BitDepth 669 - March 03

It's 2009, do we know were our Carnival is?
Heritage, evolution and planning

Who are these people portraying, why are they dressed like that and why am I expected to care? Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

After a major project, it's normal to have a post-mortem, one of those group analyses that usually end up in blamestorming as the failings get pinned on somebody who didn't attend the meeting.
There have been post-mortems in the past about Carnival, normally billed as seminars or discussions, but they are unified in both their length, wordiness and the absolute lack of interest that anyone with line responsibility has expressed for their proposals and suggestions.
NCC Chairman Howard Chin Lee has now publicly declared himself satisfied with the sad farce of the rebuilt Grandstand and has gone on to offer enthusiasm for rebuilding and refining this metal girdered monstrosity next year.

That's as clear an acknowledgement as we're likely to get that the Government has no immediate plans to follow through on the project that led to the razing of the legacy structure that nurtured Carnival's growth through decades of costumed parades. 
These are changing times for performers and masqueraders, and those changes are leading to fundamental differences for audiences as well. If Carnival is going to continue to attract the level of interest it has in the past, there's a desperate need to evaluate where we are now and figure out where we need to be going.

Of dance and fog
As good a place as any to start is with the Dimanche Gras competition, which has come some distance from its earlier incarnations, when awkward pan performances were shoehorned into the show and the Kings and Queens paraded onto the stage and then, for no good reason, came back.
What's replaced those strategic errors isn't much better. Instead of eight calypsonians singing two songs, we get sixteen singing one each for no better apparent reason than to give a larger audience to calypsoes that far fewer people make the time to hear in the tents.
Sixteen calypsonians is simply eight too many. A field of eight top of the line performers  could be supplemented with a wildcard placing for a ninth, decided on my the now ubiquitous voting by text messaging (tabulating from both networks) to give the public a say.

The trend of offering pointless and pitifully choreographed sequences of prancing in colourful cloth continues, recalling no past that Carnival has experienced while offering nothing of value for its future. It's cultural Cepep, makework for community grade performers that confers no pride of creation.
Instead of spending money on these useless interludes, pay the Soca Monarch and Extempo Monarch to appear and let's have an evening of real royalty, not this pap of patronage and fog that continues to needlessly extend a show that could only benefit from a two-hour cut in its running time.

Road rage
On the road, even more serious thinking is called for. Carnival outside of Port-of-Spain is inexorably becoming a fringe activity and the consequences of removing the Grandstand as a nexus for Carnival Tuesday has sped up the flow of costumed bands but has left spectators more of each day staring at empty streets.
With bandleaders almost unanimously deciding to withdraw full costumed presentations on Carnival Monday, competition on that day would benefit from a re-dedication of the time slot to masqueraders willing to give a full and considered performance for audiences expecting something more than T-shirts.
Add to the agenda of any Carnival post-mortem the issue of media management. For almost three decades now I've railed by letter, by column, and on some ill-advised occasions, at the top of my voice about the atrocities that are visited on photographers tasked with recording Carnival.

Shunted down the hierarchy of importance from television cameras, still photographers may now have hit the bottom rung with the assault on Horace Ove while he photographed traditional characters at Adam Smith Square.
Treating photographers like annoyances to be swatted firmly when they have the temerity to talk back to temporary authority seems to be in direct opposition to the NCC's 1991 mission to "establish arrangements for ongoing research, the preservation and permanent display of the annual accumulation of Carnival products."
Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps flattening the Grandstand and beating up photographers while gutting the entertainment value of Carnival is part of an NCC master plan I am yet to fully understand.
blog comments powered by Disqus