Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Whose Carnival is it? by Mark Lyndersay

There was a moment, on Carnival Tuesday night, while I was being jostled by young men carrying a rope, being bellowed at by a bandleader’s henchman and being eyed sternly by a red-shirted NCC stage official that I considered the curiosity of all these people claiming ownership of the two feet of public asphalt I happened to be standing on.
There are a lot of claims on Carnival these days, not disassociated, it seems, from the realisation that there is quite a bit of money to be made from participating in it as a producer or service provider and the intensity of the rush to stake out turf in the festival is only likely to intensify.

On Carnival Tuesday, Gayelle the Channel’s Errol Fabien recorded and posted a barely controlled rant about CNMG, which had served the station with legal notice that they were infringing on their “copyright” of the Carnival street parade.
Gayelle was interviewing people and taking in the passing muddle of bands as they approached Victoria Square on Ariapita Avenue and streaming back to their headquarters using a web connection. It’s a spot they have used for at least two years now, and it isn’t even a particularly good vantage point.

In a right and just world, CNMG would, in turn, be buried in retaliatory legal correspondence for breach of contract for their failure to provide the streamed Panorama feed they advertised for days as the Soca Monarch finals, charged US$20 to access, and ended up being unable to deliver in any consistent way.
These incidents aren’t really the problem, though. While Government has spent billions on Carnival, it has invested very little in the festival.

What we have to show for decades of money showered on Carnival is a collection of horrid booths strewn around the boundaries of the Savannah, a crude structure standing opposite the Performing Arts Centre and a collection of girders, wood and galvanise that gets bolted together every year to form various bleachers and the orange hued ghost of the Grandstand.

Compare this spending with, oh, say, Tribe, who allowed me to observe their operations in 2008. Tribe owns its corporate headquarters, an elaborate system of organisation that distributes materiel and collects costumes from their network of mas makers, an enviable computer system that tracks customers and their money and a collection of purpose built service trailers.
Perhaps the Government views its Carnival spending as an investment in votes, but voters are as fragile a vehicle for investment as a jewelry shop in Despers’ panyard. Put one little flag in a stadium and they forget everything else.

With stakeholders looking out for the interests of panmen, bandleaders and calypsonians, who is looking out the people who might want to view and understand something about Carnival?
That would seem to be the job of the NCC, but that institution is clearly just an arm of the policy decisions of the Government, which has articulated no policy on cultural development or any process of determined consultation by which one might arise.

The tragedy of Carnival is that it seems to be doing so well that we don’t see just how bad things are.

  • Fifteen calypsonians must appear in the Dimanche Gras show, at least six of whom shouldn’t have made any sensible cut for a final, because nobody has heard their work before then.
  • Carnival Monday after J’Ouvert is a wasteland and there is no plan to make use of an entire day’s worth of Carnival that offers nothing to its diminishing audience.
  • The congestion at the Savannah for bands resumes because that’s where the cameras are, and even bikini bands have masqueraders who want to be seen on the stage, even if it’s just a roadway.

This particular story doesn’t have to have a tragic ending, but turning things around is going to mean seeing Carnival from the point of view of its audience and acknowledging that the structures and systems supporting for Carnival haven’t evolved along with the festival itself.
In the haste to harvest Carnival’s potential, nobody seems to have noticed that the eggs this goose is laying are trending toward brown, not gold.
Of course, we can just keep blundering along, raping this bird of bounty, but soon, all that will be left are feathers and a carcass that nobody wants to see.



Source BitDepth 719 - February 23


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