Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Carnival Is Over

Cosmopolitan Trinidad and Tobago absorbs massive amounts of cultural content from the North Atlantic, Asia, Africa and other islands of the Caribbean, reproducing these influences in its various festivals. At Carnival, however, Trinidad and Tobago reverses this trend and exerts its own gravity on the rest of the world. The islands’ population bulges as visitors, some 60% percent of whom are returning nationals, flow in to witness and participate in one of the truly great popular festivals of the modern world.

The economy of Carnival from refreshment sales to temporary tattoos is based on emotional commerce, the business of relief, release and rebellion. This was the theme of the winning Groovy Soca Monarch song, “Wotless” by Kes the Band.

* Kes the Band, “Wotless”

Visitors to Carnival week may miss the now massive mobilization of bodies in the ‘warm-up’ season between Christmas and Carnival as Trinis work to slim down and fit into costumes. Many make their way to gyms and parks, hoping to be held in the loving embrace of local and international cameras.

* Young King: Benjai, Winning Song, “Ah Trini”

Carnival is a politician’s dream as well as a photographer’s. Indeed, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar’s new administration sank its teeth into the festival with the investment of over 100 million TTD (15 million USD). Parading bands returned to the central Queen’s Park Savannah stage after a 5 year hiatus and unprecedented 2 million dollar (300,000 USD) prizes were sponsored by the government for all the major Carnival competitions. The bonanza atmosphere led to intense clashes on stage, epitomized by 2010 Chutney Soca Monarch Ravi B’s meltdown after losing his title to veteran performer Rikki Jai.

Chutney Soca Monarch, Rikki Jai, Winning Song, “White Oak and Water”

The theme of Trinidad Carnival’s centerpiece event, the Dimanche Gras was unity in diversity: “All ah we is one family”. Karene Asche made the theme her own, winning the Calypso Monarch title with a stinging delivery of the well-crafted composition “Uncle Jack”. She defeated several former Monarchs and also conquered the massive Dimanche Gras stage with its unique performance requirement of addressing audiences located to the North (North Stand) and South (Grand Stand) of the stage.

* Karen Asche- “Uncle Jack”

Theatre and Carnival are being re-combined in other ways by productions such as The 3Canal Show, this year entitled Re-Evolution. The Rapso trio, winners of Trinidad and Tobago’s Cacique award for excellence in theatre, continues to add a twist to the traditional concept of the calypso tent, sharing the stage with new and underground acts such as Gyazette, Collis Duranty and Kin/Sibling Rivalry.

* 3 Canal Show

3Canal takes its show from the Beryl McBurnie’s Little Carib Theatre to the streets of Woodbrook on the Monday morning J’Ouvert with celebration in mud, oil and paint and the ‘chip’ that takes masqueraders slicing along the road to the sounds of Trinidadian rhythm sections and the steelpan. This year the Rapsonians continued their association with the acclaimed Laventille Rhythm Section who remained active in this year’s Carnival despite the recent loss of their manager, journalist Keith Smith.

* Laventille Rhythm Section


Laventille-native Destra Garcia continues to establish herself as part of the new vanguard of artistes who sing/compose specifically for the steelpan instrument. Her song “Calling Meh”, composed with Marc Loquan and Ken “Professor” Philmore was the song of choice for the Panorama competition by top bands such as Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille and Exodus.

* Destra Garcia, “Callin’ Meh”

The premier prize of Panorama is the large-band category which was taken by Trinidad All Stars (originally Hell Yard) ending the two-year reign of fellow northerners Silver Stars who came in third.

* Trinidad All Stars’ Live Performance (Semi-final round)

Just east of Trinidad All Stars headquarters on Duke Street, Port of Spain is Piccadilly Greens, a picturesque venue which was host to the dawn reenactment of the 1881 Camboulay riots on Carnival Friday spearheaded by playwright and Port-of-Spain’s Poet Laureate, Eintou Springer. The event also featured performances of the Afro-Trinidadian stickfighting tradition, Kalinda, indicative of the increasing popularity of the artform after several years of decadence.

* Kalinda

There is little doubt that Port-of-Spain is the epicenter of the Trinidadian Carnival, but there are in fact Carnival celebrations in some 100 towns and cities in Trinidad and Tobago. The music of the carnival continues to be heavily influenced by the country’s southern region. Neil ‘Iwer’ George from the southern city of Point Fortin ignited the streets with “Come to Meh”, a clever play on calypsonian Shadow’s classic “Bassman from Hell”.

* Iwer George, “Come to Meh”

Fellow southerner, Siparia-native Machel Montano also staged a return to the Carnival after a year’s hiatus, sweeping away all in his path. He garnered the Road March title (for the song played most often during the Carnival celebrations) and he showed the full range of his skills as a performer to cop the Power Soca Monarch title. Machel’s winning song “Advantage” had masqueraders creating their own personal earthquakes on the streets and judging stages of the Carnival.

* Machel Montano, “Advantage”

Another powerful song came from DJ-Singer Shal Marshall with “Doh Drag de Flag”, an exhortation to the flag crews, groups of some 30 members that bring massive flags to major soca events and add a new dimension of colour and excitement to the festival.

* Shal Marshall, “Doh Drag de Flag (Defend It)”

The festival ends abruptly swept away by vendors, clean-up crews, and taxi drivers taking visitors back to airports and normal lives. And so in the words of the immortal melody-maker Lord Kitchener “The Carnival is Over”. His ‘Rain-o-rama’ exhibition, temporarily housed at the National Academy of Performing Arts, closed on Friday, making space for the islands’ next eruption of colour, the Spring celebration of Phagwa or Holi.

* Lord Kitchener: “The Carnival is Over”

-- Chanzo Greenidge
blog comments powered by Disqus