Understanding Our Carnival Heroes

After four consecutive Trini carnivals, the carnival tabanca is bad this year as we deal with the cold and snow once again.  I do however enjoy following the various carnival events through Facebook and Twitter.  In addition, the discussion on the present state as well as the future direction of the various carnival artforms is encouraging and is coming at a time when it is very much needed.

The discourse on the present state of the carnival space does leave me with one concern – it could benefit from more rigor and structure.  Allow me to explain my position.  On March 29th, the feature speaker at the 10th Anniversary Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business (GSB) Distinguished Leadership and Innovation Conference (DLIC) will be internationally renowned bestselling author, journalist and speaker Malcolm Gladwell.  Last month, I read (to be really honest I listened to) his recent book called Outliers.  In his book, an "Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience.  As an example, in Paris in the summer, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot but if we had an August day where the temperature fell below freezing, that day would be outlier.

Those of us familiar with his previous books know that he is a genius when it comes to describing the various not-so-obvious causes of social phenomena.  Gladwell says that he wrote this particular book out of frustration with the way we explain the careers of really successful people.  He saw our understanding of success as being really crude and he took up the challenge to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations. Federal Tax Singapore

His book is definitely worth a read for any of us who want to better understand the way in which society creates individual success stories.  In summary, what he demonstrates is that “there are exceptional people, but if we sat down and examined how they got there, we'll find out they had a lot of help. That's not a trivial fact.  Performance has to be placed in the context in which it is set. Every outlier's achievements have to be qualified, and we have to give equal weight to the world that nurtured them and not get too carried away with the cult of the individual.”

So yes we do have carnival heroes but we cannot forget that their successes were made possible by broader social forces.  Similarly as we observe the way in which the carnival space is evolving today, it may useful to consider institutions beyond the obvious ones like the NCC and the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism.  If the previous expressions of the carnival artform were a product of Trinidad at that time, it stands to reason that its present incarnation is also so influenced.  Someone in an online forum made the point that Trinidad carnival was originally two separate celebrations – one aristocratic and the other a harvest festival by slaves.  For a number of reasons, they were combined and may now be separating themselves again.  In my opinion, this view has validity and should be studied further but unfortunately, the commentator was attacked for her views.

Similarly, another useful study would be the extent to which the All Inclusive phenomena in both the fete space and in street mas, is a product of security concerns.  I know that there has been much research on the relationship between the development of All Inclusive resorts and crime in Jamaica which has deepened understanding of their own tourism sector.

The bottom-line is therefore this - while there is value is expressing our feelings and opinions, there is also great benefit to be derived from a more fact-driven sociological approach to interrogating and understanding what is happening to the artistic trinity of pan-mas-calypso.  The heroes of yesterday may be disappearing but today’s social forces are creating new heroes particularly in the emerging industries of mas-fete-soca.  The commercialisation of the festival has both pros and cons.

Having spent most of my life in Trinidad, and especially after having played mas for the first time 4 years ago, I love this bacchanal season.  Although both my parents and all four of my grandparents are from Belmont, the four years I played mas were with Woodbrook based All-Inclusive bands.   So despite growing up seeing my father’s love of sailor mas and my mother’s love of Burrokeets, I myself chose another path.  This does however help me see and respect both sides of the debate.

Enjoy the carnival everyone.  My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country and I love my region.  Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.  Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com

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