credit for a successful Dimanche Gras 2014 must also go to Carl “Beaver” Henderson, Gregory McGuire, Mervyn de Goeas and the Players’ Workshop for the obvious professionalism they brought to the table. In a subsequent interview Henderson gave a simple but cogent explanation for the success of the event. “Everyone cooperated,” he said. “It all came together because of teamwork.” Despite its simplicity that statement has great significance in a plural society where the quest for supremacy or dominance by any one segment will inevitably lead to turmoil and social unrest.

Teamwork and collaboration is also seen at Panorama which is an occasion when people demonstrate the capacity to come together and work diligently towards a common goal. The phenomenon of the steelband is yet to be fully understood and appreciated and its potential as a key component of national development is largely ignored. Some still see it as a quaint musical novelty while others view it as the cultural expression of a particular group in the society.

But apart from the music, there is valuable research material for students undertaking management studies. Although the performance on stage is the main focus, it is the commitment and tenacity of players, tuners, arrangers et al in preparing for Panorama that belie common perceptions of indiscipline and apathy.

I am not aware that steelbands have ever asked for a postponement of the competition because they were not ready although I have heard this excuse in other areas. At the appointed time on the appointed day, whether sponsored or not, the bands appear on stage with pans tuned, arrangements completed and players ready. This unique deployment of human, physical and financial resources by citizens working together in their communities offers interesting options for human and social development.

It is ironic that while we scour the globe seeking ideas and assistance from others, many of the solutions are right here within the collective power of the people. However, finding the new possibilities would require innovative thinking and a vision that extends beyond the bacchanal.

• Richard Braithwaite is a

management consultant