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The Evolution Of De Cult-Yeeear
Pondering the evolution of Carnival, I am reminded of an old cigarette ad campaign in the 1980s. Virginia Slims’ You’ve Come a Long Way Baby suggested that women, simply by virtue of having access to extra long cigarettes, had broken the glass ceiling; they were now astride men in the corporate world. Now, it is entirely possible to have come a long way from your origins and be considerably worse off that you once were.
I still chuckle at an old but funny video clip on YouTube of Canadian comic Russell Peters. In that stand-up act he says, “You Trinis love that soca s*** dontchya? I find that music highly irritating.” It is funny to me because that’s how, more likely than not, educated people outside of Trinidad perceive soca. This, however, does not matter. The only constant in this world is change, and the perceived quality of that change can be subjective.
After reading the lament of Prof Gordon Rohlehr and culture aficionado Alvin Daniel about the parlous state of the calypso tents, I sighed in resignation. Ghosts of columns past have bemoaned the condition of culture in our country.
Advancing age (but more likely retreating interest) has led me to take solace in the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, sufficient apathy to stop cussin’ the people who are responsible, and the liquor to smooth out the difference.
The first all-inclusive I ever attended was held by Anthony Beaubrun, current president of the Trinidad Union Club. Tickets were hard to come by because in the nascency of the all-inclusive it was not a strictly commercial enterprise. You needed to know someone close to the family.
The first year the ticket was $100. The fete was held at his home and as far as drinks go there was the beers barrel and a table with rum and scotch. If you got a mite peckish, there was pelau sharin’ at a certain time. This no-frills fete was easily the best all-inclusive I’d ever attended. There was no Grey Goose or curry duck, no big stage and no wild meat. This was just good music in a convivial setting. The ole timers would start dancing at 3 pm and be properly worn out by 7 pm.
Others saw the potential in this fete format and the rest is history. Now we’ve got people taking money from their children’s education fund to pay $1,000 for a fete which, if any good, they will never remember. Son born wit crooked teeth? That’s just one of life’s hard lessons because it have Gyuls Gone White!
At the centre of the clamour surrounding these fetes is the soca music. It is absolute rubbish, gruel for the masses engaged in an enduring national pastime of escapism.
My opinion on this does not really matter, of course. There is enough interest in the music not only to sustain the industry, but also to out-compete the native species, calypso music. If there is declining attendance at the tents, it could be attributable to a number of factors; the truth is the products on offer by the tents haven’t changed since Sparrow used to straighten his hair.
Apart from the lacklustre venues, calypso music nowadays doesn’t really inspire. There will always be one or two good offerings but they just can’t seem to get a fair shake on the airwaves.
Everyone seems more obsessed about what Machel or Fay-Ann is doing. We’ll hear what Cro Cro is doing at the finals and even then we won’t really care. Soca-sonians are today’s stars; calypso music is like the environment—it’s there, but no one will really be too distressed when it no longer is.
Mind you, Bunji Garlin has an absolutely wonderful song this year (Ready for the road?) which has really caught fire because of the expert production and musicianship present on the track. It is not strictly soca music so I not sure how it will play with the livestock on the Carnival days.
His Madam, Fay-Ann Lyons, has a very clever song (We doin’ this or what?) which is a ditty about a strong-willed woman who has little patience with a man whose winin’ timin’ belt not working properly and he more talk than torque. The rest that I have heard so far is nonsense. In the last few years soca performers discovered the wonderful world of harmonics so they are overloading on that with the autotune.
The comeback of Super Blue is a perfect example of that. With a track that is heavily produced, I hope that they have a well-equipped ambulance on standby at the soca monarch finals because I can see him blacking out trying to hit those artificial notes.
The music industry has changed and there is no going back. Calypso will always be welcome under the trees at Normandie and at foreign venues but, for better or worse, the people have spoken; exorbitant fetes and soca are the new culture.
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