By Raffique Shah
March 06, 2011
THE new Dimanche Gras Overlord, one Dr Cyril Collier, believes that the show’s calypso content is “too long, too boring”, according to a Guardian newspaper report. He is quoted as saying he is “very passionate about bringing the Dimanche Gras back to the days of the plantation owners”. Arguing that 12 Calypso Monarch finalists singing two songs each takes about three hours-plus to complete their segment, Collier suggested the show’s three components—mas, pan and calypso—should be allocated equal time.
Now, I don’t know if Collier was correctly quoted in the article, but if he was, he has left me dumbstruck. It’s not that I believe the age-old Dimanche Gras format is perfect, that no one should attempt to improve on it. Indeed, as calypso analyst Dr Gordon Rohlehr commented, Carnival is about excesses, which include shows that run inordinately long. I suppose Gordon meant, too, fetes that run all night, some innovative “breakfast breakaways” that start—yes, start!—at 3 a.m., and Panorama semi-finals that run for 16 hours. The annual Calypso Fiesta (calypso monarch semi-finals) runs for around eight hours.
In the Carnival spirit of “excess”, such entertainment and ultra marathon competitions are considered par for the festival course. There is no way, though, that any normal human being can stay alert and really focus on pan music, or calypsoes for that matter, for so many hours. Fetes, yes. One need only to be high like a kite, to wine or jam or jump to an infectious though repetitive beat forever. Fete until you drop, some promoters entice would-be patrons.
Dimanche Gras is different. Within recent years, producers have cut the show down to a crisp five-to-six hours that take Savannah patrons and audiences in their homes from competitions to Jouvert. Real Carnival lovers simply do not sleep that night. I am curious, though, about Collier’s bid to revert to “days of the plantation owners”. If those were his actual words, this fellow needs to be shaken from his colonial slumber.
Our forebears fought long and sometimes bloody battles with the colonial authorities to have calypso, pan and Carnival recognised and accepted as legitimate expressions of our culture. They took away the exclusivity of Carnival from white people who paraded in trucks during a period when the “natives” could only look on from the sidewalks. Through a combination of protest and outrage, we got rid of the Jaycees Carnival Queen charade which no girl darker than coffee-laced-with-milk could enter, far less win. I know. I was part of that campaign in 1968-70.
For all its challenges, calypso remains an integral part of our Carnival. If there are woeful contestants who are using good time with sub-standard compositions, blame the judges, not the calypsonians. In fact, Dimanche Gras has, or ought to have, two critical components—calypso and kings and queens of the bands. The show accommodates a few champion steelbands and guest artistes who usually come from among the icons and legends of our indigenous artforms.
Why we need to showcase non-Carnival items in the Dimanche Gras presentation defies logic. Those take away useful time! Our ethnic and cultural blends, that “all ah we is one” feeling, is a fixed feature of our society. In any event, if the aim of such intrusion into the main show is intended to impress foreign visitors, hell, they would see this at Jouvert and during fetes and Carnival parade of the bands. They can look around the Grand Stand if they choose to go there, or on the streets where Carnival lovers of all hues and extracts rub shoulders, “take ah wine”, share drinks and eats, and generally enjoy each other’s company in the true spirit of this melting pot called Trinidad and Tobago.
So, take those extraneous acts out of the Dimanche Gras show if they would help shorten the duration. How dare Dr Collier even think of cutting back on the number of contestants, as well as their two songs, in the interest of making the show more acceptable? Acceptable to whom? Attempts to have the finalists sing one song were scuttled when reason was brought to bear by experienced bards. You cannot judge our Calypso Monarch on one good or popular song. His or her talent as a calypsonian can only be established by a rich repertoire, such as we have had from David Rudder, Black Stalin, Duke, Rose, Kitchener, Chalkdust, Sparrow, Sandra—to mention those whose names and performances come to mind.
In other words, Dr Collier, a one-song monarch is akin to a one-leg athlete. And if there is just cause to tighten the numbers in the finals, that should be left to the judges. They should be qualified and competent enough to say, hey, look, only seven or eight of these calypsonians have the firepower to make it to the Big Yard. If calypso has become a “bother” to the director of the Dimanche Gras show, then I absolutely agree with TUCO president Brother Resistance: take the Calypso Monarch finals out of “Fat Sunday”. Do like the pan fraternity, have a separate calypso finals on a different night, organised by TUCO.
Then we shall see if Dimanche Gras, sans humanité, can stand on costumes, integrated dances and maybe a healthy dose of re-colonisation that Collier seems to fancy. Norvan Fullerton and Pat Bishop, among others, organised this show before, quite successfully. Cut the crap, Cyril, and show us tonight how good you are.