Trinidad and Tobago’s Express columnist Lennox Grant celebrates carnival.
“Moe-narch”. Pronounced that way, I heard it come out of my mouth. The humbling realisation confirmed that I breathe the same air and, involuntarily, default to the same speech patterns as the shouter voices, huckstering in the live and digital airwaves.
It’s a loud season, defined in passages by the crowning of one monarch after another. In today’s T&T spoken-word patterns, they tend to be hailed as “moe-narchs”.
I had vowed to resist “moe-narch”, and to stand my ground, pronouncing the word as the “mon-arch” under which I had been raised. That I failed my vow marks the measure to which I go with the Carnival flow of 2015, even if I still can’t bring myself to raise, still less wave, a “hand in the air” at the urging of a soca singer.
From listening around over the years, however, I discovered the hands-in-the-air demonstration to belong as well to both salsa and zouk party practice. “Levanta la mano” and “Levez la main” are call-outs you can recognise in Spanish and French-kweyol live recordings of fetes or fiestas respectively. It must be a Caribbean, or Antillean, thing.
Conscious control remains in effect, I hope, over pronouncing “soca” as “soaker”, instead of the arguably correct (and historically respectful) “soh-kah”. And to avoid any lapse into the near-universal “cul-lipso” or “clipso”, I have happily adopted, for my own speech, the generic label of “kaiso”.
Knowing and loving the thing as “Cah-na-val”, I have grown to unripe old age. Now, nobody laughs, or troubles to notice, on hearing “Cor-ni-vol”. On the radio today, the defining element—“bacchanal”—can be heard as “bek-eh-nel”.
As a self-proclaimed Carnival partisan, I haven’t been called to rhetorical arms as a defender of the faith against heresies. But I’m not sure how much what I have called The Carnival Consensus still holds. By that I refer to a broad approval, or accepted legitimation of the idea of Carnival. This, in turn, underlies a large commitment of resources, tolerates a deferment of normality, and inspires a popular buy-in.
Or does it still? As yet, none but the heretical non-believers denounce the Carnival or call implicitly or explicitly for its abolition. But a Carnival Indifference, still to be given voice, I feel sure is gaining growth in the lower reaches of consciousness. It’s not just an expression of those people who see in this long weekend an occasion to fly from T&T toward more rewarding experiences elsewhere. Often, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who, as if it were a birthright, assume ownership of Carnival.
All Laventille humming
Everywhere you pass
People talking about mas.
The lines come from STEEL, the Derek Walcott musical that in 2005 celebrated pan, kaiso and mas. The laureate’s lyrics (“a band practising over and over”) also acclaimed a soundscape of Laventille that, without the physical presence of its signature Desperadoes, easily qualifies as dated.
Long gone are the days, memorialised by David Rudder, when Desperadoes’ “man with the hammer” was recognised both to command moral authority and to exercise control over undesirable behaviour. The Carnival-time withdrawal of the band from its own “yard” must be taken to mark an abasement of self-esteem capable of informing not only music but also any prospect of mas.
It’s hard to evaluate the contribution to today’s Carnival coming from Desperadoes the band and Laventille the place. It’s little conceivable that in Laventille today, people might be heard, as in the Walcott romance, urgently “talking about mas”.
Nor is it just that hill. Laventille and Desperadoes form part of a larger context in which such Carnival as takes place induces little or less and less engagement by people in what may be called a community.
More and more, Carnival is captioned as a “business”, or as an “industry”. Carnival music maker Machel Montano proudly celebrates “33 years in the business”. As business or industry, however, Carnival happens as fulfilment of a State mandate, carried out by a State enterprise, regardless of whatever it’s called.
If a T&T critical mass still claims Carnival as a passion, those so defined manage to keep the expression of that embrace low in profile. For the rest, dollar values inform the Carnival interest: either state “funding”, or private business investment such as effected in the Socadrome.
In between Socadrome’s “new Carnival area”, and the old complex of state-supported venues everywhere else, what is left? Well, even the famed Paramin Blue Devils now acknowledge that state “funding” defines their reason for being. Absent enough such disbursement, the only fire-breathing from Paramin might be just rhetorical.
Without recognising their arrival, and assigning the status prompted by their behavior, T&T has evolved Carnival NGOs. Such entities, found in calypso, mas and pan, are frankly and irreversibly dependent on State “funding”.
Maybe there is more to Carnival than meets the under-informed eye. I pray for the affordability of some all-covering drone, sweeping low and capturing wide, and downloading in real-time to my big-screen TV at least a representative selection of all that’s happening in the name of Carnival.
It might just make me the “Moe-narch” of all I survey.
Meanwhile, following the fashion: Happy Carnival.
For the original report go to http://www.trinidadexpress.com/commentaries/Moe-narch-of-all-I-survey-291972791.html