April 6, 2011 - Volume 1, No. 14
It's showtime and not one word
Panorama began on February 17, 1963, on a beautiful and sunny Sunday morning in the savannah. The Steelband Association held its first steelband Panorama preliminaries under the leadership of its President Mr. George Goddard. The following twenty-four steelbands registered to take part in the competition but only twenty-one steelbands competed: City Syncopators; City Kids; Wonderland (Chaguanas); Sundowners; Invaders; Crossfire; Casablanca; Cross Winds; San Juan All Stars; Dixie Harps; North Stars; Merrytones; Starlift; Nocturne; City Symphony; Prodigal Philharmonics; Wonderland (Belmont); Renegades; Sputniks; Desperadoes; Steel Stylers; Modern Sunland (St. James); Tropical Harmony and Metronomes.
For this historical first Panorama, there were no semi-finals and the following ten steelbands were chosen to compete in the finals on Friday, February 22, 1963: Invaders; Casablanca; San Juan All Stars; North Stars; Starlift; City Symphony; Wonderland (Belmont); Sundowners; Desperadoes and Modem Sunland. Each steelband was required to play a calypso. The prizes offered were: First: $1000.00; Second: $500.00; Third: $250.00. The judges were: Commander L. D. McDonald (U.S. Naval base, Chaguramas); Major Rupert Dennison and Ms. Umilta McShine.
The results were: 1st North Stars-Dan is the man (Sparrow); 2nd Sundowners-Harry & Mama (Sparrow); 3rd Desperadoes- The Road (Kitchener); 4th Modern Sunland; 5th Invaders; 6th City Symphony; 7th Casablanca; 8th Starlift; 9th San Juan All Stars and 10th Wonderland. For carnival February, 2013 Panorama will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
On February 16, 2011, I arrived at Piarco Airport in the early afternoon to attend the annual Panorama festival which is the main object of my carnival visits. I love to arrive home in the afternoon because I relish seeing the wide blue sky and smelling the fresh air as I step outside the airport. I walked to immigration but did not go through the foreigner’s line. I am no foreigner. The immigration officer looked at me and smiled. I returned the courtesy to her. She understood. Next, I took my favorite walk through the airport as I headed to collect my two suit cases (no over packing for me). I like to see the steel pans, mas costumes and the many Trinbago decorations scattered throughout the airport. As I exited the building I felt the blazing hot sun on my dark skin. I looked up at the sky and I felt a comfort that said: Welcome Home! Yes, I was back in the homeland for the carnival and promised not to utter one word about panorama, calypso and mas: the pyramid of carnival.
My good friend met me at the airport and we drove to his home where I would spend the next 30 days. As is custom, his wife prepared my favorite pelau dish. It was waiting on the table. I put a little pepper on it and it went down well with some mauby. I unpacked and took out my old spice cologne and deodorant, hair grease and Johnson baby oil lotion. I took a shower and got dressed and headed for my old haunt on Nelson Street. Whenever I go home, Nelson Street is the first place I visit where I see old friends and reattach with the community. Although it is decaying and not much now I still like to see it.
I walked to the corner and got into a maxi taxi and headed for Port of Spain. As the maxi drove down the Priority Bus Route it passed by Bangladesh, an illegal community which is made up of squatters. They moved there many years ago and built homes to house their families. So far, no government has demanded that they vacate. Soon, we were at the Croisse in San Juan. The Post Office at the Croisse was still closed. I wish someone would put the building to use. We continued through Barataria, another favorite community of mine. I spent some of my formative years there on Sixth Street when Jackal ruled Sixth Avenue. Soon, we got to Beetham Estate where life is still not so bearable for its residents. That area used to be called Shanty Town. Not much has changed for its residents except now they are dying from the drug and gang wars among them.
It is interesting to note that communities like Beetham Estate, Laventille, John John, Prizgar Lands and Morvant, who are all PNM supporters, are legacies of neglect by the former government, the People’s National Movement (PNM). If anyone wants to understand how communities can die due to government’s neglect, I strongly recommend that they study these areas and the policies of the PNM from 1956 to 1986. During those thirty years, as the PNM reigned supreme they promised development to those communities (who are PNM supporters) but failed to deliver on their promises leading to the permanent underclass we have today in those areas.
I got out at City Gate and walked towards Frederick Street. I took a picture of the Cipriani statute which stood tall at the corner of Independence Square. That statue has always baffled me as I see it as a contradiction since the support of labor was never the PNM’s strongpoint. It was Dr. Eric Williams PNM that erected the statute. The PNM government was one of the few Caribbean governments with no history in the labor movement. And yet, they put up his statue after Independence in 1962. Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani was a local white man and a stalwart of the labor movement. He supported what he called ‘the barefoot man’ and their struggle for economic equity.
Next, I passed by Woodford Square. The square is a popular place forpolitical, labor and dissent meetings. It has been renamed twice. First, in the 1960s Dr. Eric Williams renamed it “The University of Woodford Square.” Then, in 1970 Makandal Daaga (then Geddes Granger) renamed it “The People’s Parliament.” The streets were busy and crowded as people were shopping, visiting stores and engaging in negotiating the traffic that edged slowly down the street. In the square, there was an absence of the local philosophers in the Square who used to preach their ideas and criticized the government and society. Also absent was the blind man who used to stand in the front of the square’s gate every morning and sing a tune called “Throughout the lifeline.” They have been replaced by vendors who sell their wares and goods: hats, jerseys, wood carvings, kerchiefs of every Caribbean island, paintings of local places and costume jewelry. Most people who were walking through the square only looked but did not buy. That was left for the visitors like me who collected local memories to take back home to North America, Africa, Asia and Europe. Nothing for me I said to myself, I will wait until after carnival to buy when many items become cheaper.
Then, I left the Square and crossed over to Prince Street and walked towards George Street where I decided to buy some oranges. I bought a dozen oranges, had them peeled and started my morning intake of fresh vitamin C. As I crossed George Street I stopped at Lucky Jordan Club where many badjohns were banned from entering during the infamous steelband riots of the 1960s. I saw my old friend Calvin standing in front of the club. He called the club his ‘office’ because anyone looking for him knew they could find him there liming in front of the club. I offered him a beer but he refused. No alcohol for me, he said. I only drink orange juice now, he explained to me. I laughed because Calvin used to handle liquor well as a younger man. I guess age does bring reason. So, I bought him a large orange juice and we talked about old times and the changes among the young people, especially the gang culture among some of them. When I was leaving Calvin said to me that he always knew that I would become somebody. I smiled and thanked him for his help in that journey and walked towards Nelson Street. I know he had my back.
I left Calvin and walked up Prince Street where I made a left turn into Nelson Street and immediately was in my comfort zone. While the street has become dangerous due to the gang/drug wars causing many people to fear traveling there, for the moment it felt comfortable. But, I knew that the Nelson Street (between Duke and Prince Streets) I remember in the 1960s was dying and I had to be very careful. Most of my contemporaries were either dead, moved to other areas, or migrated to Canada or the USA. No longer was there any liming space (except for carnival) where the saga boys and girls used to lime. Now, there is much despair and unemployment as the community struggles to survive in a new era of gang wars, drugs and killings. And, even though many are struggling daily to make it, Nelson Street (PNM stronghold) is another example of demise and decay due to PNM neglect.
When I got to Nelson Street at Grissom I paid my respects to my elders and sat among friends. Greetings were exchanged and someone called for a beer. Another wanted a Shandy. While someone called for bottled water. No problem, because I brought spending money for that. They brought me up to date with the killings, drugs, unemployment and other ailments affecting the community. As I listened, I observed that many of the Planning buildings were rotting. All of the middle classes are gone now. Those who remained were trying to fix things by walling up their apartment for security. The walls on the side walk in front of the buildings were still there. They were built around 1969 to protect the small children from running into the street as the cars sped down Nelson Street. The owner of Lucky Jordan provided the money for the bricks and cement. We provided the labor.
For the next two weeks, my friends and I visited a few panyards to hear what each steelband was playing for Panorama. For the Carnival season, the steelbands would play only one tune until the Panorama was finished, their panorama tune. Maybe, you would lucky to hear them play their bomb tune. But, I am not saying one word. Our first panyard trip was to the Desperadoes new panyard (for the last couple of panoramas) where Beverly Griffith arranged the popular tune “Trini”. Nice tune, I thought but wrong arranger. That tune was made for Master Clive Bradley who could make it come alive in the savannah on panorama night. And, even though I liked Bev’s past panorama arrangements I felt that it was not the right tune for the band. I spoke to him and he told me that it was the players who selected the tune. And, to add to the confusion he was joined by two other arrangers. Three arrangers for one tune is not a good recipe for steelband success. Despers is still out of their element on Cadiz Road, Belmont. I paid my respects to Pinhead, Tash and then left to hear Invaders who were practicing just a few yards away from Despers.
For Panorama finals, Invaders moved from their panyard on Tragarete Road and practiced next to Desperadoes due to the heavy traffic congestion next to their panyard. The Mayor warned the steelbands about noisy panjumbies, drinking in the streets and cars blocking people’s drive ways. Does this sound familiar? The band was waiting for all the players to gather and the arranger to start practice. The panyard was crowded with young panists standing behind their pans coasting on their instruments and hoping to capture a win this year. After all, Invaders had never won a pan competition before. Maybe 2011 would be Invaders year. The arranger Arddin Herbert was at the helm directing his players and making the necessary corrections. But, I wanted to hear a full tune so we left to hear Phase 2. I would catch Invaders another night. We left for Woodbrook.
When we got to Phase 2 panyard the yard was crowded with panjumbies. They stood, sat and leaned to hear their pan guru Boogsie. Boogsie composition “Do something for pan” was a musical statement against the new Pantrinbago president Keith Diaz. The lyrics spoke for themselves and Boogsie expressed those feelings in his music. Nice, but could it win the panorama? I said hello to Castro who informed me that Bree (popular Phase 2 panist) had died last year. I watched Boogsie as he drilled the players calling out various musical notes to impress the players that he knew who was faking it. He told them where he wanted emphasis and where he wanted softness. And the players all obeyed their guru without question. For my count, Phase 2 has the most foreign visitors to any steelband panyard. They played the tune once. It sounded good. They were in the mix to win.
Next, we were off to hear last year’s winning steelband, Silver Stars. They were geared up to complete their third win. Only Renegades still carries that honor and is the only steelband to win three consecutive panoramas. In 2009, Silver Stars made history when they won their first panorama competition. In 2010, they repeated another win. Maybe this year would be a three peat. When we got to Silver Stars panyard there was no parking from Cipriani Boulevard to French Street. There were cars parked on the streets and sidewalks. We had to park on Kitchener Street and walk back to the panyard.
As we entered the panyard I noticed that Cyril parlor at the side of the panyard (famous for its mauby) was still going strong and had expanded. There was even a large banner in the front of the building advertising for a mas band. Cyril is now deceased but his grand children are running the parlor. In the panyard, panjumbies stood everywhere as Donnell, the drill master drilled the band to excesses. He was good, but could Silver Stars pull it off again this year to give the band a three peat win? We would know on panorama night. Most of the players in the band are teenagers and young girls. But, they showed the zest and courage to challenge the other top steelbands. It was show time so we drove to All Stars panyard on Duke Street.
The band’s arranger, Leon ‘Smooth’ Edwards said that he chose the same tune as Silver Stars “Showtime” to prove he could beat Pouchet with his own tune. Edwin Pouchet composed “Showtime”. All Stars sounded good and almost perfect. While I was at Silver Stars panyard, Alvin Daniel told me that All Stars was the band they had to watch. This was coming from an executive member of Silver Stars and the lyricist for “Showtime”. He was right. All Stars was the band to topple Silver Stars. Soon, panjumbies was saying that the panorama trophy returned to East Port of Spain since Despers and Renegades have been out of winner’s row for years.
We parked the car in All Stars panyard and decided to walk to Renegades panyard on Charlotte Street. I kept remembering what Alvin told me about All Stars. Renegades is one of the oldest steelbands still around. All its steelband music fame and panorama wins were achieved under its former music director Jit Samaroo. Now that Jit was seriously ill a new arranger was at the helm of the band. The band was playing its panorama tune as I entered the yard. It sounded like Jit was still arranging. No way this could win, I thought to myself. But, they were defiant. It was time to leave so we walked back to All Stars. We were lucky to hear the band playing the whole tune. “This is a winner,” I said to myself.
On our way home we stopped to hear Exodus at their St. Augustine panyard. Exodus sounded good. The band is always a dark horse in panorama competitions. Their sound was crisped, disciplined and precise. I liked the ending. No doubt a band to watch. Exodus already won four panoramas. Last year they did not make the final which was a sad day for the band. So, this year the word was out. Exodus was coming to win. I always have some problems with Pelham Goddard’s arrangements. Even though he won four panoramas I cannot remember any of his tunes. His arrangements are not memorable like a Bradley, Boogsie, Bev or Ray. But, Pelham is always a threat in the panorama because he prepares and his players are disciplined who can execute well. We shall see.
On February 20, 2011, the Panorama semifinal was held at the Queen’s Park Savannah where two steelband categories competed: medium and large. It was a beautiful Sunday. The trees in savannah brought a cool breeze that cooled the hot air form the humidity as panjuumbies walked and listened to each band. This was the year that the new government promised to return carnival to the savannah with its motto: “Back to D Savannah,” with a first prize of two million dollars. We had a new minister of Arts & Multiculturalism who vowed to make 2011 carnival the best yet.
I walked around the drag and listened to the different steelbands playing their chosen tune for the competition. I was impressed with Birdsong whose arranger Raf Robertson did a magnificent job arranging Boogsie’s tune “Do something for pan.” It was one of the best panorama tunes that will live on after panorama. I agree with Alvin Daniel’s suggestion that Pantrinbago should open Panorama to all steelbands and drop the categories so that all the bands would compete together has some merit. But, that may create a problem for steelbands who struggle to make their numbers. I told him to take it up with the president of Pantrinbago. He laughed and I smiled. Gallery!
Why should I say that the drag has lost its steelband appeal? Should I say that no one seems to know how to organize a STAGE for panorama? It’s the 21st century and the steelband paradigm has shifted. Not one word about how anyone planned it or wished it. But because of the high level of mediocrity I wonder if a group of pan executives get together in a room and decide how to make panorama complicated. I won’t say one word about that. Just as the steelbands are no longer community bands, semi finals on the drag is not the same as the steelbands are now distant from panjumbies. I will not say one word about how decisions or indecisions are made for steelbands because I don’t know. Don’t rush me; I am getting to the day and night of the panorama. In my own time, soon.
Is Panorama music becoming more and more dysfunctional as the judges misjudge the steelbands? And, this crescendo thing, who started that and why? It has no place in we panorama. Since the steelbands are satisfied with the panorama arrangements with the stage I shall not dwell on what changes can be made. I leave that to the steelbands to decide. After all, it is their panorama. Can any panjumbie remember a sweet passage from this year’s panorama tunes or name the steelband that set you on fire that you are still whistling those passages as you bathe? As I write to panjumbies, I can still whistle intricate passages from Desperadoes 1963 “Mama this is mas” (arranged by Beverly Griffith). Forty-eight years and I can still whistle every line of Hilanders version (arranged by Bertie Marshall) of the same tune. Yes, I can remember North Stars version too (arranged by Anthony Williams).
But, I promised, not one word about the behavior of Pantrinbago at the semifinal when the noise crew refused to stop making noise so that Renegades could play at the panorama. Where do you see people going to a music competition with their own music to play while the competition is going on? For many years, that behavior was aided and abetted by Pantrinbago with an understanding that as each steelband came on the stage to perform the noise makers will stop their noise. Remember, this is a steelband competition for the greatest steelband prize organized by the world body for steelbands. Such complicity led to the disgraceful behavior behind the North Stand at the semi finals.
Okay, I will not say one word about how the steelbands contributed and enabled this attack on Panorama semifinal. While I read about arrangers complaining about judges and even heard a song about ‘do something for pan’, I never read about any steelband or arranger complaining openly about the noise distractions in the North Stand as they played. But, this year Renegades Steel Orchestra complained as they were the first large band to play. The earlier medium steelbands played without a complaint about the noise which was louder this year. And so, for the next ten minutes an announcer begged the noise makers to please stop the noise so that the steelband could play. Renegades continued to complain. Then the announcer begged the police to talk to the noise makers. Still nothing. Remember, we are in the land of the lawless where people don’t follow the law and police don’t enforce it. So bear with me. Then, Renegades made a mistake that cost them their place in the finals. They decided to play and played. And so, all the other steelbands played while the noise continued. I was in the North Stand so I am reporting first hand. In a few days, Renegades, which ran out of the competition, took the matter to court. The judge decided that they took too long to file their complaint and dismissed the case. So much for law and steelband. Rudolph Charles, where are you?
Why was this year noise in the North Stands different from any other noisy year? Glad you asked. But, I cannot speak one word so I will speak many words. Well, it seems that there is an innovation in the Panorama. This year was the first time that the North Stand and Grand Stand were rebuilt since the former government the PNM broke them down four years ago and promised to build a Carnival Center. Of course, the PNM did not build any such structure. And, for four years we were without a North Stand and the PNM replaced the Grand Stand with a cow shed. When the new government came into office they promised to rebuild the stands and delivered on their promise.
I will not say one word that on February 20, 2011 at the Panorama semifinal, a new innovation was introduced under the auspices of Pantrinbago. It is alleged that either Pantrinbago or the National Carnival Committee (NCC) sanctioned the arrangements for the back of the North Stand by granting rented space to a few sponsors of a few mas bands. Who is really in charge of Panorama? I am not going to say one word about the total disrespect so far for the national instrument. The sponsors felt that it was their right (they were granted the space to do that) to erect tents to promote their mas bands. It is alleged that Pantrinbago was informed about this innovation. But, I am not saying one word about that. Well, each tent had a DJ with music and singers with food and drinks for their patrons. It was that loud music that Pantrinbago and the police could not or refused to control. I know that you cannot understand why Pantrinbago would sanction a sponsor to bring music to a Panorama to disrupt the show. Me neither, I am not saying one word.
But, panjumbies are accustomed to the noise in the North Stand that used to be turned off when the steelbands came on stage. So, everyone expected that when the steelbands came on stage, the noise would stop. No more. That was done for the old North Stand. This new North Stand demanded a unique disruption against the steelbands. This was noise produced outside (behind) the North Stand. A question of jurisdiction came across the police minds as they decided not to interfere. Remember, this is the year that the police failed to protect the Prime Minister and the Attorney General for one night. Enforcing the noise law is small stuff that does not demand any attention since I read that the president of Pantrinbago said that Trinbago is not a military state. Nuff said. Next year, panjumbies shall see a larger sponsoring of tents behind the North Stand and the steelbands will be asked to be quiet while the DJs play.
Again, I shall not say one word about Panorama night. But, I can say a few words about the steelbands and their performances. While I hold fast to high expectations from the steelbands and Pantrinbago I shall not whine about what they can or cannot do. No whining for me. If the steelbands accept Pantrinbago’s methods, who am I to question their methods. And, given the scheme of island development, they are making progress. Renting out space to sponsors to promote their mas was a great idea. Pantrinbago made a lot of money this year. They donated $75, 000.00 to the Prime Minister’s Children Life Fund. But, not one word about the two hundred dollars that was deducted from their prize money by the minister. I am waiting on the income/expenditure report from Minster Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters who will let the taxpayers know how their money was spent since ‘transparency’ is one of the minister’s and his government’s watchword.
Panorama music has changed. I don’t find it as sweet as we used to know it but it is what is being produced. Nothing can bring back Kitchener and the other calypso bards who gave us calypso music as panorama gems each year. I live with my memories but I am a futurist so I welcome the changes. Even if after panorama, I cannot remember most of the tunes the bands played. Anyway, I still have all my panorama classics in my computer file. I can listen to them whenever I want to hear sweet panorama music.
So, I am not complaining and who wants to complain could write to the steelbands (Starlift music was horrible) but I will not say one word about the new music. I accept that changes come with each new generation. I watch carefully how the new generation of panists approach panorama. It is their MTV or better yet their PTV (Panorama TV). The elders may control the management reigns of the steelbands but it is young people, mostly women who control the steelpans. And so, they determine the direction of the music and how it is played. They should study all Emmanuel ‘Jack’ Riley (Invaders) recordings to learn soloing and improvisation.
Next, I made my usual rounds viewing the beautiful local sites. I visited the Emperor Valley Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. The Zoo is small but interested. Although a few of the cages were empty, I recommend it to all who want to find peace and relaxation for thirty minutes. Another stress relief is walking through the Botanical Gardens. I even saw the spot under the large tree where I got my first kiss as a school boy. The tree is still there but our names were removed. I walked across to the Hollows which is still beautiful and the two ponds are still there. I then walked around the savannah. It was sad to see a few of those beautiful buildings (the seven sisters) rotting and in decay. I wonder who is in charge of maintaining the beauty of our country. I sat and drank two coconut waters (without any straws) and chatted with the coconut man who said that business was slow.
Next, I made a trip to St. Paul Street to see the famous St. Paul Street Center. It is now a school. While on St. Paul Street, I visited a bar and the owner had a picture of the original City Symphony steelband on the wall. With his permission, I captured it in my digital for history. I walked around and took a picture of Lodge Place steps. I remember when you could pass up the steps and through some yards (short cuts) and get to Laventille Road at Schuller Street. No more. I was told that the residents had to put up a wall to prevent too much human traffic from passing through the yards. You have to have lived there in the 60s to understand the logistics. Many areas behind the bridge have now blocked access to those short cuts. I left St. Paul Street and took a taxi to Village Council Street, upper Laventille Road. Yes, I know what you are saying.
After the Laventille trip I went to the savannah to see the carnival village. I sat on a bench in front of one of the beautiful shops where I watched people running and walking around the savannah getting their daily exercise. At least some people are trying to keep fit. Later, my friend picked me up and we left for home. On our way home, we passed through the new Aranguez. There were some large houses and plenty activity in the streets. The Aranguez savannah was well kept and there were young people playing football and cricket. Instead of going straight home we decided to visit Trincity Mall which is the best Mall for my money. I like how everything is under one roof and so easy to get to. We had dinner at one of the Mall’s restaurant that served vegetarian food. It was different seeing so many young people out for dinner. I wondered if anybody cooked at home anymore.
The following day on our way to Port of Spain, we stopped by the Croisse which is being rebuilt but needs more development. A nice promenade could help. The old San Juan post office is still locked up, unused. Perhaps someone could open a restaurant there but keep the fašade of the building. He dropped me at Wrightson Road to catch the water taxi for my San Fernando trip to make my annual visit to my friend’s mother. I bought my ticket and waited. Within ten minutes we were called to board the water taxi.
The ride to San Fernando was calm. I took a few pictures and read my newspaper. After the water taxi docked I walked to High Street and headed for Point-a-Pierre Road where she lived. I like to walk the San Fernando hills and see the residents who are still much calmer and talkative given the state of things in Trinbago. As I walked up High Street there were vendors on the sidewalks and taxis waiting to take people to other parts beyond Sando. I passed the famous Library corner where a large clock on the corner that signaled that you were in the Southland. People were busy on the streets shopping and I did not see any police. Maybe it was a sign that all was well, unlike Nelson Street, where two or three policemen walk the streets daily with big guns patrolling the area.
I brought my friend’s mother little gift which her daughter sent. We sat and chatted for a while. She is over eighty years old but still mobile and energetic. She asked if I wanted lunch. “What did she cook,” I asked? “Curry boddie and salt fish with white rice,” was her reply. “Bring it on,” I said. She warmed it in the microwave and served me. I added a little pepper to it and ate three plates full. It was a remarkable feat for a small eater like me who eats one full meal a day. But, I could not resist her cooking. Every year she prepares a different dish for me. After lunch she showed me the back yard where most of her relatives lived. They all share a parcel of land. Her granddaughter plays for Skifflebunch Steel Orchestra so she is an avid panjumbie. She was even one of the judges this year for a small steelband competition in the community.
Soon, it was time to leave. I gave her a warm kiss and left to walk back to the bus stand. I decided to take the bus back to Port of Spain. Although I liked the water taxi there was only the sea and the distant land to see. My trip on the bus was quiet except when the school children came on the bus. They talked and played as they rushed to their seats. But, they were all respectful and said “good afternoon” when they stepped on the bus. The buses are clean and air conditioned and the seats are very comfortable. I don’t know why more people don’t use the buses instead of driving. Perhaps the government could do a better public relations job to get more people to take buses. But, I noticed that many of the school children use the buses since it is cheaper than the maxi taxis and cars. The country really needs another public transportation system, maybe a rapid rail. I got back to City gate within an hour and decided to walk to Belmont. I lived there for a few years.
Belmont is one of the two remaining African middle class neighborhoods left. The other is Woodbrook although Cascade and St. Ann’s are becoming more and more African. But, Belmont is suffering from its proximity to Laventille and Morvant on its Eastern side. As a result, from Belmont Circular Road East to the savannah West most of the houses are still well kept. From Belmont Circular Road East to the Lady Young Road in areas like Belle Eau Road and the two valley roads: St. Francois and Belmont there is much poverty and despair. There are also gangs and drug killings.
Belmont is a community that should not die from neglect like Laventille and the rest of the neglected communities. As I passed on Norfolk street I noticed and ad for a play at the Trinidad Theatre. The play was called ‘Coming Home’. That night my friend and I went to see the play and enjoyed it immensely. It was a great play of family intrigue, rivalry and jealously. The Theatre is different as the creator built it in an old fashioned house at the corner of Jermingham Avenue and Norfolk Street. He put the seats close to the stage in a circle where the viewers are meant to feel a part of the play in an intimate setting. We left the theatre and passed by a few more steelbands but only stopped for a brief moment. I had to get up early to attend the Cambolay celebrations at Piccadilly Greens in Port of Spain. Camboly celebrates the emancipation of the enslaved Africans and the birth of the steelband.
This year, the Cambolay celebration was produced by another producer. It was different in that it felt a little sanitized. But, most of the ceremony was kept and the drummers were superb as usual. There was still a large crowd. At one time, the electricity went out. I did not see any police officers However, within five minutes the utility people were climbing up the poles to fix the problem. In another five minutes the lights were returned. Amazing, such proficiency and I was impressed. They are doing some things right. There was no panic as the Cambolay continued uninterrupted. Then came my favorite part where the steelband evolves from the Cambolay riots. Sure, I captured it on my video. I chipped in the steelband as they played their sweet calypso and headed towards Prince Street to the bridge. After, I went to the famous New Bakery at the corner of Queen and Duncan Streets for currents roll and my morning tea. The currents roll was hot, tasty and delicious as always. But first I had to stand on a long line. It was worth the wait. Ummmm. I can still taste the currents as I write.
My next spectacle was Jouvert. On Jouvert morning I got up early and left St. James, where I stayed overnight and headed for the streets. As I approached Roxy roundabout I was surrounded by blue devils and the mud band. Well, I got my share of mud but that was part of the jouvert fun. I walked to Victoria Square to hear the steelbands play their bomb tunes. I heard Phase 2, Starlift, Blue Diamonds, Desperadoes, All Stars, St. James North Stars, Harlem Syncopators, Renegades, Exodus, Harvard (An all white steelband who played excellent) and Harmonites. I returned to St. James and had breakfast, changed my jouvert clothes and walked to Piccadilly Street Greens to see some mas.
Both carnival days saw Trinidad All Stars in all their splendor and glory. They were the 2011 panorama winners and received two million dollars as their first prize. They played their usual sailor mas on carnival Tuesday, USS Fleets In. The band, with over a thousand and more sailors left their panyard on Duke Street, chipped into George Street and then swung left to Queen Street toward Piccadilly Street at the Greens. Then they marched across Piccadilly Street made a left on Park Street and a right on Charlotte Street to the savannah for the grand stage. I chipped with them until memorial Park and then left to see the other bands. No playing mas for me this year. I have to keep an eye on the beads.
One year I got stuck playing in All Stars when a large mas band blocked the band for hours. I missed some good mas while the band waited for the mas band to pass. After that, I promised not to repeat that act again. Instead, I now dress in my sailor wear just in case I get sentimental and spend a little time in the band. I left the band and walked towards Adam Smith Square. The first mas bands I saw were Legacy and Tribe. I also saw a few other mas bands. I noticed that there were more women than men playing in the bands. I looked for the wee wee trucks (toilets on a truck) and yes they were there. The Mayor was forced to compromise on his decision to ban the wee wee trucks.
Yes, I have something to say about the People’s Band. I played in it on carnival Monday and enjoyed it. It was a joy to see our prime minister dancing and winning down the place like the true Trini she is. Our PM and a few of her ministers jumped and danced from the Grand Stand to Victoria Avenue with her security entourage of course. Every time we felt she had enough she defied us and said she wanted more. I like our current PM because she is one of the people and not pretentious like our former PMs. Previous prime ministers from Dr. Williams to Mr. Manning were all reserved, arrogant and distant from their public and upheld neocolonial values. This prime minister likes pan music, reggae, chutney soca, soca and calypso. She also likes to sing and dance. Mr. George Chambers, who for his short time as prime minister, was another PM of the people. He was from behind the bridge, Mango Rose to be exact. I know what you are thinking. But, being raised behind the bridge can bestow a certain quality that checks reservedness, arrogance and distant prime ministers. I understand that Siparia does that to prime ministers too.
Now, we get to the moralists. A few people continue to whine about the ‘bikini and beads’ mas. Not me. My history taught me that carnival is the way of the flesh. So I say to bring on more bikini and beads since the Catholic religion sanctioned licentiousness on carnival days. A note about the Catholic band. I agree that we need more religions playing mas. The true test for any religion’s local stature is their role in we carnival. The Catholics are ahead in the mas playing. It is time for the other religions to get involved in our national festival. The only set back is the Catholic’s attempt to abort the flesh, wining and alcohol part of the carnival. How can masqueraders engage in abandonment if they are sober and fully clothed? I mean a lil wining is so Trini. Not too many people played in the Catholic mas band because most of them played in the ‘bikini and beads’ mas bands where they could wine and get on bad without any guilt until Ash Wednesday.
The carnival has certainly outgrown the island. Now that we have mas bands with over three thousand masqueraders and hundreds of 18 wheeler trucks on the road (I counted 15 in one mas band) and cars driving through the crowds, it is time to widen the roads or ban cars from the streets for carnival. Since we cannot widen most of the roads on our beautiful island, I am petitioning Uncle Jack to implement a new law starting in 2012, demanding that that all cars shall stay parked in garages or on the side of the road and only people will be allowed to be on the streets for carnival. By that time, the police would have settled their grievances with the government and be ready to enforce all laws. A fitting replacement for the cars will be steelbands. All steelbands will be required by law to be on the road for carnival. Any steelband not on the road for carnival will be fined and banned from entering the following year’s panorama. Their names shall be posted on Pantrinbago’s web site and in every newspaper. Finally, all panjumbies shall avoid them until they repent and return to the road for carnival pan fraternity. Of course, panorama first prize will be increased to three million dollars for 2012.
Another thing that I will not say one word about is the state of the panyards. I noticed that most panyards lack a certain attraction to panjumbies. The panyards are too bland and do not encourage a good panyard lime. For example, when the steelbands are not practicing they could put on some good of the band’s pan music. I was in a certain popular panyard in Port of Spain and the parlor in the yard had on the radio which was playing foreign music. I mean isn’t pan music sacred anymore? Why should panjumbies go to a panyard to hear American music? Some panyards could do with a clean up. And, steelbands could put up pictures of their pioneers on the empty walls of the panyard. Maybe, some space in the panyard could accommodate a historical background of the steelband: When was it formed? Who was the first captain? How many captains the steelband has had since its beginning? I noticed that the young panists don’t lime in the panyards. They lime behind their pans and after practice head to their cars.
My pan wish is that the government completes the Grand Stand. I don’t like the four steel beams on the right and left sides in the front that block panjumbies from seeing the stage. I spoke to the engineer who said that he had to meet a deadline from December 15, 2010 to get the stands ready for February 10, 2011. So, he did not have enough time to remove the steel beams without threatening the structure of the building to provide that space for viewing. I guess the steel beams will stay. But, the Ministry of Arts & Multiculturalism did a fine job and promised to make improvements over the years. I give a big shout out to Minister Winston Peters for finishing the Grand and North Stands on time for a wonderful carnival. The question of proper acoustics for the steelbands is still a problem at Panorama. Maybe the steelbands could talk to Exodus about their 21st century model for panorama. Exodus stage presentation of the band was excellent and modern. Steelbands should pay attention. Some steelbands do an extra job of hiding their players, especially those at the back of the band. Exodus model gives the viewer a chance to see all the panists playing their instruments. What a wonderful site to behold. Marvelous!
Now let me give a loud shout out to some great restaurants and bakeries. First, there is Wings restaurant in Tunapuna where they serve good roti and have honest waitresses. I lost my shades and one of the waitresses found it and brought it to me. She refused an extra tip but I convinced her that she deserved it. My next shout is to an excellent restaurant where you can get healthy food. It is situated at the top of Picton Street and the savannah. Also, their service is excellent. Next, the Curry Corner roti shop in St. James which has great roti too with good customer service. I must give a shout out to the government for a remarkable job of cleaning up after the carnival and the CEPEP workers who kept clean the bathrooms in the savannah and on Piccadilly Street.
The vendors around the savannah were accommodating since I only drink tea and not coffee and always find it for me. Of course, I had to use condense milk but that was fine, I had my tea. Most of the vendors were polite and very helpful. My coconut water vendor was always polite and had soft jelly and sweet water coconuts waiting for me in the afternoons. Even the cell phone vendor where I topped up my minutes was always smiling and helpful. There was the local baker Cunning on Nelson Street whose delicious sweet bread and hot bread on a Thursday afternoon were always sold out within an hour after he sets up on the sidewalk. And, the Creole bakery on Belmont Circular Road where an Antiguan woman sells fresh bread, current rolls and where I got my delicious raisin bran muffins for breakfast.
Most people seem to accept their new government, especially in the country districts. Of course, in PNM communities they are just hoping and waiting for the new government to fail. But, people in the country welcomed the paradigm shift in services being brought to them. They are tired of always going to Port of Spain to conduct government business. The new government is trying to decentralize government offices to meet the needs of those outside Port of Spain. People complained about how long it takes to get things done at government offices. A few others are confused about why the new government is talking about the former government and accusing them of so many wrongdoings. I imagine all that old talk will tone down once the new government gets a handle on things. I wish the new government would put some dustbins around town so that people can throw away their garbage. And, please Uncle Jack, fix all those sidewalks.
But, I saw hope and a maturity among many people. The race politics is still there but many young people are moving away from that type of thinking. There is more race-mixing among the young people. The Indian and African identity clamor among the young is slowly dying and moving toward a Trini identity. I found that to be interesting and elevating although the question of identity is still important among some Africans who do not have a fire wall. I hear you asking about the Hanging, Reform, Recall and Bail Bills. Be careful what you ask for.
I paid a visit to Parliament and after watching the remnants of colonial British rule at its worst, I decided that we needed a new anthem. So, I designated this year’s tune “Trini” to be the people’s national anthem. The current anthem does not truly represent our true nature of what it means to be a Trinbagonian in the 21st century. We have to get rid of those colonial decorations and trappings that we inherited from the British colonizers at Independence. Surely, we can come up with local system and ceremonial trappings to express our institutions and govern 1.5 million people. “Trini” expresses our style and specialness (talking, cooking and walking). And, we make good company too. Whenever the tune was played at parties I saw young Trinis expressing a pride and savvy that says ‘yes we are Trini’. It is a new form of nationalism. Thank you Benjai. I hope that the government is listening. Thank you Paul Keens Douglass for “Talk Tent.”