Sunday, January 21, 2018

Carnival, politics and fete

WHEN we left Kingston two Fridays ago the sun was bright. When we landed in Port of Spain, night had come down. Lights blazed all over the city. Pre-Carnival music echoed everywhere. Excitement is growing, as T&T's version of "the greatest show on earth" draws nearer.

When we say Carnival, don't be confused with the anaemic parade of beads, brassieres and bottoms which we in Jamaica have the nerve to pass off as the real thing.

All over Port of Spain, panyards were in action through the night. A fete in the famed Savannah went on through Saturday evening, ending at 7 a.m. Sunday. The steelpans and the sound systems could have been heard far and wide but no one seemed to have complained. When I told someone that in Jamaica we have a legal shutdown hour defined by the Night Noises Law, the response was laughter and the quick quote: "Carnival is fete till we wet and nobody ain't shut it down yet." Yes but there were also other matters commanding public attention.

Foremost was the parliamentary election being held in Tobago, the other segment of the twin-island republic. With the caution of cockroach being warned against participation in fowl fight, I tried to unravel the many strands of disaffection between the two segments of one country.

I had heard only a little of their wrangling, beyond what was reported in election analyses, but there was no shortage of commentary in the media and on the streets. It seems that Tobago was ready for a change and was determined to get it. The island was on a path of self-determination and was convinced that now is the time. The electioneering was spirited, under the banner of the PNM.

There were many voices wishing victory to the party which had been turfed out of office in 2010, replaced with great enthusiasm with the advent of T&T's first female Prime Minister and her Cabinet, but now the affair is cooling down. Disaffection is to be found in the spate of cynical remarks about the PM and her team.

There were sly digs about them spending much time in Tobago, rallying troops for battle, instead of being back at headquarters in Port of Spain. When the votes were counted on Monday night, the Government side had lost big. PNM took all 12 seats of the Tobago assembly. There was no Opposition. Jeers and taunts from the Government's detractors were loud and strong.

Replaying in my head the flight into Trinidad, I rewound the talk with one of Jamaica's bright young deejays who was booked to perform at a big PNM rally leading up to Tobago's voting day. It turned out that his participation in the event was not ideological. It was strictly business. "You pay, I'll play. Jamaican dancehall is a rallying cry to the young, and so history was changed.

Here, we persist in the pretence that what's happening in the rest of the region really has little to do with us. Don't be fooled. One export of which we are sure is dancehall, which flavours everything outside of Jamaica calypso, carnival and all.

The influx of our people into other islands is growing. You will find Jamaicans "looking a work" in every country. Some play it cool, others just plain fool-fool, like getting into mix-up, trying to "do a ting" in the belief that they won't get caught.

They succeed only in spoiling the good name of others and legitimising the bully tendencies of some petty Immigration tyrants at ports of entry. A word to the wise: Have all the credentials necessary when you turn up at somebody's airport and declare that you "on vacation". Be prepared to answer questions like: "Who you coming to? How will you support yourself? Who-what-when-where?" It is not a joke.

Despite all the platitudes, despite the fact that nearly every island now admits to a crime problem, the feeling still remains that Jamaica and Jamaicans are the equivalent of hell and its demons. It doesn't help that we, in turn, miss no opportunity to denigrate ourselves by stupid actions, like thinking we can beat the system in other people's territory.

So, on to Carnival. The calypsonians are vying for the fame and the honour which go with the various titles Calypso King, Calypso Monarch, etc. There are the vintage artistes and there are members of the Nu-generation (so they spell it) rocking their venues to a different decibel level. It is definitely Nu-nation when a Soca King (Machel) can be found guilty of assault and the magistrate puts off the sentencing till after Carnival. After all, a man have to jump when a man have to jump. Don't stop the fete!

A vintage session Tuesday night took me to a tent (which is not a tent but a building). The show began with the playing of the National Anthem. "Wouldn't happen at a Nu-venue," I was assured. The beat was delivered by a real vintage aggregation of traditional instruments lots of brass, acoustic guitars, etc, beautifully orchestrated.

Nearly every performer came with a political agenda. With very few exceptions, Government personalities were the subject of tongue-lashing disguised as lyrics and the crowd (middle-class and middle-age) was generous with the encores.

This is not a comfortable season for Trini politicians... but "dat cyaan stop de Carnaval". Faced with a promise of boycotts because the Government grants to support Carnival activities were deemed insufficient, by the start of the week an announcement was made of substantive topping-up ($224 million) to rekindle enthusiasm and (some say) gratitude to the benefactors.

* Courtesy Jamaica Observer