Thursday, February 22, 2018

Weakening of the Carnival mix

Over the years I have been one of the many Trinbagonians who regularly descend from foreign to play mas and party. Essentially, we are the pilgrims and Trinidad Carnival is the “Mecca”. We (along with our fellow island dwellers) gladly dish out big money to participate in a week or so of unbridled debauchery and wanton abandon.

Recent I have been grappling with my own perception of Carnival and what it has evolved to. I did not participate this year and I am eager to hear my friends’ (masqueraders and spectators alike) assessment of Carnival 2014. I play mas in what we dub ‘bikini and beads’ bands, whose owners are concerned primarily about dollars and whose masqueraders just want a good time.

It has been customary for men not to don their full costumes on Carnival Tuesday. Most are content as long as they have that all-important wristband and cup promising an endless supply of “Johnny and coconut water”. Women’s costumes, provocative as they may be, are more or less regurgitated designs distinguished mostly by elaboration of feather quantity. And then of course, we have men and women alike who are eager to display sculpted physiques, the result of months in the gym and strict dieting (I know, I have been guilty of some of the above myself).

The preliminary assessment (so far) is that spectatorship in Port of Spain was way down. The crowds in and around the Savannah as well as downtown were absent (hard luck for street vendors). All this saddens me. One can only imagine what Carnival nowadays seems like to a child. I remember looking at the parade of the bands on TV with my grandmother and being awed at the kaleidoscope of costumes crossing the stage. Alyson Hennessy and the Dateline crew would not have much to talk about today.

When my brother and I were old enough to roam the streets of Port of Spain as children, I remember stumbling upon Peter Minshall’s Jumbie storming down Ariapita Avenue. Witnessing those shadowy masqueraders in elaborate cardboard headpieces amid PowerGen’s cooling towers in the twilight skyline still burns in my memory.

The criticism concerning the lewdness and vulgarity has been loud, particularly from the older heads. This has been and will be always part of Carnival. What makes it so obvious now is the mas is now devoid of mas. The creativity is absent. Simply put, TV cameramen do not have anything interesting to shoot aside from drunken revellers getting on bad (and here perhaps the criticism is warranted).

This is not a knock on the masquerading elite and middle class. For they, like small bands, fancy sailor mas, steelbands (along with the chippers), spectators and of course the average bottle and spoon men are the ingredients in the pie that is our unique Carnival. The problem is the latter ingredients are fast becoming scarce, thus making for a lacklustre pie.

Whether initiatives such as use of the Socadrome will mortally wound Port of Spain Carnival is yet to be determined. The main fear of course is the segregation between THEM and WE Carnival. The big bands perhaps have too much clout and influence nowadays and this makes me wonder why we have the NCC or NCBA at all. Carnival is an intangible commodity that belongs to the people and we have been dismal in its nurturing, development and management (Kiddies Carnival is at least a consolation). In the meantime I may as well just stop my whining and take heed of Machel’s song and live meh life. Or maybe I just vex ah miss mas this time around.

Damian Quan King

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