Forty days and 40 nights. And counting…
NCC has had its say. Communications is largely silent. Tourism has been silenced. Community Development, Culture and the Arts has had nothing to say. But the volume of kangkatang in this year’s Carnival, it seems to me, makes a proper post-mortem imperative. And preferably while memories are still fresh on the details.
There is a good chance, I think, that any such exercise will reveal the beginnings of rigor mortis. Still red, the Rowley Government, which bungles everything, is, however, seemingly not yet ready to deal with the fall-out from any announcement of further forced cutbacks in funding for next year’s festival.
Even before Dimanche Gras 2017, almost all the organisations that man the Carnival engine room appeared not to be satisfied with their lot. Pan Trinbago and TUCO as a whole were no happier than Sugar Aloes, Pink Panther and the Calypso Revue, no happier than Lady Gypsy, Fya Empress, Brian London, Duane O’Connor or Cro, say. Devon Seale wasn’t happy with the one-song format, Kees had a beef with the way the Road March winner is determined. Pan Trinbago felt threatened by the NCC as did the NCBA, uneasy with what it saw as the way the Government-appointed body was slowly muscling in on its territory.
In San Fernando, in Scarborough and in Sangre Grande as in Chaguanas and in Charlotteville, the signs of doom are unmistakeable; the regional carnivals are completely unviable, even if they could get the funding for which they all with one voice clamour.
Faced with consistently shrinking revenue, the Rowley Government and the NCC are demanding of the stakeholders much less dependence on the public purse and far greater accountability than has been the norm. But old habits die hard. Keith Christopher, Nyan and Shamfa all know with absolute certainty that next year they will still be asked to find the money to fund them all.
The edifice is collapsing under its own weight. But as with crime, nary an administrator or a minister seems able to lift an effective finger to prevent it.
I want to suggest to the powers-that-be that there is need to monitor certain developments very closely. The International Soca Monarch showpiece, its taxpayer funding significantly reduced, seemed not to do quite so well this year as in the past. Meanwhile, the private Socadrome initiative seemed to have arrested the slide this year, by fair means or foul.
But Soca in Moka is flourishing. As are so many of the private fetes and all-inclusives which, undependent on government subventions, know that they will simply fold and disappear without efficient management.
In these different penny-pinching economic times, it must be obvious that the evolution of the Carnival is inevitable. But it’s not all about money.
If you’re old enough to remember seeing the 1968 Band of the Year winner El Dorado, City of Gold, my instincts tell me that you didn’t go to the Queen’s Park Savannah on Carnival Monday or Tuesday. And if you also have memories of the 1962 Band of the Year winner Somewhere in New Guinea, I’m willing to bet you didn’t even put your television set on on either day.
Indeed, in all likelihood, it’s been years since you’ve been able to summon up the courage – or whatever it takes – to go in the flesh and watch the Parade of the Bands. Unless, of course, hankering after the theatrical beauty of Peter Minshall’s 1995-97 hat-trick, which started with Hallelujah, you let your curiosity draw you to Brian McFarlane’s pompously titled 21st Century ersatz.
For many of my generation, Minshall, like Macbeth did to sleep in Shakespeare’s famous play, murdered mas. My nostalgia for the visual beauty of George Bailey and Harold Saldenah didn’t suffer too much through the 70s, when Irwin McWilliams and Stephen Lee Heung’s productions (for example, Wonders of Buccoo Reef and Paradise Lost respectively) withstood the closer scrutiny of a searching, black-conscious mind. In the throes of NJAC’s Black Power Revolution, remember, Stalin and Valentino were singing up a colour-conscious storm powered by Duke’s “Black is beautiful.”)
Spectacles only began to adorn my face in the early 1990s but Carnival had begun to be less interesting as spectacle in the preceding decade. I know now that the fatal injection probably came from Raoul Garib. who won three titles from 1982 to 1985 and was twice denied the hat-trick, once arguably by the 1983 tie between Lee Heung and Edmund Hart and then indisputably by Hart’s 1986 triumph with Islands in the Sun.
And I can tell with much great certainty the year my interest in the calypso nosedived. Poser sang his eminently forgettable “Ah tell she” in 1979. “Find a party,” the chorus said, “smoke a warty.” A warty? The X Generation, cutting their calypso teeth on Machel Montano’s and Iwer George’s soca lyrics wouldn’t find that shocking or even strange. I never recovered from it until 1986.
That was the year the Road March competition started rising again, when David Rudder dared to set foot on a calypso stage without a sobriquet and let his new sound system blow the children – and their parents – away. Young King, Calypso King and Road March champion all in one, Rudder would soon earn the title King David. But his crown came with a far shrunken realm. And nothing like the number of subjects of which the self-styled Calypso King of the World could boast in his heyday.
But for a decade or so in King David’s heyday, the Greatest Show on Earth became much more than a commercial line. Or merely an empty phrase.
I leave it to the social scientists to tell us authoritatively about the impact on the Carnival of the political changes – “Is we time now,” To them too, I leave the task of explaining if, how and why the political events of the 90s may have spawned the rise of chutney. What I am prepared to say is that somewhere between SuperBlue’s “Signal to Lara” in 1995 and Sanell Dempster’s wonderfully musical “River” in 1999, some sea change occurred to alter the course of the Road March competition forever. Irreversibly.
But it wasn’t just the music. For me, across the decade of the Oughts, the character of the national festival mutated measurably. Perhaps it is but a personal prejudice but I would say that Carnival music discovered that it was ailing; it was diagnosed, a friend of mine says, with socancer.
Ask Dr Bird and Dr “Chalkdust” Liverpool. Don’t expect objectivity from prejudiced me.
The seething disaffection with the way the Road March winner is decided receded into the background in 2017 because there was a runaway, prohibitive favourite that even the reported media mafia couldn’t stop if it wanted to. As the same friend referred to earlier pointed out, MX Prime could have divided the 556 votes “Full Extreme” earned him by seven and still beat Machel Montano’s runner-up “Your time now.”
But what will happen next year when the Ultimate Rejects or some other popular-for-one-season singer in dirty clothes – not everyone can afford to pay to have his/her clothes laundered – doesn’t quite manage to sweep the other contenders, strong though some may well be, into irrelevance? What happens when it is decided on high that some promising, potential Road March contender is to be added to the rejects list? Will the NCC, whose fingers are increasingly in the Carnival pie, react by intervening to ensure justice is done?
Or will we for once be proactive and change the rules now while the conditions are right for change? And the rules governing the Calypso Monarch competition at all its stages? And change the Dimanche Gras format? And the Panorama? And the arrangements for the Parade of the Bands?
The discontentment around the organization of Carnival is palpable. And if we are not careful, we may have to ask Fya Empress to bring her casket back to the Savannah next year.
But it won’t be to bury the hatchet or to bury those now increasingly audibly opposed to continuing government involvement in the Carnival.
No, sirree; it will be to inter those interferers who, afraid to initiate the major surgery that is so clearly needed, continue to tweak, tamper and tinker with the national festival in vain.