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Fringe Benefits

By Terry Joseph
February 27, 2004

Like the after-hours lime at The Whistling Frog pub in St Lawrence Gap after scheduled shows at Barbados Jazz, or café-hopping along Sete's picturesque Canal du Midi in the south of France between events at the European pan playoffs; any music festival worth ranking offers equally interesting fringe activities.

Carnival's piece d'resistance, the parade of masquerade bands, would be as exciting as a blob of abandoned Jello without ancillaries like public fetes and all-inclusive parties, "Bunji-jumping" at the Soca Monarch final, Panorama and other large-scale entertainment events; all of which comprise foreplay that enhances the ecstasy of its grand climax.

On a deliberately different level, so too do those small, private gatherings punctuating Carnival's calendar, by adding further colour to the festival kaleidoscope and bringing together folks who, given the season's vagaries, might not otherwise run into each other for the duration of the festival.

Take the case of a small lime hosted on Friday 13 by jazz pianist Raf Robertson. There ostensibly for the purpose of bonding over curry-duck and roti, were legends like Sterling Betancourt and Russ Henderson, who helped pioneer our music on the UK/Europe scene as far back as the 1950s; stories of those travails flowing like libations simultaneously offered to the spirit of the season.

Also in the huddle that evening were Annise "Haffers" Hadeed, Denmark-based Rudy "Two-Left" Smith, German saxophonist Holger Laumann, internationally acclaimed bassist David "Happy" Williams, cultural enthusiast Dr Lester Forde and quintessential man-about-town, Alva G Rolston.

Given the collective musical wisdom available, profound thoughts should naturally flow but it being Carnival, and the lime happening less than 24 hours after a vulgar brawl between soca singers Denise Belfon and Destra Garcia (and one among us detailing a colourful eyewitness report); it was clearly more fitting to express group abhorrence at the behaviour of the "divas". Consensus was that young singers could learn about aplomb from their elders.

No such "lackooray" topic surfaced the day before bpTT's Robert Riley and wife Patrice held a small mid-week lime where, for more than that reason, conversation took a different route. Among those present were President Max Richards, Senate President Dr Linda Baboolal, Justices Sash and Jean Permanand, Martin Daly SC and Housing Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

In a small caucus near the porch, dominant discussion sprang from the presence of two Environmental Management Agency (EMA) compliance officers measuring noise-levels immediately outside, turning the walk to the front step into an intimidating chute with their foreboding audiometers perched atop spreading tripods.

Not merely because of the listening devices, conversation was subdued but did touch on Daly's Sunday Express column that inter-alia debated whether President Richards should have gone to the North Stand for the Panorama semi-final and, of course, if bpTT Renegades Steel Orchestra would, on the following Saturday, improve its standings in the final of that same contest.

For the most part, ole-talk in the Carnival Saturday lime at the Belmont home of sooth-singer Mavis John was largely accounted for by ongoing extempo from Relator and Ewart Serrant. What group-chat there was spoke of that afternoon's horrific traffic jams occasioned by closing the city's main arterial for the Children's Carnival.

At the bar, two steelband aficionados wondered why headlines about a girl killed that week were invariably prefixed by the term "pannist", seeing it as a slur on the instrument, saying trombone-playing victims of similarly heinous crimes are never identified by choice of orchestral voice.

As the sun sank on the lime that attracted several notables, including US Ambassador Dr Roy Austin and wife, members of the Caribbean jazz group élan parle (with Robertson as guest) assumed responsibility for the rest of the evening's music but alas, for some of us, there was the Panorama final to attend at 7 p.m.

Sunday offered a variety of fringe activities. We opted for a cozy gathering at the Mt D'or apartment of Grace and Ralph MacDonald, spending much of the short time available before Dimanche Gras sampling a callaloo to die for, the fluffiest bakes ever and deep-fried and jerk chicken, leaving the black-pudding, buljol, smoked-herring and souse to those who savoured such stuff, soaking in music that included several tracks from chutney-singer Adesh Samaroo's CD and attempting interpretive dancing.

After Jouvert, it was time for the annual Carnival Monday brunch at the home of Ronald and Pat Ramcharan, where the likes of Raoul John, Jackie Hinkson, Curtis Pierre, Emile Charles and former Customs & Excise Chief Doopan were among the guests.

A variety of dishes were presented but, in terms of conversation, the main meat was an outrageous Dimanche Gras cameo by The Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose that, most guests concurred, was at least insufferable.

One member of the group reminded us of an even more graphic indiscretion by Sparrow at the same venue decades earlier, saying all his degrees and awards had taught him little, while another countered by noting that the final countdown to the festival climax started with young singers Belfon and Destra in despicable display and ended with calypso's lifetime royalty, the very people earlier suggested as exemplars-though not coming to blows-leaving an even uglier blemish on the art.

Clearly, there are major benefits to be derived from hanging out on festival fringe, not the least of which this past season was the reminder: our young people will do as their icons do; degree of vulgarity being the only variable.

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