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The Spirit of Carnival
The Blue Devils are menacing, the “Tribe” chic in her dental-floss-covered-behind sashays, back backs on the man, and as Kees sings in, “Hello, ... she play the ting like a banjo.” Across the grand stage, the buxom Sailor chips with ease, bosom moving to the rhythm of steel. Her white pants fit snug around savannah hips. Then the splendid wild Indians enter the stage dancing in a circle, the wind ruffling their luxurious feathers—a remarkable genre of mas along with the whiplashing Jab Jabs, Minstrels, Midnight Robbers, Dragons spitting fire, dribbling Bats with maco wings that look so real, fascinating Fancy Sailors and Firemen, the amusing Dame Lorraines, and angelic Moko Jumbies who symbolise grace.
But before the parade of the merry monarch, the panyards were filled with addicts to steelband music. There was laughter, chatter, a softness of feeling— something like unfettered joy.
Yes, hello, the Merry Monarch came and “kick up the place like a Dojo” (Kees) and gone to return another year. Much has been said about Carnival, including predictions of its death. Evidently, its creative splendour and the evocative sound of “brass” have disappeared. There has been little or no innovation since Minshall’s wings about four decades ago, but he returned this year and reminded us of his genius with the portrayal of Pegasus and Death of the Maiden. There’s deep symbolism in the mas. Study it!
Who would have thought the children of “Washer Woman” would have abandoned the authentic Trini wine for street porn. Perhaps it was the lasting damage done to the Carnival psyche by Mancrab and the environmental effects of the debris The River brought down. With the passing or retirement of legendary mas makers, the substitution of local craftsmanship for low-cost imports among other influencers, the mas has evolved to a shadow of itself.
There is an aspect of Carnival that has endured—the robust indigenous traditions that are in our collective memories. It is tradition or culture that makes societies unique and informs people who they are and from where they have come. Whether at a national or family level, culture is an anchor that provides a sense of time, place and stability. It embraces conventions and innovations that we share, cherish, and which give us a sense of belonging to a place called home.
These ways of life are captured by our artists, past and present, who created memorable works of music, song, dance, poetry and literature, which they shared with us, and too, the beliefs, stories, and legends our predecessors passed on to us.
It is why the steelband, calypso and traditional mas should be nurtured as the festival takes on other dimensions. Calypso will remain in our collective memories what the masters like Sparrow, Kitchener, Stalin, Rose, Shadow, and Rudder, to name a few, have made it – great social commentary with memorable lyrics and sweet melodies. Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah, Stalin’s Caribbean Man, and Rudder’s Hammer are unforgettable. Who can remember the names far more the lyrics of many of the calypsoes in recent times, even this year’s slate? Still, the tradition lives in Helon Francis, who sang Change and Aaron “Voice” St Louis, Year of Love, two young and outstanding performers this Carnival.
Soca rules the airwaves and is now part of the culture creating its footprints. Perhaps Kes’ Hello and Blaxx’s Hulk may find places in our memories. The two songs could not be more different from each other.
Hello is a charming tune with lyrics that epitomise what the millennial winner ghul does to man kind. Hulk is an inspirational masterpiece that calls on us to have strength in the face of adversity: “So as dey sink you under, you float/Ride out de storm dem just like ah boat/So as they push you down, so you get up…And every crack yuh see yuh does seep through/And by the help of God you will get through/Now everybody shout, I feel like HULK. The spirit of Carnival lives.
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