Wednesday, December 12, 2007

TIME MACHINE: TRINIDAD CARNIVAL 1995 : Christianity,Carnival, and Controversy.




MAS, always has controversy , as a matter of fact CARNIVAL always has some kind of controversy around it, these days, controversy in Carnival compromises mostly of foreign made costumes small size bias, and if your online who copy the style of who (the re-mix syndrome).

20th Century Carnival however, was a different story, if Blue Boy was not getting banned in the early eighties for upsetting the Baptist Movement with Soca Baptist, Iwer was upsetting the East Indian population with “Bottom in the road” in the nineties, but there is one name in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival that is synonymous with controversy, PETER MINSHALL.

Now I don’t want you think I have a bias to this man but you have to understand that in the late 20th Century no other Mas Man without maybe the exception of George Bailey could disturb the very social fabric of this twin Island State every Carnival like Minshall, just google his name, no other designer in mas has been talked about, written about, or imitated, globally like Minshall.

On the 9th of November 1994 Minshall launched his 1995 band Hallelujah at Chaguramas of course their was some advertising and speculation on what kind of band it would be, but this band would become a Callaloo of confusion bacchanal and high drama that put Church vs. State, Preacher vs. Artist, and Priest vs. Priest.

Meanwhile the opinion of the population split down the middle, watched the debates on the television, listened to the arguments on the radio, followed the story on the daily papers and watched the drama of Carnival 1995 unfold into another classic carnival..


Opposition to Minshall’s Hallelujah was lead by the evangelical Pastor Winston Cuiffie, he called it a “brazen mockery of religion” and a “deliberate calculated attack on Pentecostals and Evangelicals”. Minshall replied that the band was a “celebration of (the best part of) the human spirit…to pay homage to the Gods, the spirits, who cause /permit/guide mankind’s existence”. This battle between religion and culture went on for weeks on end until carnival came, and if you don’t know what happened next, join me on the Massassination Time Machine, HALLELUJAH!!

So the great debate intensified, Minshall and his camp sticking to his theme and name of choice, for the band, Cuffie and his church demanding that the artist change the name, to them this was gross disrespect to Christians and some hard core blasphemy.

The Catholic Church seemed to be silent about the matter, then Fr Clyde Harvey wrote a letter to the press "let Minshall play his Mas" he said, Fr Harvey thought the nation should wait and see what he did before we condemned him Fr Harvey said "The fact that someone will take something and use it badly is not enough reason to ban it, especially when it is an expression of love". This opinion however was opposed by another Priest Fr Ian Taylor.


Fr Taylor sided with the Evangelical Pastors, stating that all Christians should be incensed by such a desecration of the name of the loving and almighty God, Fr Taylor argued "God is above art and culture...How under Gods heaven can any Christian participate or accept the chants of Hallelujah (Praise the Lord) by revelers during a festivity of considerable bacchanal, indecent exposure and drunkenness, dancing to wine and jam tunes?"
Dean Knolly Clarke of the Anglican church tried to remain neutral on the matter, but his personal opinion was that of cautious favour of the use of the word he said “If Carnival is a an expression of Joy and Minshall is attempting to salute the things that are joyful or that bring joy the there is nothing wrong with it…But if the entire Carnival has undoubtedly degenerated into pure bacchanal and he were part of that, then he would be wrong to include hallelujah in it.”

TV6 even took a Phone poll at the time and 78% of their callers were against the Idea of Minshall calling the band Hallelujah and thought he should change it.
In Minshall’s corner was also the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) Richard Afong the Chairman of the association said that he went to the band launch and saw nothing wrong with it, he stated to the Express newspaper, “This work sets out to praise God for the mountains, rivers and streams, the birds and the fish and the flowers. Surely if there is any blasphemy out of this it is by no means deliberate.”

With the war of words escalating a second controversial issue erupted for Minshall, the section ‘Dance the Dance Hallelujah’ portrayed the image of , if not the likeness of the Hindu God Lord Shiva , it seemed like Minshall was stepping on everyone’s toes this year. A Hindu committee that investigated the costume stated “…We call for the removal of Bhavan Shiva from the Carnival band Hallelujah ... Shivaraatri a sacred festival during which Hindus fast, keep all night vigil and conduct puja in Shiva’s name” This festival fell on Carnival Monday so they wanted the figure removed from the band.

Minshall complied.

Pastor Cuffie took Minshalls action as a direct insult to his church, he said by Minshall removing Shiva from the Mas Minshall showed that he understood that mixing Mas and Religion caused offence, and his very act of appeasing the Hindus by removing the figure, was proof that Minshall knew exactly how to solve such a problem, however Minshall’s failure to to do the same for the Christians was in effect “A DELIBERATE CALCULATED ATTACK ON PENTECOSTALS AND EVANGELICALS AND THE GOD WHOM WE SERVE..”.

Legends like the late great Cito Velasquez came out in support of Minshall, Velasquez said that in 1963 he did Splendour of the East and depicted gods like Hanooman, Shiva, Buddha, and religious symbols then again in the 70’s he did something similar with
Geraldo Veira, “people memory short…If you know how much mas man play already, you wonder why all the fuss? Is between Peter and God if he do something wrong.”

As the weeks ensued and argument and opinion went too and fro across the Carnival nation, the evangelicals tried to gain support from the Prime Minister who refused to get tie up in that confusion, he said “It is not the kind of issue on which any Prime Minister should speak out. The bandleader Peter Minshall has a point of view. Some pastors, and I stress some pastors have a different point of views, there is a divergence of views, therefore, and there is a process in this country in which divergences of views can be reconciled.”





Mean while Minshall began to slowly win over if not win back the harts and minds of the nation when his King and Queen entered the King and Queen of Carnival competition the King portrayed Spirit of Light a powerful costume and contender for the title. The Queen was called Joy to the world and was without a doubt the favourite for the title. Surely, if the King and Queen, was that beautiful, the band would be just as impressive if not more so.
It was.

By Ash Wednesday Minshall’s Hallelujah had won the band of the year title 1995, it was truly a triumph, once again his Queen won the title Queen of Carnival title. With, JOY TO THE WORLD. Minshall got all eyes on him self and his band for Carnival 1995 and took the concept of high mas to a higher level.








SEE YOU LATER.......











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