Carnival is MINE!

Carnival 3

By Malaika Crichlow


Dey say de carnival changing and people need to go with the flow.  Dey say the mas is evolving; nothing stays the same forever, and I guess I could agree with them.  I mean, life is about change, but as much as I try to let go of the carnival of my youth, I simply can’t help but wish for yesterday.

I suppose I am getting like the old folks, and the generations before mine that lamented about mas not being mas anymore. Now it’s my time to yearn for yesteryear. It’s my turn to take a beating from nostalgia, remember and wish the longtime days were here again.  The old folks used to yearn for the time when playing mas was representing a portrayal fully, and your costume, speech, stature and dance had to do your character justice.

Kiddies Carnival 2
Kiddies Carnival

I long for a yesterday when I could wear a little jewelry or a favourite pair of sneakers and not worry about somebody liking them more than me and sticking a gun in meh face to take them. Yesterday, when mas was really mas: actual costumes depicting a theme, people dancing to show the splendor, color, and beauty of costumes glittering in the sun, chipping and jumping up with your friends and not skinning out as far as you could spread your legs to show you were a boss winer. Back when wining was an art and rolling your bottom to the rhythm didn’t have to look like what you does do with your man behind closed doors. When jamettes and vulgarity, though an integral part of the festival (because nobody could pelt waist like jamette) was an aspect of de carnival and not seemingly the entire female population in de band.

Even though my father and I had a turbulent relationship, carnival was the time I could relate to him the most. Something about soca does just do something to meh soul. You know what it is to hear the horns from Roy Cape Band or Charlie’s Roots playing on the back of a truck, vibrating through your chest so hard that you can’t catch your breath? Or to hear the sweet voice of David Rudder singing “Bahia Girl” live with the band chipping down de road at a slow pace inside Peter Minshall’s band, lost in an array of colorful fabric as you cross the savannah stage for the first time ever with your aunty on a carnival Monday?

Sweet Sweet Pan! 

Sweet Pan!

Some of you can’t possibly know the sweetness of hearing Phase II Pan Groove practice on a Friday night, and being down in the pan yard with your father since 10pm until 2am because he’s running drills for Boogsie until Boogsie reach. The feeling of being safe and protected because all daddy’s friends are there and nobody could do you anything. Plus yuh hearing all de old talk, drinking corn soup and seeing sprangers, the elite, musicians, artists, and fashionistas liming and laughing and not caring about anybody’s status in life but sharing a love for pan.  Memories of walking up to the savannah for Panorama preliminaries and helping to push the pan racks up the track to the stage. Memories of daddy tight and happy and sheer joy beaming from his screwed up face as he felt the music down to his bones. Do you know what it is to go Panorama finals with your dad dressed in a white, scissor tailed, three piece suit with a red carnation on the lapel because to him, Panorama is the only thing worth dressing up for; then staying with him in Panorama until they announce Phase II Pan Groove as the winner?

A reveller covers himself with mud during the Jouvert morning party in Port of Spain
J’ouvert Mud Bath

J’ouvert Morning..Blow yuh Whistle…and then De Mas Start!

You can’t possibly know what it’s like to grow up on Murray Street, one building away from Ariapita Avenue, and hear every single band pass from J’ouvert morning until carnival Tuesday las lap, or see all the family and friends you haven’t  seen in forever come lime by your house because it’s where all the action is; or to hear Poison Carnival Band is on Carlos Street, so you climb up on your friends’ roof to see and be greeted with the sight of Machel Montano on the roof  of the truck in the distance commanding the masqueraders to wine and get on bad. His voice carrying far on the Caribbean breeze.  Not to mention visions of jumping up with Harts as a teenager, in the back of the band because you don’t have a costume but you are happy beyond belief because you are with your friends and your crush is there and maybe today is the day he will talk to you.

I long for a time when the carnival bandleaders felt a responsibility to the culture and they weren’t only interested in making money because you see, there needs to be a balance. Of course you need to make your money, but contribute to the progression of the culture too nah.  How yuh go have an entire band portraying Fancy Indian mas and not display the original Fancy Indian character, the chant, the dance–de mas?

I know it looks like I am picking on one band but it’s because I see the wonderful platform that they have, the attention of the next generation and they are doing nothing with it but promoting a frenzy to get in the band. They aren’t trying to educate the youths about their culture, so the culture can evolve to the next level.  Maybe they think they are not there for that, maybe they think it’s just a business, but to whom much is given, much is required. There are many people I come across out here in foreign who think carnival is all about drinking, wining and revelry, wearing a sexy costume and slackness, and although all these things are part of it, it’s not what it’s all about.

  They don’t know that carnival is about artistry of the costume, colour, love and unity; they don’t know that carnival is about freedom to express yourself and above all creativity.

Kiddies Carnival
Kiddies Carnival

Carnival Is Mine-I Claim It!

I still come to Trinidad for carnival whenever possible, whenever money, time, school and work permits. I still come even though it will never be the same. I still come even though I know my sister and I will end up getting on each other’s nerves, and argue in the band about which truck to stay with as I like the last or first trucks for space and groovy soca, and she likes the middle truck that has the most people and hypest DJ and power soca. I still come hoping that magically, carnival will evolve into some kind of hybrid that incorporates and blends the old with the new, the traditions with the new trends.  I come because just like my father, my daughter, my Trinidad- carnival is mine. I claim it in all its majesty and all its fuckery and pretenses that it has come to represent recently because without carnival, I wouldn’t be me. My laugh wouldn’t contain the sound of the soft pan notes. My walk wouldn’t swivel with the twist of a bottom that could roll or my confidence shine in the beauty of a costume on display.

Carnival is my time with daddy, a way to feel his spirit and his reckless abandon when the atmosphere is electric, a way to be with him as I never will again. I wouldn’t have traded him for another just as I wouldn’t trade carnival for another.

With all the ridiculousness of its all-inclusive parties that cost an arm and a leg, the exclusivity of certain bands and the toxic atmosphere such exclusivity can promote, and the frontline costumes that women model instead of dancing the f#cking costume to show its versatility and vibrancy. Carnival with all its nakedness and costumes no longer being made to fit its patrons, but for the patrons to fit it. Carnival with all its sweet soca, its revolutionary soca artists such as Bunji Garlin, Kerwin DuBois, Kes and many others. Carnival, with all its hot sun, good vibes, and great friends creating lasting memories. Carnival is mine.  I hope you make it yours and don’t let other people define what carnival is to you.


Carnival Is Mine!


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