A Carnival we can be proud of

By Raffique Shah
February 25, 2007

Carnival at TriniSoca.comIt was not the “best Carnival ever”, as some Government ministers and security officials boasted last week. If they meant that it was the best in recent years, with that I agree. There were more than a handful of good calypsoes. There were a few mas bands that were colourful, that blended the skills of “wirebenders” and creativity of costume designers, bringing back some of the splendour of yesteryear. There was pan music supreme, so much so that I felt sorry for the many good bands that were not showcased at the finals. And for once I agree with Police Commissioner Trevor Paul, it was relatively crime-free.

Starting with the latter, I have heard many people criticise the CoP for his statement. Mr Paul conceded that there were many stabbings and muggings. But this is par for the Carnival course, and I have insisted for decades. Where else in the world can you put 300,000 or so people within the confines of a city as small as Port of Spain, with alcohol (and other substances) flowing freely, and not have some mayhem? Maybe it’s the music that helps soothe tempers, alters the mood. But the fact that there were few serious incidents is cause for celebration.

Those who are quick to tarnish this country’s image conveniently forget the madness that erupts in football stadiums in civilised Europe. In Italy recently, savage behaviour by football fans resulted in scores of people being hurt and a policeman killed. The governing body went so far as to order that matches be played before empty stadiums so as not to bring more shame to the rival clubs. Can you imagine our Carnival bands or steelbands being condemned to performing before only the judges, no spectators? So we are not that bad, certainly when you take into account these sporting atrocities occur in the confines of stadiums and with not more than 30,000 or so inebriated fans. We have ten times that many people on the streets of the city (and many thousands more at other town centres) with few incidents of note.

From what I saw on television, Brian MacFarlane’s “India-The Story of Boyie” was very impressive, as was the band that portrayed “The French Revolution” (Trini Revellers). These two, and a few others, blended a kaleidoscope of colours with creative costumes that did not in any way inhibit the wild abandon of their players. When the bikini-and-beads bands paraded, it was like, yawn, yawn. It’s not that I don’t enjoy looking at shapely beauties: hell, one can stand in downtown any day, or go to Maracas, and enjoy eye-food aplenty. On Carnival days I am looking for something to please my eyes and tease my tastebuds.

As I watched the bands parade on both days, it occurred to me that mostly I was looking at women “wining” on women. I can’t say I saw men “wining” on men, but that must have happened. In fact, this same-sex gyration has been the trend over the past several years. In my time on the road, men used to “wine” on women, or vice versa. In fact, that was the one occasion on which couples showed off their private bonds in a public place. This modern trend has also permeated fetes and shows in the run-up to the festival. Can somebody tell me what’s happening here? Is it that there is such a shortage of men, women can find only other women to “wine” on? That would have been sacrilege in the carnivals I knew.

Now for the pan music, which has long been the segment of Carnival I enjoy most. As I mentioned earlier, the sweet sounds of steel took flight from the panyards onto the streets and stages at the semi-finals, culminating in musical explosions at the finals.

At the single-pan and small bands’ finals, those who made it to the Savannah can attest to the levels our music has reached. It was sheer joy to listen to some bands you did not know existed, watch children as young as eight “ramajay” as they played their hearts out and win the hearts of spectators. For those who believe only the large bands give you “real” music, think again. There are many smaller gems littering this country’s “panscape”, and many more young people in whose hands the future of our indigenous music remains secure.

As for the large bands’ finals, what is there to say? As band after band raised the ante, excitement was palpable. Most people thought after Phase II “mash up de place” the night was over. But with All Stars yet to come, as an old hand, I knew the fight was far from finished. And what a performance we got! If “de Phase” gave us gold, All Stars delivered platinum. No one, not even “Boogsie”, will dispute that. All hail the oldest, sweetest band in the country.


2 Responses to “A Carnival we can be proud of”

  • I respect Raffique Shah’s views on every topic he writes about. I think this piece will shame those who claimed to be “Running from Trinidad at Carnival, to escape crime”, and the loudmouths who were calling for a “ban on Carnival” until crime is under control. His point about hooliganism at European football stadiums is well take. This is known, but not acknowledged by those who seem to begrudge the national festival and the national instrument their days of glory in the sun.
    I too, am delighted when I see pictures of tiny tots furiously and joyously concentrating on beating pan. My father would turn over in his grave, because he could not have forseen how pan would have evolved from the hooliganism of the “Steelbands clash” and bottle and stone throwing of the fifties, to the elegance and discipline we see today. Wonderful!

  • unfortunately, I could not be in Trini this year. I am glad to know that people are starting to realize that the children- those playing pan and otherwise- are the future of our cultural aesthetic, and that the bikini and beads are not the true essence of mas. I am working on something here in New York with some Europeans who- before me- knew nothing of trinbago’s cahnival. When I show them pictures and videos of the difference between now and then, one of them commented that this pretty mas thing looks like something in Las Vegas… why would he care about that when he could see that here in the states. Another, when she realized the culture is being “dumbed down” by commercialization, stated, “That’s sad”. So when I hear that these little ones are learning to beat pan, and bands are starting to step up their “game” of true Trinbago artform, I am proud to say that- though I am a first generation yankee- we Trinbagonians are some of the most creative and artistic people in the world. I just hope more Trinbagonians will study the roots so we don’t forget the purpose of Cahnival… it’s a celebration of rebellion, love, and the love of freedom. It’s there for Trinis not as a European festival, but to remind Trinis that we are a combined culture… and only through respecting the individual cultures, will we be able to live in a combined nation.

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