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Caution: Work in progress

By Terry Joseph
February 18, 2005

Among Carnival-related issues of continuing astonishment, is the view that our national festival is being cavalierly tampered with by persons of sinister preoccupation, forever conspiring to scuttle the fete.

Reprimand is again rampant, with executives of each major component, Pan Trinbago, the National Carnival Bands Association and the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), again in the crosshairs.

Accusations against Pan Trinbago stopped just shy of slander when president Patrick Arnold expressed uncertainty about the economics of staging Champs in Concert in his native island.

The National Carnival Commission (NCC), it seems, was deliberately organising congestion of masqueraders, satisfying some perverse agenda, which would bring joy to the body. TUCO got it from all sides, members ganging up on the one hand and the public pillorying president Michael "Protector" Legerton for expressing certain sentiments about calypso judges.

Bandleaders who, logic indicates, were supremely culpable in creating congestion at the Queen's Park Savannah, found inventive ways of blaming everyone else.

Much of the suspicion is nothing more than a hangover from colonial experience, anxiety about the festival's future translating into claims that some person or group has much to gain by deliberately dismantling each of its elements, then gleefully presiding over inevitable collapse of the residual structure.

Some 40 years ago, when the Carnival Development Committee (CDC) had only just begun State-sponsored administration, detractors quickly changed its middle name to read "Destruction", reflecting the collective belief of those who felt the mission had gone awry from the door.

Having been a member of the Board of both the CDC and its successor agency, the NCC, I too was subjected to the picong that comes with accepting such responsibilities, the most vituperative of which spewed in the wake of a 1989 proposal to extend Carnival to five days, that idea swiftly shot down in flames by those who saw it as part of the insidious plan to wreck the festival.

Decades after such ideas were first touted and rejected for good reason, we still read letters to editors suggesting mas bands parade around the Savannah, draw lots to decide whether they should parade on Carnival Monday or Tuesday, seeking to debar non-competing bands from the big yard, or limiting the size of mas presentations.

It all seems laughably easy on paper, the thinkers coming up with "solutions" long discredited, imagining that fresh ink would validate the same old hackneyed thoughts. Any variation to what obtains, they seem to believe, would result in significant improvement, although when any or all of the festival's special-interest groups seek to alter traditional templates, an even larger shout of disapproval rents the air.

Change is always seen as tangible corroboration of the conspiracy theory, with major players in those same organisations predicting disaster, even without trying the new format, these purportedly radical creators showing their conservatism or, for that matter, fear of the unknown.

Left to some contemporary pannists, the instrument would still be played with one stick while being held on the lap, their equals in calypso yearn for a return to the past, ironically referred to as "the good old days" which, they argue, produced superior works with memorable melodies, intricate chord constructions and lyrics that oozed pure poetry.

Perhaps because masquerade bands enjoy only one showing during the season, leaders and designers are not as frequently or loudly chastised, although kings and queens often have to hear their presentations described as "lacklustre" or "unimaginative" by those who never threw a cent in that direction.

The fact that each aspirant to the throne of mas puts out tens of thousands of dollars to play what he or she feels best represents the particular theme in vying for a top cash prize that will apparently never match the outlay spent in its pursuit, doesn't seem to matter. The "general admission" masquerader fares no better, her costuming the target of sniping by those who, on the evidence, prefer to remain spectators.

Not that Carnival controllers should automatically enjoy immunity from criticism but until their detractors learn how to hold a banner in front of a steelband or mas presentation or master other equally simple tasks, sage counsel suggests we consider the entire festival a work in progress and attempt correction of some individually-controlled ground-level fundamentals; before taking pot shots at those who have far more complex responsibilities.

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