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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My religion, My mas

As a catholic who participates in Carnival I once had a discussion with my priest on what the Church thinks about its parishioners enjoying the festivities at Carnival time. He said to me that he personally sees no reason why a Catholic cannot enjoy Carnival once they are conscious of their own behavior, does not succumb to the wanton vulgarity that is often splashed across the media and does not abuse alcohol to the point where you loose all self control.

What I got from him is that as an individual the onus is on me to enjoy Carnival within reason, always keeping at the back of my mind that I should not be doing anything Our Father would frown upon, or to make it more relative, I should say anything my MOTHER would frown upon because the Lord knows my mother is not as forgiving as him if she sees me misbehaving for Carnival. Other Catholic priest do not stand by this conviction of course, but I am going with what my priest said to me and therefore enjoy Carnival as a Catholic believing that I am not doing anything wrong, afterall there is much more to Carnival than just mas and there are many facets of the festival that is good, creative, constructive and can be enjoyed by Christians and none Christians alike.

History says that the origin of the word Carnival comes from a combination of Latin words meaning Carnevale or “to put away meat” which in modern translation also means a “farewell to flesh” since Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during lent. And while other Carnivals do not always occur before lent, Trinidad Carnival does and the history is deeply rooted and tied in with Lenten celebrations. While Carnival is a season of excess, lent is a time of fasting.

The idea of religion and Carnival has always been at odds, and I know other Christians look at me as some sort of “hypocrite” since I do enjoy Carnival but fast for lent which immediately follows. I am not one to participate in the ritual of getting ashes on Ash Wednesday simply for the fact that I don’t want to seem like I am doing it for show, but I have kept away from Ash Wednesday “cool downs” because for me it signifies the start of lent and not just another day of prolonging the Carnival festivities. To those religious persons that frown upon Carnival I believe they see it as being of the world and embracing all the “sins” which does not bring you closer to God.

The number of people who do not participate in Carnival for religious reasons is high, I do not have statistical data to back it up, but I know many Christians who go on retreat or go camping in Mayaro to get as far away as possible from Carnival and it’s “sinful behavior”. While I am educated to know that sin can take all form and fashion and does not only occur during Carnival I am not going to debate with anyone on that fact, however it is interesting to me how some Christians are always ready to judge others, which to me is not Christianly behavior in the first place!

What sparked this topic today is the fact that a young soca entertainer by the name Jadee, who is now singing gospel and won a COTT award for his song “Baptize”, intends to sing his brand of soca/gospel for Carnival spreading his message for the Carnival season. I have already started hearing critics saying that gospel has no place in Carnival, however these are the same people who criticize soca music as being too “vulgar”. One would think they would welcome more postivie, uplifting soca music.

While I do not consider myself to be a devoutly religious person, I do believe in God since religion is not going to take me to heaven, only my morality and repentance can do so. Thus, I am comfortable playing mas knowing that the man cannot "judge" me and my actions. Thus, when I listen to the opinions on some religious persons on Carnival, I have to wonder if they are being fair when passing criticism on the entire festival based on some of the immorality that occurs during the season. I know I am biased because I do participate in Carnival, but to be fair it does extend beyond the bikini mas and really reflects the creativity of our people, and I cannot see how that is evil.

Take for instance the pan, is that immoral? We should be proud that it is the only instrument to be invented in the 20th century, an instrument that is now used beyond Carnival, performing other genres of music such as jazz and classical all over the world. When I look at kiddies Carnival and see the younger ones beautifully costumed and enjoying participating in the celebrations I see nothing wrong with that either, nor do I think that our music is bad. There are so many calypsos that reflect the state of the country with political and social satire, as well as soca music that is not all about “wine and jam”; we really do have artistes that write lyrics that have meaning!

So while the critics have a point speaking out against the immorality that comes with Carnival, it is not something that comes from Carnival itself but the behavior of those individuals who revel in that side of their personality, using Carnival as an excuse to “break away” and commit a variety of sins for the season . The question needs to be asked though, if we associate with people who behave like this, are we then guilty by association? For the answer I look to religious leaders who have fallen, like Jimmy Swaggart, when he committed his “sin” was the entire church to be faulted for his transgression or just the one man?

I truly believe what my priest said, each of us are responsible for our actions come Carnival time, and as someone who believes in God but also loves their culture, there can be a medium where the both can exist. Afterall, a Catholic priest did play mas once, and as the 1967 calypso by Cypher goes “If the priest could play, who is me!”

Minshall to return for 2007?

The rumor mill has tongues wagging on the possible return yet again of Peter Minshall to Carnival 2007. I have heard that the Callaloo Company is bringing a presentation for 2007, however this has not been confirmed though the announcement was made on a local radio station during a conversation about Carnival.

The fact that Minshall might be bringing a band so "late" in the game should come as no surprise since as he dropped the news of "Sacred Heart" this year in January and the band was still well supported by his fans and won the title medium Band of the Year. If the rumors are true it would mean that after a hiatus of two years Minshall is back in the game.

Only time will tell I guess, we shall see!
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