I had begun writing about something entirely different when I suddenly felt I didn’t want to anymore, not this week anyway. It was too utterly oppressive and my mood had been altered by two sightings.
One was photographs of the murals that Jackie Hinkson put up yesterday on Fisher Avenue so that we can find a little something to feed the Carnival. The other was a sketch that my daughter did that also waylaid me.
It depicts an old-time house—rendered with the minute detail that is her trait—standing side by side with a towering moko. Something about it made me think of Jackie, and when she told me she’d named it ‘Piccadilly Jumbie’, I realised it was because that was the type of house he has painted into our history throughout his life.
I am not telling you this simply to gush, but to explain how my thoughts were transported. I know the absence of the physicality of Carnival is keenly suffered and it is a loss that genuinely affects the psyche. But something in those sightings moved me inexplicably.
I found myself reaching for David Rudder, and as I listened to ‘Dedication (A Praise Song)’ from The Gilded Collection, my spirit was infused with nostalgia and pride.
Naturally, one song led to another, and my day was well and truly capsized. But out of those moments, the desire to celebrate ourselves overturned the plan to complain about laws that are invisible because they are not enforced.
Such is the power of the creatives who walk amongst us.
Rudder’s lyrics are always relevant and profound. Read these lines slowly and ask yourself if they don’t tell you a truth about our art of improvisation, even if they speak about pan:
“Out of yesterday’s rejection, onward to a new perfection
From a hunger came a feel
From that feel; we shaped the steel.”
How many of our societies here in this Caribbean place were not built from muddy ponds?
I went dreevaying back to 1986, the year I had my first real encounter with Carnival. It is the reason that every musical aspect of the season became a siren call.
Rudder won Young Kings and Calypso Monarch with Hammer and Bahia Girl. All Stars took the Panorama title with Hammer, and Bahia Girl was Road March. And he was only just beginning.
And so I went flitting about. Listening to a different era—Sparrow, Kitchener, Shadow, Calypso Rose, Stalin, Super Blue—and being awestruck at what a magnificent corpus has been created.
Listen again to Pan in A Minor by Renegades or Despers; my favourites from All Stars, Woman on the Bass and Curry Tabanca; Rebecca from Despers—hell, listen to whatever you like.
Remember when the 1972 Carnival was moved to May because of the polio outbreak, and then the whole thing was a washout because of rain? Take a listen to Kitchener’s Rainorama: “And they start to jump around, yaay, and they start to tumble down, yaay.”
We don’t have to take it as an entirely dreary absence of the season. I emerged from this swamped by several emotions.
One was a renewed sense of astonishment at the quantity and the quality that has emerged from this little space, and I am not even pulling out the mas, or the contemporary music here.
I really feel that the current tabanca will find a balm with excursions down the backstreets and inside the Piccadilly houses, peering down from stilts into the innards of the places and people who gave us all this magnificence.
In this time of pause, we could even reflect on whether we have allowed ourselves to forget those roots to our own detriment. Is mass the meaning of mas? Where has brass gone? Can we create lyrics that will always resonate?
I figure we can celebrate while we contemplate and use this period to design a way relevant to our time. We’ve been galloping along a world highway that lauds super-sizing, but you will not even find a billboard for true art in its precincts.
Can we not consider that the heart, by which I mean passion, and the head, are the backbone of any creation with integrity?
Let’s think about how we can respect our artists from whatever medium they choose to create. Let’s think about museums and archives that can make our treasures accessible online. Let’s think.
To quote Rudder again:
“So too our minds will grow to reveal,
A tomorrow that today we can only feel.”
Are we not living in a hazy time? What have we got to lose by looking at what we have created and trying to unearth how they came to be despite unsupportive and often oppressive circumstances?
I came away from my immersion feeling enriched and rejuvenated and happy to claim all of this as my heritage. I felt I had invoked my spirit of Carnival. Who knows what it might do for you?
And to end with Rudder again:
“But I hope when they hear my song
It will keep them proud and strong
And a once bitter man might just shrug and sing along
And anytime we catch him doing that
We could beat we chest and that’s a fact
‘Cause we know this song could never be in vain…”