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By Terry Joseph
February 20, 2004

For a country long convinced by Kitchener's calypso coinage- "Anytime is Trinidad Time" - it is ironic that our national festival, the forum he used to launch that concept, actually offers most compelling evidence of quite the opposite.

Carnival routinely delivers its most crucial components punctually, presenting us with the sharpest variance from Kitchener's melodic rationale for purportedly entrenched laissez-faire, a fact that drowns in the pool of denigration dug and watered annually by uninformed festival critics, who rush to gang sporadic episodes of lawlessness as "general indiscipline."

But a macro assessment of the scenario shows Carnival as a period of exemplary self-regulation, particularly at the level of its commanding elements. No bandleader dares suggest masqueraders come for their costumes Ash Wednesday, nor would a steelband captain fritter away precious pre-Panorama nights, for indeed time-management, a fundamental of discipline, is truly of the essence in Carnival.

For many years, these concepts were not fully embraced by all aspects of the festival, competing with the feeling that it is a time to "free-up" and take nothing seriously and, of course, "Anytime is Trinidad Time." The easiest measurement of such dereliction manifested in almost universally late starts to shows, many blissfully proceeding through half the weeknight, seemingly oblivious to audience commitments during the next working day.

Although slippage still occurs, the record shows noticeable improvements at every sequence. For openers, avoidance of audience discomfort is now high on the agenda of those who programme major festival events. Principals of Calypso Fiesta, Brass Festival, International Soca Monarch contest, Panorama, Dimanche Gras and Parade of the Bands have all cited the length of those exercises as reason for imposing time limits on performances or using suasion to achieve the same end.

In a single season, producers of every big show are vowing to compress events, predicting closing times and advertising the means by which such pledges would be fulfilled. From all appearances, we will never again have to tolerate a steel orchestra taking three quarters of an hour to set up on stage, nor can a calypsonian use 23 minutes (as was the case in 2002) to deliver a single song.

This year, performance time for Panorama bands was reduced from ten to eight minutes, with a similar period apportioned for setting up of orchestras.

Calypsonians have ten minutes to do all their Dimanche Gras skits and present props and we are told the show should be completed by midnight.

This is a far cry from that year, not so long ago, when Jouvert was already underway before results of the King of Carnival contest was announced.

In a dramatic twist, Jouvert bands are now asking for more time to parade, proffering the same reasons put forward by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) in 1989 for extending Carnival to five days. At the time, bandleaders and the general public, ably abetted by stand-up comic Sprangalang and Pan Trinbago executive member Selwyn Tarradath, shot down the proposal to dedicate Carnival Saturday exclusively to Jouvert.

As a commissioner in the Roy Augustus stewardship (by dint of being NCBA chairman), I was singularly targeted for going along with the NCC proposal that, in its fullness, also sought to appropriate Carnival Friday for the children's parade.

Sprang waylaid me from the calypso tent stage that season, at every opportunity expressing surprise I would go along with "that dotishness."

Tarradath wrote letters to all newspapers complaining that the "irresponsible NCC would even think of giving the nation's children a day off school just so they could jump-up on the road."

Interestingly, 1989 marked the 150th anniversary of Carnival on the streets and the proposed change was deliberately timed to underscore that historical benchmark, responding to the festival's evolution and consequent changes in logistical demands, but the most vocal commentators would have none of it.

No one seemed to notice, however, that not more than eight months later, the country successfully rallied for a public holiday to mark our bid for a place in soccer's World Cup finals. Through the tireless efforts of then Culture Minister, Jennifer Johnson, the holiday was proclaimed. As it turned out, we lost the game, so the same precious children were kept away from school for a day and for no better reason than a celebration of failure.

It was all a question of time-management. Even way back then we observed that the first morning of Carnival had a peculiar problem: its music providers were also committed to Monday afternoon mas bands and could not go past 10 a.m. with the Jouvert groups they fuelled.

To the Commission, the only way to hurdle that dilemma was to put the children's parade on Friday, turn Saturday into an all-day Jouvert and with already secured approval from Archbishop Anthony Pantin, then Head of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), make Sunday exclusive to pan for "bomb" competitions and any other pursuit they desired, leaving Monday and Tuesday for what is most easily described as "pretty mas" - although at no exclusion of pan.

So 15 years later, the same Jouvert has become a problem, with arguments waxing over a demand by the National Carnival Development Foundation (NCDF) for just one measly little hour more, when we were offering a full 24.

My, how Carnival time changes!

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