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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Heart of Mas

Interestng interview with Peter Minshall in today's Sunday Express, the interview is conducted by B.C. Pires and to NOT have the article here in it's entirety would be a travesty.The following is the entire article taken from the Express:
Artist and masman, Peter Minshall, on Savannah, the heart of the Carnival.

Q: How should we approach Carnival and the Savannah?

A: What can we do that all mankind will say, "How gracious, how generous, how thoughtful of Trinidad and Tobago to give the rest of us their incredible riches!" First, we have to understand in our own heads what our incredible riches are. Start with as simple and, on the face of it, as ordinary a thing as a savannah. Which other city in the world has, at its heart, not a park all pretty with roses, but flat land with, at the other end, the Northern Range rising magically? To have a savannah in the middle of your city is a richness to be treasured, to keep in touch with the divine. Forty years after Independence, in the Savannah, we have benches that look as though they were constructed for a penitentiary, so that criminals could not mash them up!

How should they be designed?

The Savannah is so totally taken for granted. There used to be a low railing all the way 'round it with two bars, you could rest one foot on. What can we do with our Savannah in the New World? Look at the lovely shape (shows hand-drawn outline stressed to reveal the shape of a heart)! Dare we make a brilliant stainless steel railing with some sort of brass or alloy couplings? So it's different, exciting and tells any passerby immediately, "This place is special to us. We decided to give it a frame." Beautifully designed, strong but light. Re-check the entire paved perimeter of the Savannah. Come on! We can do better than pitch or concrete! What sort of yellow brick road or silvery slate grey thing goes there? That's just so you look at the Savannah and understand it is a treasured place, that there is no park as beautiful in the Americas. I don't think that is beyond us, to reach within ourselves, for ourselves and the world. We could replant some of the trees taken by storms to recreate a grassland, people with trees, surrounded by a fine, burnished (heart-shaped) railing. We need to respect that beautiful word: "Savannah"!
Peter Minshall

Carnival is connected to the Savannah?

I believe my father, as head of the tourist board, was one of the first people who took the Carnival to the Savannah. We inherited a colonial grandstand for viewing horse racing - which it's kind of reasonable to have if you're going to have anything in a savannah. The parade of the bands (went there) when bands were 300-to 400-strong. The Carnival went gaily through the city without blockage at the Savannah. However, even when I was an adolescent, late Fifties, early Sixties, I remember the so-called "bourgeois" bandleaders quarreling like mad that these steelbands with their 1,000-strong throngs of sailors were "getting in the way" and not adding anything to the Carnival. The "lower-class" steelbands were edged out. Flag Wavers of Sienna. (Edmond) Hart! One of the most brilliant bands, ever, about 300 people, a bunch of flags going clockwise, a bunch going anti-clockwise, another bunch going clockwise inside, rustle and bustle and kinetic splendour. The audience went wild. The bands were small enough to move quickly, the stage (small enough) so a little imp, a little robber could come along in-between-but already the stage was being built to accommodate bands, and not the little people of the Carnival. The stage built for it encourages the growth of the band, a money-making enterprise (which) gets bigger and bigger. This vast, arid environment is not the place for the small, the delicate, the beautiful-the individual. The bands (become) commercial juggernauts. The bar truck, the toilet truck, the this truck, the that truck, the wet-me-down truck. The costume, if you want to call it that, has been reduced to a minimal formula. The calypsonian, who is supposed to see the whites of the eyes of his audience, on this vast desert, is forced to bring on ridiculous side shows, so much so that some calypsonians get more marks for the side show than the song. Sometimes when I hear, "Great is the PNM and it will prevail!" I think, "My God, it has!" Yet I have to retract that thought because, if it wasn't the PNM, it would be somebody else. A little island people, coming into its own but not thinking its own thoughts-Las Vegas has upgraded its image to the quality of Cirque du Soleil. We, who once had the quality of Cirque du Soleil in the palms of our hands, are downgrading ours to the lowest level of Las Vegas. Let nobody fool themselves to think we're going the way of Brazil. Rio Carnival is fine. Yes, there are a few naked women but they're doing the samba. They are not dancing wine-the-place-down soca.

Should there be a Carnival Centre in the Savannah?

The grandstand is being broken down but they're going to do a spectacular, contemporary, GRANDER grandstand in its place. They're going to build a mausoleum for the thing now that it's pretty well dead! A glass coffin, so we could look in at its last breath. There is a bottleneck at the Savannah. Doesn't that say something to you? Get the hell out of it! It is no longer serving your culture. The Carnival is sick and dying, you haven't even looked at why, you just say, "We want a jewel in the crown!" To say what? What a fine government we are? And you're fooling the people because you're killing the very thing the people brought into being, their Carnival? And the tragic thing is, the people believe you!

What about Panorama?

The theatre that is Panorama is muscular and visceral and tribal and community-based. Its naiveté is a large part of its beauty: all those silver fringes, that shivering tinsel, all those people pushing those carts on wheels-this happens nowhere else in the world! And you are going to take this vibrant, muscular, visceral thing-and (in pained voice) put it in a glass box? Is Panorama going to be a museum piece in Stuttgart or London? Is it that black people so want to be white they have forgotten who they are? That their potency and vitality is going to be so condomised it is left lifeless! I understand you think it may be a bow to the Carnival to give it a spectacular glass building but it's the worst thing you can do. It's like taking the thing that is dead and letting it lie in State now. Expand Panorama and impress the world with your knowledge of yourself: around the Savannah! Create a ring of steel so powerful it will reverberate throughout the Caribbean-I need a concert hall for pan! I cannot believe the universe has blessed us with this instrument and it is still in a yard. If we can throw $30m to the returning team from Berlin, we can throw $30m for an architectural prize for the best steelband concert hall in the world. I do not think it is beyond the imagination of a great architect to build a house of steel to house instruments of steel, a fine concert hall that looks as though it's clad in steel and relates to a Savannah that's ringed by a small railing of burnished steel, that, at Carnival time, rises up with steel pylons and a crop of canopies and pavilions. The slapdash evolution of the Grand Stand and the North Stand at least worked as an ad hoc common-sense extension of the street, a "pavement" on either side with people watching the mas moving down the road in the middle as it were-what I'll call avenue theatre-but to box it in architecturally as a deliberate, conscious act, is pure madness. It is the determined entrapment of the very spirit of freedom that the thing is supposed to celebrate.

So how do we save Carnival?

In 1986, 20 years ago, a crack team, Roy Boyke, Hollis Liverpool, Efebo Wilkinson, myself and I forget who else spent hundreds of hours discussing this and concluded the Carnival should be taken out of the Savannah. Minister of Culture Joan Yuille-Williams asked me, "Peter Minshall, what should we do with Dimanche Gras?" And I said to her, "Let it die!" It has no theatrical future. The world has changed. Champs in Concert is a hint as to where that Sunday night should go. It's not stealing from the steelbands,, we're thanking them: as usual, you pointed the direction we should go in but no one followed your lead. It should be the Night of Nights in the Caribbean, not ten people looking for a song-crown, ten people looking for a costume-crown. It's just not good contemporary entertainment.

So what in the Savannah, if not a glass building?

What else comes to town once a year to entertain and then leaves? Ah! The circus! How does it do it? With a tent! The design mind explodes! Something that will last for the next 20 years that is removed after the Carnival is over but is so beautiful, imaginative, so blowing and free, both to the eye and the spirit, just like the Carnival itself! The Carnival audience is not supposed to be captive! That Savannah has now trained people to go home to look at the mas on the television! That's anti-mas! What a pity you didn't have the joy of holding the hand of a complete stranger in excitement and saying, "Oh, my God! That is mas!" Enough of these horrible little porta-loos! Carnival is a building site now? Aren't we disgusted by the stench and stink? Let's design the facilities that go with our stylish new Savannah: a small city of pavilions, billowing canopies in the breeze, run the electricity underground, so that when the day comes, you just say, "Mr Prime Minister, come and turn on the switch." And between those two avenues of trees, on silver and brass pylons, recesses embedded deep in the ground all year long, waiting, those are your food areas-a pavilion for Midnight Robbers-the Robber Tent-long before Carnival, it is made known that first prize is a $150,000-I'll bet you'll see some magnificent robbers reappear in the Carnival three years hence; I bet you'll see a young Nikolai Noel or a young Mario Lewis.

(BC interrupting) At those rates, you'll see a middle-aged BC Pires?

(Continuing unfazed)-a pavilion for bands larger than 15 and less than 30 in number. Mas judged as art! We Caribbean people can't be top-class innovators, too? Your big bands that have been blocking that tiny little entrance, you clear a space, the entire Savannah is a parkland, where the audience can wander. The perimeter is the stage for all the big stuff. Somewhere along the line, you make a few rules: please, the gallery is only so big, the pictures can only be of such a size. Bands here need to be bands, not armies. You've made enough money. A stage is for enactment, for playing of the mas, from George Bailey to Minshall even through to Legends. Please, the mas is dying. Find a way to encourage young artists to do wonderful things. As the Carnival visits and revives our spirit, let it be a beautiful, fluttering, temporary, imaginative field of dancing cloths to give shade. Free the audience, free the Carnival! Do not destroy the best part of yourselves! Do not strive to be other than who you are. Acknowledge your own strength and beauty.

Carnival Year End Review

As the curtain comes down on the year 2006 what a year it has been for Carnival! This year saw the very last time masqueraders would ever cross the Savannah stage as it was; in future the ultra modern Carnival Centre will replace the old, wooden Savannah stage.

2006 was the year Peter Minshall graced masqueraders with a long awaited reprisal against “bikini” mas, his band “The Sacred Heart” eventually winning Medium Band of the Year, though not without some controversy surrounding money he allegedly received from Government agencies to fund the band.

Island People set tongues wagging with their debut presentation “Enchanted Forest”, setting the stage for “band wars” with supporters of their band and supporters of TRIBE clashing over Internet forums.


Yet another band exited the Carnival scene this year; stalwart Poison bowed out of the game forever after Carnival 2006 while Skandulus is reportedly on hiatus, not bringing a presentation for Carnival 2007. In the wake of Poison’s departure two new bands have emerged, Pulse 8 and Dream Team hoping to lure the now “homeless” Poison masqueraders. Trini Revellers scored a hat trick with their third consecutive win of the title "Band of the Year" in 2006 making them a force to be reckoned with in 2007.


Debutante Patrice Roberts and soca veteran Machel Monatno won the Road March this year, beating out favorite Sherwin Winchester. Another soca couple united in love, Ian “Bunji” Alvarez and Faye Ann Lyons closed the year with their “wedding of the year”. 2006 also saw the crowning of a new Calypso Monarch, and very good family friend, Morel "Luta" Peters.

Sacred Sand

As the year wound down the Savannah battle was waged with the N.C.C.. N.C.B.A., UdeCOTT and Minister of Culture Joan Yuille Williams keeping masqueraders, calypsonians and pan men in suspense as to where key Carnival events would be stage in the face of no Savannah stage.There were threats by Pan Tribago to boycott panorama if the finals were held anywhere but the Savannah but in the end, the decision was made to have mas on the streets, Dimanche Gras at the Jean Pierre Complex and Panorama finals at Skinner Park.


And against trends set for 2005, as we witness the final day of the year not one band is sold out at this time despite band launches having started in August! Factors of the increasing costs surrounding Carnival, with costumes in the popular bands this year being the most expensive ever, started a backlash against high prices with letters against bandleaders being ciruclated via the internet as well as being published in local print media. However, registration for both TRIBE and Island People still saw masqueraders waiting for hours to secure a costume.

TRIBE Registration

Island People Registration

Goodbye 2006,a year filled with both change and new beginings!
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