Bukka Rennie

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Carnival blues

January 18, 2003

The more they change the administrators of pan, calypso and mas, the more we get the tiring, boring, sickening sameness and mindlessness that we like to boast is one of the seven wonders of the world.

Will no one bell the cat? Why can't somebody boldly stand up and decide to stamp a divergent signature on this yearly debacle?

I cannot for the life of me understand why individuals will decide to take on such responsibility and not try to be different, fundamentally different. Good God, at least try to leave a mark that denotes the beginnings of a new point of departure!

Policy-makers and administrators ought to send the right signals in favour of what is to be desired for the future. If not, the rot will merely continue. Every aspect of our Carnival has been deteriorating steadily for years and no one seems able to put a halt to the degradation.

After over 150 years of Carnival we ought to know how to do it right, we ought to know the right combination of essentials that would make and keep and develop Carnival even further to be the genuine "national theatre of the streets", to quote Errol Hill, and to be the quintessential showcase of our inherent creative energy and light.

But the deterrent to this becoming reality, and in fact one of our biggest problems, if not the biggest problem, is that our bureaucrat professional administrators, beside being unable to "envision", seem always to either suffer from collective amnesia or seem to conspire to do everything that is illogical. Any time something, some facet of the festival, happens to work ideally and makes sense, it is duly scrapped.

Given such an approach and such an attitude to things, the management or mismanagement of Carnival has grown over the years to become, despite the yearly post-mortems, a huge mountain of "ta-ta" and Carnival remains banal crap, so much so that one is tempted to suggest a total banning of Carnival for at least three years until we can sort ourselves and our Carnival out.

But how can what amounts to cultural malaise as a result of what the world terms "development" be dealt with in three years? We need to keep trying as the festival happens.

How much more are we going to plead with young calypsonians to get their act and their art together? And if we are doing this can we come to do it with some consistent logic?

Last year one was applauded for singing about "mackoing" his mother and father having sex, "ah macko he and ah macko she", now this year he is being taken to task for poking fun at the Catholic Church institution that deserves to be criticised. We need to decide who and what should be rewarded in the Carnival.

If money talks, then let it talk. Everybody will then fall in line.

This year Black Stalin, in calypso, calls for a return to the artistic sensibilities of a George Bailey, and Neville Aming expresses confidence in the ability of his daughter, 26-year-old Crystal, to "change the trend of Carnival" while he denounces the "bikinis and feathers and nakedness" that has taken over our Carnival.

But what they both have missed is that the degradation is part and parcel of the overall commercialisation and middle-classifying of Carnival, the "Woodbrookifying" of mas. Certainly not the Woodbrook of the Baileys but that of the Afongs and company. If yuh not from Woodbrook yuh is dog.

And coupled with all this is the transference of Carnival from being creative manifestation that was basically male psychological expression to being that of the female with all its attendant, creative, natural narcissism.

Years ago I remember saying to women: "Okay, so you have taken over the Carnival, but what have you brought to the table?" I even went further in a piece written for the OWTU's Vanguard in which I said: "Carnival is now female, middle-class and white."

In an attempt to remind us of what Carnival was meant to be, and to help us keep the proper focus, I will end here by quoting from my 1972 poem titled "Red Hawk Journey of a mas' Artist":

"...Turn, Red Hawk, turn

Turn from the hills of Laventille

And take courage to test once again

The limits of existence...

Cry the need, the thirst, for boundless movement

And soaring consciousness beyond...

But who shall bow to Red Hawk

When a crown of fiery feathers and costume colours

Hectic heavy, glide down on void below?

...What is this Spirit that strangely pulls

Long-lost communities and deep mysteries out/of misty epochs, forcing oneness?

Why seek brotherhood with winds and souls unseen but felt?

Why be Red Hawk?

"...Final blend for feathered crown

Fashion red and yellow streaks beneath black lining

It shall talk tomorrow of hope

And Monday's now sinking Sun

That rose to open two Moons' travel

With beads and little mirrors

Counting lives of warriors strong

Who walked whole lands in solitude.

Mainly, tomorrow, shall talk with bright, motion shapes

Brighter than projected images on silvery screens

Which taught Red Hawk his story

That same tomorrow when Tuesday's dawn

Shall invoke unknown tongues like fluent water

And Red Hawk acknowledging

Neither fear nor omnipotent presence

Move downwards, oozy orbs ogling tense

Leaving in wake the careless noise

To feel at last no other self...

"...Why, Red Hawk, why the need to speak

With red bands tight over pulsating wrists

And temples pounding loud?

Why fly so high above containment

Walk so strong, alert

Eyes measuring like theodolites the slightest twitch

On faces below in void Savannah?

Matters only that Hawk is Hawk

And Mas' is not mere portrayal

But the consciousness of Geronimoes

Imparting words by simply being...

But soon the second moon's at end

And space and time are finished....."

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