BitDepth 459 - February 08

Musings about Carnival 2005
On Carnival Tuesday

Swan song for the Lost Tribe: You won't see this kind of cloth from Minshall, but Brian McFarlane's The Washing looks set to take up the niche for mas with cloth this year. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Today Carnival ends. All that's left after this are some greatest hits event this weekend, but the hooray, hoorah, the big blowout of Carnival begins right now.
There have been changes over the last three decades of Carnival, some of them are subtle, creeping into the festival like water seeping into a blanket, others have been sudden, almost terrifying in their abruptness.
In a festival that prides itself on reinventing its themes, its forms and its music each year, change should be really far more prevalent than it actually is. It's a waste of time to lament the loss of ornate Red Indian mas and the dancing stokers in their sailor costumes in favour of the legions of glitterati sheathed in toned muscular skin and deftly accented bits of costuming.

It's equally pointless to lament the lameness of the music, the overemphasis on music and the lost art of the lyric.
These changes in emphasis and style took place both steadily and suddenly, like the gentle shifts of tectonic rock that build for years into a sudden shake-up that stuns everyone. This year's Carnival is a year of subtle but definite tremors.
You know these moments. When David Rudder strode the stage for the first time as a calypsonian, sweeping everything away before the force of "The Hammer" and again in 2000 when Bunji Garlin came into his own and became the leading voice in what was then, often disparagingly, called raggasoca.
2005, for all its uninspiring party music and dedication to feathers and glitter is another year of seismic shift, because it's the year that will finally demarcate the move of Carnival from folk art to popular culture.

In the music, you'll find between the gritty commentary that still lives in the shrinking world of the calypso tent and the frenetic, Master and Commander authority of the hardcore roadmarch contender that there's a new kind of soca that's designed to live beyond the urgency of Carnival.
The subject matter of this music has neither the dependencies of understanding that limit the scope of traditional calypso nor the jump and wave instruction set of the purpose built party song. These songs are about love and encounters, the struggle between the sexes and the need to survive. In these songs, people are "on fire", alive with desires that are familiar to anyone in the world, even if they have never seen, far less waved, a rag.

This is the music, the songs about nothing that the soca singers who have come after David Rudder hope to sing as they travel to the stages of the world.
I realised this while indulging my current audio craving, the music of the German heavy metal band Rammstein. The band, whose work you will have heard in The Matrix (Du Hast), Triple X (Feuer Frei) and Resident Evil (Halleluja), is second only to Kraftwerk in German record sales and they've made it big with music that's sung almost exclusively in the language of movie bad guys.
If Till Lindeman, with his rumbling growl can make me hum along with "Du riechst so gut", then it's quite possible that language and comprehension may be steadily becoming irrelevant in music designed to hit the charts and Germans may, in their turn happily embrace tempered, melodic versions of "jomp und vave" with the same enthusiasm that Europe held for Rammstein's newest album.

The changes are there too in the confusion facing the steelband, a creative island that's now too slow and too big to navigate today's nimble mas, the performers faced with competition that's augmented by automated percussion and digital brass.
Lost in music that races along too fast to be matched by hands striking steel, pan's brightest minds took a decision this year to reach back in times for music that matched the rhythms of pan.
If all this proves to have purchase, then Carnival, long held to be an art will become a real product, something packaged with heartfelt enthusiasm each year but delivered now to an audience that spans the world.
Then a "Trinidad Carnival" will become a brand, not an event tied to a place and a road march might tramp along as successfully on the Wilhelmstrasse as it does on Ariapita Avenue.
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