Thursday, February 22, 2018

Carnival rituals in trouble


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Another Carnival has come and gone, and I have to ask myself what happened? This is not the "vibes" I remember and look forward to.

We are letting Carnival be undermined. You might say party is party, fete is fete, we still ramajayin', Carnival is still the biggest fete in the world. But the problem is Carnival was always more than just a fete or a month of fetes. Carnival was always our national ritual. A ritual that goes beyond religion, race, gender, class, or political orientation, a ritual that united us as a people in ways we could never quite put in words, a ritual that renewed our sense of self, as Earl Lovelace has said, and our sense of nationhood. And we are letting this ritual lose all its force.

Of course, this is an old theme. The music is not the same; the mas is not the same; the times are not the same. How could Carnival be the same? Yes, Carnival is a reflection of the national zeitgeist, or should be, but it seems as though what we are getting is the tastes and predilections of a select few. The music is not the same because it seems like others control what we hear and when we hear it. We need to tell the radio stations to play all the music, play everybody.

We are capable of deciding what is good soca, what is good calypso, good chutney, good music. But it seems like you get what you pay for and the average listener is not the one paying.

It seems the Soca Monarch results are predetermined. If that is so, either call it a fete or make it a real competition.

And what nonsense is this? Moving Dimanche Gras to Thursday night? Calypso, more than soca, houses the rhythms of this national ritual. The biggest night in calypso needs to lead into Jouvert.

The mas is not the same because we are bowing to capitalism and forgetting what this mas could do for us. This too is an old complaint: the less cloth, the higher the cost.

Jouvert remains the last bastion of our national ritual. We must never let it die.

As for pretty mas, it is not so pretty any more. The inventiveness and creativity, the hallmarks of Trini ingenuity, seem to be leaching out of the art form. Carnival is supposed to be a spectacle, ripe with pageantry and a sense of a nation showing itself, its potential in all of its creative genius. And how quickly this creativity is bleeding into the Savannah dust.

Who could forget the impact of Minshall's Hallelujah and his queen baptised in colour? That was less than 20 years ago. There are a few bandleaders like MacFarlane fighting to keep Carnival that vital and vibrant amidst the feathers, glitter, dust, and bikinis. Otherwise, it seems that band allegiance is more important than costume, or why else would we suck our teeth, roll our eyes, complain loudly about costumes fitting in pizza boxes, and still wear them? Are we forgetting that we can influence the mas camps?

The people are not the same in part because we are letting this national season of healing fade into meaningless fete. The unity we have championed in song and motto depends on us as a people renewing our national selves, reuniting ourselves in the national energy, the national ethos.

From Boxing Day on we feel this energy in the air; the delicious prickling, tingling breeze; the growing hum as radios switch from parang to soca. This energy would mount with every passing day and on Dimanche Gras night, boom! Carnival erupts in colour and song. Without it functioning properly, we no longer laugh at ourselves. There is no more picong or fatigue. Now it is bullets trading for insults. And this goes beyond economics, education, and politics. This goes deeper than the heart. This is how we relate to each other in a cosmic sense. If we do not renew our energy, reinvest ourselves with the essence of our Trinidadianness, we will continue to deteriorate and at an exponential rate.

Kela Francis

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