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Carnival 2016 gets a Pass Mark

Friday, February 12, 2016
After making it to the National Calypso Monarch Final on 11 previous occasions, Devon Seale won the 2016 title singing Respect God’s Voice and Spirit of Carnival. PHOTO: MICHAEL BRUCE

After much revelry and merrymaking, hopefully we can all settle down to the supposedly peaceful and reflective period of Lent, complete with sacrifices for 40 days, most of which will be broken. 

Carnival is just about completed and dusted off although remnants of the 2016 festival still linger, inclusive of tomorrow night’s Champs in Steel Plus, staged by Pan Trinbago Inc at Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.

Despite a paucity of creativity and originality in all the components of the annual festival, several rays of hope and potential radiated. Few of the judging decisions attracted criticism and most of the winners were well deserved.

Despite being off the Carnival main stage for many a year, Peter Minshall returned in 2016 through his design of The Dying Swan—Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavlova, performed by past King of Carnival Jha-Whan Thomas. This unique costume, the masquerader high in the air on stilts, created a storm in a teacup in the King of Carnival competition from eventual winning designer Marcus Eustace and a confederacy of detractors, claming that the portrayal was not “mas.” I was bemused and wondered if this wasn’t mas, in its purest, traditional form, what was?

Based on the results of both the King and Queen of Carnival competitions, it seemed that the judges turned a blind eye to traditional costumes. While Thomas was placed second runner-up amongst the kings, in the queens finals, 2015 queen Stephanie Kanhai, also on stilts, was placed ninth.

The jury is still out on a final determination as to whether the mass cancellation of shows and fetes this year was due to the short season or austerity, caused by the spectre of recession. Beginning with the cancellation of the $18m Carnival Village at Queen’s Park Savannah, among the other big events cancelled were Fire Fete, Fantasy cooler fete and Destra’s concert.

But Army Fete was a bumper success, enjoyed by thousands of patrons. Also providing much entertainment and enjoyment were the all-inclusive fetes hosted by St Mary’s College, Queen’s Royal College, Fatima College, Bishop Anstey High School, and Presentation College in San Fernando and Chaguanas. George Singh’s RED, held under the patronage of Attorney General Faris al Rawi, was also a success story.

The biggest show for the season was Machel Monday, staged at Hasely Crawford Stadium. Headlined by soca superstar Machel Montano, the event showcased a mix of music genres and artistes including Pitbull, Omi, Timaya, Angela Hunte, Cutty Ranks, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Lil Jon, Kernal Roberts, Aaron Duncan, Destra, Olatunji, Farmer Nappy, 

Kerwin DuBois and Patrice Roberts. For most, the $1,200 admission fee paid was well worth it. 

Soca saw a new champion with the crowning of 22-year-old Voice (Aaron St Louis) as the 2016 International Soca Monarch. A cut above his 19 rivals, Voice was a popular winner performing his ditty, Cheers to Life.

The National Calypso Monarch Final also served to allay any fear or concern about the future of calypso as two young men ruled the roost on Sunday night. Winner Devon Seale was stoutly challenged by runner-up Helon Francis, the latter being crowned this year’s Young Kings Monarch the previous fortnight. On a night that featured five former national monarchs, the youth really put up a strong showing against veterans like Chalkdust, Cro Cro and Gypsy. Singing Respect God’s Voice and Spirit of Carnival, Seale was a well-deserved winner.

Panorama: Kudos to Pan Elders and Despers
While there seemed to be no doubts as to who would win the National Panorama (Medium) Final from the moment Pan Elders completed its performance, the final among the large conventional steel orchestras was a tougher contest to determine a winner. Appearing in position one, Pan Elders played Duvonne Stewart’s arrangement of Bally’s Me Eh Fighting. This band’s performance was one of the most exhilarating of the 20 bands performing in both categories.

Desperadoes notched its 11th lien on the National Panorama title, having not won since 2002. Everything about Desperadoes’ comeback achievement seemed to be divinely ordained.

Performing in position nine of ten finalists, just above defending champion Massy Trinidad All Stars, the Laventille band gave the performance of its life executing Carlton “Zanda” Alexander’s arrangement of 5 Star Akil’s Different Me. Many people have expressed the wish that this milestone achievement would in fact infuse the Laventille community and spark a different side to its creative people.

New kid on the block First Citizens SuperNovas could very well have been ahead of the pack up to Desperadoes’ performance but on this night that page in the history book, of a debutante rising from the small band category to win the large national championship, would not be written. The Lopinot band gave a masterful performance, though, of Breakthrough, arranged by Amrit Samaroo. Despite this, some have questioned the one point difference between Desperadoes and SuperNovas, many supposing that it was wider.

With an army of supporters in tow, much had been expected of Trinidad All Stars to score back-to-back wins in the competition. But the judges thought that the band’s execution of Leon “Smooth” Edwards’ arrangement of Clive Telemaque’s Leave We Alone was only deserving of a mere sixth place, the lowest the Duke Steel band has placed for some time in a Panorama final.

On the topic of pan, as I sat in the Savannah on Saturday night, I wondered what would become of the art of tuning the national instrument after men like Bertrand “Birch” Kellman and Desmond “Mappo” Richardson have moved on? Of the 20 bands competing, these two men tuned instruments for 11, of course along with other stalwart tuners like Roland Harrigan, Lloyd Gay, Junior “Blueboy” Peters, Gabriel “Doyle” Robley and Clifford Alfred. When would a comprehsive course in pan tuning be inaugurated by Pan Trinbago Inc?

Chaotic mas: lulls, congestion
Finally, the mas. Something has got to be done about the Parade of the Bands in Port-of-Spain. It is just too disorganised and is utter chaos. Rules establised half century ago cannot be applicable now as not only are their more bands but thousands more masqueraders, all trying to get to the Savannah and Adam Smith Square in nine hours. The streets and arteries to the competition venues have not gotten bigger.

After 1 pm on Carnival Tuesday, there was virtually no mas to be seen downtown. After Jus’ Friends and Desperadoes passed on South Quay, the next mas band to be seen was about two hours later when Ronnie & Caro made their appearance. Leaving a few bands parading on the Piccadilly Greens, I walked from Piccadilly Street to Woodbrook without seeing even an imp or jab jab, far less a mas band. It was a different story along Ariapita Avenue, though, as there was a steady flow of bands, up to when I departed at 9.30 pm, a couple bands even doing the Woodbrook circuit twice.
Apparently most of the larger bands began their parade very early on Tuesday morning, as the first loud music heard close to my home at 7 am. Lulls in a smooth flow of bands lengthened the parade template, as well as congestion caused by spectators, with no visible crowd control measure visible. 
Despite seeing a lot of old, regurgitated mas, of the few bands to impress me I was most impressed by Ronnie & Caro’s Tears of..., Trinidad All Stars, Lost Tribe, K2K and Paparazzi. All Stars evoked memories of the old days when steelband mas ruled the town and other steel bands need to follow suit.
I need more space to comment on the security in mas bands. Aside from the incidents reported on social media, masqueraders, especially females, need to be mindful that once the sun sets and it gets dark, you are on your own, as it seems that security personnel wrap up their rope and go home. On Tuesday evening, more than once I observed very disrepectful young men imposing themselves on female masqueraders with no security or law enforcement personnel in sight.

National Carnival Commission and relevant SIGs you have exactly one year and a couple weeks until Carnival 2017, on February 27-28, to fix the ills that perennially plague our national festival. 

Carnival 2016 champs and winners:

National Calypso Queen—Amrika Mutroo
Young Kings Calypso Monarch—Helon Francis 
National Junior Calypso Monarch—Sharissa Camejo
National Calypso Monarch—Devon Seale
National Junior Extempore Monarch—Kevan Calliste
National Carnival Schools Intellectual Chutney Soca Monarch—Aaron Duncan
National Junior Soca Monarch—Aaron Duncan
International Soca Monarch—Voice
National Chutney Soca Monarch—KI
Road March champion—Machel Montano (Waiting on the Stage
National Extempore Monarch—Gypsy
Best Social Commentary—Karene Asche (Bring Back the Love)
Best Political Commentary—Duane O’Connor (Modern Nursery Rhymes)
National Junior Panorama champion (Primary Schools)—Tacarigua Presbyterian
National Junior Panorama champion (Secondary Schools)—St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph
National Junior Panorama champion (21 and Under)—bpTT Renegades Youth 
National Panorama (Single Pan champion)—Trinidad East Side Symphony / Marsicans
National Panorama (Small Band champion)—Arima Golden Symphony
National Panorama (Medium Band champion)—Pan Elders
National Panorama (Large Conventional Band champion)—Desperadoes

Queen of Carnival (Junior)—Natlatia D’Abreau
Queen of Carnival (Senior)—Gloria Dallsingh (Artemisia, D Warrior Queen)
King of Carnival (Junior)—Jardel Aguillera
King of Carnival (Senior)—Ted Eustace (Psychedelic Nightmares)
Band of the Year (Small)—Tribal Connection Cultural Promotion (Through Indian Eyes)
Band of the Year (Medium)—K2K Alliance & Partners (Searching for Shangri La Your Garden of Eden)
Band of the Year (Dowtown)—Ronnie & Caro (Tears of...)
NCC Band of the Year (Large)—Ronnie & Caro (Tears of...)