With two truckloads of household items, her personal belonging and her four children, Elizabeth Francis stood on a pavement in Arima one night in January 2009 looking up at the sky. “God please...
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Divided we fete...
If Carnival time is supposed to bring the people of T&T together, then, from an outsider’s perspective, it feels there are some divisive elements at play. Most seem to be socio-economic divides which some people have extrapolated to mean racial divides.
David Abdulah this week said: “We are seeing a return to olden times when slaves and plantation owners played separate mas.”
He called this year’s decision by the four big bands to change their routes as reflecting a society that is “highly segregated and differentiated by race, by colour, by religion, by class, by where people live.”
Are they segregating Carnival? I asked colleagues at work in the wake of the Socadrome bacchanal. To me it felt like the “stusher” bands turning their backs on the hoi polloi but disguising the decision with talk of increased security and less congested routes.
I also contextualised my query by referring colleagues to the barrier that ran across the Hasely Crawford Stadium at Machel Monday, splitting the crowd in half. Those at the front near the stage had spent $600 for the pleasure. Those at the back, myself included, paid $275 and, although we had a great time and saw most of the action relayed on big screens, we were still separated from the richer people (or those trying to appear rich) by an eight-foot barrier, hundreds of police and snarling dogs.
“It’s not segregating society any more than at any other time of year,” a colleague replied.
Others told me there was a history of violence and thefts at fetes and that separating the crowds and adding extra police had curbed such incidents.
The fete with the roughest reputation, Fire, seemed tame to me. There was certainly nothing like the delinquency, debauchery and drunken laddishness I’ve witnessed at Oasis concerts in England or the drugged-up ravers at house, garage or drum’n’bass raves.
In the seats at Machel Monday the sound echoed off the grandstand, causing a sound clash. We went down into the throng where the massed bodies soaked up excess sound. I found myself wondering if I should have paid the $600 to be nearer the speakers and stage show. There had been ongoing conversations with friends beforehand and we mostly balked at the price.
At Sport and Games I overheard a young woman having the same dilemma. She told the girl at the checkout: “I can’t actually afford this, but it’s Machel, I can’t miss this,” before laying down the money for four Platinum VIP tickets adorned with Machel’s face, the happiest man alive, with spectacles and bow tie. A man always happy when money in he hand.
Preaching unity, as he does at his concerts, seemed at odds with dividing the crowd and a little hypocritical. Machel doesn’t need the money. Furthermore, he would still make the same by charging everybody $400 and letting everybody mix.
Admittedly his show must cost a lot to put on, especially paying the international stars. Apparently he only began breaking even a few years ago. So seemingly we can’t accuse him of greed.
But as the king of soca he could aim to change the upper class versus proletariat mentality.
Brian Lara charges $1,700. The Hyatt gave an option of $1,800 or a staggering $3,000 for entry to its exclusive fete with its corporate crowds. T&T seems to me a society where splashing cash denotes status. That mentality drives people who don’t own homes to take out car loans to buy Audi A6s. It encourages people to take out Carnival loans too.
“Who not going work tomorrooooow?” some artists scream onstage. All work and no play makes Trinis dull?
“I never get nostalgic in London. It gets better and better as a city each year. But in Trinidad I do get nostalgic for the old days,” UCL anthropology professor Danny Miller told me last month.
He’s been visiting, researching and writing about Trinidad since 1988 and told me how feteing used to be back then.
“I would go with a group of women from the squatter community in Chaguanas and they seriously did not care about anything! We would go to fetes that were much cheaper than these all-inclusives and they would nearly always find a way of getting us in free. And the atmosphere was just wild. Electric.”
Back in the office, the features editor sends me a YouTube clip of SuperBlue’s 1996 Super Monarch performance, a song called Bounce. The crowd spill uncontrollably onto the stage, jumping up and waving rags and flags like lunatics. SuperBlue himself is totally obscured by the heaving swaying mob.
It looks very, very fun—more exciting than the sanitised all-inclusives. Look, even I am getting nostalgic now for Carnival’s golden age and I wasn’t even here back then.