I am a Carnival baby – at least I was – and I have the Junior Carnival Queen trophies to prove it. But it seems as if I’m not the only one not catching the proverbial Carnival Fever. Check out the My Carnival #1 -The Road post from Georgia Popplewell over at Caribbean Free Radio. Well worth reading – Georgia, as usual, has a knack for articulating what I hope many Trinis feel but may not quite know how to say. But when you look at the overwhelming success of T&T’s fete culture, clearly a lot of people do not share the view that our modern-day Carnival Fever is a thing to be avoided (much like fevers of the Dengue or Scarlet variety) as opposed to something you go out of your way to catch (like a flight to Paris or a really good joke).
Simple mathematics, while not my most outstanding subject in school, makes me wonder how a population of just about 1.3million, with about 450,000 of that number supposedly comprising the working population, can sustain a conservative average of 4 major fetes on any given weekend (approximate cost $400 per ticket, per person, per fete) over a “warmup period” of two months pre-Carnival, not counting the cost of outfits in which to attend said fetes (because of course no self-respecting Trini would be caught dead at two fetes wearing the same thing) or the cost of the Carnival costume.
But economics are not what really disturbs me about this new breed of Carnival. I don’t think the spending boom can be sustained but we’ll pay for that the hard way, just like we did during the recession of the early ’80s when then Prime Minister, George Chambers declared, “Fete over, back to work” and Trinis ignored the writing on the wall, happily inverting the phrase to “Work over, back to fete”. In fact, I’m not surprised by the frenzied way in which Trinis are all about enjoying themselves. I spoke with Professor Gordon Rohlehr during Carnival 2005 and he had a very interesting observation with regard to how calypso has changed in rencent times. A colleague of his (I would assume in the Zoology Department) noticed that when animals are afraid or sense something untoward, they huddle – that’s the actual term – usually in an uncontrolled type of activity. They do this because surviving until tomorrow seems unlikely (as would be the case with a natural disaster such as an earthquake or flood). Rohlehr believes this is exactly what is happening with the expression of calypso, the music of Carnival. This generation of Carnival lovers has grown up in a time where the effects of HIV/AIDS, drugs and crime hang over them like a dark cloud. No wonder they all want to “huddle” within close proximity of one another and feel some degree of safety in numbers. But what mostly bothers me about the Carnival of the new millennium is that we are are trudging ahead completely directionless and blissfully ignorant about it. If we don’t understand who Carnival is, where she came from, what makes her tick, then we cannot create ‘mas, music or an overall experience that is worthy of her.
One of the things I always found liberating about Carnival is that it was of us and for us. Non-Trinis were always welcome to participate, but putting on a show for anyone else’s sake was unheard of. We were in it for the wild, cathartic, beautiful, messy experience of self-expression. I am pretty sure that this is what made Trinidad Carnival a regular event on the intineraries of famous folk like Mick Jagger – they would lose themselves among the throngs of street masqueraders and with it gain freedom; anonymity. Trinis simply did not care. The Rolling who? This is Trinidad Carnival! Now, some band leaders and “the powers that be” think that the way forward for our festival is to market it abroad (apparently especially to “B” List celebrities – at least Mick Jagger is a star!) and sell it to the highest bidder (we have just emerged from a sponsorship war between telecommunications providers TSTT, which currently has the monopoly on the local market and Digicel, an Irish company that wants a piece of the action).
This is the “spirit” of the new Carnival, which is, at least to me, entirely superficial. It is one of bacchanal – which is fine, Bacchus‘ values have always been welcome here – but the tone has changed from one of merrymaking and good vibes to one of greed, divisiveness and even anger. I’m all for change, but of late, each Carnival season brings with it this unsettling undercurrent that we are taking one step forward and two steps back.