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Saturday 21 September 2019
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The loss of Carnival creativity

EVERY YEAR I try to muster some excitement for Carnival, but I lost my enthusiasm years ago when I saw the festival heading down a one-way street at break-neck speed.

Don’t worry, I am perfectly aware that in some twisted, ironic way it is sacrilegious to criticise Carnival, but I proceed in any case because Carnival will remain stagnant without some constructive criticism.

Be forewarned, I am going to speak in broad, sweeping statements to make my points. Of course there are exceptions to everything I say, but I contend they are few and far between.

First, we must face that Carnival now rivals Christmas as a debt-inducing observance. Over the years, Carnival costumes have become skimpier, but the cost of costumes keeps rising. This I cannot fathom. What other time of the year do you celebrate getting less and less for your money?

This is not the fault of Carnival bands. Even I know enough economics to realise the cost of a product relies on supply and demand so the fault lies directly in the hands of masqueraders who cheerily fork out money for costumes that really do seem to fit in an envelope now.

On top of that, many masqueraders must pay money to have their own Monday wear made. The costumes that they forked out all that money for are now good for only Carnival Tuesday, and they don't always last through the day. Many masqueraders find themselves at makeshift seamstress stalls on the side of the road to repair their costumes.

The simple truth is that if people don’t demand more for their money, they end up cheating themselves.

It is arguable that the money masqueraders pay for their costumes is no one’s business but the person who is paying for the costume, and that’s true. I’m just arguing that the business of Carnival is putting a chokehold on Carnival’s creativity. There really doesn’t seem to be much incentive to waste time and effort on creativity if you can talk women into parading down the road almost nude.

On the other hand, I would argue that people should learn some sense about spending money wisely. I am sure many people go in debt for months to pay for their costumes. If good sense is supposed to prevail the rest of the year, we could argue that it should prevail at Carnival too.

Then there is the music. We’ve been complaining about poor judging and grumbling for years that competition has killed calypso, but nothing meaningful has ever been done to rectify the problem. Certainly, separating the Calypso and Soca Monarch competitions was not the answer.

The problem before that separation wasn’t the music. It was the judging. The judges couldn’t figure out how to weigh apples and oranges – calypso and soca – so soca music kept getting the short end of the stick in the National Calypso Monarch competition finals on Dimanche Gras.

If my memory serves me right, the final straw came when SuperBlue lost the Calypso Monarch competition with Get Something and Wave in 1991.

The irony is that he lost any chance he had of winning the crown that year by slowing the tempo of the song to a miserable dirge. The audience tried admirably to wave their hands and finally gave up. So, this was not a good year to make soca’s loss in the Calypso Monarch competition a reason for separating us all musically.

Now we have two competitions that guzzle money and spit out prizes for a lot of bad music. The Soca Monarch competition sacrifices lyrics for music and the mistaken belief that the energy of soca comes from a frantic tempo and a list of inane orders to jump and wave. Soca is stuck in a rut while contestants chase prizes, and the masses just keep jumping.

Back in the Savannah, the national calypso competition slogs on in slow motion. No one wants to admit the loss of energy that accompanied the loss of the soca singers in the competition. The competition lacks energy and requires singers to be politically correct to please the judges.

Here, calypsonians are permitted somewhat of a bark, but they have lost their bite. The music is stagnant and boring, but no one complains about this competition either except for the handful of singers who can’t get into the competition because they perceive their subjects aren’t taken seriously by the judges.

The only solution I see is for people to demand more creativity in Carnival. If you don’t think that is possible, consider this: money talks, and I think it talks the loudest when you don’t take it out of your pocket.

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