Monday, March 24, 2008

WE MUSIC – Dr Jay asks the question…

Widely reported in the Trinidad press, there is a proposal put forth by various Carnival stake-holders, including representatives from Pan Trinbago; the National Carnival Bandleaders Association; Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organization; various event promoters as well as the National Carnival Development Foundation; to create a fixed date for the annual celebration. They propose that instead of basing Carnival Monday and Tuesday by the Roman Catholic Calendar and when Ash Wednesday falls, instead they would prefer a fixed date of the final Monday and Tuesday in April.

Due to the short season in 2008, many have complained that with Carnival being so close to Christmas, many problems arose. Moreover, some say that the change is necessary to make Carnival a viable business. The secretary of the National Carnival Development Foundation, Peter Raynald, stated that there will be a four day symposium held next month which will look at a "Strategic Plan For The Transformation of Carnival As An Industry". He also added that, "the concern is that our Carnival has a constantly changing date but other Carnivals around the world have a fixed date. They can plan better, so why can't we?"

Those sentiments are echoed by Dane Lewis, who is the co-bandleader of ISLANDpeople Mas as well as a promoter who is instrumental behind popular Carnival events such as Girl Power and Insomnia. He has gone on record to say, "Carnival is now an industry and like any other it needs regulating. The truth is every Leap Year, Carnival encroaches Christmas. So while you may have a religious argument against a fixed date, it is an industry. It's not just about celebration."

This celebration Mr. Lewis alludes to is deeply rooted in tradition. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, followers of the Catholic religion in Italy began the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. Due to the fact that Catholics were not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they named their festival ' carnevale ' which is Italian for "put away the meat". As time passed, and the Italian festival became more and more famous, this costumed practice spread to France, Spain and all the Catholic countries in Europe. In many parts of the world, where Catholic Europeans set up colonies and entered the slave trade, Carnival took root. Brazil, once a Portuguese colony, is famous for its Carnival as is Trinidad.

Carnival was first introduced to Trinidad around 1785, as the French settlers began to arrive. The tradition caught on quickly, and fancy balls were held where the wealthy planters put on masks, wigs, and beautiful dresses and danced long into the night. The use of masks had special meaning for the slaves, because for them, masking is widely used in their rituals for the dead. Obviously banned from the masked balls of the French, the slaves would hold their own little Carnivals in their backyards — using their own rituals and folklore, but also imitating their masters' behavior at the masked balls.

For the slaves, Carnival became a way to express their power as individuals, as well as their rich cultural traditions. After 1838 (when slavery was abolished), the freed Trinidadians began to host their own Carnival celebrations in the streets that grew more and more elaborate, and soon became more popular than the balls.

Do we respect those humble beginnings and keep Trinidad Carnival right where it is? Or do we continue on the commercialization path and create new fixed dates that have the support of those that work tirelessly to put forth the Carnival that we all enjoy immensely? Having fixed dates every year should increase tourism and be easier to market, but is that worth changing the very essence of Carnival?

That is THE QUESTION.Dr Jay de Soca Prince welcomes your feedback on this topic at

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