by Livingston Nelson
Has war been declared on traditional masqueraders in Grenada?
If that is true, then I am prepared to join with others and go all out to reverse that situation through public discourse. If it is a coincidence, then I am here to help lift some awareness to address the present but dangerous trend. Irrespective of the status, all conscientious Grenadians need to come out from their comfort zone and join this conversation.
Who are we?
Carnival is the greatest physical demonstration of our freedom from slavery. It is through carnival that we express resistance openly to the symbols of colonialism. It is through carnival that we adorn our African attire with pride. It is through carnival that we play the drums freely and we display characters that our ancestors knew intimately. Carnival is more than frolic and fun. It is the recapturing of lost identity and the interpretation of present reality through our own cultural eyes.
Creators and architect of carnival targeted
So if that is carnival, why then has SpiceMas Corporation, initiated policies that are geared at killing the very spirit of freedom? They have made it extremely difficult for organizers of Traditional bands to go about their business unperturbed. Permission must be sought to host an event from St George without any input from parish base organisations. This procedure is facilitated by some of the most arrogant service providers on island. The procedure is the same if you want to host an event in the back of Darvey, or La Fillette with their Jab Jab or Hermitage Shortknee or Tivoli Drummers. The makers of traditional bands that directly expressed that freedom inherited from carnival are now being targeted by SpiceMas. Our great ancestors fought for that freedom. They led many uprising to gain that freedom but now their actions are being condemned in Grenada. As Hilary Beckles stated what happened during the era of European colonialism “They banned the use of African drums and ceremonials; they also introduced slave codes that controlled the movement and activities of enslaved Africans.” It is a bit of an irony that after 180 years after emancipation we still have to fight our own to have free black expression on the single most important days fought for by our ancestors.
Before you get me wrong, let me state my position. I believe that the entire carnival as a street show should be produced. I believe that there should be a start time and an end time so as to regulate the chaos and overlapping in our carnival. I believe there should be street marshalls with a view to maximising the total experience. I just do not believe that the makers, the architects, the creators of carnival need to seek permission and to be charged by a body whose sole purpose was to aid that group’s growth in the first place.
The SpiceMas Corporation has now outfitted its office with persons that have a serious disdain for Grenadian traditional mas and institutions. The Shortknee, Jab jab, Vieux Croix etc are relics that emerged after slavery. They all represented expressions of freedom and for Grenada they are the strongest cultural identifiers. It is the traditional mas that separates us from all other carnivals in the region. Yet, it is the traditional mas they want eliminated and finally die with their unspoken policy of “no mas in rural Grenada.” Here are some examples.
- Andy Purcell (Lakay) has been the leader of the Hermitage Shortknee for over 20 years. The band has won pageant eight times; they won traditional band title four times and band of the year three times. Lakay supplied outfits and costumes for SpiceMas to travel to China, Cuba, Trinidad, St Lucia and England to showcase and display Grenada’s Shortknee. Not once did they offer Lakay a trip. Yet, he gave selflessly. Guess what? He has to apply and pay fees to SpiceMas so as to launch his short knee band this year 2019. The humiliation went further. He submitted his application and travelled from Hermitage three days after to get his permission. His letter was returned by the secretary informing him that he would have to resubmit it because they are too busy at the moment. So with $24 for bus going down the drain, he requested a meeting with the CEO. Again he was informed that the said CEO is signing some cheques and cannot see him at the moment.
- Grenada Jab come under heavy manners: La Fillette Jab also had to seek permission from SpiceMas. The police who work hand in hand with SpiceMas, declared no drumming on the street for the band launch. The RGPF need to do their homework, because under the leadership of band leader Pilot for the last 23 years, there was never any report of fighting in the jab, traffic always flowed and the band has a policy of not defacing buildings. The La Fillette Jab Jab was the first group to accompany Tall Pree to Trinidad and they help spread the jab vibes in a big way in Trinidad. So why the jab jab cannot play during their launch? Private promoters are having fete from 10 pm to 10 am yet the Jab Jab that is getting the most international attention, cannot practice their artform openly for two or three hours?
Massa colour change but Massa still dey
Are we still afraid of the drums? Tivoli Drummers have been in existence for the last 24 years. They represented Grenada in Canada Drum Festival, Gwoka in Guadeloupe, Antigua, Cuba, Guyana and Trinidad Carifesta, etc. Their contribution to carnival is known to all those that are cultural and true carnival lovers. They have graced Calypso and Soca stages throughout the years and their drumming has been recorded for both soca and calypso. Due to Tivoli Drummers influence, Specky did a tribute to them in song, Tall Pree’s concept of trees in the West Indies and Terror D Governor’s sang “Capital”. Yet, Tivoli Drummers had to apply and pay to do carnival activities.
Emancipation celebration under attack
The worst case though is the treatment meted out to SADO, the St Andrew Development Organisation which came into existence in 1986 and was gazetted into legislation. For years SADO was the only institution that kept the flames of emancipation alive. So, to play drums, dress in African attire, put on cultural acts and sing tributes to our heroes, they must apply to SpiceMas to get permission to celebrate emancipation. The RGPF would have it no other way. They only listen to SpiceMas. The act is there, so the police need to research the legislation that gave SADO sweeping powers to host Emancipation and Rainbow City Festival. So here we are again, after 180 years the only difference is that the colour of our Massa has changed.
Let us go back into the 1840s when it was against the law for ex-slaves to gather in the capital, to make merriment in celebration of their freedom, their culture and their ancestors. Has anything changed? Are you on board to help in this fight? We need voices.