BitDepth 460 - February 15

If Carnival is the Greatest Show on Earth (and always capitalised that way), why was Carnival so repetitive and downright dull?
The Boring, By Band Leader and by Road March

Poison leaves the stage at the Queen's Park Savannah. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Carnival Tuesday
Looking back on it now, the most irritating thing about the bands crossing the stage last Tuesday was the overwhelming pretentiousness of the contenders who had their eye fixed on the prize.
The inane and pointless dance numbers, full of badly synchronised twirls and sashays set to portentous and absurdly overwrought music were the most annoying of all.
It was bad enough when Minshall would lose his way and stray from meaning into gesture, but these ill-begotten spawn of his stage presentations (big wink emphasis on the "pre" there) don't even have the resonance of thought and backstory that even the mas master's grandest excesses were based on.

It was enough to make you long for the bold demonstrations of untouchable sexuality offered by Hart, Poison and Gregory Stone's new contender, the S&M flavoured Wicked.
The heaviest price to be paid for all this pseudo-intellectual nonsense was exacted in sweat and frustration from all the bands who spent their time on Carnival Tuesday standing around in the street, jumping in place, waiting for their turn to romp on the Savannah stage.

The penance of mas with message weighed most heavily on Island Events' Moulin Rouge, a cleverly styled, heavily promoted band that crossed the stage at dinner-time, a mad jumble of mas that couldn't be sorted out before their long awaited moment onstage.
The bands were backed up so far that even NCC-TV called a halt to their live broadcast just after 8:00pm, leaving out newcomer Tribe, who followed Brian McFarlane's pleasant but agonisingly commented The Washing.

Dimanche Gras
What happened to Big Sunday? Even when its producers got it horribly wrong, it's never been quite this dull. After rushing eight Kings and eight Queens onstage and off, the night settled into a referendum on the condition of the Black Man as 14 calypsonians, only eight of whom really needed to be there, went on and on about various forgettable woes. And where was the rest of Carnival? How can there be no room for the Soca Monarch and the Chutney Monarch in a show that accomodated a lame impersonation of J'Ouvert (with the real thing just hours away) and a Tobago Speech Band? There's room there for kaiso, kings and queens as well as a sampling of the variety that makes Carnival so great.

The RoadMarch
Once, in the distant past of Carnival, it must have seemed like a good idea to measure the popularity of songs at the judging points when bands passed them. Back then, bands would play a mix of songs on the road and weight their selections as the masqueraders crossed the stage with a tighter grouping of the most popular songs.
A big band crossing the stage would do so to three or four songs and in the days of the famous Kitch/Sparrow rivalry, you'd hear them both, the duel played out in the enthusiasm of the masqueraders on the stage.

Something's gone quite sour about this system over the last decade and the same funnelling for points and TV coverage that clogs bands at the Savannah has come to wield a powerful influence on the music that drives Carnival.
I certainly don't begrudge Shurwayne Winchester his powerful win, a remarkable victory that spoke well of his targeting of the modern Carnival Tuesday sensibility, the Midas touch of the jump up that is given to only a few at a time, and here I'm thinking of Tambu and SuperBlue at their most irresistible.

But on Carnival Tuesday, it seems that in the music, as with the mas, we are given more and more of less and less.
This venue based accounting of the music played on the road during Carnival can't really be as accurate as we pretend it is. I can't imagine bands parading up and down the streets to one song all day, though that's the impression you'd get from their performances at the Savannah.
TUCO might be in a position to offer composers a truer picture of the tastes of their public by teaming with COTT to track the play counts of the bigger bands during the masquerader's day and we might have a road march that saluted a winner that drove the crowds consistently wild as well as a listing of also-rans that didn't fall so absurdly far behind the front runner.

Big management is well aware that you get more of what you reward, but those payments are increasingly being extracted from the hide of Carnival's audiences, who are subjected to mind numbingly stupid choreography and the same damned song, over and over again.
A festival that prides itself on creativity should develop systems that account for and reward the kind of inspiration that drives our Carnival forward instead of encouraging cycles of repetition that grind the sweetness right out of the masquerade.
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