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Dear Editor: What desperately needs changing in St James’ We Beat festival

“[…] That appreciation [of traditional carnival characters at We Beat] does not, however, extend to the management of it. What I witnessed on Saturday night is an excellent example of what not to do if you are trying to get youths involved to pass it onto them.”

Wired868 columnist Corey Gilkes gives his view on the change needed for We Beat celebrations in St James:

Photo: A midnight robber during carnival season in Trinidad and Tobago.
(Courtesy Traditional Mas)

I want to express my deepest appreciation to the organisers of the We beat celebrations in St James for their continued inclusion of of traditional Carnival characters. Traditional Mas is something that is very near and dear to me and it has so much positive potential with the right imagination.

That appreciation does not, however, extend to the management of it. What I witnessed on Saturday night is an excellent example of what not to do if you are trying to get youths involved to pass it onto them. Of course, it could also be how you go about killing off something if you have no understanding of its uniqueness or just never truly cared for it and just was going through the motions.

It needs to be made clear that Traditional Mas is not about dressing people up in traditional Mas costumes to wine behind a music truck—which didn’t move for over 40 minutes, then drove forward for a few metres, stopped and repeated the torture.

Some Mas characters have unique dance steps, rituals and portrayals. The way it was done in Mayaro a couple months ago, though not perfect, was much, much better as a model.

Saturday night’s farce could easily have been done much differently with more co-ordination. That way, steel bands and music trucks could move in the same direction—hint, hint—on that narrow strip of road but at staggered intervals and be more inclusive of the audience since the non-Eurocentric side of our Carnival and cultural events always included the onlookers as part of the performance.

Photo: Young revellers enjoy themselves during San Fernando J’Ouvert celebrations on 27 February 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Then, the absent Baby-dolls, Dames Lorraine, fake doctors and police would have done their thing and drew more enjoyment from onlookers including the tourists I saw.

In fact, if they wanted the music truck to make those frequent stops, the live entertainment could easily have included a competition between Midnight Robbers at one stop, Pierrot Grenade at another and perhaps Black/Fancy Indian at another so that those who can still speak the language have an incentive to carry it on.

As it was I barely saw the Fancy and King sailors although the few that were were there did make an impression with their costumes and bad-behaviour/drunken antics in the odd drain. I barely saw the Jab Molassie and Jab-Jabs—which the announcer on the truck was clueless about in terms of knowing the difference—and of course the Moko Jumbies.

There were no bats—although Matthew Whitley was most present on the pavement—and certainly no Robbers or Minstrels. And no cow-bands, or clowns either.

But then the clowns could have been the ones who were managing this thing for all I know.

Perhaps We Beat this year was just about doing that: We beat the Traditional Mas out of existence.

Photo: A masquerader plays the traditional sailor mas for Carnival.
(Courtesy Marshe)

About Corey Gilkes

Corey Gilkes is a self-taught history reader whose big mouth forever gets his little tail in trouble. He lives in La Romaine and is working on four book projects. He has a blog on https://coreygilkes.wordpress.com/blog/ and http://www.trinicenter.com/Gilkes/. Vitriol can be emailed to him at coreygks@gmail.com.

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