by Vernon Khelawan
Is it a lack of entrepreneurial acumen or the dependency syndrome of the ‘gimme-gimme’ culture which has finally caught up with two of Carnival’s special interest groups (SIGs), calypso and pan? I am inclined to believe it is the second.
We must understand that for decades these two groups have been getting loads of taxpayers’ dollars at Carnival time—all in the name of preserving ‘our culture’ —and not having to account for those funds.
Now that the government is hamstrung for money, the alligator tears are flowing aplenty. But aren’t these entities supposed to be viable enterprises? Aren’t they supposed to be self-sufficient and profitable? Aren’t they supposed to be run as businesses? But every year they run cap-in-hand to the government for operating funds. How come the bandleaders don’t do something similar? Are they smarter? From what I see they obviously are.
I have always been against the government’s grant to calypso. The tents fold up after Carnival to be resuscitated next season when they are given more of our money to spend or whatever they choose to do with it.
The same thing exists within the steel-band fraternity. Everything here turns on Panorama. Pannists play for more than one band, and then there’s the incentive of appearance fees. Now a top Trinidad and Tobago product is playing less and less a part of Carnival. Just look at the fetes – everything else but pan.
It is high time that PanTrinbago gets its act in order and stop using only the usual six weeks before Carnival to come alive, only to sink into deep slumber for the rest of the year. The better organised and sponsored bands may embark on overseas tours.
There used to be a steel-band festival. That is no more. Citizens who live in suburban and remote areas remain hungry for good steel-band music. Pan Trinbago doesn’t seem interested. They prefer to wait for their annual handout.
Calypso in its original form seems to be dying, although many diehards believe it’s not. The art of double entendre is on its way out. Gone are the days when calypso told a story —humourous, political or social.
Real calypso hardly gets any airplay, but the airwaves are filled with the jam and wine songs and some reggae which takes over from Ash Wednesday. What passes for the artform these days is soca, a jumbled mish mash of words like ‘wine’, ‘bum bum’, ‘bend over’, ‘jamming’ and ‘jukin’. Singers prefer it raw these days. And of course, there’s the tons of repetitive lines.
But if TUCO would put its executive and talents to work throughout the year and organise shows all over the country, including special shows for special weekends, it would not have to be so dependent on taxpayers to pay their way when the next season rolls around.
We must understand however, that Carnival has changed over the decades. It’s no longer a show of royalty, majesty and beautiful costumery but rather a microcosm of Brazil’s Carnival without the floats, but full of nakedness and skimpy dress.
We can’t call them costumes, because that they are not—a motley collection of bikinis, beads and feathers. It’s a good excuse for revellers to play themselves. The bands all have different names, but they are all the same.
Where are all the portrayals of eras past with velvet and sequins, the innovative designs of ‘big mas’, the street theatre enacted right before our eyes which classified our Carnival as “The Greatest Show on Earth”? It has become a mixture of the ribald and the baring of the human body.
My suggestion to both organisations: Do the work. It will pay off. Then you can be like the bandleaders—smiling all the way to the bank.