Most local festivals have now reached critical mass as folk festivals and require sensitive interventions to survive. They are at crossroads for a variety of reasons. These include: the migration of the original source population from the original festival site. Sometimes this is rural-to-urban drift — as is the case with some Hosay and Ramleela communities. Many of the Golden Age genius artisans of mas moved from “ghettoes to suburbs” —leaving East Port of Spain and Belmont for Diego Martin and elsewhere. Many left the country and seeded the 300 Trini-styled carnivals worldwide. These migrations have jeopardised the festival in the original community…
In many national festivals the founding fathers and Golden Age generations who established the classical form of the festival have died — and a new generation is carrying it on with less ritual knowledge and artisan skill. This is the case with many festivals with ritual dances and drum-based music in both East Indian and African communities. Most of the master-drummers and dancers from both sets of traditions have died in the last decade and there are no clear heirs to the Masters’ thrones who have the full vocabulary of local drum and dance practices. Because of this a number of local traditions have disappeared.
In other cases the festival has expanded beyond its original folk footprint and now involves all kinds of outsiders, marketplace activity, and a larger audience… The festival simply has outgrown its scale… Like Paramin’s Parang festival…
In all of these situations we are now entrusted with the critical task of retooling and innovating our festivals sensitively — to either become larger ritual events that remain true to their original sacred purpose — or expanded economised events which embrace the possibilities of dynamic cottage economies as well as multi-million dollar tourist potentials. Even in this type of transformation it’s critical that the festival preserve its source components. If this isn’t done the festival will collapse — and its earning potential disappear.
The only way to preserve festival essence whilst transforming into a larger event is to return to the source — and to engineer growth from out of the principles that were sacred to the festival from the beginning. For example, if one was interested in restoring the declining power of Panorama the answer would not come from corporate market-based interventions — the answer would be to return Panorama to its ritual power.
Panorama — like football, cricket, and other forms of ritualised warfare — is about community. Panorama is a ritual where root communities groom and bear witness to their “Warriors of Steel” who prepare musical arsenals in their panyards for war. These warriors and their communities get ready for battle over the course of months and then journey collectively to the gayelle of the “Big Stage” in the “Grand Savannah” where a series of “sacred points” serve the convergence of these communities and the performance of the bands. Any insensitive tinkering with the “Stations of this Cross” destroys the alchemy of the festival. Over the years these sacred points have been weakened and MUST be restored.
The sacred points of Panorama include: the reassembling of the players in the panyard; the selection of the tune; the re-gathering of the community in the panyard; the evolution of the arrangement; the journey to the gayelle; the meeting of bands at the Savannah periphery; the meeting of communities on the “Track”; the slow-tempo jams on the “Track”; the pushing of the pans to the stage; the storming of the North Stand; the roots community enjoying the performance in the “pit”; the repetition of the signature tune over the sound system; communal silence during the performance; the interaction of the Panorama arrangement with its core community and larger audience; the eruption after the performance; the pushing of pans off the stage; the abandonment of the racks; the waiting for results; the reaction to results... These holy points of ritual must be respected and consolidated to return the life to Panorama.
I remember once coming down the Uriah Butler Highway behind a massive battalion — the Skiffle Bunch convoy led by its sponsor Junior Sammy. The convoy was led by six Range Rovers with Junior and his family, dozens of trucks with panracks, music trucks, buses with players, and dozens of cars with supporters all adorned with Skiffle Bunch flags and banners. They were a Coffee Street, San Fernando army heading to war! If we can extend this image to imagine hundreds of communities of grassroots supporters, corporate sponsors, bands and captains all riding into town to the sacred gayelle of the Savannah to engage musical war on Panorama day then we can understand what I mean about ritual power. Only when you understand this can you restore a festival properly and engineer its transformation.
All festivals must be sensitively looked at in this way: Paramin Parang; Divali; Indian Arrival; Kartic; Eid; Hosay; Sipari Mai; Christmas; Easter; Ramleela; Jahaji Massacre; Shouter Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day; Orisha festivals; Labour Day; Independence Day; Republic Day; etc… Collectively our festivals can earn $3 billion annually. But only by returning to the source…
* Rubadiri Victor is a cultural activist