The year for culture

6.45 in the morning

The artist dem done performing

Yet still the crowd still bawling

Give we a nex tune Bunji Garlin

Look how the rain it falling

But nobody energy stalling

Man look how the crowd still jumping

Allyuh artists

Give we something...

– Extract from More by Bunji Garlin, North Stand Riddim

I SQUEEZED through the hole in the fence, trying to keep up with my cousin. Saliva from the horse’s mouth dripped down my neck; why the policeman on the horse did not stop us I will never know. All I know is that I ran, pushed along by the dual adrenaline of fear and excitement, swept forward by the other people running beside me.

This was my introduction to the North Stand, a place for Carnival, pan and storming. In 2019, this expensive piece of our cultural history will exist only as legend. Calypsonians have immortalised this place in song, and already there is a North Stand rhythm, driving and intoxicating like the place it immortalises.

All the signs are that culture in 2019 will reflect change, transformation and even a bit a trauma. For instance, Carnival will once again close properly with pan and mas, but the beloved but slowly killed-off Dimanche Gras may never see its days of glory again.

Interesting cultural shifts are taking place internationally as well. #MeToo finally shook up the patriarchal world of Hollywood. Although fundamental change will take some time, undoubtedly many will scrutinise the 2019 film season and beyond to see how much of a difference it made.

Another big story is that former colonial powers like France and the United Kingdom have finally agreed to return some of the artefacts looted from Africa. This is significant because although UNESCO adopted a convention against the export of illicit cultural goods since 1970, “former colonial powers have been slow to ratify the convention: France only did so in 1997, Britain in 2002, Germany in 2007 and Belgium in 2009.”

These governments continue to hang on to valuables such as the Nefertiti statue, claiming that their laws do not allow them to just remove items from their collections. However, as one writer explained, these artefacts are responsible for attracting countless tourists, earning millions in revenue for the museums that are holding on to these ancient works. Why would they give them up?

There are important lessons for us here in TT. How are we protecting or promoting our own cultural heritage? Today, almost every aspect of traditional Carnival still needs serious attention. Further, calypsonian Gypsy, head of the National Carnival Commission, has been raising the issue of the business of culture. Is 2019 the year that we begin to get it right?

The organisations responsible for our Carnival and community festivals should be self-sustaining, but there must also be a national vision for the protection of our cultural legacy.

In commenting on the need to return the stolen legacy of indigenous peoples across the globe, one writer pointed out that the victims of this kind of theft are robbed of the “spiritual nourishment that is the foundation of their humanity.” How can culture enrich us in 2019? Increasingly, artists around the world are responding to the changes caused by climate change.

As we lose pieces of our coastline and deal with flooding, loss of productivity and excessive waste, is it not time we used Mama D’Leau, Papa Bois, Lord Ganesh, destroyer of evil and other iconic figures from our collective heritage to inspire young people to be part of the solution?

We hark after the old days, but here is a thought. Maybe it is not necessary to recreate Minshall’s River or Bailey’s spectacular portrayals of Africa. Perhaps those were creations for that time and space, because, well that is what was required then.

In 2019, maybe what we need is not the North Stand, but a rhythm infused with its energy, on which we can layer the words that will move us. Could that be it? I am not really finished with these thoughts yet, so I will come back to you when I have the answers.

What I do know is that my experiences at the North Stand forever shaped my perspective on many aspects of mas. Nostalgia aside, we do need a better plan for our artistic spaces. One that brings the people back into focus, and protects their art from cultural stormers; whether they operate from foreign or within the borders of our nation.

Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN


"The year for culture"

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