Thursday, January 17, 2008
A Manifesto for Carnival
Akeil Corrigan puts fine spray paint touches on plastic headpieces in the engine room of the Harts mas camp in St Clair.
Just consider what Carnival might have become if oil dividends hadn’t polluted the waters of what was once, legitimately, the greatest show on Earth.
Imagine a Carnival that earned its own keep, a celebration that depended on creativity to draw crowds, business savvy to manage its resources and keenly honed talent to grow the lure of the show for its audiences here and abroad.
In a Carnival that had continued to evolve along the lines that prevailed between 1940 and 1970, the festival that crescendos in the week before Ash Wednesday would have been the springboard for world tours.
Global ambassadors, the best of the best, selected from definitive competitions held throughout the season, would reap their just rewards on the stages of international venues and bring an uncontestable message about the wealth of talent and breadth of intellectual capacity that grows so abundantly on these shores.
Being a panman for a successful steelband would carry the elite brand of a Carnegie Hall musician, mas designers would be in demand around the world to bring a little of the colour and imagination that we flood T&T with for two days to shows and events around the world, and the maestros of soca and calypso, well their brilliance would have commanded a separate category of the Billboard charts.
Killing Carnival with love
I know this for sure because it’s happened before and continues to happen in sporadic fits and starts as the native talent of this country occasionally manages to evade the wilful, if ignorant sabotage that’s being perpetrated on it for almost a decade now.
Carnival 2008 is a watershed point for Carnival and its talent, I think. With money flooding the festival to pump it up as more potent morphine for a nation outraged by savage crime and hapless policing, it’s time for bandleaders, calypsonians and panmen to decide once and for all whose festival this really is, because they are on the verge of ceding Carnival to the government.
For it’s part, the government is doing, I’m sure, what it thinks is best. With more money than strategy, more wallet than sense, the Culture Ministry has embarked for years now on a heavy handed effort to spend Carnival into improvement.
But like a bad drunk with more booze than he can handle, those invitations to take a swig from the bottle just get everybody bazodee and lead to very bad hangover realities. The inexplicable inability of the Ministry to make good on its promises of payment a year after winners have been announced and congratulated are the kind of thing you want to slap out of yourself as you try to wake up from a stale drunk.
Time to grow up and leave home
Carnival is just going to keep getting worse if the Minister of Culture continues to play mommy and her spoil children keep getting away with whatever they wish by bawling loud, loud.
The only sensible way forward from this deepening morass of confusion is defined accountability and clarity of roles.
The government has a role to play in Carnival, but it isn’t in the commissioning of it.
In much the same way that the country invests in developing industrial parks and training people to work in them for more corporate business opportunities, there is a desperate need for an appropriate infrastructure for Carnival.
The only thing that government intervention has delivered so far is the complete destruction of the evolved home of the festival in the Savannah, the desecration of the Jean Pierre Complex, the collapse of the calypso tent as a meaningful venue and a scrappy route along the streets.
Investments in the stakeholder institutions of Carnival are shoddily monitored, arbitrarily disbursed and conspicuously unaudited.
New role for Carnival’s
Of the four tentpoles supporting Carnival, only bandleaders and fete promoters remain financially independent, calypso and pan having long been absorbed into the government cultural payroll. Bandleaders look to be wavering, with protest demonstrations outside the culture ministry looking more like philosphical tyres burning in the road than mature discussions of shared responsibility.
Carnival does not belong in the custodial care of the government, and it’s a default that has lingered on for far too long. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider the two day symposium on Carnival held in the wake of last year’s changes.
To date, the only evidence that people gathered to think through last year’s harrowing experience is a short summary of the deliberations that captures none of the richness of the discussions and suggestions.
If the planning for this year’s Carnival is any indication, nobody in Government was listening to any of the contributions either.
Tuco, Pan Trinbago and the NCBA/F teams need to grow up and leave home. Mommy’s teat has soured and it’s time to start working for a living.
These three organisations, currently organised along lines that seem more like trade unions than corporate entities need to reconstitute themselves as the managers that Carnival desperately needs.
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