Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Greens, Socadrome: Independence declaration

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Mark Fraser

 With a still-and video-camera in almost every palm, holding an alleged smartphone, how is it possible that Carnival 2014 may stay under-covered? Yet I picked up that possibility, as a threat uttered under the breath of some overwrought somebody.

Carnival boycotts have happened before, or have been threatened. “Who want to go, could go up dey/But me ent going no way,” sang Sparrow. 

The latter-day UWI Doctor and today’s Order of Trinidad and Tobago designate had his own time as a TUB Butler of the calypso working class. “Say what you want, do what you like/ Sparrow is one calypsonian strike.”  

So go the closing lyrics of “Calypso Boycott”, published circa 1963 by Sparrow’s National Recording Company. Carnival must have taken it all in stride. Historical memory of the 1960s offers nearly no blank spaces marking Sparrow’s absence from any scene worth preserving. 

Today’s big story tells of the fights over “rights” that most people never reckoned to exist, let alone to be capable of enriching any creator of a likeness coveted by others. In the age of compulsive taking of “selfies”, and equally irresistible “photo bombing”, everyday people never tire of being snapped. 

Making rhetorical Carnival-fete fashion statements, they show up as eager offerings to the lenses, or whatever, taking aim at them. On the road in costumes, proud possessors of what photojournalist doyen Mark Lyndersay reductively refers to as “befeathered bumsees” evidently want to be taken out. 

Suddenly, it seems, conflicts over rights get in the way of the Carnival “experience”. That’s the trendy term for what used to be called feteing, jumping up, playing mas, or simply showing up at “venues”.

Friday’s headlines warned that monster fetes are being threatened by the competing lawyered claims of rival copyright organisations. Unless suitably licensed, photographers may no longer be tolerated poking and squinting around Panorama steelbands, only to come up with the same shots year after year.

Still, the Carnival is otherwise evolving in long-desired directions. Harts, Tribe, Yuma and Bliss finally worked up the nerve to declare into being a suburban alternative to the Queen’s Park Savannah. That they will be themselves covering the costs of crossing the new Jean Pierre Complex stage marks a declaration of long-gestating independence from the T&T State. 

I am supportive in spirit of what had been long decried as “sectionalising” the Carnival.  I, however, understand that to mean reasonably allowing T&T people to play what mas they want, how and where they want. For that’s what happens anyway. 

The NCC, and the Government, this year lacked the spirit, and the arguments, to oppose realisation of the “Socadrome” at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. But NCC chairman Allison Demas found words to sound apologetic. 

“We must be careful that the route extension does not bring an elitist division in Carnival,” she said. The move west, she added, makes sense to the NCC’s “professional engineers”, who must be the newest of Carnival characters.  

It was the “engineers” who had proposed for 2014 the west-to-east parade of the bands. The proposal, having met obscurantist last-minute resistance from change-averse bandleaders, was vetoed by the People’s Partnership administration. Embattled on many fronts, the Government advised itself against incurring any backlash like that provoked by Patrick Manning’s razing of the Grand Stand. 

Change to the Carnival agenda will come less from official policy direction, and more from private-sector prompting, exemplified by the big-band lobby for the Stadium route and venue. Similarly, Pan Trinbago has bought into the sponsored Panorama Greens idea, to the extent this year of installing a splashing pool.

The pool drew pan retainers’ adverse attention to The Greens, and to a truth that dares not speak its name. Which is that the young people, who make up maybe the majority of players in steelbands, never attract their peers to attend their concerts and other performances.

 The sprawling Savannah Greens is as close as most young people get to a pan event, of which none surpasses the Panorama semi- finals. Inside that extended acreage of high-peak tents, marked with branded fronds, DJ bandstands and large screens, and thronging with wearers of hot and hotter pants, a youth festival was called into being.

Despite the descanting denunciation of the youth happening as a “disrespect” for pan, The Greens qualifies as a franchise evidently in Pan Trinbago’s interest to keep. It looks like good business, an unexpected spin-off from the tiresome predictability of the state-funded Panorama, attended by fewer and fewer of those buying concert-goers’ seats in the Grand Stand. Those concert-going types, I observed over 2013, hardly show up in critical-mass number for Pan Trinbago’s pan jazz and other variety events between Carnivals. On the way out on Sunday, having run into late-teen  daughter, Zara, hanging with a posse I affectionately renamed “Una, Dos, Tres”, she asked, “What are you doing here?”

I was later made to look into a table-top camera, and issued a postage stamp-size return ticket bearing a computerised code. I concluded: if Pan Trinbago doesn’t “do” the Greens, somebody else will.

Carnival 2014 may be under-covered by photos. The Carnival story remains to be told. In the old-fashioned way: in words.