Out Of A Muddy Pond…

By Gregory McGuire

So we have come to the end of another season of fete. For many participants and non participants alike, this annual ritual is nothing more than therapeutic relief from the stress of daily life in this Republic. For others, however, Carnival is a multi-dimensional event with economic, political, sociological and psychological implications. As usual the politicians have been quick to declare it as the “greatest ever”. I wish this were true. Sadly, it was not. In some ways, Carnival 2012 mirrored the state of the state of the country, not only in its portrayals, music, and lyrics but also in its missteps and apparent state of drift.
First we should congratulate all winners. – Machel Montano achieved the triple crown for the first time in his 30 year career. Brian McFarlane continues to dominate “big mas” and surged to his sixth consecutive Band of the Year Title while Trinidad All Stars narrowly triumphed over Phase Two in a battle that would have pleased the spirit of late Dr. Pat Bishop. Duane O’Connor romped home with the Calypso Monarch title and KI sang his way into the nation’s hearts to take the Chutney Monarch title..
Reflecting on the festival, I thought of the lines from David Ruder’s “Praise Song”
“Out of a muddy pond ten thousand flowers bloom”
New talent seems to be emerging in several aspects of the Carnival. Arguably the most potent statement of the season was made by twin mas designers Karen and Kathy Norman, with their band The Waters- Seas of Consciousness (See photo at right). According to one blogger- “K2K reinvented the Trinidad Carnival Experience with cultural fashion costumes”. Eschewing the BBBF phenomenon, that has dominated the streets for the last decade , K2K might eventually rival McFarlane for the Band of the Year title. It was also significant that the calypso old guard were left filling up the lower places in the Monarch competition. Are we seeing the changing of the baton to the new generation of fearless social/political commentators ready to keep Gypsy and his Cabinet colleagues in place? Among the soca bards- Kerwin Du Bois and Benjai seems to have come of age in 2012 while youths like Kimba Sorzano and KI represent new and refreshing talent. Soca’s royal couple – Faye Ann and Bunji should be ruing their decision to stay out of the competitive arena this year. For all its faults, Panorama remains the national showpiece for the steel bands. In 2012, the scintillating battle among the top bands was a joy to behold, but it was the Tobago steel bands that stamped their footprint on the National Panorama stage. Katzenjammers and NLCB Buccaneers are now leaders in the medium band category and must surely have their eyes set on joining RBC Redemption Sound Setters to challenge for the national title in the big band category.
An interesting evolution is also taking place in the music. It is apparent now the mass production typically associated with the “fun mas” bands has spilled over into the soca arena. The listening public may not be aware of it as yet but for Carnival 2012, there were over a dozen “riddims” on the market. With each “riddim” featuring in at least five selections, this means that there could have been over 60 tunes in this season’s offerings with the format. It is perhaps still too early to foretell the direction in which all this is heading.
These brief moments of joy are crowded out by the long standing challenges with the management of Carnival. Long wait outside the savannah; preponderance of BBBF, shows in the Stadium and late start to events all persist unabated. Moreover, the penchant of feeding the culture of entitlement by throwing money behind every problem is in full control of Carnival now. No one appears to question whether the money is going towards the right things to stimulate movement in a desired direction. For example, in the case of mas, should there be an incentive for creativity and the use of local content? Is this something that should be left to market forces? Is Carnival a spectator event? One wonders, for example, if the vast Savannah could not be used to host fringe events to provide additional points of interest to local and foreign guests. Entertainment can be small pan ensemble; retro calypso; videos of previous Carnivals and similar briefs. Evolution is taking place, there is no doubt about that. But in what direction? Missing from the thinking is a vision for Carnival. What does success look like 20 years from now?

This is precisely the type of conversation expected to take place at the Common Sense Convois- on March 18 to 25th 2012. On Thursday 22nd March, the Convois focuses on “ mainstreaming the Maroon Firm”. For Lloyd Best, Maroon firms are indigenous firms that earn or potentially can earn their own net foreign exchange having learnt to navigate the global environment through import displacement and or export penetration. They utilize largely domestic resources of software and hardware-producing unique goods for global consumption. Carnival and its constituent elements – steelband, film, fashion, music and mas among other creative activity fall squarely within the definition of a “maroon firm” and will form part of the day’s agenda. This is therefore an invitation to all stakeholders to join us in charting the way forward for the next fifty years and finding a fresh pathway to sustainable development.

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