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Friday, 24 December 2010

227 years of Christmas into Carnival

ASTRIDE: Actor Nigel Scott on horseback plays the part of Governor Sanford Freeling
Trinidadians have always loved their mas and this is what Captain Baker found out when, high on the success of the previous year, he again tried to stop the Canboulay procession in 1881. And while a lot is known about this period in our Carnival history, Sir Sanford Freeling is a lesser known figure.
This was brought to light however at the launch of Carnival 2011 recently at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain. There were a lot of police present but unlike the events of 1880 and 1881, the police were there to make sure everything went okay.
John Cowley, in his Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso, notes that “Canboulay was seen as an integral part of the Carnival”.
The recent Carnival launch took place under blue skies and hot sun, Perfect weather for a launch in the outdoors and the kind of weather, no doubt, that would have been immediately familiar to “Captain” Arthur Wybrow Baker (he really was only a Lieutenant). Baker, an Englishman, had arrived in Trinidad in 1877 and he did not like Carnival or Canboulay. 
Cowley reports that in 1880, “police were stationed judiciously on foot throughout Port of Spain. Baker controlled the streets on horseback, assisted by sub-Inspector Concannon and Sergeant Major Brierley. On commencement of Canboulay they interposed at each stickband conflict and forced the surrender of flambeaux, drums and sticks”.
Into all this, later on the year 1880, November to be exact, came Sir Sanford Freeling to take up the post of Governor of the then colony. Baker had already made up this mind that Canboulay would not happen in 1881 and he went to Freeling with the request to stop it, which he refused. According to Cowley a notice was posted in Port of Spain and environs which stated, “Captain Baker demanded from our just and noble governor, Sir Sanford Freeling, his authority to prevent the night of Canboulay, but our Excellency refused”. Baker thought he would have been able to suppress the Canboulay as easily has he’d done the previous year, what he did not know was that the stickbands had organised to oppose him and the fights that took place on the night of February 27 and early morning February 28 are now in the pages of history and on the city streets through the now annual Canboulay renactment on Jouvert morning.
It was up to Freeling to restore order and he had no intention of stopping Carnival. What he did was to confine the police to their barracks and allowed the population to continue with their Carnival. He also made a speech to the masqueraders giving them the assurance he was on their side and had no intention of stopping their pleasure. 
This speech was heard once again on December 5 at the launch of Carnival 2011 themed “Back To De Savannah”. At the launch, the role of Freeling was revived by well-known local thespian Nigel Scott. It shows that while Freeling had been in the country less than a year, he understood the town of which he was Governor.
Governor Sanford Freeling’s Speech:

My dear friends, I have come down this afternoon to have a little talk with you. I wish to tell you that it is entirely a misconception on your part, to think that there is any desire on the part of the Government to stop your amusement. I know everybody at times likes to amuse themselves; I have no objection to amuse myself whenever I have an opportunity. I had no idea what your masquerade was like. If I had known you should have had no cause for disaffection. There has been entirely a misconception on all sides, for the only interference was the fear of fire; I thought that the carrying of torches at this time might be attended with danger, and I was anxious to guard against it. That was the only objection; it was the fear of fire and nothing more. The Government had no other objection. I did not know you attached so much importance to your masquerade. I also wish to tell you how proud I am to be Governor of your island; I had a desire to come here and know you, that I could write and tell Her Majesty the Queen that no more loyal and peaceful subjects inhabit the other colonies like Trinidad. I am come down this afternoon for I felt I could have confidence in your loyalty. I have trusted myself among you, and I would not hesitate to bring my wife and my children on such an occasion – I feel they would be very safe, if your decision be to carry out your masquerade in a peaceful manner. I am willing to allow you every indulgence. You can enjoy yourself for these two days and I will give you the town for your masquerade, if you promise me not to make any disturbance, or break the law. I shall give orders that the constabulary shall not molest or interfere with you, if you keep within the law. I trust that you will continue to enjoy yourselves without any disturbance. There shall be no interference with your masquerade. Thank you. 

There’s just one more point to be made about Trinis and our Christmas into Carnival celebrations. Cowley says that there was no annual Carnival during the Spanish rule but when the French Creole planters and their slaves came after the Cedula of Population in 1783 and he offers this description from Pierre-Gustave-Louis Borde:

The pleasures of meals at the dining table and picnics were added to those of music and dancing. There followed nothing but concerts and balls. There were lunches and dinners, hunting parties and expeditions on the river, as well as Carnival which lasted from Christmas time until Ash Wednesday. It was nothing but a long period of feasts and pleasures. 

We’ve been partying like this, ladies and gentlemen, for roughly 227 years and that’s one thing about Trinidad that’s not likely to change any time soon. A very Merry Christmas and Happy Carnival to all.

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Monday, 13 December 2010

Carnival launch described as the best ever

taking the lead: Minister of the Arts and Multiculturalism Winston "Gypsy" Peters
 led by example as he paraded in front of the traditional characters.
The official launch of Carnival 2011 came off with great fanfare and in glorious sunshine at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain on Sunday.
A production of the National Carnival Commission, the event was billed as Trinidad and Tobago The Home of Carnival…Back in D Savannah.
It featured a parade of traditional Carnival characters by various regional Carnival committees which showcased “real” Carnival costumes such as the Bookman, Pierrot Grenade, Indians, Fancy Sailors, Dame Lorraine, Baby Doll. Jab Jab, Stick Fighters, Gorillas, Blue Devils, Bats, Midnight Robbers, Surri and Plymouth Warriors.
There was also a parade which featured children and adult mas accompanied by DJs as well as steelband music.
Minister of the Arts and Multiculturalism Winston “Gypsy” Peters led the parade of traditional characters before the official launch.
NCC Chairman Kenny De Silva welcomed the spectators and masqueraders before Minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters addressed the savannah audience which included Minister of National Security Brigadier John Sandy, Chaguanas Mayor Orlando Nagesar and Caricom Ambassador Makandal Dagga.

Prime Minister Kamala Persad-Bissessar entered the savannah during Gypsy’s speech and was immediately called upon to say something to the audience.
The PM welcomed all and challenged the NCC commissioners to make Carnival 2011 the best ever before both she and Gypsy declared Carnival 2011 “opened”.
After this everything turned “ole mas” as people gathered in front the stage did not move for the parade to continue.
Trinidad All Stars tried its best to pull the crow in front the stage with them but was unsuccessful. What followed was a quick passing of costumed individuals. Down the track, behind All Stars, Laventille Rhythm Section had worked those fortunate enough to be on spot to hear them at the precise moment, into a frenzy with some drum cuts that were really special.
On stage the Midnight Robber “ramjayed” as Dil E Nadan prepared to perform. Lead singers Raymond Ramnarine and Derrick Seales had the crowd going with their rendition of several of Machel Montano’s hit songs and their own hits.

Calypso followed with the recently crowned Best Village Queen/second place Junior Calypso Monarch Victoria Cooper, and the reigning Calypso Monarch and Calypso Monarch Queen Kurt Allen and Kizzi Ruiz respectively.
Ruiz hit the spot with "Class Language" and Allen impressed his audience with two very compelling songs in the social commentary category “Where are they Now” and “Give Them a Chance”.
Rikki Jai followed and had the crowd singing along with "Barman (give me a Guinness and puncheon)" and he promised that he had another special potion coming for next season, but it was six-time Soca Monarch Superblue who stole the hearts of the audience as he rolled off “Soca Baptist”, “Ethel” and “To Love Sombody”. The audience could not get enough of him and called him back. He then performed “Get Something and Wave” to the delight of the audience.
Roy Cape All Stars should be commended for the superb musical backing of these artistes. The show continued to climb to a peak with Black Stalin as he performed “Come With It” in which he had the audience singing more than he did, he continued with “Black Man Feeling to Party”.
Shadow created quite a stir as he came on stage with “Feeling The Feeling”. The experience of Roy Cape All Stars cannot be understated as the music supplied was immaculate with clean and clear horn lines.

Gary Cardinez

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Sunday, 5 December 2010

Variations on a carnival theme:

One Nigeria... Oyo State’s float at the jubilee carnival.
While the floats, designs, costumes and performances of some states that participated at this year’s Abuja Carnival, held from November 27 to 30, reflected the ‘Celebrate Nigeria’ theme, others completely missed the mark.
States including Akwa Ibom, Nasarawa, Oyo, and Anambra were outstanding in their interpretation of the theme during the street parade which opened the carnival. Akwa Ibom, host of the last National Festival of National Unity, not only came with a large contingent, the beautiful, periodic costumes of the contingent wowed many. Its float comprised an oil rig, the eagle and horse to reflect its status as an oil producing state in Nigeria.
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo    
Nasarawa, which had the largest contingent, had a spectacular and realistic roaring lion for its float. As usual, its contingents were attired in colourful costumes. Oyo chose to highlight unity with the imposing figures of a Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo man holding the Nigerian flag. The agricultural resources of the country were also reflected in its float.
Anambra had a figure of late statesman, Nnamdi Azikiwe, on its float, painted in the national colours, though its costumes and dances were not exactly spectacular. Rivers appeared to make Abuja a dress rehearsal for its own carnival holding later this month, with another large contingent, cheerful costumes, and dances. The jeans and t-shirt wearing awigiri dancers of Bayelsa drew squeals of excited laughter from the crowd, with their gyrating hips, though their float was a fish of indeterminable specie. In all, it was an enjoyable opening featuring different interesting presentations.

Durbar-less carnival
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
The fact that the durbar, one of the regular features of the carnival since its inception six years ago, did not hold this year surprised many. Nigerians and foreigners who had thronged the Royal Polo Ground, expecting to see the grand performance, were disappointed to see Polo being played instead. Though Polo was part of the carnival events last year, no one expected it to be the only equestrian feature this year.
That many of the foreigners were not interested in the Polo on offer became evident as they left the venue no sooner than they arrived.
“We came to see the durbar, and not Polo; we are disappointed, though we know there must be a reason for it,” said a foreign couple as they walked back to their car.
There was indeed a reason for it. Artistic director of the carnival, Rasaki Ojo-Bakare, disclosed that the carnival management committee was not to blame. He said the committee prepared adequately for the durbar, but that states from the north east, regular participants in the durbar, stayed away. Only Taraba and Yobe States featured, but they didn’t bring their horses.
He further explained that the late arrival of some governors of the states who went on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and returned a day to the start of the fiesta affected their states.
Finance, however, was the major obstacle. Ojo-Bakare said the management committee couldn’t afford the N55 million bill sent by an Emirate to bring its horses and riders.
“The Durbar is an equestrian performance, Polo is a game, so we decided to collaborate with the Nigerian Army to have Polo,” explained the artistic director.

Wooing the private sector

Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
Government’s intention to free itself from the burden of hosting the carnival was loudly trumpeted at the just concluded fiesta. In fact, it became the official line. The president, Goodluck Jonathan; minister of tourism, culture and national orientation, Sadiq Mohammed; father of Abuja Carnival, Salihu Alfa Belgore, and carnival director, Rasaki Ojo-Bakare, all canvassed for private sector participation.
“This is one single product that would bring a lot of benefits to companies if they key into it through sponsorship at both local and international levels,” Jonathan reiterated during the opening ceremony. He, however, assured that government will play its part by ensuring that an enabling environment for tourism to flourish in the country is created.

Foreign participation
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
Prior to the commencement of the carnival, organisers had disclosed that seven countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, India, Ghana, and Egypt would participate. Interestingly, only two, Egypt and India, or three, if you include Ijo Vudu Dance International, a Nigerian company based in Canada, featured at the jubilee carnival.
The trio participated in the street carnival, opening ceremony, and command performance held at Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel, on Monday, November 29. Apart from the artists that featured, a number of their nationals also saw their performances.
What this translates to is that organisers have to step up their efforts to attract foreign participants. Nigeria has bilateral agreements with a number of foreign countries in the area of culture and tourism; it wouldn’t be a bad idea to explore such links further if organisers are really serious about involving other countries in the fiesta.



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