July 4, 2014
Looking beyond Carnival 2014:

As Carnival begins its final countdown, among those who will take a brief respite from work will be some of the fiercest critics of our supreme national festival. They see it as an affront to Christianity, objecting to, among other things, the dress and behaviour of patrons and players. They will move away from the major areas of activity where the debauchery will allegedly take place, for fear of becoming contaminated.{{more}} It is amazing that there is so much in this country that is unchristian and immoral, even illegal, to which we turn a blind eye, but Carnival becomes the whipping boy. But it must be said that what Carnival does is to bring it all together. What happens at Carnival really mirrors what we have become. It doesn’t design a new persona that is unrecognisable.

We have to recognise the historical importance and significance of Carnival. The Trinidadians refer to their Canboulay riots of 1881 as a major point in their Carnival history. Not many people know or pay attention to the fact that in 1879, two years before Trinidad’s, a similar effort was made to stop our Carnival and this led to riots in Kingstown. Carnival has been with us for a long time. I am usually quite annoyed when we celebrate the different anniversaries of Carnival, using as our marking point the year in which Carnival was switched from a pre-lenten festival to the July-August festival as we know it today. If we want to develop an appreciation of our festival we have to provide its historical context, so that we don’t go away with the belief that it is something new that we have copied from Trinidad.

There is a creativity that manifests itself at Carnival that we have never really tapped. This goes from persons designing and organising bands, the musicians, the pan men and women, the writers, the singers and performers generally. Once Carnival is over, we go back to square one only to recreate that talent and creativity at the same time next year. I am of the view that these hidden talents/skills could be used outside of Carnival for nation building and for living generally. There is in this sense a ‘disconnect’ between what we produce and create at Carnival and what we do for the rest of the year. Although I am against the bastardisation of our culture, we have to examine its economic potential in a way that avoids that.

There is still a lot that we could do with the different components of Carnival. To use one area, I am concerned, for instance, that calypsos are not attracting as many young people as it was hoped, especially given the long existence of the Junior Calypso competition. One of the aspects that demands more attention is the ‘Calypso Tent’. Moving the tents from Victoria Park was a plus. I was particularly impressed with the Russell auditorium as a venue and we perhaps need to utilise it more fully. The ‘Tent Season’ has been whittled down to a preparation for judging. Everything seems to be centred on this. The tent season should be longer, but it would mean having to revamp the shows. A show must be produced that focuses on entertaining patrons, even while the artistes equip themselves for the finals. To do all of this and to improve the Carnival shows generally we have to do something about our MCs. Some of them kill the shows instead of taking them steadily along. They have a false sense of what an MC is expected to do. You could be entertaining by carefully managing the show and with a commanding presence that takes it along. Get rid of the feeling that you need to be a comedian, for a joke is only as good as the manner in which it is presented. Training for potential MCs is a Must.

Guest artistes can be featured who need not necessarily be calypsonians. A dance group, a comedian, can add flavour. I have only mentioned these, but there are other things that can be utilised to keep patrons happy. Punctuality is a major factor, especially during the week when one has to work the next day. I queried the late start and was told that they couldn’t start before patrons arrive. Admittedly this is a problem that goes beyond Carnival. We still stick to this thing we call ‘Vincy time’ or ‘Caribbean time,’ as if it is something to be proud of. I would like to see a clash of the ‘Tents’. While those who have been selected for the finals would go off doing their preparations for the big night, there are other calypsonians with good songs that patrons would want to hear. When visitors arrive for Carnival, it would be good to have this as an attraction. I have always argued that we need to bring back the fun and humour to our calypsos. With that we might attract more young people. I learnt a lesson from Phoenix, who with his ‘Take Me to Victoria Park’ made a guest appearance at the Junior Calypso show. The reaction of the young people was unbelievable. The song was just plain funny, even infuriating, but the young people liked it and responded to it in a way that I would never have imagined.

The Calypso Semis, which we now call ‘Fantastic Friday’ used to be one of the big shows. The crowds now seem to be returning. What about having it on a Saturday afternoon and make it into a family affair, where parents could bring their children? The problem with this is that it all depends on having a suitable venue. Not an enclosed area! There is still a lot of work to be done to make our Carnival relevant and attractive.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.