Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 25th 2014 Contents There s a real possibility, in the
rush to post mortem the major mis-
steps of Carnival 2014, that we will
make more, far-reaching mistakes
in the planning of future editions
of the festival.
We are on the verge of deputising
a cavalcade of cultural Captain Bak-
ers, the now largely-mythical villain
of the annual Canboulay perform-
ance, to police the boundaries of
what is allowed and desirable in a
festival that is founded on the idea
of the bacchanalian release of intel-
So many of the issues that surfaced
during the celebrations of 2014 arose
from exactly that fundamental con-
flict. Bands being penalised for having
underage celebrants and for starting
at the wrong point in the parade
Everything about the defiantly pri-
vatised Socadrome event.
It's as if we now believe that Car-
nival must be continuously subsidised
and ruthlessly regulated if we are
ever to whip it into shape.
But consider something else. Con-
sider the very heart of Carnival itself,
the private urge to present something
engaging and creative as a contri-
bution to the festival itself. The
essential motivation that has driven
everyone from Minshall to a young
Paramin jab jab to do something so
outrageous, so startling, so utterly
unusual that we are moved to do
nothing more that stand stunned
and mutter, "well, that is mas."
To explain this a bit less abstractly,
let me tell you a story about how I
came to immerse myself in what's
called pretty mas for two years.
On Carnival Tuesday evening in
2007, I found myself stuck for two
hours as Tribe flowed in front of my
car as I waited to drive home.
At first, I was annoyed, then, I
became curious. The band wasn't
being laggardly. Indeed, there were
people hustling the surging line of
masqueraders forward. In 2008, I
spent a year photographing how the
band put thousands of people on the
In 2013, I did the same thing again,
curious about how the band, which
had tripled in size since then, had
scaled its operations and capacities.
Between those stories, I spent a
few months with The Original Whip-
masters, whose intensely personal
approach to playing mas had also
What I found in both cases was,
to my continuing surprise and pleas-
ure, almost exactly the same thing.
I found families working together
with shared purpose. Tribe is led
largely by the Nobrega, Ackin and
Ramirez families, their extended
households and circle of friends.
The Alfreds of Couva produce their
tiny band out of their living room
and yard, the family, friends and
community pitching in to make the
unsponsored band happen each year.
You may see a world of difference
in the results of their efforts. I choose
to consider similarities in commit-
ment, effort, work and their shared
sense of independence.
The Alfreds don't charge mas-
queraders to play. It's less a band
than it is a fraternity of common
Tribe runs a pricey all-inclusive
street party behind nylon rope for
people who enjoy that experience
and see it as their investment in Car-
My inability to distinguish between
one costume and another speaks to
my ignorance, not a lack of knowl-
edge or studied craft within the form.
Creative entrepreneurship, regard-
less of its form or relative maturity
should not be a matter for public
discussion beyond a general agree-
ment that it should be encouraged
Far more insidious is the steady
encroachment of State funding at
staggering levels throughout the fes-
Such investments, poorly account-
ed for, unjustified by common sense
and liberally granted have more to
do with politics and oil money than
any strategy of sustainable develop-
ment in Carnival.
This spending amounts to nothing
less than the "Cepeping" of Carnival,
the creation of "eat-ah-food" oppor-
tunities that do nothing for the art
within the festival and may, ulti-
mately, smother any real movement
for change and evolution.
The subventions that support tra-
ditional mas have created a ghetto
of handouts and minimal ones at
that, instead of funding the growth
of real businesses or creative hotbeds
Millions are spent on events that
are essentially stadium-scale parties.
On whose authority is the Soca
Monarch or the Chutney Monarch
competition convened beyond our
own consensus of acceptance, and
the participation of the artists ?
Here's what we should do.
Operate by the simplest of watch-
words. Measure what you want to
improve. Protect what's important.
Give the festival room to breathe.
Most of the problems of Carnival
arise because of congestion and poor
management of large crowds through
Remove that ridiculous rule about
children in bands on Carnival Tues-
day. Family-based bands will die off
in a generation without an early
engagement in the family business.
Push party bands to self-police the
behaviour of children.
Face the reality of Carnival today.
Fond reminiscing about Carnivals
past will not magically cause them
to return and we're wasting a lot of
time talking about traditions when
that's exactly what we're creating
today for future generations.
This column is an edited version
of a talk I gave at the National Citizen's
Conversation on Carnival on March
23. Read the full version here:
Tuesday, March 25, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
EASON TO C
It's Old !
Although the Gregorian calendar
was created in 1582, many coun-
tries chose to ignore it for several
-day Gregorian cal-
endar until 1751. Russia held out until 1918! In fact,
people in Russia, Switzerland, Macedonia, Georgia,
Belarus, and Serbia still celebrate the Old New Year.
Plan a grand feast with family and friends to cele-
brate the occasion.
Happy Old New Year!
A Carnival coda
during the event
at Queen's Royal
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