The History Of Carnival
To give you an idea of my connection to Carnival and what I would prefer L.A. or any other place to experience, let me begin with the fact that when I began playing mass, "Invaders" steel band did not even yet exist; and when the band eventually came on the scene, they were known, initially, as "Oval Boys". You may therefore assume, and correctly so, that I grew up in Wood brook.
Music of the steel bands - in addition to other LIVE music played by LIVE musicians on conventional instruments - used to be the backbone, the catalytic driving force in our Carnival. It was a creative, artistic pursuit; and pan was synonymous with our Carnival.
To play mass used to mean, literally, to portray a character. To tell a story. It was our own expressionistic, local theatricality. Theatre of the street. Or as the late Trinidadian auteur, Dr. Errol Gaston Hill, termed it: a "Mandate For A National Theatre". Playing mass used to involve research. Who or whatever you played, you made a point of learning, studying and practicing for the portrayal of that entity. But most of all, it required some amount of talent and imagination and a certain desire to "entertain" the spectators.
But in the early 1970s a "cultural sell-out" of "The World's Most Spectacular Festival" (as our Carnival used to officially be called) began to prevail - for monetary gain - and the integrity of our Carnival has since then been progressively and shamefully compromised.
No longer do we face the challenge of fending off the threats of "Midnight Robbers", or witnessing the hypnotic realism of a family of "Bats", or enjoying - which has always been my personal choice to play - the fanciful movements and dancing of a "Fancy Sailor" band (Michael Jackson's source of his "Moonwalk") depicting the various sections of a ship; or having to avoid "Lucifer" and his Entourage From Hell, to name just a few . . . All of whom were to be found not just in a few isolated places on Carnival day, but in almost every district in the island.
These traditional portrayals are now shunted, for the most part, and replaced by nondescript fluff and semi-nudity. Our Carnival has fallen so low, in my humble, traditionalistic opinion, that it no longer surpasses Brazil's but more resembles it, having fallen almost to the level of Las Vegas "Schmaltz". Traditional has become almost a dirty word. A word to be ridiculed by a new generation of players showing no interest in embracing the history of their culture. Instead, they have been satisfied to emulate and imitate "outsiders", either ignoring or not realizing the fact that it is their own "culture", the very same, which has been taken, exploited, dumped down, recycled and sold back to them. And they have bought it.
As for the music - and I use the term advisedly - first of all, FASTER and LOUDER is not necessarily better. Especially with that sort of (synthesized) music that doesn't "breathe"!! . . I never thought I would see the day when pan would lose its place in our Carnival and we would be subjected to the American Square Dance fashion of "crowd control"- - When some guy, some person of no consequence whatsoever, and most likely from another island, would be telling me when to "Lay down on the ground' and wine". Or, to "Hold on to the big truck." or to wave my hand in the air! Such utter nonsense. This is by no means the Carnival atmosphere that I have known and loved. Or as a journalist from "The Trinidadian Guardian" succinctly summed it up a couple of years ago, "Rhythmic rhetoric for dictation dancing."
About the Author: Wendell King is a successful author and publisher of http://www.1st-in-diabetes.com/carnival.htm