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Carnival in the rear view
It appeared odd immediately after I’d written that headline, given that this is precisely what Carnival has become: an endless stream of photographs of perambulating posteriors barely covered by bikini bottoms and pantyhose which all looked like a cat got at them.
Costumes costing (the word “valued” cannot be used here) thousands of dollars have been tossed into the garbage skip. The headdress, devoid of feathers, will take up space on the mantelpiece at least until next year, when it will be replaced by its next incarnation, probably a mere skullcap dusted with enough glitter to choke an adult human.
Everyone loves a comeback kid, and the nation raised fallen soca pioneer SuperBlue on their shoulders as he was transported back into the arena by background forces. Confronted with a reporter’s microphone and pressed for comment on his predictable road march victory, SuperBlue was more beside himself than usual. There was ironic clarity of message, however, in his incoherent garblings: don’t do drugs.
Nothing could, however, outdo the vitriol of mas designer Brian MacFarlane, who flipped the entire nation the bird and indicated that he is off to Brazil, the only nation which could truly lay claim to having “the greatest show on earth.”
His comments, although petulant, must have come from a place of profound frustration with the decline of Carnival. We’ve got used to his annual bellyaching; for the most part people ignore him—and this is precisely the problem. The vast majority of masqueraders would rather have him shut up and have a scotch and coconut enema.
I’m not a fan of MacFarlane’s designs; I’ve always thought he struggles too hard to achieve a theatricality in his portrayals that simply does not come naturally to him. Additionally, the widely held perception that Brian MacFarlane is Peter Minshall’s proxy is ludicrous, to say the least.
What is important is that MacFarlane has worked tirelessly to inject cultural and creative integrity into Carnival. This sounds ridiculous to say, given that creativity is supposed to be in the very DNA of the annual festival.
Whatever his shortcomings may be, he certainly sweated every year to put out something on the road which would echo the vast diversity of this small two-island nation, an expression in fabric and dance and a symphony (at times a cacophony) of form and function which would show the world our best side.
This embittered masman has reached a crossroads; he has come to realise that the larger bands which attract the lion’s share of interest among consumers do not give two cents about culture or competition. With avarice as their primary inspiration, they shutter-stock their drones with Chinese prefab embellished bikinis and drag them behind booze lorries until their commitment to them expires on Tuesday evening.
What MacFarlane needs to appreciate is that these masqueraders are complicit in this farce. Do you think these young women spend months eating cabbage soup and risking a lock neck on Chancellor Hill to tone their buttocks so that they can do choreography in a burka on the Savannah stage?
As indicated in my last column, the festival has evolved; evolution is not always a good thing, just look at what humans have become. MacFarlane has always had good suggestions. Of particular importance is designating specific days for certain bands to parade on stage.
That would eliminate the long-standing bottleneck of masqueraders struggling to get to the Savannah and also reverse this distressing trend of “casual Carnival Monday.” What the hell is that? Who wants to see masses of people parading on a stage wearing tube tops and T-shirts?
From a television perspective, the Parade of the Bands is nowhere near the spectacle it once was. Gone are the images of thousands of costumed masqueraders pressing forward in a torrent of colour and glinting light creating the occasional lens flare on television. Now, all you have is a ragtag bunch of mismatched party people raising their legs like a dog that has found a suitable hydrant. No more kaleidoscopic waves of humanity.
I will tell you where MacFarlane lost me, though. This talk of increasing the prize money to $5 million is ridiculous. The way the State invests in Carnival with these large cash prize infusions only enriches a select few and does nothing to secure the next generation of mas designers or musicians.
Carnival must be made, at least in part, to pay for itself. The way MacFarlane can make money for his band is by getting more people to come to Trinidad to play mas (something which the NCBA is working assiduously against). I saw a statistic that 40,000 people came here for Carnival—and frankly, that is pathetic. Considering that most of those people are homesick Trinis, we have not touched the global market for Carnival tourism.
MacFarlane is right in many respects—we neither promote nor support the true value of the festival and, at this time, it is strictly a domestic business concern.
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