In his autobiography, Carnival Is Me, Australian-based Trinidad and Tobago national Alvin Rostant reflects on his love for the festival and the impact it continues to have on him, despite the many years he’s lived abroad.
But the book also highlights how Carnival influenced other facets of his life: his footballing days; passion for music; community interests; and careers he’s had over the years.
Carnival Is Me is being launched at the Paper Based Bookshop, Alcazar Street, Port of Spain, on February 5 at 6 pm.
“The book is an autobiography of my earliest memory to the present day,” an upbeat Rostant told Sunday Newsday.
Rostant was raised in a high-rise apartment in Mon Repos, San Fernando, but migrated to Australia as a young man in the 1970s after an international tour with his community band, Guinness Cavaliers.
Founded in 1961 with just 18 players, Cavaliers was the first southern steelband to win a national Panorama competition in 1965, under the leadership of Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed. The band also won the competition in 1967.
It was sponsored initially by Guinness, but later became known as Amral’s Trinidad Cavaliers. It has since disbanded.
Rostant said he has fond, lasting memories of Carnival and his involvement with Cavaliers.
“My earliest impressions of Carnival back then were the sound of the steelbands, the colourful costumes, the thick crowds, the scent of street food and the percussive chipping of feet as people revelled in the streets.
“One of my memories of Carnival is when I would join my father, who is a pannist. We would push the pans through the streets on our way to play and this gave me a real familial feeling of belonging and love for the culture. This is probably where my love for pan and Carnival started.”
He said as a young boy, “I did not know how to digest all of that, but it felt like home to me.”
Rostant said his home was about a mile from Cavaliers’ panyard and at nights, during the Carnival season, he often fell asleep listening to the band’s rehearsal sessions.
He later joined the band as a player, bandleader and master of ceremonies.
“It was a dream come true for me. The first Panorama win I had with them was euphoric, and I was hooked.”
With two national pan titles under its name, Rostant said Cavaliers embarked on a series of international tours during the mid-1970s.
“When the opportunity came, I jumped at it.”
Little did he know at that time that his love for Carnival, experiences overseas and decision to make Australia his home would form the basis for the book and song decades later.
Rostant recalled Cavaliers toured several countries, including Canada, the US, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.
He said during the band’s tour of Australia, which lasted about a year and a half, he met a woman who would eventually become the mother of his two children.
“So when the band decided that we had had enough living on the road, I decided to stay and get married to the woman I fell in love with.”
Although he had new priorities as a husband and was still trying to adjust to living in a strange country thousands of miles away from Trinidad and Tobago, Rostant yearned to be involved in pan.
But he observed, “Australians have used the steel drum for everything but music. So to see the steel drum producing such melodious and resonant sounds amazed and delighted them. They wanted to know everything there was to know about our homeland and the steel drum that we had actually turned into a musical instrument.”
Eventually, Rostant started a pan body to grow and promote the instrument in Australia and New Zealand. It became part of an Arts Queensland project.
The Queensland College of Art is a specialist arts and design college in South Bank, Brisbane and Southport on the Gold Coast of Queensland in Australia.
The project, Pan Australia & New Zealand, gave birth to what became known as PANZfest, a pan extravaganza which included a steelband competition.
Rostant said he was chosen as the arranger for the Brisbane-based River City Steelband, but felt he needed to improve his skills. So he applied to Arts Queensland for a grant to come to Trinidad and Tobago to learn more about pan arranging and was successful.
It was during the 2015 edition of PANZfest that he met and had a conversation with well-known pan composer Mark Loquan.
A founding chairman of the Music Literacy Trust, which has helped to enhance the talents of pannists and musicians across Trinidad and Tobago, Loquan first became involved with pan as a stage-side member of Silver Stars Steel Orchestra in the early 1990s.
He has also been a tenor player at Panorama with Silver Stars, Starlift, Skiffle Bunch and Potential Symphony.
Rostant said during their discussion he told Loquan about his love for Carnival and ended by saying, “Carnival is me,” which resulted in a book and song with the same title. He said when he eventually decided to write the book, he realised, “Everything Carnival seemed to be who I was, so I stuck with the name, Carnival Is Me.”
Rostant said the book was compiled during the covid19 pandemic over a six-month period, using information collected over the last decade.
“There are so many more stories to be told that simply did not make it into this book, but we’re already working on a second book.”
He said he was able to overcome cross-cultural challenges to collaborate with arranger Amrit Samaroo, the Supernovas steel band and NH Production to complete the project.
“The project had far-reaching effects – more than we all ever expected. Like the proverb says, ‘A rising tide lifts all ships’: Carnival Is Me did just that. It lifts the spirits of those who hear the music, including the musicians. But this project also lifted the reputations of all involved.”
Rostant described Carnival Is Me as “a memoir of his earliest memory of where and when my love for Carnival began.
“It’s a peek into the life of a San Fernando boy who became a musician. It really just speaks to my passion for music and Carnival.”
Rostant said the book can also be an inspiration to other musicians and young people aspiring to do great things in the music industry. He believes it is a blueprint for perseverance, passion and success.
“Do what you love and love what you do. Regardless of circumstances, success is built around desire, belief, and actions. Our thoughts and beliefs drive our actions and ultimately shape our outcomes. I truly believe this.”