March 15, 2010 - Volume 1, No. 13
Palancing the Carnival
For carnival 2010, a new word entered the mouths of everyone on the island of oil and music. It is ‘Palance’. The word has not yet entered foreign countries but soon it will when Trinbagonians and other visitors return to their homelands. I know Brooklyn will be using it as soon as panjumbies return. For those who are wondering, let me explain what palance means from my observations. Of course, palance is different things to different people. But, here goes. To palance is to kick your foot in the air, shake your waist and dance. To palance is to do your own dance without fear or favor of how you are looking. To palance is to feel comfortable in your own skin. Ask Beyonce who did a bit of palancing while performing at her concert in the savannah after the carnival. The calypso “Palance” broke the record for the most played road march of any year (463 times). On both carnival days, I walked up and down Victoria Avenue and all I heard was palance playing as masqueraders palanced through the streets having a palancing time.
Like everything else in Trinbago, some complain that the carnival has gotten too big for the stakeholders to manage. The organizers of Panorama, Fetes, Mas and Calypso have lost it. Except for the calypso tents, which are held indoors, the conditions at the
Savannah for patrons are terrible. While the culture is changing, they are still running things like the past. The cry is that all they care about now is making money and not providing proper accommodations and conditions for their patrons. It is time for a new carnival model. But, again, who is complaining? Today, people are asking: “What we go put?” Remember in the 70s, when the question was: “Who we go put?” Pantrinbago are you listening? Steelbands are you listening? Yea right!
Have you been to a fete lately? I went to Icepick’s party at Harvard Club and it was packed with over two thousand people inside. There were more party-goers outside on the road waiting to get in. It was filled with foreign-based Trinbagonians and visitors. There is no planning done to accommodate the patrons who spend large sums of money to attend these functions. Trying to get a drink at the bar takes some negotiations as you stand on line. Now that liming on the streets is dead, parties like Icepick’s is now used to meet friends and chat about old times. Of course, there are the all inclusive parties where, once you are inside, you don’t leave until you heading home. The high prices ($400.00 - $1200.00 TT dollars) are what you pay for security in the security State.
Now, I am not complaining about the bikini and beads Mas or the boring calypsos. I accept the change. I am not even complaining about the manner in which people were treated at the Panorama Semi finals on the Drag. No big surprise there. It seems that Pantrinbago decided to follow the Brooklyn model and confine patrons on the drag. Why can’t they be innovative? I will not complain about how some radio announcers fail to announce the name of the steelbands that played. They seem to assume that we all know the band. The era of Bob Gittens, Sam Ghany and Trevor McDonald is gone. No problem. Also, I am not complaining about the over-crowded fetes and boring songs played in those fetes. The people like it so why should I complain. Should I complain that the names of the Panorama judges are never posted on Pantrinbago
web site? Who are they? Trinbago United Calypsonians Organization (TUCO) is also guilty of this absence.
No, I am not complaining about the length of time Mas bands took to go around the Savannah (they don’t go through the Savannah anymore). Some say it was 5 hours. I felt sorry for All Stars Steel Orchestra which had to wait for hours when they encountered Tribe Mas band at the corner of Park and Charlotte Streets on carnival Tuesday. I saw hundreds of sailors waiting by the bridge on Piccadilly and Bath Streets for Tribe to pass. But, the bands have been doing that every year since I was a child. Nothing new! The
Savannah stage was the cause then. All bands wanted their hours of observation. Then, the government broke down the grand stand and the north stand too (they promised to build a state of the art carnival center) and put the carnival back on the streets of Port of Spain and the same thing is happening. We need a new carnival model for the Mas. Did I hear someone say Brazil or New Orleans? Never, Trinbago is the home of carnival.
You wouldn’t get me to complain about the lack of TV coverage of Mas outside of Port of Spain. That is new since the loss of Trinidad & Tobago Television (TTT). I will not complain about Pantrinbago’s decision not to produce a Panorama CD for another year. It seems that the production was outsourced to a radio station. I would never complain that the Panorama DVDs have too many distractions before the DVD begins. But, I liked the tuning of the pan with the pan solo playing softly in the background. They should keep that as their brand. Some say that they had to turn up the volume to hear the beginning of some tunes. If Pantrinbago is paying for the production, why must the producers be allowed to use up a lot of space and time advertising on the DVD? All panjumbies want to see are the bands playing their music with a caption of the band playing, the name of the tune and the arranger and some commentary (not too much) The rest is redundant and distracting. But, since steelbands and panjumbies are not complaining, why should I? Why should I complain that after Pantrinbago produced a good DVD one year, the next year it is not so good. Only Pantrinbago knows.
I would not dare complain about the cow-shed in the Savannah where Panorama Semi-finals and Finals, Kings and Queens Preliminaries, Extempo and Dimanche Gras were held for the 5th time since the government broke down the grand and north stands. The stakeholders in the events at the
Savannah do not complain either. Any mas King or Queen, steelband or calypsonian of any integrity would balk at the conditions provided for them. They are terrible. And yet, no one calls for a boycott of the
Savannah by Mas, Calypso and Pan. Where is Sparrow when we need him? Remember his
Savannah boycott? I saw Brian McFarlane on TV complaining that he was not returning to competitions in the savannah. However, he was not complaining about the cow-shed but about the length of time (5 hours) it took his band to go around the savannah. Maybe it’s me, but everyone seems to like the new cow-shed. You see how you could get accustomed to mediocrity. Maybe, Patos knows something I don’t.
I refuse to complain about the non-appearance on the road of many of the steelbands. Steelbands like it that way since they are tired and need a rest. They say it is impossible to get the young panists to come on the road after the Panorama. I observed that the few of them who do come on the road look tired and sleepy. Neither would I complain about the lack of steelbands for Monday night Mas at Adam Smith Square. Steelbands lost all respect for panjumbies years ago. I am not complaining about the decrease in air time for steelbands after the carnival. I grew accustomed to that in Lents of the past. Ask June Gonzales (former anti-pan and calypso radio announcer for demised Radio Trinidad). Do you think that I would complain that on carnival Saturday when Panorama was held, there was very little playing of steelband Panorama music on the radio? Where is June Gonzales?
I arrived in time for the Panorama semi finals. It cost me an extra two hundred dollars because Pantrinbago failed to list the Panorama schedule in a timely fashion. They posted the schedule about a week before the semi finals. By that time I already booked my flight. So, panjumbie that I am, I paid the extra to be there for the semis. I wanted to send Pantrinbago the bill to be reimbursed but that would mean going to the Minister of Culture. Anyway, Pantrinbago now has enough time to post the Panorama 2011 schedule around May, 2010 so that panjumbies can plan their trip for next year. I picked the month of May because that is when plane tickets for carnival are ready and cheapest. If you wait until December or January it is more expensive. Pantrinbago, are you listening?
I am not complaining that Pantrinbago is incapable of administering the Panorama any more. Some panjumbies complain that they don’t have any new ideas. But, not me I am not complaining. A few panjumbies complain that they don’t listen to any suggestions from panjumbies. So why don’t you complain, you may ask? I never complain. Never! I will not complain that as the panists become younger and younger, most of the steelbands have no control over them after Panorama is over. You cannot get me to complain about the absence of good panorama tunes to play and the need for an updated model for Panorama. I cannot complain that they all seem to sound alike.
Now that most of the top steelbands are composing their own tunes for Panorama, some complain that the music is watered down. A few panjumbies complained that even Boogsie this year did not sound like his old self. This is the second year that a children’s steelband beat Phase II in the Panorama. But, the Silver Stars music is the new panorama music model. Just like Cavaliers changed the tempo in 1964, Silver Stars is leaving their pan print on the Panorama. The 50th Panorama anniversary will be held in 2013. I wait to see Pantrinbago plans for it. Did I hear someone say we should have a Global Panorama?
Pantrinbago failed miserably as they attempted to restructure the Drag. Rather than pressuring the government to complete the Carnival Center, they chose to confine panjumbies on the drag. Pantrinbgao built a gate and locked it too. Does this remind you of Brooklyn Parkway for labor-day carnival with the many confinements? I spoke to many panjumbies, who are not against paying $60.00 to sit in the bleachers on the tracks. No Mr. Diaz, panjumbies do not like freeness. What they were very dissatisfied about was the conditions on the drag. First, Pantrinbago moved all the vendors from inside the track and placed them outside. For many who sought to buy their beer, malta, LLB, doubles and bake and shark from the vendors, it meant attempting to go back outside and pleading with the gate keepers to let them out and then having to fight to get back in.
Now, you would not dare catch me complaining about the commotion outside the track as panjumbies tried to get out and some tried to get in. I don’t know who gave the word to lock the gates at Jermingham Avenue entrance but suddenly the gates were locked. Next, there was a pushing and shoving. So, panjumbies who were trying to go outside were locked in while panjumbies who were trying to get in were locked out. Finally, the gates were opened. Guess what? Everybody walked in for free. You are asking: “Why the gate in the first place?” And, yes it had a lock on it. Don’t ask me. I am not complaining. Then panjumbies had to face another insult. Most steelbands did not play on the drag when they were inside the track. Instead, they pushed their pans to the judges’ booth and waited to play. While they were pushing their pans panjumbies who were on the side were squeezed as they tried to get close to the bands. Many steelbands played behind a fence in the open
Savannah outside the drag. Next year, I urge panjumbies to stay outside the fence and listen to good steelband music. For the sick, tired, elderly and wounded you may go to the bleachers and hope to hear a band. Not me. You will find me palancing on the drag outside the locked fence.
The production of Panorama was lacking in quality and aesthetics. It still lacks a main producer who understands camera, lights and views. Maybe, it is because the bands are performing in a cow-shed. Why provide ambiance for a cow-shed, you may ask? And, who can video tape the panists through those ridiculous galvanize canopies? Some complain that Pantrinbago cannot manage the Panorama anymore. Panjumbies are saying that they have no new ideas and that the Panorama has out grown Pantrinbago. They are not listening to panjumbies who suggest new ideas on daily blogs. And, to add insult to injury, they put up large TV flat screens in the cow-shed. That is like beautifying a slum instead of tearing it down. I had a hard time viewing those screens because of the tall iron posts and other contraptions in the cow-shed. I would never complain that the steelbands have no respect for their art. Anyhow, I personally delivered my open letter to Keith Diaz (I sent it to him when he became the new president of Pantrinbago). To show my respect, I even left my cell number for him to call me in the event he felt compelled to talk to me. I hear you laughing at me saying how I like licks. But it is okay, your turn will come.
On Panorama night I was amazed at the improvement of Desperadoes tune this year. I liked their tone and tempo which was a little faster than last year. I would have awarded them a higher place in the competition. But, that drummer has to go. He was too loud and was killing the tune. And, Robbie Greenidge has to get some conducting lessons. This was his first year conducting the band on stage. He is no Bradley. As die hard panjumbies, my friends and I sat there in our $350.00 seat from 6:00 PM when the medium steelbands started through 3:30 AM the next morning when the large steelbands ended the Panorama. Silver Stars Steel Orchestra music was a beauty to behold. Some may argue that their music was simple compared to Phase II choice of tune. But, what a performance! The band never lost control from start to finish. And the conductor Donnell Thomas (a former panist with Panazz) is amazing. He inspires his young panists (who are as young as 15 years old) to execute the music with full force. That drum rolling (sounded like a dudup to me) at the end of the tune was creative. Come on Edwin, you are cheating. Again, I implore Pantrinbago to give Mr. Thomas a scholarship to study music. He is a gem in a sea of pearls. His leadership qualities led his panists to victory over the adult steelbands.
There was something in Phase II music that seemed to get lost along the way. Phase just did not measure up to what I call Panorama standards. I am wondering if Phase II panists can execute Boogsie’s music anymore. The heavy lifting just wasn’t there. While some complain about the costumes and antics of the players, I don’t find it offensive but hilarious. I can cope with that because it is the new thing at Panorama. But, those canopies got to go. Renegades Steel Orchestra is still playing the Jit Samaroo arrangements even though they have a new arranger. The new arranger Kenneth Guppy has to find his own voice to give Renegades a new sound. All Stars Steel Orchestra tune of choice leave much to be desired. They would have done better if they had chosen Defosto’s “Smooth Sailing,” which I heard he wrote for All Stars and their players liked. The arranger seems to be stuck in a “Soca Warrior” mode. Harmonites Steel Orchestra has promise. It was good to see the band return in the finals as one this year. (After separating from Pan
Knights, they reunited this year with Pan Knights). I wish that the band paid more homage to its
elders and founders. That was for my friend Huey Loy, a founder of the band. He complained to me about the lack of respect. Redemption Sound Setters Steel Orchestra is still the band to beat in Tobago. What a long name. But, Winston Gordon (arranger) has to find a new voice. His best year was when he arranged “Ben Lion.” Buccooneers Steel Orchestra (another Tobago steelband) may soon take over Redemption as the Tobago band to watch. I liked their rendition of “Surrender,” a favorite tune of mine.
Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra is a favorite of mine. I love to see young people play our national instrument, especially young women. That is because I remember the time when any woman who dared to play the pan faced being called names and ostracized. I think they have the most young women panists of any band. Lastly, Fonclaire Steel Orchestra, whose arranger Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore had his best year (1990) with “Pan by Storm.” I looked up the year on Pantrinbago pan site. I love reading their Panorama Placing (why not Results) now since they started to include the name of the arrangers. For my money, Professor won the Panorama that year. Since 1990, he has been struggling, changing steelbands many times. But, Fonclaire is the band he should stick with and write music for. The tune “Rewind” just didn’t fit the band. But, I liked their syncopation. The tune “Surrender” would have better suited Professor’s style of arranging. Starlift has to make serious changes if they are to get back in the field. But, I hope that Exodus don’t follow the traditionalists and return to those ridiculous canopies. I heard Exodus on jouvert morning as they played their bomb tune with full force. It was my bomb of choice. It’s a pity Pantrinbago doesn’t record jouvert bomb music or the semi finals. I want to extend my special congratulations to Steel Xplosion Steel Orchestra from Tobago, winners of the medium band competition. I love Carl Alexander’s (arranger) style of arranging. I loved his input of the chorus from the calypso “Masefe, Masefe”. Radica’s horn demanded a Masefe response. Carl is going to win a Panorama one day if he gets the right band. Starlift, are you listening? And, he is from the West too. Oh, Siparia!
I experienced some enjoyable events for carnival this year. First, was the 3 Canal Concert at Queen’s Hall. I strongly recommend it to visitors next year. The show was sold out and rightfully so. Not only did 3 Canal put on an excellent show, they provided patrons with a marvellous skit that brought the Hall down. And those singers are magnificent. Next, I attended a calypso show called: “De Standup Tent.” It was the best calypso tent for my money. A group of employees from a radio station produced it and performed at the show. You had calypsonians singing their calypsos reading from their written script, some forgetting their lines and the band playing out of tune for some of the singers. But, I fell off my chair laughing. The crowd enjoyed it immensely. It was kaiso comedy at its best. The show lasted for over three hours and it was money well spent. Then, I attended a free Rapso show at the national library where Brother Resistance, Karenga Mandela and other Rapso artists gave the audience a well organized show. The songs were relevant to today’s Trinbago. At one time Brother Resistance sang a rapso called: “Water Master,” which spoke about the water conditions facing Trinbago. At the end of the rapso song he informed the audience that he wrote and sang the song thirty-five years ago.
I want to pay a special compliment to Dr. Kim Johnson for his exhibition that was held at the Museum, situated opposite the memorial Park on Frederick Street. The exhibition is an introduction to a book of steelband pictures that Dr. Johnson is releasing soon. The exhibition was well attended by local and foreign panjumbies. Rudy ‘Two Left’ Smith, a world renowned panist attended. Among the notables were Curtis Pierre (Dixieland) and Mr. Kingsale (Blue Diamonds) and Dr. Hollis Liverpool (Chalkdust, calypsonian) who gave the opening remarks. Silver Stars was the guest steelband. Dr. Johnson portrayed the early years of the steelbands. There were pans on display from the 1950s and pictures of steelband playing Mas (Yes, Judith, there was a time when steelbands played Mas). Among the steelbands displayed were: City Syncopators, Dixieland, Fonclaire and Desperadoes. I understand that the show would move to a larger space after carnival. I was disappointed that many local panists did not attend (maybe they were too busy for carnival to attend a show about steelbands). Shame on Pantrinbago and steelbands.
This one is personal. My friend Carlo took me for a drive to the country side. It was marvellous. We visited Balandra, Mathura, Sangre Grande and Toco. Yes, I was brave enough to bathe at Salibai but only waist high. Don’t laugh! I am not Johnny Weissmuller or Lex Barker. I caught you. My friend Scotty held an afternoon lime for me at his home in Santa Cruz. Fifteen of us showed up, some with their wives. For the past three years, my friend Carlo held this lime at his home. This year, my friend Scotty’s wife decided it was her turn. We all grew up together in the same neighborhood and have remained friends for all these years. We grew up at a time when we seldom saw a male friend harm his friend. Most women did not lime on the streets at that time. Sure, we argued and sometimes fought. But, the next day we made up and laughed it off. Also, most times another friend or an elder would intervene and stop the fight or the argument. I hear you saying that I am sentimental. But, for us friendship and the lime were two of the main ingredients of our early years. We still keep in touch although some of us live in different countries. Anyway, all is not lost amongst the young today. There are many young people enjoying their childhood and enjoying a standard of living that was unheard of in the 60s.
As I expected, the carnage and decay continued behind the bridge. My beloved Nelson Street is still being neglected. The housing continues to deteriorate. Its residents are still waiting on the Urban Renewal that was promised to them many years ago by the PNM government. My journey behind the bridge started with my walking up Laventille Road and venturing across Belgrade Street to Quarry Street. As I turned left into Belgrade Street I saw the blight. It was around one o’clock in the afternoon. As I walked across Belgrade Street, I noticed an absence of people. Not even the stray dogs were on the street. I continued my walk. As I approached Siparia Hill, I saw a lonely pot hound dog. “Where are all the people?” I asked myself. As I approached Prescott Alley, I took a quick picture. The place seemed locked in a time zone. I then entered Quarry Street and bore left to Pall Mall Street into Parker Street. The Sorzano family business office is still there. That family once owned much of the land in East Dry River behind the bridge right up to the top of Laventille (Laventy).
As I continued my walk, I still did not see anyone on the street. I turned right into Oxford Street and decided to visit the 42 steps. For those unknowledgeable of the 42 steps, the steps are called “Casablanca steps” because it leads to the Casablanca old Panyard. Yes, it is 42. I counted them. I took a picture for my archives and took some more pictures. As I walked, I saw an old friend who pointed out to me Kwame Toure’s (Stokely Carmichael) home where he was born. I took a picture. You can see it
in Pan-Jumbie's Gallery with other pictures.
--> Album T&T Carnival 2010 by Khalick J. Hewitt
Next, I walked to Argyle Street. It dawned upon me that I still had not seen anyone except my old friend. As I approached Observatory Street, I decided to see Basilon Street. I turned right and walked down Observatory Street. I made a left to Siparia Hill and a right into Basilon Street. It was my first visit to Basilon Street. Somehow I never got to see Basilon Street whenever I traveled up the Hill. Maybe I should have left it out of my itinerary again. Basilon Street is dead with empty spaces with bushes growing. The street was dismal and lonely. I got to Bonaparte Lane. Miss Rochester’s palor was no longer there. Someone built a two story house in its place. Mr. Aleong shop was closed in the middle of the day. That shop was the lifeblood of many families in the 60s. Then, he was open all day and closed around eleven o’clock at night. The shop was always busy with people.
I made my way up Basilon Street and stopped at Miss Brown’s house at Belgrade Street where I met her daughter. She was renovating the house. They were one of the middle class families who have lived in the area since the 50s. I said hello. She remembered me and we talked about old times for a while. She kept telling me to be safe and to be careful in the area. I smiled and bid her goodbye. I then walked to Duke Street. Here, it was more empty spaces and lots more bush. The yard that housed four families was now bush as the houses were burnt last year in a gang war. These areas are locked in a time zone. If people did not still live there it would have been a jungle. I have documented the empty spaces with pictures:
--> Album T&T Carnival 2010 by Khalick J. Hewitt
While I went to Trinbago for the Panorama, I could not escape the politics. Kamla Persad-Bissessar won the political leadership of UNC. (She is now Opposition Leader too). I spoke to some Indians from both COP and UNC and Africans who felt comfortable with Kamla. I was surprised by some Africans who consider UNC an Indian political party. They wanted to hear what she had to say. If only Kamla could reach out to Africans, she would be a force to reckon with in the next elections.
Trinbago is a country in transition. Most people are fed up with the present government. But, the question of race comes up every time I asked if they will vote for someone else. The Africans are scared of the UNC. And, the Indians feel that the Africans deserve PNM. Some Africans complain that they did not have a good experience with the UNC government when they were in power. And, some Indians complain about PNM favoring Africans. But, this time if UNC (Kamla) reaches out to them and put forward a good program, they may give UNC another chance. The real problem is that both parties do not have any new programs for development. And the Africans know this. What the Africans know is that when the PNM is in power they don’t feel afraid and threatened. But, they remain suspicious of the UNC. We shall see. Meantime, the island is experiencing a water shortage, especially in the poor areas (East/West Corridor). Is it time for a national service program for all citizens between 15 and 18 years old? Don’t hold your breath.
Another observation was the absence of policemen on the streets of Port of Spain and the country areas. I traveled from Tunapuna to Toco and did not see a policeman. It’s amazing that there isn’t more lawlessness. Even on my early morning trips to Port of Spain I rarely saw a police presence. I wondered if their absence was a new operation. On my visit to Toco I saw a police lock-down as I left a restaurant where I just bought an LLB (nonalcoholic drink). It was like a TV show with the police screaming obscenities at the two suspects. The police signaled people to move from the area which I did hurriedly. As I looked from outside I wondered if this would solve the murders which keep climbing. From my observation and conversations, I deduced that there is just a few people (983) causing the murders. If the minister could have a number then why can’t I? And, the gangs are small compared to the citizens and the security forces. But, they outgun the many decent people in the community. And, the murders are taking place mostly in the poor areas that has always been poor since 1956. Areas like Never Dirty, First Caledonia, Second Caledonia, Water Hole, Prizga Land, Up the Valley Road, Belle Eau Road, John John and Troue Macape. I could go on forever. Barataria, you are next.
Sometimes, the murders spill over to a few of the middle class areas like Diego Martin, Cascade, St. Ann’s, St, Clair and Goodwood Park which are approximate to poor areas. But, primarily the murders occur in areas like Gonzales, Belmont, Laventille, Nelson Street, Morvant, Diego Martin and Carenage. These areas always had gang fights. Now, the gangs have been replaced by drug dealers with turfs. The community spirit that kept the gang fights low does not exist anymore. The control that police had does not exist anymore. There is a mobile police unit in Mango Rose (behind the bridge). Yet, there is a gang war between Pitchery Lane and Mango Rose. Pitchery Lane is across the street from Mango Rose.
There was a time when those areas had sports (Remember Mervina League) and other social activities that kept the young people involved. Also, parents had more control over their children. Parents also raised their children without the many distractions like TV or radio. Most importantly, they had a strong sense of values that they inherited from their churches, customs and traditions. There were fewer children having children of their own. If they did, there were grandparents to take charge of training that young girl how to be a mother. No, the boy was not trained how to be a father. Most times, that young girl was embarrassed as the community frowned on children having children. It was known for some parents to send young girls away when they had a child. Neighborhoods carried a sense of shame. Today, the social institutions have not kept up with modernization as some children are raised by TV. And, in spite of all the children in those areas, they do not play outside. Where are the children in the day time?
In the case of Laventille, since the 1980s the elders lost their control over the young people in the community. The drug battles disintegrated the community leaving an empty shell without guidance. People don’t leave their homes unless they have to. The 1990s saw the migration of new people into the community with no attachment to the area. Families that used to get along are now in a state of war. Their children are fighting for whatever space is left to deal their drugs. The jobless rate has increased as the 10 days project work became unsustainable for families. The church no longer plays any role in the lives of young people. Most of them now get their values from the TV and radio. The politicians have become estranged from those areas. Many don’t visit unless there is a major murder or mayhem in the streets for some grievance.
The social and economic problems affecting those communities are not being addressed. What is needed is a holistic approach to solve the problems. No amount of police lock-downs or police raids, water shortage or blackouts will solve the murder epidemic scourging these areas. What is primarily needed is a government that can govern with new ideas away from the traditional box. The outcome of the next elections will determine the state of Trinbago for the 21st century. The next generation of gangs will have no mercy on vulnerable citizens who live in these communities as the estrangement will become wider. But, I am a believer and maybe the people will change leadership in the next elections. A change may offer them some respite to breath and smell the roses.
One of the main ingredients that held many neighborhoods together was the Lime. The Lime was an extension of many homes. It was used by many to socialize. You got to know your neighbors through the Lime. Young people were introduced to one another through the Lime. When a young boy moved into the neighborhood he was introduced to his peers through the Lime. The Lime was a major activity every afternoon after school for young teenage boys who would stand on the street corner well-dressed to lime for hours into the night. I know you remember. The disappearance of the lime meant that activity on the streets is now regulated to waiting for a taxi, going to work, returning from work and shopping. No lime on the streets in these areas. The elders lime indoors in bars and restaurants. Check the corner of Henry and Duke Street and Observatory Street. There are no children on the streets behind the bridge. The disappearance of the Lime has rid the community of its soul. Most young people now lime at Malls, Bars and clubs.
The Trinbago political system is broken. Like most post colonial nations, the system that was inherited from the colonial forces has failed the citizenry. What Trinbago needs is a simple political system that can connect with all its citizens and provide basic needs for its most vulnerable citizens. The post Eric Williams’ governments have failed to deliver jobs, housing, health facilities that work, infrastructure and security services to its most vulnerable citizens. People cannot identify with a post colonial system that they did not create and is responsible for their oppression. Trinbagonians don’t feel any sense of alignment with their institutions except when it comes to fetes. The new buildings being built by the government are not bringing communities together. Instead, they are creating a wide gap among the citizenry. Trinbago has become a Security State. Even the architecture has fallen victim to the crime situation as citizens build houses and businesses with steel bars for extreme protection. Most business places now have security steel gates on their doors. There are gated communities springing up everywhere as citizens seek to secure themselves and their family from the crime and murders.
After Independence in 1962, the early post colonial generation in Trinbago still believed in the colonial values and institutions. Many attended churches (Catholic and Anglican). Many attended the best colleges and convents (St. Mary’s, Queen’s Royal and Fatima and St. Joseph and Holy Name Convent) that previously barred them entrance. Some joined social organizations that brought a sense of community to the flock. Others formed Friendly Societies that fostered on their membership a sense of national pride. Many schools taught their students voluntary services to the poor and the sick. As a result, the society was calm and easy to rule. Murders were seldom and committed mostly by adults. There were very few murders during the steelband riots. A murder trial was a national spectacle. The judiciary had an impeccable reputation for fairness and speed.
But, in 1970 the post colonial children (from the East/West corridor) challenged the system. Instead of responding to the demands of the young people, the then PNM government locked down dissent. Due to the PNM government’s failure to remedy the social ills facing the poor areas, such dissent was to raise its head later in another form i.e. gangs, drug dealings and murders to protect turf and drugs. No infrastructures were built in those poor areas.
In the 1980s, the surge of oil wealth did not help. Rather, it widened the gap between rich and poor and brought a materialism and consumerism to the island among the young that was never seen before. Soon, young people had disposable income. Drugs became affordable. A vacuum stepped in which is still waiting to be closed. The politicians turned their backs on the poor, especially in the East/West corridor. The battle for the ten days erupted among the poor as they sought out a space in the desert that became their communities.
This year again, I took the water taxi to San Fernando. It is one of the best run things in Trinbago. It leaves on time and arrives on time. Another well-run project is the Community Energized for the Protection of the Environment Program (CEPEP). I understand that the government out sources the project to private businesses and they can hire and fire at will. CEPEP helps keep Port of Spain and other government facilities clean. They are doing a wonderful job. At the Panorama, they kept the bathrooms cleaned. During the carnival you could see them moving from toilet to toilet cleaning and spraying. Is it time for the government to absorb URP into CEPEP, you may ask?
There is still a lack of proper customer service in many of the government offices. And, some of them are rude. The clerks don’t seem to understand that they work for the people who are their customers and without them they would have no job. At times, you can sit and wait for hours without anyone explaining to you why. You always have to come back tomorrow. You could see long lines at some offices where people have to stand in the burning sun waiting for service or to see someone. I visited some office and observed tight security as people are searched and led to a chair or bench to sit. Forbidden items are ceased to be returned at the end of the day when you leave. I had to surrender my camera which was returned when I was leaving. While you wait, no one asks you why they are there. If you dare ask someone a question you are told to wait your turn. But, it is different if they sense a foreign accent. Perhaps they know that you are empowered to request that you see a supervisor or someone in charge.
Now let’s look at the Mas. I liked the Mas even though many seemed the same. What I liked was the freedom that allowed people to move about. Of course, I found the Mas bands too large. But, as a businessman that would make me happy all the way to the bank. There seems to be five popular Mas bands: Tribe, Legacy, Island People, Genesis and Trini Revelers. These five Mas bands make up the bulk of masqueraders I saw on carnival days. They are all headquartered in the Woodbrook area. So, on carnival night, no matter where you live, if you played with one of them you are heading for Woodbrook. No longer are there large Mas bands from behind the bridge, San Juan, Barataria or Diego Martin. These five Mas bands corner the Mas market. There are now two groups fighting for carnival space. The steelbands have already lost their space. Now, the fight is between the Mas bands and the People. Although most of the Mas bands are roped, yet they keep creeping closer to the sidewalks where the people stand to look at Mas. And, as the bands pass people have to move back to give the bands space. No good.
Lastly, Desperadoes steelband is facing an historical paradox within itself. This proud and mighty steelband that stood tall on the Hill is facing a dilemma. It is obvious that Desperadoes no longer rule the Hill. They lost that battle to the drug gangs on the Hill. For Panorama purposes it is now a Belmont steelband situated on Cadiz Road, east of the
Savannah. As I watched the band practiced they seemed outside their element. Here was a band estranged from its home. But, pride dies hard in Desperadoes. I watched as the Elders stood proud with their heads held high as they practiced their craft in a ‘strange’ community. I paid my respects and looked on. Here was a steelband struggling to retain its pan superiority among the Trinbago steelband fraternity. It has been many years since Desperadoes won a Panorama. Their last win was with Master Clive Bradley in 2000.
The paradox for the band is this. For Desperadoes to survive they must leave the Hill completely. I mean they have to set up a permanent Panyard elsewhere. No one would say it but I felt it as I looked into the panists’ eyes. If they leave the Hill, Laventille will die completely. And, in order for Despers to live, the Hill must die. The band is no longer a community steelband. It lost its space on the Hill to the mayhem taking place there. Unlike Renegades, All Stars, Phase II, Starlift, Silver Stars and the rest of bands that could garner large audiences to their community, Despers cannot get large audiences to go up the Hill for Panorama. The leadership that the band once gave the Hill is dead.
For Laventillians, Desperadoes will always be the only institution that they can claim as their own and, rightfully so because they built it with their own sweat, blood, money and tears. Many people lost their limbs and sometimes their lives for the band. Many served jail time. In the 1950s and 60s steelband riot, the bad johns on the Hill protected Desperadoes and their followers. Even in the riot heydays, ordinary people were permitted to visit the Hill without fear. Remember Laventille devotions? Today, that protection is gone. The Hill paid a heavy price for Desperadoes to survive. Now, the band is at a new crossroad that may determine its fate as a top steelband. Time is running out. I wish them well.
As I waited in the airport, I walked around. While gazing at the steelpans and Mas beautifully displayed in the airport, a young boy about twelve years old approached the soprano pan. He started to play the tune “Battle Zone.” Everyone was amazed at his prowess and skills. He had no trouble finding the notes even though it was not his pan. I said to myself: “Now, the soprano is standardized.” It is. You can see pictures of him at the end of
--> Album T&T Carnival 2010 by Khalick J. Hewitt.
The last time I saw Khalick he was palancing on Observatory Street by the L’Hospice.