BitDepth 564 - February 20

Carnival is changing, but it isn't evolving, the influence of Government subsidy and commercial interests are channeling the energy of the festival into distinct avenues...
A Carnival of investment and subsidy

Andrew "Puggy" Joseph was an original, from the hand sewn hem of his cape to the tip of his fur lined robber hat. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

When the Ministry of Culture decided that the right mix of lemonade to make out of the pile of stale citrus that a year of inaction on replacement for the Grandstand had left them was a return to the Carnival of the streets, it must have sounded like a grand idea.
You can almost write the script: "A return to Carnival's roots!" "An empowering of the masquerader!" "Bringing Carnival back to the people!"
Followed by the desk and chest thumping that tends to accompany a notion fueled more by nostalgic emotion than common sense.

That type of thinking presumes that there is a critical mass of masquerading citizens who prefer being hemmed in on streets too small for the vehicles of 2007 to the gray expanse of the Grandstand stage, the one space on this island that vaulted their costumes into a prominence offered by five feet of height and the collective focus of the media's lenses.
Such thinking also proceeds in the face of the financial reality of Carnival, which is essentially divided into a fete financed by commercial interests and the slow embalming of Government subsidy.

Follow the money
Commercial interests underwrite the massive public fetes, the smaller but pricier all-inclusives, the enormous costumed private clubs catered by huge trucks that will command the road today and pretty much everything else that draws a large paying crowd.
Government subsidy funds everything in Carnival that would have died off long ago if it weren't for the life support of the Exchequer. Traditional Carnival characters have now been joined by calypso tents and all but a few steelbands at the line forming to the left of the public purse.

Commerce demands the production line, which culminates in a consumer who is willing to pay others to create and craft a product for them. So we have costumes that are as individual as brands of toothpaste and fetes that instruct patrons on what they should wear.
Subsidy encourages a different creative detachment, the masquerade of re-enactment, the creation of something that meets grant requirements and satisfies nostalgia but advances not a whit beyond the original art. That might work well for events in history like Civil Wars, but nothing more effectively throttles the act of creation like the delimiters of what was.

Individuals of the year
Neither of these sources of income has any real interest in the dimming spark that made Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival celebrations a true wonder, the energetic, quirkily personal passion that committed individuals had for portraying, singing, playing or dancing their own personal thread into a weave that was greater than their own effort.
This aggregate of individuals created a skein of beauty that was without parallel in the world.

Researchers and historians are still trying to pick it apart, marvelling at what the threads that became bound into the years of Carnival past reveal.
Here there is a George Bailey mas, there a nugget of calypso genius forgotten for decades. Another tug on the fabric reveals an overwhelming pun in Dick Butt's old mas presentations and as the thread falls away, we hear the refrain of a long lost horn chart from a Brass Festival with glittering horns raised to the heavens.

Architects of interpretation
The lingering beauty of Carnival is how elusive it is as an artform. Popularity is no indicator of lasting value and the most brilliant examples of Carnival art were largely misunderstood at first. Garfield Blackman's "Endless Vibrations" was as reviled by the status quo as Ian Alvarez' "Bad Man" when they were first performed.

Carnival's future will be found neither in the commercial institutions that have tamed the parties and mas bands nor in the living museums that the Government makes of traditional performances.
But you can find it, even today, in the individuals who ignore the popular to present the personal and leave us just a little confused at what we see and hear.
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