Revive Carnival Arts – 14 dec 2008

“Revive Carnival Arts”

I am always on the lookout for ideas for articles. My friend Bose had asked me to explore calypso and carnival arts again.

Interestingly enough, a few days after getting that e-mail from Bose, I bumped into Dr Keith Nurse. I have to confess that I am not someone who believes in coincidences. So for me meeting Dr Nurse, a noted authority on carnival cultural expression, was a “sign” that I should, indeed, dig deeper on the issue of carnival arts.

As usual, I began the topic on an upbeat note, as I am genuinely passionate and optimistic about my carnival. In addition, I did not necessarily see the present evolution of mas as a negative thing.

Our cultural entrepreneurs are taking the carnival franchise far and wide. This not only strengthens the carnival brand, but is commercially rewarding as well.

Dr Nurse is not so upbeat. In fact, his view reminded me of my friend Rubadiri Victor. They both see the carnival arts, pan-mas-calypso as being in creative decline.

They actually see the situation as critical. Dr Nurse drew my attention to the situation with reggae in Jamaica.

I am told that most of the wealth generated by reggae music internationally does not go to Jamaica, nor does it necessarily go to Jamaican nationals.

Rather, it goes to non-Jamaican promoters, non-Jamaican record labels and often enough, non-Jamaican artistes. In a sense, Jamaica has lost ownership of the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Changes in youth culture

Now with local carnival arts, the birthplace was East Port-of-Spain. And to use “MBA-speak,” while there are many carnivals, Trinidad carnival has a “value proposition” that sufficiently differentiated it from similar “products” elsewhere.

Hence the reason for its relative popularity internationally. Its differences made it unique and special.

The greater the distance from the roots of carnival, the weaker the “value proposition.” The mas becomes a mere commodity with a weak brand identity. In other words, anyone else could take it, copy it and monetise it.

As a form of artistic expression, changes in the carnival arts of pan-mas-calypso are, to some extent, a reflection of changes in youth culture.

Young people today do not necessarily resonate with carnival arts in the same way they once did. What can be done about this?

So last Wednesday night, Saleema and I picked up Rubadiri at Alice Yard in Woodbrook, to visit Fr Harvey in Gonzales.

To me Gonzales is a key part of the East Port-of-Spain area. The topic that night was, of course, young people.

For everyone, both young and old, there is still an underlying search for “meaning” or purpose. The thinking, however, is that there are so many more “distractions” competing for the “hearts and minds” of young people today. Fatca Tax Singapore

Carnival arts once served as a way of sublimating or channelling energy and fulfilling that need for “tribal” belonging, much in the same way gangs do today.

Community involvement

The consensus, after hours of discussion that night, was that strong community centres are a key part of any effort to win the hearts and minds of youth.

In Gonzales, Fr Harvey took us to a night-time, small-goal tournament played in a school yard; young people from various parts of the “hill” taking a “sweat” in peace.

Everyone was having a good time; communities coming together in a positive way. But there are many similar projects, including the many projects run by religious groups including the Catholic Church or the Open Bible Church in San Fernando that provides a recording studio for young people.

One of the many state-supported projects is Cpl Sharbodie’s Youth Centre on Sierra Leone Road, in Diego Martin—close to where I live.

Once the energy, especially the creative energy, of our young people is refocused into positive areas, the carnival arts would naturally reflect this.

Perhaps, as these and many more community projects take root, the carnival arts of pan-mas-calypso would experience that renaissance or rejuvenation that many of us are looking for.

Again, I end by that saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful country. We need to remember and acknowledge just how much uplifting work is being done all around us.

As if to remind me of that, last week I got into a small fender-bender and went to make a report to Belmont Police Station.

This is one of the upgraded facilities. I was treated to what I consider exceptional “customer service.” PC Harry was patient and polite, a model officer in a model station.

Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in our country, as we move towards Vision 2020.

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