You are here
Mas: tradition vs commerce
The debate around the state of Carnival tends to boil down to a simple one, whether the traditions of Carnival are more important than its commercial initiatives.
This Hobbesian debate is about whether Trinidad and Tobago was better served by a Carnival that was imagined and staged by a hivemind of individual creators or overseen by a single agency that guides its progress.
Is the self-interest of the masquerader superior to the guiding wisdom of the NCC?
In some ways, it’s now a moot argument. There aren’t enough individual creators working in the space to constitute a meaningful constituency and state spending on the festival is so vast and important to Carnival’s staging that the wishes of politicians fundamentally guide where the event goes from here.
Two things over Carnival jumped out as flashpoints of this discussion.
One was the resentful toilet papering of Sugar Aloes at the Calypso Monarch Semifinals. Here, the hotmouth kaisoman was called to task by a crowd of calypso fans for appearing to pander to the People’s Partnership government.
But really, what was Mr Osuna to do? Allow the oldest continuously operating calypso tent to collapse through an adversarial relationship with the government agency dispensing critical funds needed to keep it going?
What was once an option is now a requirement and even though those fans never came back, money did, with political strings attached, a compromise that’s haunted every calypso tent to this day.
And then there was The Greens. A phenomenon I’ve watched evolve in the North Stand as the party there grew more raucous and migrated down the steps to under the stand and the grounds adjoining it.
If ever there was a physical manifestation of the polarisation between tradition and commerce, this was it.
On one side of the partition, a wild party raged, part Spring Break and part clubbing, it sported booze on hoses, pole dancing and an actual disco with fog and DJ. These party people may have chosen to say that they were supporting pan, but they didn’t need it.
In the rest of Panorama, tradition reigned. Armed officers challenged the crowds on the track that were there not just to support their bands, but also to physically haul them along the asphalt to the stage.
The Carnival argument has not only polarised opinion, it has stalled innovation. Traditional performance is now a moving mausoleum of old ideas, untroubled by new concepts, new materials and new expression.
Commercial Carnival is equally hidebound, constraining itself shamelessly to what sells with no concern about real design and innovation. The blur of feathers on Carnival Tuesday is largely matched by auditory blur of the year’s soca output in dozens of parties.
That isn’t inspiration, it’s repetition and it’s killing the event.
Before these conceptual silos were built, there was simply Carnival, when everything was possible.
For at least 15 full years, the designers, composers and arrangers of Carnival have settled for repeating last year with a variation. When things have changed, it has been the result of stupidity, not planning. Destroying the Grand Stand, putting the parade on the road and then rebuilding exactly the same Grand Stand wasn’t evolution; it was pointless irritation.
Tradition demands fidelity and commerce must be saleable but creation is risk, it’s doing something that hasn’t been done before.
Where is the environment for that to happen?
Where would Minshall create The Hummingbird or Shorty compose Endless Vibrations now?
There needs to be a third space, outside of commerce and tradition for that type of inventive thinking, the conceptual freedom that once fuelled all of Carnival or this party is, finally, over.
Read an expanded version of this column here (http://ow.ly/adAll).
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.