So, here we are at the conclusion of yet another carnival season that was officially launched 2 April. As usual, there was bit of everything: the angst and tension of a rebellious festival facing those who, consciously or unconsciously, frown on rebellion and prefer the comfort and serenity of the status quo.
Year after year, carnival forces us to engage in an exercise of navigating the lines between the religious and the secular; points to our understanding — or lack thereof — of the meaning and origin of carnival in Grenada and the Eastern Caribbean; and leaves us wanting in our ability to find a balance between maintaining the sheer enjoyment of mas’ for participating masqueraders, and sanitizing carnival to maximize its commercial value, where most of the profit now ends up in the pockets of business people and in the coffers of government. Relatively smaller amounts of money find their way into the bank accounts of mas’ people, calypsonians and panmen and panwomen.
Some still hold the view that carnival, by its very name and for nothing else, is synonymous with evil and satan, and would like to see it banished or have the colonial laws that were enacted — and which are still on the books of Grenada — to restrict and suppress the festival, strengthened; or even do as Cuba did in 1888 and altogether ban the playing of Jab Jab masquerading.
We would hazard a guess that after the politicians, carnival is the society’s next favourite piñata; blamed for all the “badness” and “madness” in the place. We hear religious leaders and others here, and elsewhere, complaining about skimpy attire worn at carnival. Sure, there are some we would like to see cover up a little more at carnival. But this, we believe, is no different to what see some people wearing each and every day of the rest of the year in our country and in other parts of the Caribbean. The fact that there may be some extremist activities at carnival is not dissimilar to the few who use the opportunity of holidays like Christmas to engage in excessive drinking and then driving under the influence of alcohol; yet, we do not blame Christmas or call for laws to regulate Christmas activities.
And, of course, it won’t be carnival unless there is bacchanal and a complaint of one kind or another, from one or more of the stakeholders. This year’s loudest complainants, thus far, are pan musicians. They ain’t the least happy, they say, about how the Spicemas Corporation (SMC) seemed to have given priority to a private promoter’s show at the National Stadium on 6 August, Panorama night.
We, at Caribupdate Weekly, after listening to SMC CEO Kirk Seetahal at a news briefing a few weeks ago, always thought the corporation and the steelbands were in agreement on the hosting of both events at the stadium on 6 August. Seetahal said as much. But, the people in the pan community now are telling a different story.
Whatever is the real situation on the issue, the Grenada Steelbands’ Association (GSA), and individual senior pannists, ought to share some of the blame. We cannot understand, for example, how panmen and women only started complaining openly about the stadium stage after attending the Junior Panorama on 30 July. One needs to ask whether any GSA representative visited the stadium while the stage was being built, so that they could have discovered the inappropriate nature of the stage for pan competition and seek to remedy the situation before 30 July.
We recommend also that GSA must establish their own public relations and marketing niche, and not depend almost solely on SMC to do that for them. Included in the National Lotteries Authority’s sponsorship of panorama should be a sum allocated for marketing and PR. It makes no sense offering prize money for an event, without trying to ensure that people would attend the event.
And GSA, and other cultural and sporting organizations, must stop deluding themselves that by continuing to operate as volunteer-run groups, which meet once in a while, that they’ll be able to advance or enhance their product and service significantly. Culture and sports, in today’s world, are a serious business that requires full-time professional attention.
However, for any complaints, weaknesses or shortcomings of Spicemas 2016, overall it was another enjoyable festival for most people who participated or spectated. And, love it or hate it, Jab Jab — the mas’ and the music — essentially is what distinguishes Spicemas from all other carnivals, including neighbouring Trinidad’s.
And speaking of Trinidad and carnival, Caribupdate would like to pay brief tribute to Trinidad’s former Cultural Ambassador to Caricom, Makandal Daaga. Born Geddes Granger, Daaga was a well-known revolutionary, Pan-Caribbean and Pan-African activist. He died Monday at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital. Daaga, founder of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), would have been 81 on Saturday.
Daaga’s life has been one of struggle on behalf of the oppressed and disposed, and those discriminated against based on race and class. He was student activist at the University of the West Indies; leader of the Black Power Revolution in T&T; and spent time in jail with former leader of the army mutiny of 1970, Raffique Shah.
Shah, in reflecting on Daaga’s contribution to Trinidad, said: “I give him credit for bringing some pride to Afro-Trinidadians. He also opened the doors for non-white, dark skinned people to get jobs in banks, with the cabin crew in BWIA and middle to upper level management in companies.”
In 1974, a delegation of Caribbean progressive leaders attended the Sixth Pan-African Conference in Tanzania. The delegation included Daaga, Tim Hector of Antigua, Bobby Clarke of Barbados, Eusi Kwayana of Guyana, and Maurice Bishop, who became Grenada’s Prime Minister in 1979.
Daaga’s activism in Trinidad impacted and benefited nationals there, immigrants from other Caribbean countries like Grenada who chose to make T&T their new home, and also influenced many Grenadians here to involved themselves in the struggle for a better, more just society for all our people.
Makandal Daaga — Geddes Granger — was a true Caribbean man, who completely embraced his Africaness. May he rest in peace.