THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY
NOTWITHSTANDING the often overwhelming keenness of several good friends, many discerning colleagues and every government in the Caribbean for it, I’ve never been a big fan of Carifesta. I’ve always thought of it as a less glamorous Best Village. Carifesta peaks at “ambitious” in practice – and I’m not even sure I support it wholeheartedly as a concept.
At the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus in Barbados in the late seventies (when I was barely in my 20s), there were “Island Night” fetes, where students from different territories contributed from their own pockets to treat all the other students to a free party, complete with “island” music, food and drink.
Trinidad Night, with its curry and pelau, and Jamaica Night, boasting loudly of its jerk (but staying silent about the equally important ganja), competed to be the best, and one or the other usually was (except for the year the Trinidad Night committee chairman used the money collected to take his Bahamian girlfriend on holiday back home and served white rice with a thin, vaguely yellow, putative curry sauce and soft drinks only, and there weren’t enough Cokes to go around. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he went far in the legal profession).
Carifesta, it seems to me, isn’t quite as strong an idea as the Island Nights of Cave Hill.
Unless I’ve missed a well-hidden, self-funding NGO, Carifesta is funded by the governments of the Caribbean.
And financial control by governments of cultural events is, for me, in the same ballpark as the inmates taking over the asylum.
“When I hear the word ‘culture,’” wrote Hitler’s approved playwright, Hanns Johst, in 1933, “I reach for my revolver”; and, when a card-carrying Nazi’s pre-WWII thinking applies squarely to your 2019 festival, it just might be time to update.
Like anything else funded by unearned income in TT – Pan Trinbago, Caribbean Airlines, the Divali and Emancipation Nagars alike, the economy itself – what ends up on the Carifesta bill of fare, it seems to me, is a pastiche from which anything offensive – that is, everything provocative – which is to say, “all the art” – has been picked out, as if the administrators were cleaning rice. (It’s a reflection of this approach that the best parts of this Carifesta, on paper, were put together by the Bocas Literary and TT Film Festivals.)
In Trinidad, we generally have a fixed idea of what a thing is meant to be, from primary education to backstage food.
David Rudder has pointed out that the “refreshments” served to artistes at any event in TT, from church harvest to Soca Monarch competition, always comprise a paper plate covered with cling film, under which lurk: two round, soft pastry things; one rectangular hard one; two thumb-sized, triple-decker “sandwiches” made from three small pieces of white bread separated by green, red and yellow cheese paste; and, in the luxury version, two bits of sugar cake, one pink, one white; and a soupee.
It has always seemed to me that Carifesta is cut from this template.
And then approved by a government-appointed committee.
For me, it’s an approach that dulls, not whets, the appetite.
Which is not to say that there are never good acts at Carifesta; indeed, you can often find some of the best.
The poorest milk will yield a skim of cream at its top; but Lard have mercy, as they say in Guyana, if cultural expression and all great art does not flow from the individual – and committees are cul-de-sacs down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled. A camel, they say, is a horse designed by a committee. And if Columbus had an advisory committee, he’d probably still be on the dock.
It’s because I have been a public supporter of it since its inception and, indeed, have worked for it on several occasions, that I illustrate my doubts about Carifesta by reference to the TT Film Festival. The TTFF is easily the best film festival in the English-speaking Caribbean (an achievement won by dint of superhuman effort by its founder, Bruce Paddington, and its historical prime movers, Annabelle Alcazar and Marina Salandy-Brown, the latter of whom went on to launch the Bocas Lit Fest).
But add a pinch of Carifesta to the TTFF and it becomes, this year, a film festival that has not seen a single screening at a cinema!
The Ministry of Culture, which held the major power of the purse, directed that all screenings had to be free to the public.
Accordingly, exit movies at the cinema, enter NAPA, APA and, presumably, eventually, just “PA.”
And don’t try to get a seat in front, because they have all been reserved for “VIPs” who don’t show, because they’re eating horses’ doovers at the cocktail party and sucking up to the prime minister.
In the end, it seems to me – and I’m not happy to say it – that it’s not so much a Carifesta as a Cari-fester.
BC Pires is a never-see come-for-controversy