Daly Bread: Steelpan still strong, but soca and mas fall short of “mother of all Carnivals” boast

The phrase “mother of all Carnivals” is overworked. Its use will eventually become as stale as “the greatest show on earth”.

Moreover, whatever its short-term marketing benefits, it also has cynical political value when it is used to pump up the illusion of joy in these unrelentingly murderous and (with acknowledgement to 3 Canal) santimanitay times.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell (centre) and Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore enjoy themselves during the 2023 Panorama.
(via Pan Trinbago)

As a matter of historical interest, the phrase is probably another descendant of Saddam Hussein’s description of the battle for Kuwait between Iraq and the US and its allies as “the mother of all battles”.

The origin of the phrase is succinctly described in Business Insider. Citing the use of the phrase “to describe the most important or prominent example of something in any given category”, the publication stated:

“Hussein’s punchy soundbite quickly resonated in the US. Americans began co-opting the phrase in constructions like ‘the mother of all hurricanes’ or ‘the mother of all traffic jams’. The construction ‘mother of all …’ became so popular that the American Dialect Society named it 1991’s Word of the Year.”

So it came to pass that on June 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, the then Attorney General (now demoted), Faris Al Rawi, was reported in the Newsday as promising: “We will come out of this pandemic. Next Carnival is going to be the mother of all Carnivals. Good days are ahead of us, and I’m very hopeful about it.”

Then Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi holds an umbrella for soca star Machel Montano at his wedding on 14 February 2020.

The National Carnival Commission (NCC)—a body almost entirely financially dependent on the Government—gleefully adopted the phrase, declaring that 2023 “would be the mother of all Carnivals making it the biggest festivity we have had in the country in a long time”.

What is left unsaid is the use of the promised monster Carnival to distract us from a prolonged guava season during which all guava was eaten down to seeds. It is also being used to water down our persistent unease caused by the record numbers of killings with impunity.

There are many weaknesses underlying the “mother of all Carnivals”. There is no need for further comment on the inadequacy of the routes to the Savannah. This is discussed every year after Carnival, but no alternative routing arrangements are ever seriously considered other than the addition of the Socadrome.

A reveller enjoys herself in Gems band during the 2018 Carnival.
(Copyright Analisa Caruth/Wired868)

The drome has not relieved congestion significantly and, in any event, currently there is no decision on the resumption of the Socadrome. Will gridlock halt the parade if there is significantly increased participation in and by costumed bands?

And what of the older authentic aspects of Carnival?

The authorities were content to let these be shoved aside by the growing conglomerate power of Mardi Gras-type bands and excessive DJ volume. The calypso art form is acknowledged to be struggling and it seems that much of the soca product cannot be consolidated or find a venue base.

Prominent soca artiste and event manager, Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez, was driven by the cancellation of Soca Monarch openly to say Carnival is “ailing” and to wonder “in five years who knows if we will even have a Carnival?”

(From left) Soca stars Destra Garcia, Machel Montano and Patrice Roberts perform at the 2023 Fete with the Saints.
(Copyright Jono Hirst)

Happily, the steelband sector is strong. Huge, convivial crowds flocked to the yards on Tuesday last for the visits of the Panorama judges to the yards in the northern region.

The panyards contain inestimable value. They exhibit the drawing and harmonising power of pan.

This is the product of the labour of the descendants of slavery and indenture and the disadvantaged, who invented and refined this unique musical instrument and a significant number of our youthful sons and daughters keep playing it.

We dropped the inspiration ball during the inactive two years of Covid in which there was time, by Zoom townhalls, to share ideas for the revitalisation of all our Carnival products for the benefit of consumers and audiences—whether resident, visiting and in foreign.

A pannist plays for Old Tech Steel Orchestra during the 2023 Panorama Small Conventional Bands category.
(via Pan Trinbago)

As Glenwil, a close friend of mine, commented to me, had we done this critical thinking, we could have more boldly declared Carnival 2023 to be the Mother of future Carnivals: revitalised and reshaped to preserve the traditional authentic elements at its core, alongside its joyful evolved forms.

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