Carnival: one foot in the grave

By Raffique Shah
February 21, 2010

TriniSoca.com Carnival 2010CARNIVAL Friday night and I am driving to Port of Spain, my mind working like a Pentium computer chip. Which route do I choose to reach St James, my regular liming spot? Over the years I have learned that bumper-to-bumper traffic, not to add a virtual sea of early-bird revellers, transforms the city into a motorist’s nightmare. So once one decides to enter the epicentre of Carnival activities, one needs to plan one’s route with a GPS-mind.

As traffic slows to a crawl after Chaguanas, I fear the worst: don’t tell me this is what I must face for the next three-to-four hours. But as I pass Guayamare I realise a tow truck that’s no hindrance to traffic flow is causing the slow flow. Gawking motorists, I muse, cause more traffic pile-ups than serious accidents or police roadblocks. It’s smooth driving thereafter on the Butler Highway, although I approach the Churchill-Roosevelt with trepidation.

I turn west, and much to my surprise, pleasantly so, the traffic flows smoothly. I had decided to use the Lady Young Road to escape the downtown mess, the Wrightson Road gridlock. But on my radio I hear pan music: Oh, no! I think-pan in the Savannah (my announcer friends fail to mention the venue, which happens to be South Quay). I quickly telephone my friend, ‘De Prive’ (he is coming with some visiting ex-soldiers, from the east). Prive, I say, we have to face Wrightson Road and whatever awaits us there.

By that time, I say to myself, town must be in a mess, what with patrons attending the Soca Monarch finals, two pan finals, and who knows what else? Five-to-ten fetes? DJs at every turn? Beetham Highway is suspiciously light on traffic. I drive past the Lighthouse as if it’s still in the sea-little traffic. When I reach Wrightson Road, I see few taillights ahead of me, and fewer headlights behind me. To my great shock, this once-feared strip is almost traffic-and-people-free! I’m through in minutes and reach my destination in record time.

No, I tell my friends, this can’t be Carnival Friday night! At least not the ones we knew when we attended every pan show, several fetes, or just ambled around town taking in the ‘Carnival vibes’. Something is wrong. Then ‘mouths open, ‘tories jump out’. Few of the ‘carnival peongs’ of yesteryear are excited over any aspect of the festival but the pan finals and the Calypso Monarch competition. We are jolted by the ‘big bangs’ that signal the start of Soca Monarch, but even that fails to ignite excitement among the group.

The street in St James where ‘de lime’ in on, once a beehive of creative activities-drummers fine-tuning their beats, masqueraders busy ensuring their costumes fit properly, sweet soca music belting out from every house-is, well, like a normal Friday night. I gamely ask those I am familiar with: hey, I thought you would be in the midst of the jamming at the Oval? Me, Raf? You seriously expect me to pay to be tortured with ‘tatah’? Nah! I will check out the pan later, but that’s it.

I should add that ‘de lime’ tuned in to the pan finals audio-wise, while the muted television showed the Soca Monarch. When, a few years ago, I found myself withdrawing from Carnival activities (except for Panorama), I thought it was a generational thing. But interacting with an increasingly large number of people who now stay away from the mess that passes for mas, I realise it’s not. Young and old are fed up with the monotony of inane lyrics and two-beat sounds (well, that’s not music!) that dominate fetes and the airwaves.

Yes, I know that at least 100,000 people were ‘palancing’ away at fetes and on Carnival days. I suppose when one’s system is liquor-laden anything sounds like music or rhythm or beat. But for people who enjoyed, say, Kitchener’s ‘Flag Woman’, Shadow’s ‘Stranger’ and Rudder’s ‘Bahia Girl’, to name just three of hundreds of great party songs that had the people-flooded streets of the main carnival centres gyrating, singing, enjoying ourselves, it’s tough to digest ‘we palancing’. The difference is akin to the contrast between a stale, dry hops bread and succulent pelau.

Besides the over-consumption of alcohol that numbs people’s minds to the point where a ‘dustbin cover’ must sound like All Stars in full flow, the bikini-and-beads crap that is actually judged as mas is turning people off Carnival. But for pan music, which is rising to the heavens, thanks to innovations by the maestros and eagerness by young pannists, Carnival is stricken with terminal cancer.

Panorama finals proved to be a feast, a high-quality fare for those who love good music. I never want to be a judge in such competition. In fact, I have gone on record as opposing the competition aspect of pan music. Still, when Silver Stars dished out a superb rendition of ‘Battle Zone’, I switched off my TV and radio and went to bed. That was music ‘fadder’. I sense, too, a changing of the guards in the calypso arena. Space does not permit, so I shall return to that next week.

6 Responses to “Carnival: one foot in the grave”


  • Sad to say Carnival now is dead.

    Most of the fetes are off limits because OF THE BEHAVIOUR of specific patrons, who for some reason MUST fight or bring weapons. The others have retreated to these ULTRA exclusive all-inclusive fetes which to me is more of a ‘bazaar’ rather than a fete.

    The mas is definately DEAD because most now want to jump up like an ass in the road in a bikini or board shorts which is made in China and costs a ridiculous sum of money. Sadly if it wasnt for Macfarlane I would no longer play mas. The day he stops bringing out a band , crapaud smoke we pipe!

  • What exactly is our country coming to when we have Trinis criticizing other Trinis about releasing their energies and having a good time during our decadent carnival period? Growing up as a kid , I saw my first real carnival at the age of sixteen , as all before ,found me in some park with a group of spiritual minded friends and others of similar backgrounds. From the age of 20 to 29 ,as a result of my Job Carnival saw me working on the sidelines as it were, so I had little choice , but to enjoy the revelry from where I could. Today , the event thus holds a different appeal to me from some , but I won’t denigrate fellow citizens because I was forced overt time to develop different perspective and cultural taste.
    Therefore who can stop me from jumping up like a Siberian monkey , as I enjoy my Tassa drummers renditions at St James Hosay ,as I drink my liquor at Smokey & Bounty , and consume various delicacies along the crowded roadways?
    I could care less if any one thought I or thousand of others were simply crazy last Sunday as we all fellow revelers threw abir on each other during our well attended and joyous Aranguez Phagwah festival.
    Can we closet puritans ,please say no to ‘cultural masturbation?’

    http://www.eclectica.org/v2n1/wylie_cultural.html

    It is not only unbecoming, but definitely non Trinidadian. Any social scientist worth his or her salt, would tell us that, without these periodic stupid madness, and psychologically cathartic outlets our people are allowed to engage in , Trini murder rates would be even higher than those savage creatures that make up that backward country call Jamaica.
    While we are at it can someone tell uncle Shah and Dexter , that the reason why we don’t have Sharia laws in our country, and their kids are not attending local Saudi Whahabi funded Madrases like tribal Pakistan , as opposed to normal education that includes steel pan , is because in 1990 their happy go lucky fellow citizens were wise enough to tell the Islamist religious thug Bakr,his gullible youthful henchmen, and secret criminal collaborators, to go to hell, as they preferred to loot and frolic in the sun carnival style for a week , then return all their choice items to police stations, as opposed to following the intended dictates of 12th century, uncivilized thinking.
    Contrary to this myopic mindset ,Carnival is no more dead than politics,colonialism , or Xenocentrism.
    Instead it is evolving and expanding globally , and our country will remain the Mecca when it comes to this art form ,and ability to put on a culturally inclusive show of grand proportion, that remains enjoyable to most of it’s living 1.3 or more millions that still love to call this their country.
    Hey Sir Vidia Naipaul, please book me a ticket to the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance in Gloucester next week will you? Simply tired of this crowded , Nothing-hill tribal nonsense as well.
    To think that these jokers want me to hate my people and country , like they do , ‘dey must be crazy indeed,’ hummmm?

    http://www.stouteweb.com/trini/carnival.htm

  • I agree with the reader that bikini, beads and feathers are not the creative talented flair that is TT carnival. We can all safely agree with that.

    The doom and gloom spread on carnival having one foot in the grave is lazy opinionated journalism. It’s as though the writer is looking for yet another excuse to sodomise carnival and quite frankly I’m tired of the doom and gloomers always forcing their spiel down the throats of the gullible.

    If carnival isn’t doing it for you anymore, then what do you expect from carnival? Carnival can’t give everybody what they want; you’ve got to inject something of yourself into it to make it work. After all, carnival is made up from the elements of us not just one being.

  • I don’t belive that Carnival has one foot in the grave,but we have to be realistic if we truly want to remain the mecca of carnival and go back to our creative roots with what we know as mas and musically as well. sometimes criticism is needed in many respects to ecourage excellence if we truly love our country. There was a replier calling Jamaica a backward country and suggesting that because of their high murder rate that they are savage creatures that was a shameful statement. The reality is Jamaican reggae music has reached where our bloved Soca and Calypso has not yet reached. Their artiste makes an astronomical amount of money in comparison to our biggest soca stars cannot be compared and reggae is listened by our local youths all year long in the USA in clubs around the world China and back you can always hear reggae in comparison to our sweet soca music. so to our bandleaders antertainers you have to evolve so our country will take top ranks and carry our culture to the very top, and our music to the grammys so our entertainers can truly get international exposure financial gratification for their hard work…

  • While some reggae music has evolved, much of it has remained loyal to its roots and therefore remains popular with the global village of music lovers.
    Soca on the other hand to me sounds like 70’s disco music at best. Old fashioned Calypso is always good. Looking to America and the Grammys is probably why we have so much imported rubbish now. Did Brazilians feature music from Yankee artist during carnival? I doubt it, but we don’t have as much pride. We tend to look to others for our own identity.

  • I know Cher, and you are absolutely correct on the musical superiority score card, vis-a -vis Jamaica. I’ll admit the following as well:- This country of mine would lag behind in every conceivable respect ,all others in the Caribbean ,perhaps with the exception of Haiti, had they not been blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and the thought of this can be so frustrating.
    With few exceptions most Trinidadians are by nature insecure self loathing , non patriots, with this unfathomable yearning to love others , and be adored in return , as they in addition strive to be global saviors.We are a divided people , with no coherent sense of cultural identity, and this explains why there exist this true but sad state of affairs.
    I am optimistic however, and so should you.
    Continue to focus on the end game my friend, and love country.
    Warm regards.

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