Trinidad and Tobago


Vexing To The Spirit

October 24, 2001

An item treasured universally by Christians, is the one-page tract called Desiderata which, among other equally Utopian things, beseeches us to: "Avoid loud and aggressive persons for they are vexations to the spirit."

As if by copyright specification, the last line of each printed scroll unfailingly reminds us its original was found in Old St Paulís Cathedral a little over 300 years ago; a time well before ultra-powerful audio systems were invented.

Desiderata, Latin for "things we desire", fingers noise and a couple of the other well-known suspects as deterrents to the preferred state of tranquility. "Go placidly amid the noise and haste," it coaxes, "and remember what peace there may be in silence."

Well, that was in 1692. Today, when a DJ chooses to call himself "Ishmael the Demolition Man", he clearly is not a candidate for all that fluffy Desiderata stuff, but a determined person set on a deliberate course to (as they say) "blow us away."

Letís cut off the frills: Almost all promoters of large-scale public entertainment events play their music far too loudly. And whether or not it is clear to you, their regard for the rights of families living nearby is often in short supply.

The most merciless among them actually affix a sadistic edge to the fundamental annoyance, by hiring announcers to shriek spectacularly insipid comments into microphones, heightening to the most punitive notch of volume, an already stentorian din.

It therefore came as no surprise that fete promoters didnít hear the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) call for consultation with interested parties, both before and after drafting noise-pollution regulations. They couldnít hear. The music was just too damn loud.

New EMA rules limit fetes to a noise-level not exceeding 75 decibels (measured from the eventís perimeter). In keeping with their historical regard for others, promoters, DJs and related industry interests are seeing only those difficulties that may now affect their business.

At a meeting last Monday night, it became clear that many of them perceived the new regulations as a kind of State-sanctioned persecution, rather than social-hazard avoidance. Consequently, and even after detailed explanation, they retained residual unwillingness to concede any right to enjoyment of property to persons living near the source of the racket.

One participant lamented loudly: "Trinidad ainít Trinidad again!" He earned Öwell, thunderous applause for this analysis of the new procedure and at a time surprisingly soon after EMAís Glen Goddard had painstakingly outlined its rationale.

In a nutshell, the music has been too damn loud, affected residents frequently complained, public health issues arose and Government responded. It was not the ruling party deceptively slipping in some part of a hidden or ethnically partisan agenda, but all of Parliament. When the regulations were tabled, Goddard told us, its passage was unanimous.

So, their original victims finally liberated, the former noisy oppressor is now crying "foul". Had these same promoters shown requisite interest two years ago when invited by the EMA to make their point, resulting legislation would likely have reflected their concerns. And indeed, many of their expressed anxieties are quite legitimate.

With the new law requiring a special permit for occasions on which any promoter wishes to exceed prescribed limits, calypso tent managers are not being unreasonable for wondering if they will need separate approvals for each night of Carnival season. The regulations speak to single events or year-round provisions, not a season of a few weeks; as is our style.

Nor are event promoters being absurd when they ask what happens if a show becomes an overnight success and public-response indicates the viability of a repeat performance within the five-week gestation period (from application to approval), given that variation permits are date-specific.

What to do about an event disrupted by or postponed because of rain? Why should the decibel level in the village matter if the entire community comes together to throw a fund-raiser? Who will excessive noise disturb? Arenít all the neighbours already in the fete?

The late, great questions, I suppose. And not surprising either, as the very meeting from which they sprung started late. One would expect, however, that these salient queries having been raised, the spirit of even the most precise legislation would supercede its letter, for Desiderata also says: "Speak your truth quietly and clearly, then listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, for they too have their story."

But fact is, people pay dearly for residential comforts and do have the right to watch television, hold family dinners or just relax on the back porch with their own selections of music. They too are part of The Spirit of Trinidad and Tobago and no one ought to get them vexed unduly and worse, in their own homes. They too are children of the universe and have a right to be here.

And mark you, every promoter knows the deleterious effects of continuous noise-bombardment. Ask former Pan Trinbago president Owen Serrette or soca-singer Russell Cadogan what caused their hearing impairment and they will tell you Ė in a word Ė noise.

And if we canít achieve moderation by persuasion, it must come by way of legislation. As mother would have said, "Those who donít hear will feel," clear evidence that, as Desiderata concludes: "The universe is unfolding exactly as it should."

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