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Is Greatest Show on Earth not far from finished? Best’s 2017 Carnival post-mortem

A litany of whoa! But we jamming still!

Bacchanal, synonym of and the default rhyme for Carnival, has been part and parcel of the national festival for donkey’s years and controversy and comess have been its consistent companions. But this year was ‘diss’ year; everywhere you looked in 2017, it was disaffection, discontent, disenchantment, disgruntlement, disgust, dissatisfaction and dissension.

Photo: Lornette "Fya Empress" Nedd-Reid performs her calypso "Guilty" at the Calypso Monarch finals on 26 February 2017 at the Queen's Park Savannah. Despite her very visible casket, she failed to bury the competition, placing 15th among the 17 contestants. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Lornette “Fya Empress” Nedd-Reid performs her calypso “Guilty” at the Calypso Monarch finals on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
Despite her very visible casket, she failed to bury the competition, placing 15th among the 17 contestants.
(Courtesy Wired868)

The nine-time king says judges who don’t know nutten bout metaphor, simile and hyperbole cyar judge calypso. But ordinary Trinis know bout symbolism. And when deh see a open casket siddong in the middle ah the Savannah stage in the middle ah Dimanche Gras, as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean, well, Chalkie doh have to tell them what dat mean…

Yuh know how long time yuh used to ring a yard fowl neck and then leave it dey to dead and it beating up, beating up, beating up, flapping all bout the place before it finally dead? Well, that is Carnival 2017.

The Carnival dying, brother, it falling apart at the seams, getting ready fuh de open casket. But we ent business! We jamming still.

Two dozen fingers pointing at NCC but we ent business; Kenny De Silva chairmanning still!

Pan Trinbago cyar account fuh de money deh spending? We ent business, deh a-counting still!

TUCO judges tiefing Revue? We ent business, deh crowning king still!

Professor Liverpool, the eight-time Monarch, say “untrained” judges cyar judge? We ent business, he winning number nine still!

Photo: Dr Hollis "Chalkdust" Liverpool performs “Learn from Arithmetic” at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen's Park Savannah. Chalkdust copped the crown for a record ninth time. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool performs “Learn from Arithmetic” at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
Chalkdust copped the crown for a record ninth time.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Fya Empress song encouraging violence? She ent business, she suing still!

Carmona costume disrespecting Hindus? He ent business, he wining still!

Two or three people get kill during the Carnival? Minister Dillon ent business, he crime-freeing still!

And doh expect Minister Gadsby-Dolly to put she hand in de air and say she takin’ responsibility. Is she business but she really cyar take the jamming.

Dis is Trinidad, brother. Dis is Carnival, the Greatest Show on Earth.

Mind you, none of this began yesterday. Sniper told us way back in 1965: “By calypsoes our stories are told.” But in the pre-Independence years before Sniper and Duke (“an editorial in song of the lessons we undergo”) called attention to the calypsonian’s role, Sparrow, soon to be hailed as the Calypso King of the World, was recording a controversy for us.

“So ah leaving all mih calypso on de shelf,” he sang defiantly, upset at the measly prizes on offer for the Calypso King. “Leh dem keep the prize in Savannah fuh deh own self. Leh de queen run de show with she fridge and she radio. Who want to go could go up dey but me eh going noway.”

Photo: Iconic calypsonian Slinger Francisco is better known as The Mighty Sparrow. (Copyright Soulreflectionz.com)
Photo: Iconic calypsonian Slinger Francisco is better known as The Mighty Sparrow.
(Copyright Soulreflectionz.com)

And a few short years later, beaten out for the crown by a calypso non-entity, he produced “Robbery with V.”

“Deh put a man with no originality, no stage personality,” he sneered in song, “deh trying to make me look small. All he have is a deep croon, tell me when he go change that tune.”

Were I not wary of misleading you into thinking that we’re back in 2017, I would also have given you the end of the chorus, which says, “Dis song, dat song, same melody, no variety. If yuh doh believe me, yuh could ask anybody if it ent robbery with V.”

But not all the controversies get documented so well, not even Sparrow’s. As far as I know, there is no record in song of the reasons why  Lord Brynner’s “T&T Independence” gave the Trinidad-born calypsonian the 1962 national Independence crown ahead of the Grenada-born Sparrow’s “Our Model Nation.” Give the two songs a listen and be your own judge.

But the judges aren’t always the problem, Look at the chart provided below. The listed Road March winner in 2003 is Fay-Ann Lyons’ “Display.” Do you remember it? Can you sing the opening lines? The chorus?

Do you know what Destra sang in 2003? “Take a jump, take a jump, take a jump up now. Take a wine, take a wine, take a wine up now. Take a jam, take a jam, take a jam up now … It’s Carnival.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago soca star Destra Garcia.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago soca star Destra Garcia.

Space prevents me from including the all-time list, which you would have been able to search for a tune that still breaks down parties today, more than 30 years after it was released. In vain! The official record lists the 1978 Road March as Rose’s “Come leh we jam.”

What survives in the memory as the song that ruled the roost that year is Kitchener’s “Sugar Bum bum,” whose lyrics, according to one commentator, “make Caribbean men salivate and smack their lips as it teases the sexual taste buds over a haunting melody.”

“Audrey, whey yuh get dat sugar? Darling, there is nothing sweeter…”

Year Calypso Monarch Road March Band of the Year Panorama Winners
2000 Shadow Carnival come back home (Iwer George) Streets of Fire (Legends) Desperadoes
2001 Denyse Plummer Strangers (Shadow) 2001-Now and Beyond (Legends) Exodus
2002 Sugar Aloes Trinidad (Naya George) Untamed (Barbarossa) All Stars
2003 Singing Sandra Display (Fay-Ann Lyons) Bedazzled (Legends) Exodus
2004 Chalkdust Look de band coming  (Shurwayne Winchester)  Arabian Nights (Trini Revellers) Exodus
2005 Chalkdust Dead or alive (Shurwayne Winchester) Conquest of the Indies (Trini Revellers) Phase II
2006 Luta/Delamo Band of the Year (Machel Montano) Rome, The Empire (Trini Revellers) Phase II
2007 Cro Cro Jumbie (Machel Montano) India: The story of Boyie (Mc Farlane) All Stars
20008 Sugar Aloes Get on (Fay-Ann Lyons) Earth: Cries of Despair, Wings of Hope (Mc Farlane) Phase II
2009 Chalkdust Meet SuperBlue (Fay-Ann Lyons) Out of Africa: Africa-Her People, Her Glory, Her Tears (Mc Farlane) Silver Stars
2010 Kurt Allen Palance (JW and Blaze) Resurrection: The Mas (Mc Farlane) Silver Stars
2011 Karene Asche Advantage (Machel Montano) Humanity: Circle of Life (Mc Farlane) All Stars
2012 Duane O’Connor Pump your flag (Machel Montano) Sanctification…In search of (Mc Farlane) All Stars
2013 Pink Panther Fantastic Friday (SuperBlue) Joy: The Finale (Mc Farlane) Phase II
2014 Chucky Ministry of the Road (Machel Montano) Sailors on Shore Leave at a Tropical Fiesta (All Stars) Phase II
2015 Chucky Like a boss (Machel Montano) Ships ahoy at a French Festival (All Stars) All Stars
2016 Devon Seale Waiting on the stage (Machel Montano) Tears of (Ronnie and Caro) Despers
2017 Chalkdust Full extreme (Ultimate Rejects) Fearless 10 (Ronnie and Caro) All Stars

(Source: Carnival Champions Hall of Fame)

Wired868 is confident that, just as long-standing calypso lover Eric St Bernard has put on his guns again to talk about kaiso, those far more competent to deal with the steelbands’ many messy issues will be doing so in these pages before too long. I want only to remind us all of how, when people like Ray Holman and Boogsie Sharp had the effrontery to challenge the status quo by composing tunes specifically for pan, town say no way, José.

And to point out that something is either very wrong or very right with a system that has ensured that only five bands have shared the 18 titles so far contested in this century. Interestingly, some panmen have taken the either view and are proposing to form a rival East-based organisation to ensure that the East/West Corridor bands will get a fair shake in the future.

But in a sphere rife with dissension, nary a dissenting voice was raised in 2017 when All Stars moved past semi-final winners Desperadoes to emerge as Panorama victors.

And so to the mas. It too has had its share of controversy. In 2017, it started early when Brian MacFarlane stepped on some black corns with his proposed evocation of colonial Trinidad. And the decision to return to the fray seems to me to suggest that MacFarlane is not entirely sanguine about his real legacy.

So I ask this perhaps rude but inevitable question: with all his pompously titled bands that ruled the Oughts—unbeaten from 2007 to 2013—will MacFarlane ever eclipse Peter Minshall in our memories?

Photo: Mas with Peter Minshall in his heyday. (Copyright Repeating Islands)
Photo: Mas with Peter Minshall in his heyday.
(Copyright Repeating Islands)

Remember when Minsh first came on the scene and changed the paradigm? If my memory serves me right—I guarantee nothing—he finished third or fourth or fifth once or twice; he certainly didn’t win or come last, which were really the only two reasonable options.

It was either ‘Mama, dat is mas!’ and he was the winner or ‘What shit is dat?’ and he was dead last.

But, not for the first time or for the last, the judges thought otherwise. For a while.

If you’re old enough, ask yourself how much you remember of the kings and queens and characters in Raoul Garib’s bands that won three titles in four years in the Eighties. Or even in Wayne Berkeley’s presentations which copped a string of consecutive titles in the Nineties.

Minsh eventually began to wow us and kill them all softly. Who will ever forget the many-splendoured creations that were the Sacred and the Profane and the Stingray and Mancrab and Washerwoman and Callaloo dancing Tic tac toe down the River, culminating in the mesmeric mobility of Saga Boy and Tantan? Not I!

All of that was invisible, however, in 2017, As I watched the Minister of Culture addressing Thursday’s post-Cabinet conference, in the front of my mind were the painful images of kings and queens labouring and lumbering onto the Grand Stand Stage lugging these for the most part monstrous mechanical marvels, completely devoid of imagination and Minsh’s magical movement.

Photo: Peter Minshall's 2016 Carnival creation: The Dying Swan—Ras Nijinsky in Drag. (Courtesy Maria Nunes/Wired868)
Photo: Peter Minshall’s 2016 Carnival creation: The Dying Swan—Ras Nijinsky in Drag.
(Courtesy Maria Nunes/Wired868)

Able to look in the mirror and see only the full half of the glass,  KPB, oops, Minister Gadsby-Dolly decreed that “It was a quite successful Carnival,” She went on to give the assurance that she will not be demanding or even requesting a resignation from the NCC Chairman who had publicly attributed the Dimanche Gras fiasco to “glitches.”

A glitch, my dictionary tells me, is either “a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or fault of equipment” or “an unexpected setback.”

What happened to Aaron “The Voice” St Louis at the International Soca Monarch Finals was a glitch; at the Savannah, we had a flop, a colossal cock-up, a calamity, a debacle, a disaster, an embarrassment, a fiasco, a national disgrace, all of the above?—take your pick.

But it was emphatically not a glitch, singular or plural!

Fortunately, early on Friday morning, the Express landed on my desk and the front page headline announced that, after reading their Thursday editorial, the aforementioned NCC Chairman will resign.

I guess we are indeed fortunate; there are those who, in Mr De Silva’s situation, would not have given up the chairmanship but would simply have given up reading!

Photo: NCC chairman Kenny De Silva.
Photo: NCC chairman Kenny De Silva.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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4 comments

  1. Some well-phrased observations. At the risk of initiating a battle with one of the best, I have to point out there will forever be a debate about the road march- it’s the people’s choice and there is no way to predict sometimes. I can remember both 2003 songs. (I am of course an exception) More importantly, I can also remember how tight the race was tho not the actual figures. I am curious to what the real accusation is behind the comments on what song won the road march. I hope those accusations come with evidence as well or they should be withdrawn. The artists in question deserve that much respect.

    • Earl Best

      I’m not accusing, Miss Behave, I’m describing. I’m not focused on the personalities,my focus is the personality (if I may use that word) of the national festival. As I remember it, there was a lot of dissatisfaction at the time with many people implying that the count had been flawed.

      Evidence? This is Trinidad, lady, we don’t deal in dat!

      But I freely and willingly offer an unreserved apologies to the two ladies if I am perceived as offending either or both. It certainly was not my intention to cast any aspersions.

  2. Yes I resign. No I do not

  3. Scotty Ranking

    I am in total agreement with the views stated above.

    In my opinion, since 2003 the winning compositions through the years for both Calypso Monarch and Road March have become less and less memorable (except, in my case, for my personal interests in Cro Cro and Kurt Allen). And yes, the latter part of “Robbery with V” is indeed prophetic about some of the recent “hits” that we have been made to listen to in recent years.

    As with most problems in our land, changes need to be made from the top. But as long as those at the top continue to perceive/believe that everything is hunky dory – and their hangers-on lap it up – then the status quo remains and the art forms associated with Carnival atrophy from general apathy. Eventually we will be left with a celebration that is apocryphal, at best, to the true spirit of Carnival.