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Carnival—the good, bad and ugly
For a few fleeting moments I forgot my love/hate relationship with Carnival. I even forgot that I was sitting on a bus-stop bench at 7 am on Carnival Tuesday for a reason other than seeing mas. But it’s impossible to sit in the middle of Carnival and not be swept away by Carnival memories. Maybe it was the wide-eyed toddler in her mother’s arms that made me recall an interview I had done earlier this Carnival with SuperBlue and his co-producer and co-arranger, Juelio Nelson.
I remember marvelling at a room full of young people surrounding SuperBlue in the home he shared with Nelson. It seemed possible to reach out and touch an invisible thread stitching the past, the present and the future of Carnival together. There is no greater honour a veteran soca star—and calypsonian—like SuperBlue can receive than to have the respect that crosses generations.
“It’s good to see so many young people around you,” I had said to SuperBlue. He scanned the room, nodded and said, "They keep me in check.” When he introduced me to his co-producer, Juelio said what he liked the best about Fantastic Friday was that it was a soca that appealed to everyone of all ages “… from children to young people, to old people,” he said. “That is what makes a powerful song.”
It’s true. A powerful song has no boundaries. And there’s another lesson SuperBlue always speaks of when it comes to music. “Music should have a natural energy that brings joy and a sense of fulfilment to everyone.”
For SuperBlue, making music is like plucking guitar strings from the air and tapping into rhythm from the ground. There are always two sides to Carnival. There are the great, uplifting songs—few and far between because they are so special—and there are the useless Carnival songs that whip people into a frenzy or worse yet, a state of rage. Some music is just a total waste of time.
My vote for worst Carnival song of the year goes to Ravi B’s Prescription. It’s bad enough to have another song promoting irresponsible drinking. Any song that advocates drinking one, two, three—or endless bottles of rum a day—promotes irresponsible drinking. Any feeble attempt to justify a bad song by linking it to a doctor’s prescription is a poor excuse for humour.
These were the thoughts rolling through my mind as the cool, morning air had already begun to carry the heavy, sour smell of alcohol. I glanced in the direction of Holy Name Convent, where a convoy of music trucks had converged. One of them blasted David Rudder’s High Mas as it made the bend in the road and headed for the Savannah stage.
I managed a smile because the last soca I expected to hear was High Mas—a blast from the past. When I turned away, a tribe of wild Indians in orange and black passed with long-feathered headpieces flowing down their backs. The feathers rippled in the breeze like waves, and when these wild Indians turned towards me I realised they were young masqueraders bringing Carnival tradition to life.
The thought had barely crossed my mind before I noticed an inordinate number of older women—some looked like they were in their 50s and even 60s—who had stuffed themselves into ill-fitted bikinis that couldn’t control mounds of rolling fat pouring over their costumes.
I can’t bear to watch this, I thought, lowering my head. When I looked up, a group of bareback young masqueraders from Bliss appeared in tiger-striped short pants.
They had paused to watch the old-time Belmont Fancy Sailors' costumes with long-sleeved, white jackets and long pants. These sailors were the best in my book, mostly because of the stuffed animals perched on their heads. Zebras, lions—every African animal you could think of —accompanied these sailors, but the one that made me smile the most was the monkey about to clang a set of cymbals.
An ambulance siren broke that magical moment, and reminded me the only reason I was sitting on that bench watching mas was to kill some time before heading down the road in a direction I dreaded going.
Something else Blue said popped into my mind: “I have so much musical knowledge to pass on to young people. It’s a sin to leave this world without passing on what you know to the younger generation.” Looking at the masqueraders drinking their rum and beer while waiting impatiently to go on stage, I could imagine how bad vibes brew. That too is a part of Carnival. I thought about all the invaluable lessons Carnival teaches us. We create the vibe; we take what we want or need from Carnival.
With a heavy heart I began my trek towards the Port-of-Spain hospital to see someone who had been stabbed the night before. Weaving my way through masqueraders I thought: This is Carnival Tuesday—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
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