A Port of Spain bar in Brooklyn?

Pat Bishop in 2008 at Mucurapo Senior Comprehensive rehearsing The Lydian Singers for a performance of Hiawatha.  - Mark Lyndersay
Pat Bishop in 2008 at Mucurapo Senior Comprehensive rehearsing The Lydian Singers for a performance of Hiawatha. - Mark Lyndersay


My name is Pat Bishop and I have been involved in Carnival all my life.

I went to Bishop’s in the days when Bishop’s was Bishop’s and I knew my place. Well, I think I did. But now people don’t accept “their place.”

Carnival is the common factor across the geographies, ethnicities, genders and certainly across the ages.

I am a painter and I know exactly where I can hang pictures up in this town. And it’s not many places.

You have to be creative. Otherwise you sit wringing your hands saying, “I don’t have the money, I can’t do it.” Out of nothing, you have to make magic.

We have been really profligate with heritage artifacts. We’ve been absurd!

The pan has outgrown us in the sense of its possibilities. We worry about whether the Panorama tune is to be eight or ten minutes long, whether we’re going to play this or last year’s music. Those, as issues, are tedious. What we need to know is, what is happening to music education. Whether this next generation coming up will be literate.

Because the Carnival is in February this year, we start the Panorama tune in November. When, if we were doing it right, (the players) would come into the yard a week before and get their scores and simply work with the arranger to determine things like tempi. It wouldn’t be such an enormous, imposing, undefeatable, physical and economic burden. Because pan is really hard. I would know. I won’t be alive to see that; but maybe the Americans will do it. Maybe the Japanese will; my whole thing in this life is for the pan to be safe and I don’t mind much who does it.

Because it’s so expensive and because times and the requirements of the masquerader have changed, pan would have to re-invent itself if it is to become relevant to Carnival as we know it today. But then, Carnival is a magical thing and that could change too; we could find people desperate to chip behind Invaders. The magic hasn’t happened yet. I wish it would. There is something about going down the road behind a steelband that is like no other experience in the world. No DJ has ever been able to recreate that.

They don’t call it mud now. It’s earth mas!

Every generation takes issue with the generations that are coming. I am old now. I am locked into my time, my age. When I see girls in two beads, a feather and a naughty thought, I wonder if they are orphans? Did your mother see how you were looking when you left home?

It’s not a tendency, it is the established way now, for girls, particularly and to a much, much, much lesser extent, fellas, to be bodies beautiful. Carnival is the methodology of showing yourself the way you wish to be perceived. It has always been like that. Carnivals of yesteryear allowed you to be a king for a day; now you’re a beautiful body for a day.

Those of us who would lament the passing of a George Bailey or the legends of the past have to engage in a serious paradigm shift and look at what the elements are. [It is] not so much what you wear as what you show.

If the body is the point of departure, designers will emerge. One bikini, or even ten, does not define the Carnival. Just draw the body and work from that. Don’t draw a bathing suit and work from that! Get a store dummy. Cover the parts that legally must be covered and go from there. The body has been the point of departure for absolutely every garment the mind of man has ever devised, whether it’s only paint, a skin, bones in your nose. People have gone back to wanting to show themselves the way they physically are, not in terms of class, race or social status.

We could use 1970 and 1990 as watersheds. Those upheavals fundamentally have to do with identity. There was a time when the British said, “This is right, this is wrong. Drive on the left, you are poor, you are rich you go to QRC, you wouldn’t go to school at all.” But now the idea of equality has begun to sink into the minds of the public across the board. The first question everyone is asking is, “Who am I?”

The time is too turbulent to be talking about coming together because people need to know who they are. If we’d had some kind of revolution to give us independence, those questions might have been settled on bloody battlefields. But the British didn’t want us any more. We had Independence wished upon us long before the preparatory work in a multicultural, polyglot place like this (was done). Those issues were never identified, let alone articulated, let alone solved. It’s really an awkward time.

Carnival has a lot do with building social cohesiveness. We have to look to subsequent generations for that kind of unity. There are little glimpses of it when you look at a band like Poison. Where all sorts of conditions of young, pretty people are forging another identity. Well, I mean, there’s no place for the fat, the old, the lame, the halt or the blind. But I suppose people like us have always been marginal.

The five bands and, alas, two murder jams. I wish we could do without the murders but the five bands I’m cool with. As long as I don’t live next door. And I do wish the EMA would leave fetes alone and see about the floods and landslides.

Have you ever seen the food at an all-inclusive? It’s not very original but the thing is to show lots of it: lots of drink, lots of noise, lots of skin. Excess to excess. But that again is a Carnival thing, however you measure that excess. Whether it is that the band is too big – you have to sit down for three hours to see Poison pass – Carnival has never been about considered, measured units. It has always been an over-the-top thing. The manifestations today that cause the older heads disquiet have always been there: the costume is too big; you have to knock down a wall to get it out. We’re really looking at the same thing, though in different forms.

In our colonial state, we have always needed external validation. The only way to get that is to do it like them. I continue to teach classical pan not because I need somebody outside to tell me I am good at Bach or Monteverdi or any of the early music to which I am particularly attached.

I try to say “big up yourself” when appropriate now because it makes me feel up to date and that all my hormones didn’t die out on my 21st birthday. As I suspect they did. You have to let go of the past and look at the present with the eyes of the present.

Nowadays our young people are looking to America; but I’ll never forget the Beatles went to India to put a totally new spin on their music. At the end of the day, the idea of internationalism can’t be a bad thing, if you accept that all men are born equal.

People who make the decisions about Carnival will form the critical mass in the districts from which they come. If Belmont people are making mas, that’s where mas will be. East Port of Spain has to a large extent migrated to Brooklyn and that’s where their mas went. They’re not interested in Trinidad.

So many of our people are green carders. So many of our children are barrel-children. That migration that gave rise to Notting Hill, Caribana and Labour Day took people, ideas, drive, entrepreneurship, creativity – it really has bled us of the people who had the most energy.

Take a steelband to America and you know half of them are going to try and jump ship. Because it is perceived that that is where the opportunities are. If they get there and find the opportunities don’t exist, they are embarrassed to come home with nothing. And that’s real! If you ask where East Port of Spain’s mas has gone, I will tell you, you’ll find it in Brooklyn alive and well.

Read the full version of this feature on Friday evening at www.BCPires.com.

The above feature on Pat Bishop was first published in 2011. Bishop died on August 20, 2011.


"A Port of Spain bar in Brooklyn?"

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