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The Murder of Silence

Published: 
Friday, March 11, 2011

At the Memorial Park entrance to the Savannah track, Pelham Goddard’s Charlie’s Roots, fronted by David Rudder and Carl Jacobs, both in extremely good voice on Carnival Monday, broke out of a sustained ching-a-nikka, ching-a-nikka calypso strum into the full brass fanfare introducing one of David’s greatest Trinidad/Carnival songs and 800 masqueraders in Peter Samuel’s Skullduggery, and thousands more thronging the band, threw their hands in the air, flung the last of their inhibitions away with the 1919-and-coconut water spilling out of their plastic cups, and unleashed the great Carnival spirit as they sang the first lines in unison: “Jumped the wall about 12 o’clock and I/ I gone inside.” Even in a repertoire including, Calypso Music, Panama, High Mas, Rough and Ready, Dus’ in They Face and plenty more, the crowd response to Madness illustrates the name—and the unfathomable magic—of the song; hear the rest of the first verse in your head and see if you’re not totally willing to fling yourself around by the chorus: “Stand up there in the people’s fete/ My eye/ Open wide/ Everybody inside dey/ Like they feteing hard/ But when I watch at their faces, Mama-yo/ Like they going mad/ It must be the budget/ That the man from Whitehall did read/ ’Cause alla them inside-a dey/ Like they suck a crazy-seed/ That kinda head couldn’t come from weed!”

We threw ourselves into the chorus with pure abandon, an explosion of middle-aged idealists, ignited by a spark of the past, genuinely finding, in the chasms of our hearts, real hope for the future. Our joy took Roots from Skullduggery and spread to Port-of-Spain: “This is not a fete in here/ This is madness!/ This is not the kinda jam where you stand up like a chupidee/ Begging for mercy/ Where we going? St Ann’s!/ Why we going there?/ We mad, we mad, we mad, we mad, we more than mad/ St Ann’s!” And, in all of that, I “from St Ann’s;” there could not be a more perfect song, for me, for a nearly perfect moment for all of us. How my heart soared. I could feel the waves of love and the cleansing madness that saved Trinidad so often in the past, all of us together, happy like pappy, making from that madness a way forward through the horror, the horror… Ah, boy, eef we did only know how quickly the song would turn from brilliant metaphor to unmitigated reality. On the Savannah track itself, there were more than a dozen music trucks ahead of us, parked bumper-to-bumper, trunk to tail like massive elephants, every single one of them blasting their own music at intolerable levels. Every one of them; there was not one decision maker in the whole chaotic space willing to make a decision to turn his music off, or even down, and let the whole Savannah enjoy the music of one instead of suffering through the noise of all. “You mad or wha’? We doesn’t turn music dong in Trinidad, boy, we does turn it up!” And they did. To “11.”

The barrage of sound coming from the trucks parked from stage-side to the bend in the track was like a broadside from the Spanish Armada. Buffeted by levels of sound you could actually feel hitting your face, like a strong sea breeze—put your drink down on any surface, including the ground itself, and it began to vibrate to and dance with the bass—I watched members of Skullduggery beaten all the way back to the row of vendor huts on the track’s south side, the farthest you could get away from the pummelling of the sound. A dazed David Rudder and Carl Jacobs stood next to one another, holding up a cup of corn soup as a defence against the assault on the senses. If you stood next to the speakers, you could feel your brain vibrating in your head. You could not hear a note of any song. All that massed, over-amplified “music,” played at the same time, turned into just plain noise, at nearly unbearable levels. There was no one on that track who did not suffer hearing damage; it’s  not possible to subject the ear-drum to that and avoid it. You might as well have thrown a party on the floor of a galvanize factory. The proper response to sound at that level is to cover your ears and beg for mercy: Oh gorm! Ease me up!
And people were dancing!

Stunned into motionless silence, afraid to shake my head in case my brain fell out, I watched people celebrating an abuse, packaged as pleasure, that they would not have endured as deprivation. A friend had the night before recounted the approach taken by a music critic for an English broadsheet’s report on a rock concert: this was not music; this was the murder of silence; in Trini-dad, we do not simply murder silence at Carnival; we torture it first. If you want to understand why people in Trinidad tolerate such abuse, though, you need only walk through any street at any time in Carnival. Every road I walked or chipped on stank of piss. How many men have to pee to make every street smell like urine by J’Ouvert morning? And what do you say of a group of people willing not just to stand in their own filth, but wine in it? The face of Carnival 2011 was neither the smiling Machel Montano or the grinning Rikki Jai, paid $2 million apiece in the last fortnight, but the grimacing Rudder, who had to find a way to perform sweet music in the aural equivalent of a war zone. My last sight of David when I left the band early Carnival Tuesday, was sitting on the floor of the Roots music truck, paper ear plugs jammed in his ears in desperation, hands clapped on either side of his head, doing his best to hear no evil; and when you check out the fella’ position, I thought, you can’t give him wrong.

BC Pires is a promoter at a loss. Read more of his writing at www.BCraw.com

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