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The Carnival Monday conundrum

Monday, March 7, 2011

Carnival formally began in the early hours of the morning, the launch of two semiofficial days of street revelry in which the normal rules of comportment are supplanted by the 48 hours of the Merry Monarch’s reign. Despite a legacy of more than a century and a half of wilful surrender to the feast of the flesh, there remains a fundamental expectation of civil conduct and behaviour that Minister of National Security John Sandy and Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs have quite solemnly promised the nation will be upheld by a significant show of force by the Police and Defence Force throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

Saluting Carnival’s formal start this morning offers no slight to the dramatic events of the last few days as the incendiary International Soca Monarch kicked off the weekend’s celebrations on Friday, crowning Kees Dieffenthaller and Machel Montano the Groovy Soca Monarch and Power Soca Monarch respectively. A smoothly organised Panorama offered excellent prospects for the use of the rebuilt space for Dimanche Gras and the competitive crossings of the street parades scheduled for later today and Tuesday. There remains, however, in all this tightly organised entertainment and artfully designed festivity, a hole in the middle of an event so gamely described as the greatest show on earth. Carnival Monday, after J’Ouvert, remains very much a street lime for spectators seeking the remarkable costumes that are now largely reserved for resplendent display on Tuesday.

Even masqueraders in the largest, most expensive bands are now resigned to parading in their costumes for just one day as “Monday wear” becomes part of the lexicon describing the rules of the road. Carnival Monday has become, for masqueraders as well as spectators, a confusing and sometimes quite unsatisfactory bridge between the stripped down earthiness of J’Ouvert and the explosion of colour and vibrance that is Carnival Tuesday. This vacuum deserves the engagement of Carnival’s planners and a more prominent place in both the event calendar and the development plan for the festival. Traditionally, keen Carnival enthusiasts have pursued the smaller Carnival celebrations in regional communities, with San Fernando offering colourful showings from their bandleaders on Monday and the community of Paramin hosting a stunning engagement with their remarkable blue devils.

Carnival Monday might offer a real opportunity for small and medium bands to carve out a new tradition of keen competition at sparsely attended competitive venues if the incentives are put in place to drive that mission. Regional Carnivals might be more keenly supported and more ambitiously promoted if touring buses were available in Port-of-Spain to take visitors as well as local spectators on tours of these celebrations and the unique expressions of the festival that are nurtured outside Port-of-Spain. Innovative thinking in costumes and presentation might be stoked by special prizes on Carnival Monday for dramatically different approaches to costume design or onstage presentation from smaller groups while new competitive engagements for the steelband on the road that parallel the success of the once pivotal Bomb competition might return pan more decisively to the streets on Carnival Monday.

It should come as no surprise that Carnival’s development has tracked closely to commercial notions such as audience interest and patronage which in turn attract coverage by the media. Where there is no interest, those aspects of the festival wither and die. These are not trifling matters and are challenging concepts to harness to the quite serious business of Carnival’s future development. It would be foolhardy to assume that the growth of Carnival can continue to be organic and evolutionary. Trinidad and Tobago no longer has decades to incrementally improve a festival that now faces real competition from other Carnivals around the world.

We can no longer take the position that letting almost eight hours worth of masquerade time on a Carnival Monday slide into irrelevance is okay because it’s been that way for years. If Carnival Monday’s presentations no longer hinge on the presentations of the major bandleaders, then enterprising thinking must find new attractions and creative opportunities to fill that premium space.


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