Carnival Coming Just Now
As the end of the year approaches, I've started to do what all Carnival lovers around the world do. Now is the time to engage in a focused study of the new Carnival music.
Well, between December and Febuary the time must be invested in learning the latest songs, so that the right vibe can start to take hold. This is even truer for those of us who live outside Trinidad and must rely on a combination of bootleg CD's, fetes, radio stations and music sites such as Toronto-lime.com.
The issue here is avoiding the 1-2 day soca-shock that comes when a visitor to Trinidad lands in their first fete, and struggles with the new music that inevitably sounds (at first) like a bad version of last year's music. By the end of Carnival, however, it all gets wonderfully sorted out as the music works its way into the bones the way no other music does. The result is that I am here in December listening to February 2005’s Carnival music while writing this blog.
How and why does this happen?
After all, isn't Carnival just about drinking too much, wearing too little, suffering in de heat, de dust, de mud and de paint, jostling up with strangers, being tired all the time and ultimately breaking every boundary of decent behaviour?
It's been almost impossible for me to explain the importance of Carnival to other people, and especially those who are intent on judging it as wrong, evil, satanic or sinful. Notwithstanding verses in the Bible that speak to “making a joyful noise,” most of the Good book’s verses are used to condemn a public activity that millions enjoy in the open. And, hey, there is plenty happening in the average fete to condemn, if that is one's intent.
Trying to explain the experience to people in such a frame of mind reminds me of explaining "computers" to my 90 odd-year old Grandmother (who determined that since I was using one, I had to be "studying" them.)
Grandma - "Francis, what is this thing you are talking about so much - computers? I don't understand. Can you explain it?"
(I at least knew better than to use a bunch of jargon.)
Francis - "Well, it's a little like a typewriter, and a TV and a calculator rolled into one, and it helps you do things more quickly."
Grandma - "Like what things?"
Francis - "Ahm.... like word-processing and programming."
Grandma - "What's that?"
Francis - pause... "Like using a typewriter, but with a TV attached..." - I trailed off when I noticed her blank stare turning into a pitiful look that said "Oh no.... my Grandson is some kind of idiot who is wasting his life with some kind of office appliance...."
Trying to "explain" Carnival is just as hard. Actually, it's harder... as evidenced by the following loaded question from my mother:
"Son, I hope you're not out there at this Carnival thing rubbing up and doing all kinds of nasty things in the street."
Me - "Let me tell you.... dat's one of de be BES' parts!" She wasn't amused at or informed by my explanation for some reason.
(Somewhere, while in recovery mode on past ash Wednesdays, I seem to remember seeing evidence in the form of pictures and videos of someone with my face doing the nastiness that that she had described... and by the way, “It Wasn’t Me.”)
The truth is that Trini Carnival is a multi-dimensional experience with no comparison. My first visit to Trinidad in 1997 was for that purpose and while my passport records over 50 trips for business through 2005, the few years I missed Carnival were the years I forgot.
Yeah. I forgot what it felt like to
...dance with abandon -- like you just don't care.
... feel the sexual energy of a fete -- to qet on bad
... see such beautiful faces and forms – pretty, pretty
... drink just enough to feel good, but not enough to get drunk-- feeling tight
... jam with a stranger, and feel the exhilaration of instant and perfect timing... I'll be your melody, and you'll be my harmony
... singing, chipping, jumping, waving, eating, drinking, resting, running, caring, sharing, laughing and flexing with a mas band for 2 days -- real playing mas
... letting it all go at Jouvert, covered in paint or mud -- Bacchanal
... marveling at how sweet a "free wine" can be -- jamming on some man woman
... loving the soca music, which happens to be the happiest music in the world --
... and at it's best, having a spiritual experience of joining with tens of thousands of others in celebrating life, enjoying each other, releasing fears and inhibitions and renewing ourselves for another year... enjoy yuhself in de mas'
And there's more, but words just aren't sufficient.
So, as long as there's a Carnival, and I'm able to experience it, I'll be gearing myself up for it at just about this time each year.