A Carnival on lyrics

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Above: Consensual wining in Tribe at the Socadrome in 2016. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1128 for January 18, 2018

The start of the 2018 Carnival season is one that’s already been hallmarked by a surprising degree of political correctness. 

The T&T Police Service (TTPS) issued a statement warning of the criminal charges associated with “unlawful touching.”

The Telecommunications Authority (TATT) issued two advisories to the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) warning of the consequences of airing songs containing what it described as degrading, negative and discriminatory material.

The TTPBA is currently seeking counsel and declined to make a statement on the matter.

TATT ignored emailed questions on the subject.

How a state agency designed to monitor telecommunications found itself enabled to make judgements about creative works is unknown, and TATT has revealed no committee of subject matter experts capable of making the statements it has been cheerfully issuing everytime a song finds disfavour with its leadership this year.

It’s also unclear on what basis TATT is threatening to revoke the licenses of any broadcaster found guilty of airing material which contains lyrics “disrespectful to women,” given the theoretical status of the Broadcast Code.

Moreso since the history of calypso and soca is littered with examples of the lyrics that so disturb them, most notably and recently the atrocious “Kick een she backdoor,” of which the less said the better.

The TTPS is certainly on sounder ground in underlining the issues of harassment embedded in Carnival, a matter that was more agreeably raised with the “Leave She Alone” awareness campaign that rode on the success of the popular song by Calypso Rose.

But threats of legal action seem to be an unproductive place to start in engaging the history and legacy of the T&T Carnival, which is by both name and design a bacchanalia of a most enthusiastic order.

This is a festival in which being disorderly, drunk and debased have long been held as a starting point for the revelry and in the fevered centre of which proper behaviour seems as out of place and unlikely to survive as a fattened lamb in a lion’s den.

To single out Machel Montano’s endorsement of wanton wining in apparent defiance of the law and the statement of the TTPS is to ignore a long tradition of inciting bad behaviour from the stage at Carnival fetes and the hearty agreement with such instruction from the people responding to the music and the commands.

For a bit over 40 years, I have located myself in, though not of this country’s Carnival, an observer bearing notebook and lens amid standards and plumage.

In that time, I have reconciled myself to being in a milieu that I do not particularly care to participate in.

I do not wine on the people I find myself around nor do I enjoy being wined upon, so I suppose that I’m lucky that my aspect guarantees that there are few who are likely to pelt waist in my direction and virtually none who have withstood a tight smile, raised eyebrow and disapproving stare.

It has also been clear to me that there are many people, most of them women and a few spectacularly attractive men, who are honey pots to a hive of hips.

People should be free to dance on their own at Carnival if they choose, and they should be equally free to be as licentious with their laps as they care.

Getting to that place won’t be effectively mandated by law, and the first steps should always be discussion, particularly in a Carnival that finds its cultural heart congested by unfocused State support of an notion of the festival that’s increasingly removed from its practical reality.

That distance seems even greater when TATT calls on broadcasters to exercise “socially responsible behaviour.” How did the authority plan to measure its progress along this particularly slippery slope?

Massive Gosein’s song is simply a disappointment. When I think about all the mathematically unsound areas of governance that a maternal Rowley might have fact checked, all I hear is an opportunity for a great chutney song lost.

Despite that, the appalling video has clocked more than a quarter of a million views on YouTube since it was posted four weeks ago, making TATT’s concerns moot.

The world of Carnival has been crafted and curated for decades by its popular circumference operating with only tangential connections to its cultural and creative history, while its guiding core, the NCC, has rotted into irrelevance and insignificance as one more rule maker, disconnected from the reality of Carnival’s events and climactic street party.

There are conversations that are overdue in Carnival, evaluations of a festival that is both bigger and smaller than we imagine. Questions of direction, of relevance, and contemplations of a historic legacy in obvious stasis.

It’s a slippery beast, our mas is, but we need to come to grips with it.