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The Carnival is over

Terry Joseph
February 13, 2002

While we were consumed by first strains of street-level Jouvert jollification, relatives of the late Grandmaster Kitchener were forced to mix merriment with memoriam as they marked the second anniversary of his death.

Here was a man, dedicated to triggering Carnival dancing, now bringing to the scenario a morose touch for some, even as his work blasted from a powerful music system on Wrightson Road. Mid-morning Monday and revellers, perhaps unaware of the connection, wined wantonly.

Ironically, it was also Kitchener who wrote a stirring love song, lamenting the end of the wining, an ode to Carnival itself, as he marked its passing. Listen to the opening verse and chorus:

ďThe sun is descending
The moon is approaching
And the crowd is gone
Seems like nobody
Is interested
To carry on
Is like a wooden shack
After a storm
Not a man or a mas
Is around to perform
All I can see is some
Broken old bottles so far
An indication
The Carnival is over.Ē

The calypso only gets more alluring as it progresses and by the final chorus, weeping would not be an unreasonable response from those who take Carnival seriously.

But not all of us bury the past in sorrow. Hopefully, there are many more Carnivals to come and the lessons of festivals past must be brought to bear on future considerations.

Should the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), for instance, introduce a rule about props used by singers, to exclude the Prime Ministerís appearance onstage? Can other contestants construe the use of such a prop as unfair advantage? Will judges remain unmoved by such events?

For although it seemed clear that Sugar Aloes would take the four titles he eventually did, it would be difficult for calypso judges to argue complete transparency, given the circumstances surrounding his victories. In fact, he may have denied himself greater glory by having the PM so squarely in his corner.

Prime Minister Patrick Manningís appearance onstage at the Calypso Fiesta, embracing the singer and raising his arm in a triumphant gesture, after a performance that featured the waving of balisier branches (his partyís symbol), must have sent a clear message to the adjudication panel.

Whether they were intimidated by it is hardly the point. The fact that Mr Manning was onstage with a selected contestant tainted whatever judicial objectivity we may earlier have presumed.

Learning nothing from negative public response to that lack of judgement, Mr Manning then allowed his official car to be used as a prop by the same singer at the Dimanche Gras national calypso monarch final, which Sugar Aloes also won.

Calypsonians planning to enter next yearís contest must already be making arrangements to import Pope John Paul II for added value. Perhaps the more astute among them will consider evangelist Benny Hinn, particularly since he has been publicly endorsed by Mr Manning himself.

But that high-profile episode was not the only Carnival point to ponder. Hopefully, the relevant bodies have taken careful notes and will by post-mortem contemplate the gains or difficulties accruing from radical changes to the configuration of national competitions.

There still are those who harbour residual problems with panyard judging of Panoramaís preliminary round and although the Calypso Fiesta enjoyed what must be its largest audience ever, thousands went there ignorant of details of the new structure.

Mas bands never quite got up to subscription levels of years previous, with one cutting back production by more than 1,000 costumes. Was the political climate blameless in this recession, or did other factors (like the mas itself) finally manifest as a self-imposed difficulty measurable in fiscal terms?

Do we ever need another Rachel Price and Iwer George conflict in Carnival? How soon can we expect another tie (Dem fellars could tie!) from the International Soca Monarch judges?

Indeed, does calypso need to carry the cross of kidnapping radio DJs or shooting at their stations, just to hear a broader selection of the seasonís offerings? And what do I tell foreigners who perennially experience difficulties with calypso lyrics?

The lady who thought Denise Belfon was singing "Bring out the jametting army" nearly suffered a seizure on hearing the English version. "But wait until Jouvert," I said, "even if all of the armyís senior ranks do not come out, certainly there will be a lot of privates on show."

But seriously, folks, there is the real cost of running the festival. The $1.8 million worth of new seats in the grand stand, the cost of the north stand and (never mind the arguments) unknown cost of its nebulous alternative. For that matter, there remains the massive $8 million debt inherited by the new National Carnival Commission (NCC). What to do?

Should we develop a blueprint for allowable kiddie wining? Will Government begin to take Carnival more seriously and put some money into not just providing crutches for the limping festival, but reconstructing it from the skeleton up? Is the Grand Stand safe?

These and other questions should not have to wait until Christmas Eve for consideration. With the greatest respect to Kitchener, the Carnival is not really over. Indeed, for those with responsibility for the festivalís future, itís only just begun- afresh.

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