Understanding Our Carnival Heroes

After four consecutive Trini carnivals, the carnival tabanca is bad this year as we deal with the cold and snow once again.  I do, however, enjoy following the various carnival events through Facebook and Twitter.  The discussion on the present state and the future direction of the various carnival artforms is encouraging and is coming when it is very much needed.

The discourse on the carnival space's present state leaves me with one concern – it could benefit from more rigor and structure.  Allow me to explain my position.  On March 29th, the featured speaker at the 10th Anniversary Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business (GSB) Distinguished Leadership and Innovation Conference (DLIC) will be an internationally renowned bestselling author, journalist, and speaker Malcolm Gladwell.  Last month, I read (to be really honest, I listened to) his recent book called Outliers.  In his book, an "Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena outside normal experience.  For example, in Paris in the summer, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot, but if we had an August day where the temperature fell below freezing, that day would be an outlier.

Those of us familiar with his previous books know that he is a genius when describing the various not-so-obvious causes of social phenomena.  Gladwell says that he wrote this particular book out of frustration with how we explain the careers of really successful people.  He saw our understanding of success as really crude, and he took up the challenge to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.
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His book is definitely worth a read for any of us who want to understand better how society creates individual success stories.  In summary, what he demonstrates is that “there are exceptional people, but if we sat down and examined how they got there, we'll find out they had a lot of help. That's not a trivial fact.  Performance has to be placed in the context in which it is set. Every outlier's achievements have to be qualified, and we have to give equal weight to the world that nurtured them and not get too carried away with the cult of the individual.”

Yes, we do have carnival heroes, but we cannot forget that their successes were made possible by broader social forces.  Similarly, as we observe how the carnival space is evolving today, it may be useful to consider institutions beyond the obvious ones like the NCC and the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism.  If the previous expressions of the carnival artform were Trinidad's product at that time, it stands to reason that its present incarnation is also so influenced.  Someone in an online forum made the point that Trinidad carnival was originally two separate celebrations – one aristocratic and the other a harvest festival by slaves.  For a number of reasons, they were combined and may now be separating themselves again.  This view has validity and should be studied further, but unfortunately, the commentator was attacked for her views.

Similarly, another useful study would be the extent to which the All-Inclusive phenomena in both fete and street masks are a product of security concerns.  I know that there has been much research on the relationship between the development of All-Inclusive resorts and crime in Jamaica, which has a deepened understanding of their own tourism sector.

Therefore, the bottom-line is this - while there is value in expressing our feelings and opinions, there is also a great benefit from a more fact-driven sociological approach to interrogating and understanding what is happening to the artistic trinity of pan-mas-calypso.  The heroes of yesterday may disappear, but today’s social forces create new heroes, particularly in the emerging industries of mas-fete-soca.  The commercialization of the festival has both pros and cons.

Having spent most of my life in Trinidad, and especially after playing mas for the first time 4 years ago, I love this bacchanal season.  Although both my parents and all four of my grandparents are from Belmont, I played mas with Woodbrook-based All-Inclusive bands.   So despite growing up seeing my father’s love of sailor mas and my mother’s love of Burrokeets, I myself chose another path.  This does, however, help me see and respect both sides of the debate.

Enjoy the carnival, everyone.  My name is Derren Joseph, and I love my country, and I love my region.  Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.

Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com.   

Note: The blog that used to be here is now at https://www.mooresrowland.tax/.

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