Gregory McGuire reviews Carnival 2009
The Merry Monarch has come and gone for another year, leaving behind memories of the good, bad and ugly. Perhaps the most unforgettable moment was the “voice” of the unborn “Junior” singing a few bars in his mother’s hit song “Meet SuperBlue”, as Fay-Ann Lyons powered her way to the international soca monarch title. It has been an historic year in which Fay-Ann—“the Lion Princess”—showed courage, professionalism, creativity, poise and excellent judgment on the way to copping four titles—including the Road March. Suggestions that Fay- Ann exploited her pregnancy to win sympathy of masqueraders are baseless and envious. “Meet SuperBlue” was easily the most popular song for Carnival 2009. Fay-Ann’s success may have surprised many but we saw it coming. In the corresponding post carnival column of 2008 we noted that “Fay-Ann is thinking deeply about the music and grappling with issues that affect the industry as well as the people involved in it, especially the women”. “….. this Road March winner is an intellectual and she certainly has the courage to raise the issues.”
Success comes with its associated risks including the challenges posed by new found wealth and fame. We hope that the Bunji /Fay-Ann can find in themselves what it will take to rise to the challenge.
Several other aspects of Carnival 2009 scored well. We were treated to a rich variety of soca and chutney soca music. The Soca Monarch competition, in general, was a good tight show. The decision by the promoters and sponsors to abandon the “drinks inclusive” concept contributed to a safer and much more enjoyable atmosphere. However, the promoters now need to seriously reconsider what appears to be the automatic qualification for the finals by some of the “soca monarchs” of other islands. The intent of the promoters to make the contest truly “International” is understandable; however some of the finalists were of questionable quality. Although having a moderate year by his own high standards, Machel Montano continues to excite audiences—old, young and very young—with scintillating performances. But he, too, seems to sense the need for change. The signs are already evident in that ambivalent love-hate relationship that Trinidad tends to have with its highest profile sons and daughters. Machel is clearly an artiste in need of a bigger stage, a bigger mission.
In the Calypso Monarch competition, Rowley/ Manning, Hart and Obama were the dominant and popular themes. It seems as though calypso had returned to its moorings as the voice of the people, at least for now. The old veteran Chalkdust choked the competition with a new song (which we may never hear again) about Manning’s “heart”. It was a Chalkie master class. Government may ignore these early signs of mass discontent at its own peril.
Silver Stars, new wine with an old label, copped the Panorama title for the first time to become only the 12th band to do so in the 46-year history of Panorama. Today’s Silver Stars represent the legacy of one of the oldest steel bands in Trinidad. In October 2008, Silver Stars celebrated its 60th Anniversary. The band has the distinction of being the first and only steel band to have ever won the Band of the Year title—with its portrayal of Gulliver’s Travels in 1963. After being virtually dormant for nearly thirty years, the band has been resurgent over the last eight years. This year’s victory has been in the making for sometime. Silver Stars took the Pan in the 21st Century titles in 2002 and 2007, won the medium band Panorama title in 2007 and placed fifth in the large band category in 2008. This year it became the first band to move from medium to large and win, thereby breaking the 8-year stranglehold of Phase 11, Exodus and Trinidad All Stars. Silver Stars’ success is partly attributable to their youth programme, which targets schools in its immediate geographic area. It is another version of the panyard as community centre of excellence that is bearing fruit.
Band of the Year winner, Brian McFarlane continues to provide options for more mature masqueraders and a reason for spectators to be in Port of Spain. on Carnival Tuesday. Mac Farlane’s “Africa” contained all the long admired features of “big mas” in terms of visual impact, clarity of theme, craftsmanship, authenticity, and presentation. Only a handful of the other bands on show could boast of meeting even some of these criteria as the bra, bikini, beads, bumpers and feathers (BBBBF) continued to dominate the streets. Meanwhile, large steel bands continued to make a valiant effort to stay on the road on Carnival days. Starlift, All Stars, Desperadoes and Renegades are all battling against the odds to keep tradition alive. It was also good to see many of the traditional mas characters roaming the streets of the capital. One wonders if there might not be public interest in viewing a “shootout” between the midnight robbers and bands of minstrels, at a designated time and place during Carnival.
The ongoing “venue mess” receives top billing in the bad category. The lack of adequate facilities has been a sore point for several years now. That capacity problem was aggravated by the decision to demolish the Grand Stand. As a result, promoters in the state and private sector have had to utilize sporting facilities to keep large Carnival shows. In a reversal of its previous position, the Government permitted the use of the National Stadium for AC 7 and the International Soca Monarch events, the consequences of which will be seen in time.
Meanwhile, Panorama returned to the Savannah after two years in South Trinidad. Unfortunately, the makeshift “Grand Stand” and “greens” were inadequate in terms of seating capacity, public conveniences, acoustics, dressing rooms etc. What is worse is that in the current economic circumstances, hopes for the New National Carnival and Entertainment Centre, initially promised for delivery in 2010, are fading rapidly.
The Centre was initially delayed as the Government declared that it was revising the designs in light of the “highly successful mas on the road”—an obfuscation perpetrated by the former Minister and NCC Chairman in 2007. That the national instrument and national festival—self-proclaimed “The Greatest Show on Earth”—could be so shabbily treated in 2009 is shameful enough. That the various Carnival stakeholders have not raised a whimper is beyond reprehensible .
Whatever efforts that were made to improve on the Dimanche Gras show were undermined by the controversy surrounding the tribute to the late Mighty Duke. The saga manifests our penchant for poor planning, lack of consultation with key stakeholders and last minute decision-making.
There were at least two strands of questionable behaviour headlined in Carnival 2K9. One involves the talented Mr. Machel Montano, who was associated with a number of explosive incidents. Artistic anxiety or perilous perfectionism? Whichever, Mr Montano might wish to step back, take a deep breath and consider whether professional intervention is required. WARNING: The pressure cooker environment of the entertainment is dangerous to one’s health. The second source of concern is the intense infighting among the soca fraternity for the Road March title. It is widely believed that competition promotes excellence. In a competitive arena everyone is expected to push themselves harder to achieve personal and professional growth, win or lose.
There can also be unhealthy competition where the reaction to the success of others is negative, and where losing is associated with shame rather than the nobility of trying. It is perhaps one cause of the public spat between Sugar Aloes and Cro Cro.
Listening to some of the Soca artistes in the run-up to Carnival, one got the distinct impression that elements of unhealthy competition were taking root. Some artistes were literally begging for “ah road march please’, suggesting that others had already won a fair share of the pie. Dubious relationships between certain media-houses and DJs associated with some artistes merely exacerbates the problem. Corrupting the people’s art could result in a spirit lash.