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Sunday 25 February 2018
Commentary

Govt support hurting Carnival

Debbie Jacob writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

I can’t say that I often agree with Government’s decisions or policies, but I happen to agree with its decision to cut back funding for Carnival. This decision could possibly promote creativity, which seems to have waned significantly over the years.

Carnival should be able to stand on its own two moko jumbie legs, figuratively speaking. While idealists like me like to think of Carnival as a creative festival – and it should be primarily that—we also have to be realistic and realise that it is business. It should be big business.

Government support has reduced Carnival to a cultural version of CEPEP where people wait for and, indeed, expect handouts. Worse yet, when it comes to calypso, it has interfered significantly with the content of songs. Check how many Carnival songs—particularly those that make it to D’imanche Gras are tailored for a certain degree of political correctness because it is expected they will reach far.

Check how many singers – as opposed to calypsonians, true artistes in the revolutionary meaning of the word – participate in Carnival now purely for the sake of making money. Far too often the music does not reflect its historical role of vibrant social and political commentary or revolt. It is weighed down with an inordinate amount of frivolous, “festival” music, with inane commands. We marvel at and relish the truly innovative songs that emerge because they are novelties. They are much too far and few between.

There are not enough songs that provide narratives. Those songs that do tell a story are often mundane.

I blame Government support in Carnival for the divorce between soca and calypso. The judges’ decisions at the National Calypso finals on D’imanche Gras, the Government’s showcase for Carnival, were responsible for William Munro initiating the Soca Monarch competition forever dividing the music into two separate camps. It made the calypso monarch competition a forum for dead, government-sanctioned, lackluster calypsos and the Soca Monarch competition the home of empty, jump-‘til-you-drop songs. The inclusion of a groovy soca competition was a noble attempt to find some middle ground, but the battlegrounds already set sent a subliminal message that singers would have to pump up the tempo to have winnings socas for the groovy competition.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Government support of Carnival has gravely interfered with the festival’s autonomy. It would be the equivalent of having Government backed newspapers. Who would ever trust the independence of those newspapers again?

I am happy when creative people make money from their art, but I want to believe and feel that it is real art that is being made – not mini advertisements for Government agendas or half-hearted music based on gimmicks and hook lines that reduce people to mindless sheep who will jump and wave and wine on command for the sake of artistes stuffing their pockets with blue notes.

For the most part, the power is not coming from the music any ore. It’s coming from artificial means – namely revving up the tempo to a frantic beat. The power is not coming from a clever story. Don’t let me even talk about the deterioration of humour in calypso. It is atrocious. Humour is often shallow, uncreative and purposeless. It doesn’t have to serve a person other than an underhanded, passive-aggressive nature to attack Government. It doesn’t grow because in this environment where calypsonians are searching for a way to place themselves in a competition or a party-hearty market there is no real place for authentic Spoiler, Trinidad Rio or Funny types of humour.

So, complaining aside here, here is what I want to see:

1. I want to see the private sector rise to the occasion of supporting autonomous Carnival art. No strings attached.

2. I want to see artistes find a way to develop creativity on their own merit. This will mean that there will be some struggling artistes and some that fall by the wayside, but it will also mean that artistes will be challenged to find new ways to fit into Carnival. The truly creative material will rise to the occasion.

3. I want to see more creative ways of fund-raising that will harness creative talent in the business aspect of Carnival.

Make no mistake about it, the lack of government funding will create bigger challenges for Carnival, but it will give Carnival a chance to improve its act.

Next week: With a broken heart, I bid farewell to Jahmai from Wishing for Wings.

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