A challenge against respectability was laid out on Monday in Queen's Hall as rapso band 3canal "boomed up history" with their concert, this year titled Zingaytalala.
The preamble of the show told the story of the sanitising of Carnival in an attempt to silence the rebellious voices of the Africans of the time. It was presented by a cast of traditional Carnival characters such as the mad Dame Lorraine, bitter Black Indian, a "woke" Baby Doll, a pretentious jamette and a Flamboyant Stick Man (played by Randy Stanley, Arnold Goindhan, Cecilia Salazar, Kimmy Stoute Robinson and Marvin Dowridge respectively).
They discussed Carnival 1919, when the government tried to silence those who raised hell as mas makers by curtailing their acts of resistance such as wining, playing the bottle and spoon, tamboo bamboo, stickfighting and all forms of expressions that mocked the planter class of the time.
This moment is juxtaposed against J'Ouvert 2019, exactly 100 years since the government started reshaping Monday and Tuesday mas.
Now the descendants of the people whose acts of rebellion created Carnival hold the ropes in J'Ouvert bands – an act 3canal accuses of creating an exclusionary space in which the rope-guarders themselves cannot afford to participate.
Though the history was enlightening, the tale could have been told in a more comprehensive manner for those who had never heard of people like Hannibal and Petite Belle Lili before.
If 3canal really want to educate young people about Carnival 1919, then they should put the story online as a blog post, since there are few links online about TT's history and those that do exist may not be search-engine-optimised.
After the 45-minute skit, 3canal and their dancers entered with the title song, Zingaytalala. Throughout the night their music was on point and the dancers were a fantastic complement to the music.
Their Zingaytalala dance, which was a mimicking of the position the stickfighters use to hold the bois before they fight, was infections. No doubt many concert-goers were doing that dance long after the show ended.
Designed by Sean Leonard, Zingaytalala's set was minimalist, with a plain white stage and a large heart at the centre.
The costumes were dazzling – literally, as all of 3canal sparkled throughout the show. Roger Roberts, Wendell Manwarren and Stanton Kewley's heads shimmered with glitter. True to the J'Ouvert theme, the dancers were clad in short pants and vests painted with mud and glitter. Costume design was by Meiling and her team, headed by Zidelle Henry.
Every part of 3canal's design made a statement. However, the costume of Jélae Stroude-Mitchel, the Rude Gyal Rapso Feminist, stood out the most to this reviewer. She was unapologetically rude and powerful, moving through the stage with booty shorts so small her butt cheeks hung out. Under her vest she wore a black lace bra revealing more than most would deem acceptable on the stage of Queen's Hall. She's a full-bodied woman and her costume hugged her body perfectly. She sauntered unapologetically over the stage.
The Rude Gyal's outfit was a powerful political statement against respectability politics and policing of the female body, reminding the audience that J'Ouvert is a time to subvert all sense of what is considered decent by letting go of self-conscious body image.
In spite of the fantastic music, most of the audience sat stiffly in their chairs, mostly nodding their heads, while 3canal implored people to free up themselves. During the song Wine, where 3canal called on the audience to "take a wine, everybody" no one got up out of their seats. Two women were observed waving their hands in the air.
Only during the iconic song Blue did people actually get out of their seats to dance, and they were mostly to the side of the hall where they would be out of the way.
The sore spot of the whole show was the venue. It is ironic that a concert which celebrates the struggles and acts of rebellion by the poor and underserved in society is hosted at Queen's Hall – a place not only named after the colonial past but one that is heavily policed to the point where people who probably went crazy in Big Black Box's Back Yard Jam were too self-conscious to get out of their seats and dance. The only indication that the audience enjoyed the show was the standing ovation the cast received at the end. For a concert that celebrated the freedom and bad behaviour of J'Ouvert, Queen's Hall is most definitely not the space to misbehave, and for the same behaviour they celebrated on stage, a Zingaytalala patron may be rebuffed by an usher.
One wonders too if the audience is the right target demographic to "boom up history," as it was mostly made up of middle-aged to senior citizens, many of whom may have known about the story of Carnival 1919. Could it be that 3canal are preaching to the choir?
An usher even questioned if this reviewer should be taking pictures, in spite of sitting in the designated press section. Is that freedom? Is that J'Ouvert? Or is it more like the bourgeois Carnival of 1919?
Here are the views of some people at the show: