“We're here because we love real Carnival,” said Etienne Charles at the opening of his panel discussion and screening of two music videos of pieces from his jazz suite Carnival: The Sound of a People.
Charles, a jazz trumpeter, composer and arranger, is assistant professor of jazz studies at Michigan State University. With a 2015 Guggenheim grant, he embarked on a project to seek and document the musical roots of Carnival. The resulting suite made its TT premiere at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, last year to resounding critical and popular success.
Now he was premiering another product from the project.
Maria Nunes directed the videos and was a camerawoman on them. Nunes has gained a reputation for her widely published artistic photographs of Carnival and other cultural traditions.
Charles heaped praise on her cultural research when he introduced her and the rest of the panel to the audience that filled most of the IMAX Theatre in Woodbrook, on Thursday. The screening was free and open to the public. In the audience were Carnival artists from the Paramin blue devil community, jazz fans, academics in various disciplines, musicians, designers and others.
The other panellists were Robin Foster, a renowned sound engineer who made recordings of Charles’ field interviews; and Wendell Manwarren, a rapso artist and J’Ouvert bandleader.
The short videos—Nunes called them “filmic music videos”—showed images from field recordings of bawling Paramin blue devil troupes with their iconic biscuit-tin drums, and of the Claxton Bay Tamboo Bamboo troupe performing bongo music in the road. These richly textured, vibrant and atmospheric recordings were edited with footage of Charles composing the score, and then of Charles performing the respective pieces—Black Echo III: Bamboo, and Jab Molassie—on stage at the Queen’s Hall show. The films’ editor Ivan Spee was also in the audience; Charles lauded his work.
Charles, in response to an audience member’s question, said he uses the videos on stage as part of his performance and to reflect his own composing technique. “People don’t just listen to music anymore,” he said, “they watch music.”
“I didn’t write the music just with the sound (of the field recordings),” he said. Explaining Nunes had created a video channel of the field notes for him, he said it enabled him to fashion the music with movement and colour. “Our goal is to be able to hear the music and see the images.
“I would gladly turn this into a documentary but I am too far in debt.”
The videos sparked much discussion about Carnival, dying traditions, the Lomax recordings, self-knowledge and other issues.
Manwarren said “wilful ignorance” kept many people from knowing more about Carnival’s roots.
By ignoring opportunities to research our own traditions, Foster said, “We are writing ourselves out of history.”
Manwarren said, “We [as a country] are trying to innovate and build a Carnival product but we don’t understand Carnival.”
In response to an audience question about the apparent dominance of Port-of-Spain Carnival at the expense of regional Carnivals and their individual traditions, Manwarren said the society—and particularly the media—were focused on the wrong stories. He said mainstream media representations of “pretty brown girls and whoever dead” during the Carnival season were a choice the media made. It was up to individuals to exercise their own curiosity about traditions as Charles had.
An audience member said, “There is a metaphysical aspect to Carnival that is worth investigating. The festival itself is some kind of seed bed.” Nunes responded with words a jab jab player had told her about the magic of Carnival: “The ting does take you!”
Later, Manwarren said that whatever the “ting” was, Charles had it. Nunes agreed, “He have the ting and it does take him!”
Charles was scheduled to perform the Carnival suite at Queen’s Hall yesterday.