Funding culture vultures

By Raffique Shah
January 11, 2018

Raffique ShahThe Government missed a good opportunity to impress upon the population the gravity of the country’s economic circumstances, and consequently the dire need for all segments of society to make sacrifices on the expenditure side of the equation, when it capitulated by doling out millions of taxpayers’ dollars to fund private promoters whose sole interest in Carnival is to profit off it.

The same Prime Minister and Finance Minister who lament how they have to struggle every month to accumulate the billion dollars required to meet public sector wages and salaries’ bill, and pensions and social benefits cheques, announce, almost apologetically, that they have allocated millions to the Chutney Soca Monarch and International Soca Monarch organisers.

In fact, Minister Colm Imbert, addressing the ministerial “mix up” that resulted in someone senior at the National Lotteries Control Board telling Southex Promotions boss George Singh that the NLCB will no longer fund the Chutney show, and later “backed back” by offering a petty $300,000, set the numbers right by crowing that funding will be to the melodious tune of $1 million.

That seven-digit number was music to Singh’s ears, so much so that he did not even withdraw his earlier accusation of “racial discrimination” in Carnival-related allocations as he grabbed it and said the Chutney show was back on track. We have yet to hear exactly what sum is being given to the ISM organisers, but if I am to judge by previous experiences, the public will be told it’s way short of what they need, that they will lose money for the umpteenth year, but as patriots and promoters of our culture, they will absorb their losses and carry on.

Few people question why Government should have pumped public funds into private ventures of this kind in the first instance, far less continue doling out largesse in lean times. Indeed, while subventions to these two ventures are among the bigger sins of successive governments, they are not the only ones, Annually, government allocates approximately $250 million to the National Carnival Commission, which, in turn, disburses varying sums to steelbands (through the representative organisation Pan Trinbago), calypso (via TUCO), and masquerade bands (via NCBA).

Like so many other facets of what are loosely described as “we cultyah”, Carnival, which has shrunk over the years in direct participation, paying patrons and street spectators, has enjoyed an almost sacrosanct status when it comes to government funding. Minister Imbert boasts of having removed subsidies from the prices of fuels several times since returning to power in 2015 (“and they ‘ent riot”), added hundreds of goods and services to the VAT-able list, imposed or increased a host of other personal, corporate and consumer taxes, eliminated the names of thousands of recipients of social welfare benefits, among other cut-backs in expenditure or increases in revenue.

But he has not touched the “high mass” of debauchery, the altar of the most wasteful expenditure that this country has institutionalised, if not deified, more than likely because he and his Government fear the backlash from the very vociferous culture-vultures who make tonnes of money off Carnival, and the tens of thousands who cannot afford it, but who will borrow, beg or steal to enjoy the four-weeks-or-so gratification that is today’s Carnival.

Except for the steelband component which is rising in spite of Carnival, every other aspect what was once the people’s festival has been hijacked by the vultures, the mafia, call them what you will. A slick cabal of promoters controls the fete venues and the bands-in-demand. Mas’ costumes, if they can be so described, consist of bikinis-and-beads made in China. The jarring excuse for music is mostly determined by a sounds-systems mafia. And the near-naked, whiter-shades-of-pale players are roped off from what is left of spectators by muscled slaves, sights, sounds and scenes reminiscent of worst excesses of decadent ancient and medieval empires.

And Government is using my tax dollars to fund this madness, this insult to my dignity? No! I protest! Up until around 2005, I was very much a carnival person. I made the rounds of calypso tents…until the art form declined and other than vintage fare, there was little to listen to. My lime attended a few fetes&until noise displaced music. And we were veteran street spectators, savouring the artistry of the great craftsmen, until they were booted out by strips of fabric that left nothing to exercise even one’s imagination.

Only the steelband stood apart and aloof of this decay, and while Panorama and competition are important to pan players, the din of the DJs and general noise levels at Carnival time have all but chased the national instrument from the streets. I prefer panyard limes and concerts where bands perform their full repertoires, and where pan prodigies and virtuosos are at their best.

Because I am partial towards pan does not mean I am blind to the failures of the fraternity, especially Pan Trinbago. With hundreds of millions of State-dollars pumped into pan over the past 50 years, nothing can explain why the organisation does not own its headquarters and the biggest, most profitable pan factory in the world.

Still, I strongly object to Government funding culture vultures who make millions off their (not our) all-exclusive Carnival.

4 thoughts on “Funding culture vultures”

  1. Lt Shah

    I agree with you 100%. I have heard the song the that Carnival generates Millions, if not Billions of dollars for the country each year but I have not seen the proof of this claim. The promoters of these “cultural” events claim that they are not making money but they arrange and hold these same events year after year. Common sense will dictate that if there was no money making in it why would they continue year after, in one case, 23 years. Band leaders make millions each year. Have they not put back any investment in improving the Carnival event. They go to the government every year for our money.

    There should be accountability for all the millions of dollars given to owners/managers of these events. It should be a requirement if you ask government of money year after they should present an audited financial statement showing how the money was spent and what profit/loss was made. In addition these organizations and individuals (band leaders included) must present a statement from the Inland Revenue department showing that they have paid any taxes due on the profit of these events. It is scandalous that the citizens of TT have given these “Culture Vultures” so much money and no accountablility. It is time we the people take back our country from bad politicians and fraudsters.

  2. Brother Shah, an A++ on this weeks topic. The last time i checked, Culture meant the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. It also includes the set of shared values, attitudes, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.Take your pick, can we place any of the above describe words in Trinidad? does Trinidad really have a Culture? an Assimilation of different groups on an Island coming together to “play themselves” does not constitute Culture. You hilighted the Steel Band, and rightly so, but wasn’t the Steel Band born out of the the very same type of social upheavals of a bygone era? the Crime infested Zones of today, is reminiscent of an earlier time. Carnival originated from activism, Cane Boule riots, the Crescendo of weeks and months of planning to hit the planters, the 1%ters at the time, a blow that they would never forget, have today been hijacked by the very same people we historically fought against.I personally, would not term them Vultures, a vulture is very distinctive sky living Bird, that cleans waste, dead waste, left behind by human/ animals, an island like Trinidad, lacking Culture, will come across as sub-humans, looking like humans, but in reality animals. The greatest mis-conception of Trinidad’ Carnaval, was the inclusion of Chutney to the melee, this infusion, did nothing whatsoever to uplift the people nationally, the baseline, was all about RUM and promiscuity, not one nation building song, it was easier to use Bollywood songs with an African beat to make their point, this is what you have as “we Cultyay”. Carnival, as we used to know it has been long dead, Minshall and his house slaves saw to that Marchel and his Trash music saw to that, the Bumper will be the final nail in the coffin, the originators of Trinidad Carnaval, their children are all outside looking in, not able to truly participate. the gloriously great days of historical art chipping down de savannah, are times gone bye, we are left with skimpy, callously dress women, and steroid taking young men, making abject fools of themselves. Gov’t, in all climes, regardless how we look at it, will contribute in keeping down the anxiety, the build in stress is paraded, while they jamming still into nothingness. I am forever appalled, my question is, what would make a Woman place her palms on the ground, her but up in the air, SEX simulating in Ah carnival fete or on the road? even animals, don’t act in that manner. The quality of a nations culture, is base on the attitude of it’s women.There are two types of people , yes people and no people. “TAKE AH PICK”.

  3. What attracted me to this forum, was the ability it afforded one to express an idea, a thought, an opinion or sharing a conscience. What constitutes culture is not a deliberate inclusion of behavior but one that naturally becomes part of our ideals. Calypso, as I stated in an earlier posting was derived from the denial of freedom of expression by the slaves. They were denied natural language, freedom to marry, freedom to integrate and even freedom to chose a mate. So, with the loss of these freedoms, they were compelled to design a way to communicate on their own terms. Song, in the form of calypso became their favored way to express frustrations, happiness and tell a story. Since this form was local and a readily accepted form of pleasure and entertainment by both the planter and plantation slaves, it became a cultural pastime. The same can be said of the steel band, although the circumstances were somewhat different on how that was accomplished. Everything about the steel band is locally Trinidadian, with its birthplace as Laventille. The same Laventille that ha s become so maligned from the rest of the country with the crime situation. In the early days there was the Marabunters and Desperadoes who formed the nucleus of the steel originated music form. Today, it has become a billion dollar business but the originators are still struggling to capitalize on their prowess to make it a commercial venture as jazz, rock n roll, opera and other musical genres. Chutney, while a local experimentation of Bollywood and Indian culture does not have a natural fit with carnival as calypso does. It has more of an inclusionary fit (mostly for the sake of money) than one that invoke the spirit of carnival.

    To the younger ones whose favored artiste is Justin Bieber and thinks his genre is distinctly different from rhythm and blues, they need to know that it was a defiant Elvis Presley who crossed from Country to rock n roll. Presley’s natural music was country, but wanted to add flamboyance to his repertoire, so he included the hip shaking, soul singing, jive talking style of the black musicians into his act and rock n roll was born. His departure from white country/gospel was so noticeable that white folks began protesting his new style of music. They called his music ‘nigger music’. Despite the protestations by whites Pressley pursued and the rest is history. Chutney might be lyrically Trinidadian but musically Bollywood.

    I am against the government’s funding of carnival competitions.
    With the infusion of big government’s money into these competitions, the pursuit of money and not the mastery of the art becomes the main intent. It is no wonder that Massive Gosein has become a notoriety with his poor lyrics, up beat tempo and clown attire to present to us ‘Rowlee Mudda Count’. It is vulgar in interpretation and disrespectful in intent. This is not in tune with the spirit of Carnival nor culturally uplifting.

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