Carnival 2021 was cancelled, but in many ways it was a wonderful Carnival. Necessity is the mother of invention, truly, and those whose livelihoods rely upon it and those whose sanity depends upon it found creative and innovative ways to make Carnival happen. Congratulations to them for finding the crease, Kees, Farmer Nappy, Yuma and many more, all over the country.
The deterioration of the official annual Carnival has been long evident to everyone who is not a masquerader. The idea of “Carnival as spectacle” died some time ago. There is very little to engage the bystander or the dwindling crowd sitting in the stands and even worse, those watching at home. As television standards plummeted, the costumes shrank and the glitter grew brighter, it became a source of depression to witness what had been lost. Apart from pan, even endlessly playing a single tune for weeks, the only way to enjoy Carnival now is to be in a band, which is not possible for many.
So, lamentably, carnival has become only a thing to do and not a thing to watch. We seemed to forget that Carnival grew out of the people, those who commented in costume and those who looked on at the theatre and interpreted the meaning. From ole mas to pretty mas, there once was a conversation between practitioner and viewer; now a void exists.
Into that growing chasm, widened by its own necessarily revenue-driven orientation, stepped Tribe, The Lost Tribe and Ultimate Events Ltd last weekend, with a spectacular film aired on CNC3 about Carnival which, ironically, returned Carnival to the non-masquerader, or at least shared it. It was the best TT film about Carnival I have seen, with production values that should be common to all our TV productions.
The unforgettable live opening event of the 2019 Carifesta at the Savannah, conceptualised and directed by the young Daliah Dennison and broadcast live on TV, laid down a benchmark for creative ambition and professional standards and showed another, wholly inclusive and magical way to tell our story. I was happy to see the equally young Valmiki Maharaj pick up the baton and follow the intrepid Pied Piper’s groundbreaking Spirit of the Wild Oceans.
The irony of the film being called Lavway, the call and response between the enslaved and in stickfighting, and recreated in the film as a conversation between the various performers and between them and the viewer, might have been lost on the film’s creators, but it was acute for those who mourn what’s been lost.
It told a story, divined by the principal creative talent behind the venture, Maharaj, and co-written by Muhammad Muwakil, about three loosely connected siblings, Time, Savannah and Carnival. Time is forever, Savannah is both steadfast and wild, and Carnival is beauty and invention, and her development has been quietly witnessed by her siblings. When Savannah hears that Carnival will not be visiting in 2021, he – narrated by Nickolai Salcedo – comes out to speak up about who he is and for Carnival’s importance.
The evocation of the elements of music, song, dance, costuming, the shape-shifting nature of Carnival revelry, nature’s steadfastness, the sense of altered reality, union, revival, rebirth, tradition, are all captured by the superb choreography, soundscape, magical lighting, direction, camerawork and editing.
As ever, the film was underfunded but suffered nothing. Carib partnered to provide vital support and its own ads offered an almost seamless stitch in commercial TV breaks. The cast and crew were sizeable, so at least some Carnival operatives were busy and earned a little money in this time of drought.
Other sponsors, notably NGC, did a lot to enable other tabanca sufferers to indulge in some form of Carnival, and Massy Foundation was the sole contributing corporate funder of another entirely memorable Carnival happening in 2021, Jackie Hinkson’s two-week, 105-foot-long street exhibition of murals in St Ann’s. It attracted up to 2,000 people of all ages, eager to see the artist’s oblique commentary on the greatest show on earth.
With four Carnival-related large wooden sculptures and four murals: Masquerade, Band of the Year, 2020, and From Canboulay to Beyoncé, the paintings, attached to private fences and garden walls, challenged a generally narrow concept of what Carnival is about. If the bandleaders think it is just about performance and costume, the people know better.
Many returned to the paintings for a conversation with the artist’s meaning, for a chance to put on a makeshift fancy sailor costume and do those steps while wondering what the Bookman might be writing or the Midnight Robber foretelling.
The significance of the 2021 Carnival being cancelled and the NCC and the other official bodies doing hardly anything detectable, while so many others gave Carnival meaning even in her absence, is that it is finally flagrantly obvious that the money and authority are in the wrong hands.
Carnival does not need them. We need a complete rethink. We all know it and the pandemic has shed a light on it. The time to act is now to return Carnival to the people, allowing multidimensional expressions of our creativity that allow us to continue the important conversation.