Daly Bread: The Carnival beyond 2022 discussion and calypso’s changing context

Views reportedly expressed by the well-qualified presenters at a webinar, entitled ‘Hosting and managing the Carnival Experience in Trinidad and Tobago in 2022 and Beyond’, converged with much of what I have been writing concerning Carnival and cultural development matters over several years, including last Sunday.

The Trinidad Express newspaper contained reports of Dr Jo-Anne Tull’s critique of the failure to go beyond ‘one-dimensional’ planning and also to appreciate that Carnival was an ‘ecosystem’, with the consequent failure to develop the full potential of the festival.  

Photo: Dr Jo-anne Tull (centre), a lecturer in Carnival Studies at the St Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies, holds forth.

The same report contained Dr Keith Nurse’s advocacy of the need to leverage all the outputs of Carnival, which is ‘a major asset and a strategic asset’.

In a clip seen on television, a presenter was critical of the link between the use of spectator pods for 2022 and the return of ropes around Carnival bands on parade in public streets and unhappy about the separation of the middle classes from the working classes.

I have questioned the status of Carnival as a ‘national’ festival because of the division between the participation of those who buy membership in expensive all-inclusive bands and those outside the rope without the funds, the perceived social status and the preferred shade required to be part of the all-inclusives.

As a Trinidad All Stars Carnival Tuesday sailor, I even had cause to challenge in this column the sneering from certain rope-enclosed quarters when All Stars won Band of the Year for its sailor mas’ portrayal in 2014 and repeated the win in 2015.  Sadly, some sneering elements are well-placed negative influences within the corridors of power.

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

On the bright side of 2022, the single pan and small steelbands have already played a wide variety of music combined into near flawless medley mode and the medium and large bands were innovatively required each to play ‘a bomb tune’ as well as a Panorama tune at last night’s show.

By contrast, calypso in 2022 has been less fortunate. Dr Kela Francis, whose topic at the webinar was ‘The Oral Tradition of Calypso and Extempo and Their Prospects for the Future’, asserted that creative persons must not be under State control.

Artistes are aware of what I have written about the need to regulate State control of the funding and development of culture and the performing arts. 

One artiste recently complained to me about the conflict between artistic free speech and dependency on the State—not only in respect of allocations for appearance fees and prizes, but about fear of other avenues for victimisation by certain State-controlled entities.

Photo: Lornette “Fya Empress” Nedd-Reid performs “Guilty” at the Calypso Monarch finals on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Having relaxed its creative standards in a poorly patronised glut of tents, where there is no crook stick to pull off mediocre performers, but which are indulged by funds from the State, calypso in 2022 was caught in the bind of insufficient funding.  

State funds were not available to continue both the glut of tents and the cutting edge of the Calypso Monarch competition. Sadly, the choice was made that the revered showpiece of Calypso Monarch should bite the dust.

The current context of calypso performance, apart from dependency on the State, must be realistically examined. The tent was originally the place to go to find out what our rulers were up to, at a time when information flows were restricted.  Subsequently, the weekly newspapers (now mostly defunct) and now social media give us the zeppo.

The political and social commentary, however, remains relevant and strong but the road march and pan song output was also competitively challenged by soca and other emerging musical expressions.  

Photo: Terri Lyons sings ‘The Unfortunate Phrase’ at the National Calypso Queens Competition on 13 February 2017 at Queen’s Hall in St Ann’s.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Sadly, without Calypso Monarch, the accountability from public figures that the commentary songs annually demand will receive reduced exposure this year.

When budgeting for the cost of the Calypso Monarch, we also need to be realistic about the cost of the retinue of paid writers, back-up singers and their numerous outfits now required to reach the big yard, in an era when many good calypso singers are limited in the art of composition of their own songs.

The harsh truth is that calypso may have to reset the bar and focus on the changed context in which it operates.

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About Martin Daly

Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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