A new Carnival mentality

Sheldon Best is seen in his costume "Once In A Blue Moon" in the captal Port-of-SpainBefore the Carnival of our politics (as Ricky Singh and others have so aptly framed it) takes back centre stage, let me reflect a bit on the one just wound down. Mine was incident free. Unless you count the Paparazzi masquerader who threw up into his darkers and speckled my shoe. Unless you count the fun I had pushing ropes around bathsuit-and-shorts bands back towards the roadway, to reclaim walking space on the pavement for the guntas and me. You can’t take over both. The ropes, in my mind, were a buffer for jamettes from the deafening of their trucks, from their sewage and feathers. One young man hired for the two-day job of holding rope (like one who may have stabbed 21-year-old father of two, Kyshon Bell, to death at laslap hours later) threatened to buss my head for cussing when he objected to my pushing. I invited him to summon his supervisor first so he could be seen doing his job well. An older man holding the rope lifted it and invited me to step into the band. Others in the untrained security force wore black jerseys marked “Extraction”. Unless you count the fact that I spent most of Tuesday morning texting “Where d band?” over bMobile’s network, and all my friends’ responses displayed a time earlier than I’d sent mine. With the disappearance of imaginative big bands, this year I joined a handful of gay friends in a fledgling designer’s effort out of his house in the East. The crooked sound-truck he hired arrived on the parade route at 3:00pm, never mustered more than a few decibels, and eventually broke down. Roses Hezekiah, Sheila Besson and a similarly-sized band paying tribute to their sister welcomed ours to jump across the stage with their truck—“for Allyson”. 10945568_10206291762722895_6246816893857242469_nIn my decade of making Carnival hajj home, there was always a moment—usually as my band wound itself around Cipriani Statue in the slow afternoon sweetness after the South Quay stage—when all ambivalence about the hassle of the trip and the disorganization and inefficiency of the Carnival disappeared—and the transcendent meaning of the mas made itself manifest through the rum. There was no such moment this year. Carnival felt empty. Like the streets appeared—at JOuvert; on Monday; and on Tuesday. Only laslap’s traffic seemed thicker. One radio station ran a story headlined “Onlookers and vendors not allowed on Carnival parade route”. I think even my all-inclusive vomiter—and the drifting, glassy-eyed breakfast feters pretending this was the best time they ever got drunk for $1,000—might agree with a growing chorus about the need to re-examine and reimagine Carnival. Unlike the annual handwringing or Raymond Ramcharitar’s ethnic savagery, newspaper columns this year have been full of thoughtful reflection, including Roy Mitchell’s appeal to find value in our Carnival mentality, and Marina Salandy-Brown’s acknowledgment of how the festival has grown, alongside her observation of “a resurgence of interest in the modest”. It is the economic excesses and kilkitay management in Carnival that seem most troubling. Ropes around bands and pointlessly loud sound-systems continue to drive me tizzic. I can accept a need to protect celebrities or enclose bars. But there ought equally to be a safety rule that no rope can extend more than one street block, and a passageway at least two people wide be maintained on either side of a band, either on the pavement or—if the pavement is obstructed—in the road. No sound system should boast it is “the loudest” and endorsed by Shal Marshall. The comical annual Carnival ordinance Sheila Rampersad lampoons well, which bans the very things that define our Carnival: throwing powder, nastying people, paying the Devil, lewdness, and drunkenness; the National Carnival Bands Association anti-family ban on minors from the traditional parade; the politically heartless timing of this year’s proposed ban on street vending; a reported investigation of a wining police officer—are all examples of the disconnect from the sensible that our approach to managing Carnival has displayed since Captain Baker in the 1880s. postcarnivaldepression-1024x604Simple solutions are begging for implementation: This year on the Savannah drag, there was finally a cool, safe and hygienic place to do it like a boss, not just the usual mobile cesspits. Bands can routinely give masqueraders both condoms and earplugs. Police officers standing on a street directing traffic can have clear answers to a motorist’s: Can I park here? Private band security personnel can be required to be trained—by state security. Their role can return to what it included when they belonged to a band—keeping masqueraders safe from parade route hazards like potholes. Police officers must expect people of the opposite or same sex to wine on them, and be graceful and professional. Mas must engage with the communities it passes through. Woodbrook and St. James residents must accept this interactivity or move to Santa Cruz or Westmoorings. Children must be part of our mas, David Lopez. What I remember most about Carnival 2015 is the young boy standing in the awning of his mother’s Charlotte St. shop snapping pictures of the passing band. One female masquerader wined on him roughly, and the camera fell to the ground. Another behind her, likely a mother, signalled to him, took off her headpiece and placed it on the head of the child she held next to her for the mother to photograph. Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith Dwayne Watkins Photography - TeamDWP Studios


1.  Andrea DeSilva’s image of Sheldon Best’s “Once In A Blue Moon” costume, which won the Moko Jumbie category of the traditional mas competition at Victoria Square, has represented Trinidad Carnival in a number of photo collections of 2015 Carnivals around the world

2. Wendell Stephen and Roger Villafana-Ross DeVerteuil captured my JOuvert performances at the South Quay reviewing stand and the Bohemia fete in images shared on Facebook

3. Lead illustration for the playful blog entry Post Carnival 2015, The Wrap Up by Caribbean social media platform F1rst was a parody of Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer Body Mist sunblock

4. Google “Trinidad Carnival” images, and the gym bodies and feathers overwhelm you. Standing out in the search was this Dwayne Watkins’s image on the Limin’ Professionalz: The Syndicate site illustrating a 2014 essay by Tiffany Drummond, of what appears to be the “carnival virgin” and a shirtless Blaxx at the Sunny Side Up breakfast party


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