One thing this country is extraordinarily gifted at is its creative impulses, and Carnival is the premier showcase for it.
The sound of steel pans was my first and abiding connection to Carnival. It is still the most powerful bond. Just as cricket fills me with a sense of West Indian-ness, the steelband makes me feel my Trinidadian-ness. With pride and joy.
A few mornings ago, I woke up with the sound of the All Stars rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, conducted by the late Gillian Balintulo at the Music Festival in 1988, ringing in my head. I had to listen to it.
Someday, maybe in my memoirs, I will write about how that experience changed my life, but I don’t want to drift down that digressive road on this Carnival Saturday.
I really want to get to an overall point. It often seems an empty boast when we talk about our Carnival being the greatest in the world. There are many reasons for the hollowness of the claim, but they have more to do with official shortcomings that do not give light and air for the beauties to blossom.
Off the top of my head, I can list some of the components of this festival that are unique to us because they all exist in this space at roughly the same time.
Every Carnival has its own distinct features. Does any other encompass the vast range that coalesces in this land?
Apart from the glorious steel of Panorama, we have calypso, soca, chutney soca and brass, just on the musical side. We have calypso tents, and fetes galore: day and night. We have Jouvert and ole mas, traditional characters: blue devil, pierrot grenade, jab jab, midnight robber, Dame Lorraine, moko jumbies, (my daughter is obsessed with returning cow mas to the fold).
Many of the characters are given to speechifying, and the extempo competitions are an extension of the grandiloquence associated with Trinis.
We have stickfighting, and the re-enactments of the Canboulay Riots—revolt against attempts by the British to suppress the Carnival in the early 1880s—are probably the most aggressive parts of contemporary celebrations. (Steelband clashes are thankfully gone, though terrifying devils still lunge and threaten at will.)
We have masqueraders parading on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, thousands revelling in the costumes of each band’s designers. The kings and queens have always been the highlights of each presentation; massive costumes that have been painstakingly constructed over months vie for first place at the Dimanche Gras show on Carnival Sunday.
Visits to the mas camps and the panyards are also unique aspects of our Carnival, a treat by themselves in the build-up to the season.
And where else would you find an artist who, at 81, is willing to construct murals and line Fisher Avenue in St Ann’s with them? Jackie Hinkson’s street exhibit, Ah Sailing with the Ship, is on, too.
I am sure I am leaving out many aspects, but I wanted to put all these elements together in full view, like a spreadsheet, so we could see at a glance how rich and full-bodied this time of life really is. Because we have to do more to make it grow and to develop the talents that are on display for fleeting moments.
And so, to mention some of the high moments for this season, though it is just a few of the many.
I did not see it, but from all accounts 3Canal’s Jammin’ Show was, as expected, a breathtaking performance from the rapso icons, Wendell Manwarren, Roger Roberts and Stanton Kewley (shout out to Steve Ouditt!).
Over their 30 years, when the late John Isaacs was part of the group, they have produced meaningful and memorable soundtracks for our soul. This is the end of an epoch.
I don’t know if it is my imagination, but it seems to me that the most popular songs for the season have invoked a kind of sweet nostalgia. Not long ago, it was the fierce thumping of songs like Full Extreme from the Ultimate Rejects that was the Road March in 2017.
By 2019, although the threesome of Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin and Skinny Fabulous took the lead with Famalay, another pumping tune, the lyrics were about unity.
Now the song that everyone loves is Mical Teja’s DNA, a lovely call to patriotism.
And in what I thought was a most apt depiction of the song’s concept, Johanna Chuckaree, D Piano Girl (older sister of pannist Johann Chuckaree), paid tribute to it with a beautiful video shot on the Brian Lara Promenade with cellist Wasia Ward and Nariba Herbert on the viola.
There really seems to be a softer emotion prevailing. Last year’s duet by Nailah Blackman and Skinny Fabulous, Come Home, was overflowing with that nostalgia.
Caribbean Airlines adopted it for their Welcome Home campaign, and their recent customer appreciation day was a beautiful package (along with their new uniforms) that put so many aspects of Carnival on show—just like Bmobile’s Iz Ah Vibe campaign, featuring a wildly beautiful video with Nailah Blackman again.
The Express reported that she has signed “a major international record deal” with an American label and it is worth celebrating, too. This is obviously a result of her own achievements and hard work.
These are the elements that need further discussion and I will return to it. After Carnival.