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Exploring Carnival, relationships, and popular culture from a Catholic perspective

A tribute to deceased calypsonian Winston ‘Shadow’ Bailey at the annual Kiddies Carnival organised by parishioners of St Peter’s parish, Pointe-a-Pierre.

In a thought-provoking live talk, Tae Coryatt and Darrion Narine critically examined Carnival, relationships, popular music, and wider culture through a Catholic lens.

Coryatt is the project manager at the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission and Narine functions as a programme manager for the Archdiocese in the Catholic Commission for Social Justice managing a programme for migrants and refugees around youth education across the entire country. He is also an artist, actor, performer, and Spoken Word poet.

Challenging stereotypes of Carnival

Common stereotypes that Carnival is inherently immoral were challenged. Narine traced its historical roots as a revolutionary form of resistance during slavery: a means for oppressed peoples to mock slave masters after emancipation.

He stressed that Carnival is not just about partying but represents a profound cultural tradition. “The Carnival is much more expansive than just the party aspect, right? That’s just one part of it….It was a way in which they were able to now mock those who enslaved them, who had them downtrodden, et cetera.”

While acknowledging issues in modern Carnival, demonising it entirely or making superficial judgements were not acceptable. Instead, self-moderation was advocated – “If you know that you’re a person who gives into a lot of temptations, then avoid spaces where that will be high” – understanding one’s temptations and avoiding over-indulgence in high-risk spaces. Carnival festivities can be meaningful and positive if engaged in a balanced fashion.

Problematising portrayals of women in music

Serious criticism was levelled against the lyrical content in contemporary Carnival music. Analysing popular Soca songs, he highlights the frequency with which women are portrayed one-dimensionally as either sexual objects or antagonists to men: “The woman is always painted as the antagonist. I don’t know if you ever recognise that in almost every single Soca song…she’s reduced to a sexual object or sexualised, or two, in the songs that are not necessarily like that, she’s an enemy of de man,” said Narine.

He cites lyrics from the song ‘Hornin’ as an example that resonated widely, though reflecting and potentially normalising troubling gender dynamics of men boasting about their infidelity.

Expressions of spiritual brokenness in society

This prompts deeper questioning about the meaning behind such lyrics’ widespread popularity – what does this reveal about male-female relationships and spiritual values in society?

It was theorised that a societal breakdown stemming from profound spiritual disconnection and lack of centredness in God may be finding expression through the cultural medium. Narine remarked “That’s my theory that I put out there, and I’m pretty sure that most people who have some kind of religious background would agree with me there.”

The consequences are reflected in damaged personal relationships and conceptions of love.

Call for cultural healing through spiritual values

Rather than superficial condemnation, a true exploration is needed to understand why certain Carnival lyrics resonate across groups: “Why do people still feel the need to express themselves in this way or have to tell this story in this way?” Narine asked.

He called for rediscovering spiritual foundations – placing God at the centre of relationships and culture – to heal society’s brokenness being voiced through popular music narratives.

This cultural criticism remains in progress, awaiting women’s voices and experiences in any follow-up discussions towards gaining wisdom on relationships, values, and thriving communities.