One. Then five to fifteen.

Mas_Colloquium
The New Media panel that closed the first Mas Colloqium. Moderator Marsha Pearce, the author, Saucy Diva and Arnaldo JJ. Photograph by Kenwyn Murray.

I'd honestly thought that I'd written and said everything I could about Carnival 2014, but Kenwyn Murray's invitation to participate on a panel about Carnival, speaking mainly to the young practitioners of the next generation of designers and bandleaders, triggered some thoughts about what exists today.
This was the talk I offered as part of a panel on new media at the first Carnival Studies Mas Colloquium on Mas Aesthetics: Exploring the art of Mas at the Centre for Language and Learning at the University of the West Indies on April 10, 2014.


I have a theory about Carnival, formed entirely through observation over the past seven years that may help us to understand why the event is so poorly supported, so chaotically organized and so challenged to fulfill its potential.

I’ve distilled it down to this. One. Then five to fifteen.

What does this mean?
It’s my growing understanding that almost all of Carnival is governed by tiny groups of motivated people with a clear goal and understanding of their mission who are capable of stirring significant interest in communities around them.

It's likely to be the secret of all success in Trinidad and Tobago, our most successful creatives, athletes and authors working out of the same mindset. It’s either one person, or one person surrounded by a small supporting and engaged group or a tiny group of people with such synchronicity to their shared vision that they seem to move as one.

Crawford pounding along on lonely tracks, barefoot and driven. Strasser painstakingly crafting his famous penny. Naipaul, a bit sulkily and undeniably brilliantly, recalling the idiosyncrasies of his homeland.

I spin this out into Carnival and so many times I find the same thing among the most successful enterprises. Machel and his family unit. Bunji, Sherrif Mumbles, Fay Ann and the band. Tribe, which despite its size, boils down to a unit of family and friends of just under 15 people. The Alfreds of Couva, a small family with a big impact. Phase II, which is either Boogsie or the management team.

This confuses people. Politicians like a constituency, which leads them to do crazy things like put a free music truck on the road.
Businesses want to deal with other businesses, not something that looks like a serious bit of liming.

In the absence of any real understanding of this fundamental element of Carnival's underpinnings, what has been put place is a system of subsidy through appearance fees and an avalanche of finely sliced prizes.  Visit any long term masquerader and you'll see racks of trophies that represent that regime of funding.

This is laziness.  It's payment on delivery, not true support of the creative process.
And it is one of the factors that's undermining the very essence of the festival.
Carnival is not big.  In fact, it is very small.  It comes from passion, from love and from commitment. 

These are not good bottom line assets. They are concepts that are too fuzzy for business, too vote sparse for Government.
It's interesting that I'm telling you this at a discussion that's dedicated to new media, because social networking lubricates and leverages exactly this kind of phenomenon.

We need to stop this determined balkanization of Carnival into creative and party bands.  That didn't work with soca, and the most popular music of Carnival is the poorer for it.
We need to think about introducing more performance into party bands, and putting more organisation and process into creative presentations so that they can scale.

And that will happen when widely divergent minds finally meet to consider alternatives to the status quo. 
I've long believed that if a Minshall band was produced using Tribe's process, there would be no need for any other band.  Ever.

That will happen one to one or in little groups that merge the silo thinking that exists today into new strategies that work to mutual advantage.

One. Then five to fifteen.

Related...
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

Carnival conversation

Citizen Carnival Conversation - Mar 23, 2014, 11 24 AM from Mark Lyndersay on Vimeo.



Related...
Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

BitDepth#931 - April 08

What’s Samsung really up to?
931-S5
TV6 reporter Jovan Ravello (left) and fashion blogger Mel Gabriel view the new Samsung S5 at the launch of the new device at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain a week ago. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Last week, perhaps not coincidentally on April 01, Samsung brought its World Tour previewing the newest version of its flagship smartphone, the S5, to Trinidad.

I’ve been fortunate enough to test the line since its first model and there has been a steady, even relentless regime of improvements to the phone since it emerged as the first serious contender to Apple’s then dominant iPhone.
Of late, though, revolutionary has been replaced by evolutionary in the smartphone ecosystem and it’s possible to skip a generation or two (usually six to nine months worth of waiting) on your preferred platform without major dislocation.

Samsung has, in quick succession, released the S3, S4 and this week will unleash the S5, three phones that are more notably different in their specifications than in their day to day usability.
At the launch, Elias Kabeche, vice-president of sales and marketing for Samsung Latin America touted the new software driven features of the phone, such as improved access security using PayPal certified fingerprint recognition and lifestyle features that emphasise personal security and health as major improvements to the phone’s utility for average users.

It’s sometimes useful, in situations like this when one is immersed in a carefully planned corporate communications exercise, to stop looking at the hand that’s meant to get your attention to see what else is happening.

For one thing, Samsung hasn’t been talking much about Android lately, even though their most successful smartphones run on Google’s operating system.
For another, Samsung isn’t talking about
Tizen at all, and that’s the OS that’s running their revised suite of Gear smartwatches.

I had an opportunity to flip through the new phone at the launch, which except for some cosmetic changes, works exactly like the S3 and S4 did.
There’s more spit and polish to the user interface chrome and some new designs to the iconography, but there will be few surprises for existing S series users.

What app users will quickly find, however, is a deeper reliance on Samsung’s own app store for the phone, previously a source of add on games and updates to the unique software that the company ships with the phone.
With the S5, particularly when paired with one of the new Gear 2 smart watches, signing up with the Samsung App store isn’t really going to be an optional exercise anymore.

It’s here, I suspect, that Samsung will be driving more of its innovation and technology development as it seeks to separate itself from the large pool of Android phone models to create a software ecosystem that makes it more of a peer challenger with competitor Apple.

Putting a new OS on a new device is unquestionably a clever move. Since Samsung has the most pervasive smartwatch available on the market, there are no real expectations for the platform beyond linking up with a phone and telling the time, so Tizen has an opportunity to define itself as a platform while giving developers a chance to test the waters on a device with a small but guaranteed audience.

So while Samsung is making a lot of fuss about the health monitoring capabilities of the watch/phone combination, that’s the spear tip of the company’s effort to meet rumours about Apple’s iWatch project.
The South Korean electronics manufacturer is playing it stage smart, solidifying its market with new models while adding features that its competitors may or may not be planning, but while it’s doing that quite theatrically, it’s also slipping in the Trojan horse of a new operating system based on Linux and aggressively open sourced.

Samsung doesn’t really want to talk about operating systems, it wants to talk about why users should continue to use its phones but the hardware giant clearly wants to improve its software options for its devices.
If it can point developers to an open source operating system and an app store that’s up and running, then it can push innovation in bits as well as atoms.

Tizen on the new Gear devices is the change to watch in this revision of the Galaxy series. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t more movement in the Samsung App store in support of unique developer experiences to go along with it.
Comments

BitDepth#930 - April 01

Microsoft introduces Office for iPad
930_Satya_Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces Office for iPad. Photo courtesy Microsoft.

The introduction of Office for iPad last Thursday marked a crucial step forward for Microsoft in its efforts to expand its user base into widely used tablet and smartphone platforms.

To be clear, the Redmond software company isn’t really selling Office on these new devices, it’s selling Office 365, a cloud based subscription service (US$100 per year) that’s now available on Windows, Macintosh, Android and now fully on iOS.

If the company decides to make a version available for Linux, perhaps the widely used Ubuntu build, it will stand a good chance of reestablishing Office as the preferred platform for workplace productivity in an increasingly diverse world of software and devices.

But getting here hasn’t been easy. The company dawdled along for long years while smartphone and tablet use soared and became entrenched as mediums for not just media consumption, but increasingly for widely varying levels of productive work.

While it’s been getting its own approach in order, other software companies have worked to fill the breach, offering web based solutions that are increasingly viable in a world in which broadband is growing more pervasive, or products that are networked at their core, like the popular Evernote, which trades word processing power for seamless synchronisation and a researcher’s pallette of tools.

Increasingly, the golden bullet for modern software is accessibility. People want to access the same material no matter where they are and which device they happen to be using. Such users will take advantage of the easiest, cheapest tools that get them there.

Will that suite of tools include Office 365 and its various device incarnations?
Satya Nadella, the company’s new CEO, is banking on it and doing so with enthusiasm.
“Microsoft is focused on delivering the cloud for everyone, on every device,” he told the press at the launch of Office for iPad last week.

“It’s a unique approach that centers on people—enabling the devices you love, work with the services you love, and in a way that works for IT and developers.”
I’d seen Nadella in action seven years ago at a Microsoft Convergence meeting in San Diego back when we both had more hair and most of it was black.

It’s almost impossible to form any kind of definitive opinion of someone after just a few moments onstage, but Nadella’s pitch of the company’s new customer relations management tool was even, sensible and clear, even to a non-developer.

There was also no shrill rabble rousing on Thursday. Nadella wasn’t selling koolaid, he was reminding users of the value of Office, the tapwater of corporate productivity, and it was a refreshing change from traditional pro-Microsoft sales pitches.

This was a conversation with the media that positioned the Office suite as a useful cross-platform tool that users should consider. But it’s likely to require more than just being available to get users to dip in.
If you aren’t currently an Office 365 user, Office for Android and iOS are simply viewers until you pay for a subscription. You can look at documents, but editing isn’t enabled unless you pay to play.

Office for iPad uses Apple’s in-app purchasing system to do this. You download the software for free then either buy the US$79.95 version, which gets you Word and Powerpoint or go for the full suite, which includes Excel for US$20 more.

For existing Office365 users, this new edition of the suite is a no-brainer. Log in, connect, get to work.
For some others, it will be a boon, allowing them to press their iPads into use as an extension of their existing hardware

But it’s the others that Microsoft will have to work hardest on, building a compelling user scenario that lures them from tools they are already using, such as Pages/iCloud, Evernote, Google Docs and Dropbox which may not all sport the power and elegance of Office, but which have the advantage of being first movers in the iOS space.

Addendum
Since this story was written. Apple has announced that Office for iPad hit 12 million downloads in its first week.
Comments

BitDepth#929 - March 25

A Carnival Coda
929-Rubadiri
Rubadiri Victor, who convened the National Citizen’s Conversation on Carnival, speaks during the event at QRC. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

This column is an edited version of a talk I gave at the National Citizen’s Conversation on Carnival on March 23.

There’s a real possibility, in the rush to post mortem the major missteps of Carnival 2014, that we will make more far reaching mistakes in the planning of future editions of the festival.

We are on the verge of deputizing a cavalcade of cultural Captain Bakers, the now largely-mythical villain of the annual Canboulay performance, to police the boundaries of what is allowed and desirable in a festival that is founded on the idea of the bacchanalian release of intellectual inhibitions.

So many of the issues that surfaced during the celebrations of 2014 arose from exactly that fundamental conflict.
Bands being penalised for having underage celebrants and for starting at the wrong point in the parade route.
Everything about the defiantly privatised Socadrome event.

It’s as if we now believe that Carnival must be continuously subsidized and ruthlessly regulated if we are ever to whip it into shape.
But consider something else. Consider the very heart of Carnival itself, the private urge to present something engaging and creative as a contribution to the festival itself.

The essential motivation that has driven everyone from Minshall to a young Paramin jab jab to do something so outrageous, so startling, so utterly unusual that we are moved to do nothing more that stand stunned and mutter, “well, that is mas.”

Increasingly the idea of what is mas is coming under the same type of scrutiny that porn once did. If it has this aspect to it, and conforms to that other indicator, well it must be the thing we have defined.
Except that like naughty pictures, such definitions end up being determinedly personal. One man’s dirty picture in a museum is another man’s Boticelli.

Such constraints end up becoming narrow, constricting and ultimately futile, because people will satisfy themselves according to their own desires.

To explain this a bit less abstractly, let me tell you a story about how I came to immerse myself in what’s called pretty mas for two years.

On Carnival Tuesday evening in 2007, I found myself stuck for two hours as the band Tribe flowed in front of my car as I waited to drive home.

At first, I was annoyed, then I became furious.
I was tired, sweaty and aching from a long day and wanted nothing more than to reach my house, barely a block away.
Then, I became curious. The band wasn’t being laggardly. Indeed, there were people hustling the surging line of masqueraders forward.

My first response to that became the ninth blog post I ever wrote (there have been hundreds since), but it moved me to get in touch with Dean Ackin, the bandleader. In 2008,
I spent a year photographing how the band put thousands of people on the road.

In 2013, I did the same thing again, curious about how the band, which had tripled in size since then, had scaled its operations and capacities.
Between those stories, I spent a few months with The Original Whipmasters, whose intensely personal approach to playing mas had also fascinated me.

What I found in both cases was, to my continuing surprise and pleasure, almost exactly the same thing.
I found families working together with shared purpose. Tribe is led largely by the Nobrega, Ackin and Ramirez families, their extended households and circle of friends.

The Alfreds of Couva produce their tiny band out of their living room and yard, the family, friends and community pitching in to make the unsponsored band happen each year.
You may see a world of difference in the results of their efforts. I choose to consider similarities in commitment, effort, work and their shared sense of independence.

The bands are wildly different.
The Alfreds don’t charge masqueraders to play with them. It’s less a band than it is a fraternity of common purpose.
Tribe runs a pricey all-inclusive street party behind nylon rope for people who enjoy that experience and see it as their investment in Carnival.

It is not for me to offer judgement on the merits of their respective approaches, and I submit that it is not a matter for you to decide or even argue either.
I cannot say that I understand the nuances of the costumes that fuel the competitive world of frontline pretty mas. I can attest, though, that there are people who are connoisseurs of the form, a hierarchy of preferred designers and real rockstars among them.

My inability to distinguish between one costume and another speaks to my ignorance, not a lack of knowledge or studied craft within the form.
Creative entrepreneurship, regardless of its form or relative maturity should not be a matter for public discussion beyond a general agreement that it should be encouraged and facilitated.

Far more insidious and deadly is the steady encroachment of State funding at staggering levels throughout the festival.
Such investments, poorly accounted for, unjustified by commonsense and liberally granted have more to do with politics and oil money than any strategy of sustainable development in Carnival.

This spending amounts to nothing less than the Cepeping of Carnival, the creation of eat-ah-food opportunities that do nothing for the art within the festival and may, ultimately, smother any real movement for change and evolution within fragile artforms.

The subventions that support traditional mas have created a ghetto of handouts and minimal ones at that, instead of funding the growth of real businesses or creative hotbeds of innovation.

Millions are spent on events that are essentially stadium scale parties. On whose authority is the Soca Monarch or the Chutney Monarch competition convened beyond our own consensus of acceptance, and the participation of the artists involved?

Here's what we should do...
Operate by the simplest of watchwords. Measure what you want to improve. Protect what’s important.

Give the festival room to breathe. Most of the problems of Carnival arise because of congestion and poor management of large crowds through small spaces.

Remove that ridiculous rule about children in bands on Carnival Tuesday. Family based bands will die off in a generation without an early engagement in the family business. Push party bands to self police the behavior children in their bands.

Listen to the people who are actually doing Carnival. The masqueraders, the calypsonians, the recording studios, the media, the party promoters. Every tiny fix should become part of a much larger plan.

Face the reality of Carnival today. Fond reminiscing about Carnivals past will not magically cause them to return and we’re wasting a lot of time talking about traditions when that’s exactly what we’re creating today for future generations.

Related...
Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

BitDepth#928 - March 18

Is this the ultimate camera?
928-Miller
Reigning Miss Trinidad and Tobago candidate for Miss Universe, Catherine Miller poses for a distinctly unthreatening camera on Carnival Tuesday at the Socadrome. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

“I’d like a SIM card for my camera, please.”
I have to say; the lady behind the counter didn’t bat an eye.
In fact, she batted the statement back with considerable aplomb, catching me by surprise.
“Does it have a keypad?”

I'd misunderstood the question, of course. The device had a digital keyboard, but what was needed was the capacity to dial into the company’s digital services to activate the SIM. I eventually solved the problem by following her advice and putting the SIM in my phone to activate it then putting it in the camera.

The Samsung EK-GC100 is many things, far more than you’d expect in a device that looks like a standard point and shoot (P&S) camera, but it isn’t a phone.
What it is, though, is likely the herald of more advancements in digital cameras that advance the merging of phones, computing devices and image capture into one package that does everything with minimal compromise.
The rather clumsily named
EK-GC100 is part of a line of devices from Samsung which graft the brain of an Android tablet into the standard form factor of a P&S.

On boot, it declares itself to be a Samsung Galaxy Camera, so that seems as good a way to refer to it as any.
After the rather lengthy startup process that’s typical of Galaxy devices, the camera switches directly into P&S mode, filling the screen with an image of whatever the lens happens to be pointing at.

Overlaid on the live view are a few buttons at right, to go quickly from video to stills and a mode view that allows manual control as well as the camera presets that appear on all Galaxy camera phones.
At top left though, is a little home button that drops you into Samsung’s standard Android interface, where you can browse the web, collect e-mail, download apps and most usefully, transfer files you’ve captured on the camera.

As an upgrade to a camera phone, you get a true zoom, roughly equivalent to a 28mm - 105mm lens on a DSLR that’s quite crisp and sharp. You do lose the ability to make calls unless you fire up Skype.

As a sidegrade from a P&S, you get the full Android experience, with most apps available for version 4 of the OS running well on the system. You can also transmit files using a mobile data plan or WiFi without having to rely on a custom built transmission card like the Eye-Fi SD card with the convenience of choosing your transmission software.

As a downgrade to a DSLR, you get less of a camera but more of a computer, which begins to hover in the direction of a sweet spot where the camera and computer merge into one peerless device.
I’ve got a camera, the Canon 6D, which has built-in WiFi capability but no way to manage files on the card before transmission. To consider it in a fast transmission workflow, I’d have to pair it up with a laptop, which immediately takes us from an additional camera weighing less than half a pound to a major commitment to live transmission.

The EK-GC100 promises a world in which such considerations aren’t divided into separate devices. We aren’t there yet, but the Galaxy Camera takes us along one interesting road to that halcyon goal.
The camera arrived for testing just a few days before Carnival. I couldn’t confirm WiFi connectivity where I planned to road test it at the SocaDrome, so I bought a seven day, 1GB plan and accompanying micro-SIM card for roughly TT$100 as a backup and set up the software for the project on the device.

Unfortunately, my image editing software of choice for Android, Adobe’s capable, albeit stripped down Photoshop Touch, wasn’t compatible with the device, so I went with a combination of Snapseed and QuickPic as an image editing suite.
Here’s how that worked during the four and a half hours of activity at the Socadrome.

The screen on the back of the camera is almost useless in direct sunlight. I could do basic framing, but eventually fell back on my experience using a wide-angle lens close-up as a technique for capturing images.
The camera was quick at capture, rattling of brisk sequences of 8MP JPEG files but proved hesitant to display and edit them. The device uses a Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9, but felt much slower than its specs when taxed with detailed Carnival photos (most were 4-6MB).

Jumping between two apps to tone and resize images probably didn’t help matters much either.
Doing quick edits and transmitting to the T&T Guardian (via e-mail and lochoing off of CarnivalTV’s WiFi) sounds like a good idea, but the process takes long enough and viewing images on the screen even in shade was so taxing that ultimately the whole process proved too much effort for too little return.

Two images ended up in the next day’s Guardian and three in that Friday’s edition of Metro, so in that specific space managing that particular challenge, the Galaxy camera delivered what it promised and I count the experience a success.

It remains, however, like many early standards bearers for fundamental change in photography (I am put to mind of Apple’s QuickTake camera here, the first truly affordable digital camera), too little camera for the size of the expectations that it must bear.
Comments

BitDepth#927 - March 11

Lessons from the Socadrome
927_Socadrome
Yuma was the first band to cross the Socadrome stage on Carnival Tuesday.
Digital image by Mark Lyndersay. This panoramic photo is a composite of four separate exposures merged using software.


If there had been tumbleweeds in the Jean Pierre Complex, they would have made a quite cinematic sight as they rolled across the vast gray stage built for the Socadrome.
That’s just one of the idle thoughts I had while waiting last Tuesday morning and I had a lot of time to think about Carnival 2014 while idling away the hours between 7:45am and the start of festivities there at 10:00am.

Workers with heavy gloves pulled cables through routing troughs, a particularly keen young man paced the stage diligently with a blower, blasting unseeable specks off its surface. Ace videographer Selwyn Henry hefted and swung the mighty boom he would manage for the duration of the show.

What happened after all that preparation is now public record. Only three of the bands scheduled to appear at the new venue appeared, though they managed to account for an almost continuous stream of masqueraders for four and a half hours of stage time.

It was a first time for me too, at least in this century. The first time since 1994 when I was between relationships with a newspaper and suffering a mighty newsprint tabanca that I did not wear an NCC issued press badge or visit a single official venue.

Yet there was no sense of loss this year. My first visit to the Grand Stand for 2014 was on the Thursday after Carnival for a pointless press event, and I barely looked at the stage, once so central to my idea of the festival.
Part of the reason for that is my loss of interest in photographing popular Carnival. I have enough thoughts on that to constitute a blog post,
which you’ll find here.

So many questions. Like this one.
Why are we building the North Stand?
Once the North Stand served a real purpose, along with the open bleachers that bracketed the parade route onto the big stage. There were thousands of people who wanted to see pan and mas and there was a real need to accommodate them.

For most of Carnival 2014, though, the North Stand was effectively, when it wasn’t completely, empty of an audience. Or even the odd straggler. Even when there were people there, the Grandstand could have handily held them.

So let’s stop wasting time and money building it and just put up solid temporary bleachers in the Greens at Pan Semi-finals to hold the few among that lot who actually want to see what a steelband performance looks like.
Those we can tear down by the following Monday and get on with the rest of the season.

Why doesn’t Carnival Tuesday in Port of Spain have a stage manager?
Part of the reason that people don’t turn out to look at Carnival anymore is that they have no idea what they will end up seeing.
The crowds that occasioned the building of the North Stand and the bleachers on the track, the huge temporary structure in Downtown Port of Spain and bleachers at both Victoria and Adam Smith Square were a response to need.

People were coming in droves to see Carnival and many needed a comfortable place to view it from.
Back then, Carnival was smaller and managed itself. It doesn’t anymore. Bands larger than brigades follow their own imperatives, not the needs of an audience, so audiences dwindle.

There are event stage managers, but it’s time that we begin to treat the entire route as a stage and manage it accordingly.
Generals have been doing this successfully for centuries with a complete knowledge of the consequences of poor planning when managing thousands of people on the move.

Will the twain ever meet?
Carnival now offers its audience two very different masqueraders. Those who seek a link to the legacy of the festival, performing an art for an audience and those who wear a costume as part of a street party. One is an externalisation of performance, and the other aggressively internalises it.

It’s the push and pull between art and commerce, a tug of war that commerce has been winning for the last two decades. If the NCC is to do one important thing for Carnival, it must create an infrastructure that facilitates commerce while funding art, using transparent processes for that support.

Was the Socadrome a success?
While it was happening, it was a spectacular event for the masqueraders. Which is only fair, because that’s who it was built for.
In the course of documenting the construction of the Socadrome, I listened in on a meeting of the planners and their management teams.

Without disclosing details, I can state with absolute certainty that the leadership of large Carnival bands are fanatically concerned about the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of their masqueraders. Everything else is just vapor.

So the Socadrome was the perfect fulfilment of that goal. Photographers and videographers roamed the stage freely, exciting their masqueraders. Video was streamed and broadcast of the event. A small audience showed up.
Your opinion, as heartfelt as it may be, doesn’t actually matter.

There was something Disneylike about the whole thing. A carefully manicured lead-in to the event, an explosion of excitement, music and colour and then it was over, the lights came up –or rather the two o’clock sun came blasting in –and it was over, with little feathers rolling across the stage like the coda of a loud and vivid cowboy gun battle.

Tiny tumbleweeds, glistening in the afternoon sun.

Related...
Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

More transparency in Carnival

Written for the Guardian editorial published on March 10

On Thursday last week, in response to a question put to an NCC panel convened to discuss a study of the broadcast potential of Carnival, the Commission’s consultant Ian Royer said that the executive would decide whether the report of a group of international media experts would be made public.

This is exactly the type of response that’s expected of the politically minded and it’s deeply disturbing to find that attitude worming its way into a non-competitive state agency responsible for the dispensation of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxpayers' money.

It’s not surprising then to find that much of the post-Carnival bacchanal about this year’s festival has also been about transparency and accountability, from Mr Shak’s allegation that his marks were doctored to ensure that he would not win to the confusion surrounding the NCBA’s decision to penalise some bands in competition.

Those controversies have only served to tar the win by Calypso Monarch Chucky with doubt and to steal from Neal and Massy All Stars, a long-term contestant in the large band category and third place runner up to the title in 2013, its rightful thunder as the first steel band to win the title in the 21st century.

The NCC is not a state agency with local rivals for its product and any rationale for keeping information about Carnival’s development secret defies both the guidance of commonsense and the mandates of good governance.
Commentary in this space has already lamented the lack of access to the recordings of deliberations held under the rubric of national consultations about Carnival after 2013.

That simply isn’t good enough for several reasons.
There’s the issue of the tendering process for the television production rights and streaming for Carnival 2014, which was quashed and the rights unceremoniously dumped on CNMG, leaving local production companies both stunned and angered.

Then there is the distillation of discussions down into execution plans without offering the many thousands of stakeholders of Carnival an opportunity to become involved or to comment.
Managing the process this way robs the NCC of the value of diverse opinions, which will run the gamut from tent owners to masqueraders to street vendors. These are people with very specific views on the festival and very deep experiences that are often missed or worse, misunderstood by Carnival’s leadership elite.

Hiding judges’scoresheets for a public competition creates wide ranging doubts about what exactly happens when these experts review competitions and offers no insight into the process.
Transparency and accountability are not challenges; they are opportunities.

At the very least, understanding what’s being rewarded and what’s finding disfavor would more constructively guide competitors in their efforts to craft successful works.
In a larger view, understanding the judging process as it exists now might begin a discussion that might more helpfully shape what is rewarded annually as great works of Carnival creativity.

It’s a level of insight that has never been afforded to the creative participants in the festival and one that’s long overdue.
It might also, finally, move beyond the anguish of Shadow’s bluntly frustrated Jump, Judges, Jump to an era that sees judges participating in discussions that improve the Carnival arts.

Related...
Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

BitDepth#926 - March 04

Carnival’s stuttering progress
926-Ice
This is half of the crowd for Tribe Ice, the first major party of the season. This is what happens when popular soca meets the target audience for a big band. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

There’s a song that I’ve been listening to over the last two weeks, a 2013 dance number by Fuse ODG, the working alias of Nana Richard Abiona, a British musician of Ghanian descent.

It’s a peppy little number, full of the celebratory synthesiser riffs so typical of UK dance music with a funky rhythm that’s reminiscent of Afrofunk. It’s also a song that would fit right into any soca DJ’s playlist without causing a hiccup in a Carnival party’s full tilt wining.

That’s how tissue thin the difference between modern soca and European dance music has become.
It’s not the only spot in the Carnival landscape where international breakthroughs seem imminent, and it also isn’t the first instance of the type of creative osmosis that’s brought the festival to international attention.

From Who let the dogs out to Minshall’s command performances for the Olympics, to the impact of Differentology on international music charts, the products, aesthetic and creative potential of Carnival always seem just on the verge of being a big thing, before retreating determinedly to the safety of the parochial.

What is it about T&T that brings us global attention, as calypso did in the 1940’s and 50’s, only to lose momentum?
We always seem well prepared to make a strong beachhead landing and then decide that storming up the slopes of Normandy is just too much bother and it might be better to suck a Carib and watch the waves instead.
What causes this to happen repeatedly?

A misunderstanding of roles is a big part of it.
The State really needs to decide whether it is an investor in Carnival or its sponsor. When Carnival stakeholders begin to gripe about the lavish freeness expected by representatives of the State during events, perhaps it’s time to admit that you’re a sponsor, and a loutish one at that.

Yet the conversation about Carnival is always about investment and returns and earnings, business terms that mean nothing when more than $200 million can be ploughed into the annual festival with no expectation of serious accountability for spending on that scale.

An investor considers a plan, puts money behind it and expects accurate reporting on the progress of the business.
A sponsor buys into a brand in the hopes of leveraging their own fortunes, their return comes in winning attention.
The state needs to decide which it is and stop trying to be the worst of both.
Similarly, the NCC really needs to decide exactly what it is, because it’s acting like the serf of the stakeholders instead of the convenor of Carnival.

According to the NCC’s website, this is what it is constituted to manage…
  • The regulation, co-ordination or conduct of all Carnival activities throughout the country held under the aegis of the Government.
  • The development, maintenance and review of rules, regulations and carnival festivities throughout the country.
  • The identification, evaluation and promotion of all Carnival related industries with a view to the enhancing and marketing of their cultural products and services.
  • The development and implementation of a marketing strategy for Carnival with a view to optimizing the revenue earning potential of the festival and its contribution to the national economy.
  • Is this what the NCC has been doing?

Under the direction of the State, the Carnival Commission has long been pursuing a strategy of distributing fish, not teaching fishermen. The result is a Carnival welfare state that’s unsustainable without a flush oil economy.
It’s been the outsiders, the large bandleaders and the soca performers who have developed real world skills when existing systems failed them.

That’s turned out to be profitable for many of them and the biggest bandleaders and soca singers now manage engines of creativity and production which are completely absent in most of the festival.
Instead of embracing that model, demonstrably the most successful one in modern Carnival, the NCC has reneged on its responsibility to develop in favour of pandering to its official stakeholders, all of whom are now firmly stitched to the public purse.

Tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, there will be much celebratory backpatting on the success of another edition of the festival.
This will happen regardless of the conspicuous failures of so many State sponsored events to galvanise public interest or to contribute to the formation of anything that might resemble a sustainable Carnival economy.
Next up is Lent, when the literal eating of fish will accelerate, despite another year’s lost opportunity during Carnival to meaningfully engage the metaphor of making fishers of men.

Related...
Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

The Geography of Carnival

Editorial for the T&T Guardian written on March 02 on the controversies surrounding the routes taken and planned for Carnival 2014. Click here to read more...
Comments

BitDepth#925 - February 25

Leslie-Ann Boiselle, BC Pires, Dean Ackin, David Rudder and Kenwyn Murray all have a stake and interest in Carnival. These are their thoughts on how Carnival might be improved. Click here to read more...
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Elitism or entrepreneurship?

Editorial written for the T&T Guardian for February 26 considering the implications of the Socadrome and its potential impact on Carnival 2014. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#924 - February 18

Copyright issues arise again during Carnival 2014 with no apparent solutions or common sense evaluations of the actual law in sight. Click here to read more...
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What the NCC should do

On January 23, I responded to a request from the NCC asking for suggestions on media accreditation and handling. This is the document I supplied to them and later in the season, to the management of the Socadrome. Click here to read more...
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Zorce on accreditation

A letter from Zorce boss Narend Sooknarine about his experiences applying for Click here to read more...
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Yooz seeks more for its users

Reporting for the Business Guardian on Yooz, an electronic payment system that works on all phones. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#923 - February 11

Facebook's new post distribution algorithm creates problems for publishers and marketers. Nicole Phillip Greene of WhenDidIBecomeMyMom.com offers some solutions and approaches to handling the issue. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#922 - February 04

TSTT introduces its first Gigabit Community to a gated housing project in Chaguanas. Click here to read more...
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The Gigabit Community

Business Guardian news reporting on TSTT's Gigabit Community project. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#921 - January 28

Apple's Macintosh, 30 years later. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#920 - January 21

Microsoft introduces CityNext, which marries the social engagement of Facebook and Twitter with the power of Open Data's ability to improve governance. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#919 - January 07

A few words of respect about Therese Mills on her passing. Click here to read more...
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