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.
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!
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.”
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.”
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?
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.
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!