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Carnival, TnT

By Terry Joseph
March 15, 2003

Although next October marks 30 years since e-mail was first sent, its core message is evidently still to be downloaded by Trinidad Carnival, where quaint applications like faxing and face-to-face meetings are widely preferred and apparently considered cutting-edge communications technology.

Small wonder that everyone you really need at festival time is "in a meeting", since teleconferencing and video-based consultation are yet to reach the court of King Carnival, who tediously pedals through the season, flying only in the face of available high-speed transportation.

Not that Carnival is alone in this primitive approach, because executives at some of the country's leading corporations, leaders you'd confidently expect to find in the vanguard of information exchange, are sadly bringing up the rear, Don't get me wrong. TnT Carnival has its own "www". Unfortunately, in our context, the initials mean "wait, wait, wait" and not Worldwide Web, with the festival's central ISP denoting Intransigence, Sloth and Procrastination.

For all its international accolades, Trinidad Carnival is still on a self-imposed exile from cyberspace or, where progress is indicated, approaches it at the speed of snail-mail. By the time I got back home from the Steelband Panorama Final, detailed results were already posted on several websites based in North America and Europe. In pan's very "mecca" it took days.

Pan Trinbago's website was down for the entire Carnival season, leaving browsers with outdated information and webmasters both here and abroad developing anxiety attacks in searching for data not carried via streaming web-based radio.

Happily, there is a proliferation of pan websites offering up to the minute information on what is happening here. You can actually play a tenor pan on-screen, print scores of great arrangements from the music festival or hear clips of tunes from the Panorama final by searching sites based in North America and Europe.

Pan4 Us, When Steel Talks, Pan is Great and other foreign-domain sites make it their business to promote the national musical instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, but it is as if the local body took far too seriously the hackneyed TV admonition: "do not try this at home".

They pilloried John Schmidt, a white American pan lover, for his commentary on the Panorama final but few Trinis can rival the time he spends recording and cataloging steelband information.

But don't you start thinking this lagging is exclusive to pan.

With the exception of Spektakula, calypso tent administrators just aren't cyber-ready. Most are difficult to reach even by regular telephone and at any rate, if you're lucky enough to get through, their prime-movers almost impossible to pin down via that medium.

Among the singers themselves, few are reachable online. Black Stalin, Pink Panther and Crazy are in the laughably small group that understands the business requirement for high-speed communication. Several others have websites but seldom check their message-boards, so there is little point trying to contact them that way.

Actually, most calypsonians expressly avoid e-mail, thinking ownership of mobile phones a cure-all, even though their numbers are almost invariably unlisted.

And don't even think about attempting to engage on-screen conversation (instant messaging) with the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) or its seniors. Although an e-mail address is available, no dedicated employee sits before the screen, so if you do send mail digitally, you still have to get through to the organisation by telephone to say it is en route.

Not unlike pan, the most comprehensive calypso information is available from foreigners. New York based Trini Aldwyn Rooks and Toronto counterpart George Maharaj, Alaskan Ray Funk and Nigerian lawyer Godwin Oyewole are among the group of dedicated kaiso researchers and recordists who maintain detailed information sources and allow free access to their sites on matters related to the art.

Mas is well ahead of its fellow Carnival components in this regard, with bands setting up individual websites and in many cases incorporating generic information about the festival. Still, don't expect to hit the button and get up to speed at a single touch.

It is as if Carnival is lagging on the premise of "maintaining tradition", these cyber-dinosaurs, trying to run business today on procedures that weren't even current in the age they still seek to represent.

Computers are no longer devices exclusive to the rich or eccentric, nor are facilities offered beyond the reach of average intelligence. Indeed, manufacturers and programmers deliberately design user-friendly systems, thinking their work within the capacities of even slow learners. And where that fails, several books titled "for dummies" are among the expansive library of information available on how to use the equipment.

The easy conclusion, then, is that Carnival's senior stakeholders either couldn't be bothered with improving the speed of communication or are simply scared of the not-so-new technology.

But then, for all of its revolutionary and sometimes radical approaches, Carnival's best-known names rank among the most conservative people you'll ever meet.

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