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Saturday, April 17, 2010

2010 Trinidad Carnival - Tribe's Carnival Tuesday

Good morning peeps, Kermit here bringing you stories and sights from Carnival Tuesday 2010 here in Trinidad. After getting a full night’s sleep (the first in many nights) I awoke on Tuesday morning refreshed and ready to tackle the day of partying hard in the streets of Port-of-Spain. Tribe was providing breakfast so after a cool shower I whipped on my costume and headed downtown to catch up with the band.

I arrived at the meeting point around 30 minutes after Tribe was scheduled to depart but I was not concerned since Tribe provided air conditioned vans to transport tardy masqueraders directly to the band’s current location. On this occasion however, it would not be necessary to avail myself of that particular convenience as I was informed that the band had not gone that far and was in fact only a few blocks away. No problem, I thought, I will just walk and catch up and so after a brisk 5 minute walk, there was Tribe spread out before me in all its glory.

I immediately hit up one of the breakfast trucks and ate my fill of hot doubles then moved on to a nearby Tribe mobile bar and commenced drinking. Fully nourished and fortified, I whipped out my trusty camera and looked around for subjects to shoot and as the number of pictures in the albums will indicate, I had no problems there at all. Everywhere I looked there were beautiful Tribe people talking and liming and warming up for the day’s activities so I wasted no time in getting some fantastic shots. It was at this time that it occurred to me that while I was in Tribe, I was at the very back of Tribe and my section, Charmeuse, was in the middle. I decided to take a walk up the length of the band to get in mih section and see what I could see up front so off I went which brings me to one of the few criticisms I have with Tribe.

I started walking past section after section of Tribers trying to make my way to the front of the band and while I was not making my way straight there, after 20 minutes or so, the front was still nowhere in sight. True I was pausing to take pictures and hail out people I knew, but I felt that for the length of walk I had walked, I should be near to the front by now. Eventually I did catch up to cluster #1 by Rosary Boys School and it was then that the size of Tribe struck me. Tribe was stretched along Park Street all the way from Green Corner to Rosary Boys and while it is somewhat understandable that a large band in the middle of the day would be this big, Tribe was nowhere near full size right now. It is barely 9:00 am and while there were lots of masqueraders present, most of the road space was being taken up with the music and drinks trucks so I can only imagine what the streets would look like when the entire complement of Tribers were present.

I must comment that Tribe’s choice of route that morning was a very good idea. I'm sure they knew the chaos that a band that size would experience navigating downtown at full strength so their plan to bypass the downtown judging point and to head straight to the Savannah was very sound indeed. Even at 50-60% (my eyeball guesstimate) the band was proceeding at a crawl and at 9:00 am this was not a problem for me as there was an entire day of palancing on de road before us and there was no need to hurry de curry or rush de brush! For now, the pace was just right and soon we would cross the Savannah and it would be ON from there forward.

Four hours later as we inch past the POS General Hospital (a mere 5-6 blocks from where we were at 9:00 am) I began to wonder if we would ever pass the judging point. To say that the pace was slow would do an injustice to the word slow. Now mind you, yes we moving slow, but the PAHTY SHWEET! Tribe is 115% on point when it comes to the road experience as the music is excellent both in terms of volume, clarity, and selection, the drinks provided are cold, plentiful, strong, and never far away, and the quality and quantity of the masqueraders has to be seen to be believed. Tribe’s security was out in force lining the roadway on either side of the band and they were very vigilant and highly active with respect to clearing space for us to pass and keeping non-masqueraders out of the band; now if only we could stretch our legs a little bit and move more than a shuffle at a time. As I mentioned before the PAHTY SHWEET but to me it felt like just that, a party, and while we all enjoy Tribe parties (Ignite immediately springs to mind) we didn’t come here today to party.

Oh no peeps, this was Carnival Tuesday and this was the time to don sexy costumes and parade through the streets of Port-of-Spain wowing the onlookers with the vibrant colors and variety of styles exhibited by the different sections; this was the time to kick up your heels (literally) and jump around and display the exuberance you felt knowing that you were a vital part of a living, breathing, wining, (and this year palancing) serpent as it meanders its way through the city exciting everyone that witnessed its passing. There is a time and place for everything and the time and place for partying was over and now is the time for mas yet we find ourselves creeping along in a mishmash of sections and groups definitely still having a good time, but somewhat missing the point of the occasion. Maybe I am old school and long for different times and maybe these times have come and gone never to return, but my past experiences on Carnival Tuesday differ so fundamentally from my present experiences that I had to comment on it and I wonder if there are others who think like me and feel that, although this version is SHWEET, something is still lacking.

After maybe 30 minutes or so, we find ourselves approaching the Savannah judging point and this is my biggest and most heartfelt criticism of the whole mas-playing experience. WE NEED A STAGE! I played mas in 2006 which was the last time the Grand Stage was used and below I have attached an excerpt from my Carnival Tuesday commentary from that year:

We have finally partied all we could party, and feted all we could fete. We wined on all the big bottom gyal we could find, we get madder dan dat, we jump, we wave, we drink, we trip over cooler and fall down but still manage to pelt two good waist before we hit the ground. We did everything possible to enjoy the 2006 Carnival season and here we are now, ready to be unleashed in full costume on the streets of Port-of-Spain.

As I mentioned in my previous album, Tribe was the band of choice this year and for me it was an eye opening experience. Of course the band was all-inclusive. Food and drinks would be provided on the road but it was the quality of and the manner in which these were provided that made the experience so memorable.

I met the band at 7:00 am on Tuesday morning, enjoyed the breakfast that was provided and after a small lime, the trucks revved up and started moving off. As we made our way downtown towards the first judging point, the sun really started to shine so we were glad to have some kind of shade as we moved through the buildings in Port-of-Spain. We hit the downtown judging spot first and rocked across the stage as we now started to get our waists warmed up for the main event…..the Grand Stage at the Queen’s Park Savannah.

Yes peeps, there are few icons that define Carnival the way the Savannah stage does. I have heard people say that if you didn’t cross the savannah stage, you didn’t play mas at all and I am inclined to agree. There is something almost mystical about that stage. At one point, it was the largest stage in the world and although that particular title has long since been lost physically, it remains as large as ever in our hearts. Since this is the last year that bands will parade across its hallowed surface, we were determined to make the most of it. As you approach the entrance to the drag (the lane leading up to the actual stage) you can feel the energy beginning to build as the masqueraders collectively take a deep breath in preparation for the wildness they are about to unleash. As we get closer to the stage, the music trucks whip the masqueraders into a dancing frenzy until finally we get the green light to take the stage and we are free to jump and play we self to our heart’s content (or for the 5 minutes that security gives you on the stage).

The feeling of euphoria that takes hold of you when you are actually on the stage is extremely hard to put into words. Ask anyone who was there to describe the experience and immediately they will smile and sigh. You cannot help but relive those glorious moments when you hear the road march song “Band of The Year” play. Even as I write these words here in cold Washington, DC, I am still feeling the hot midday sun on my face as I cavorted on stage for that one last time. If there was any doubt in your mind as to what should be the 2006 Road March, it was erased at that point. “Band of The Year” lent itself so perfectly to the moment and vibe that it could not help but win. Sadly though, all good things must come to an end and we were ushered off the stage after what was, at least in our mind, much too short a time.

I am sure that after reading this many of you now have a faraway look in your eye and your heart is beating just a little bit faster as you remember your own special Savannah Stage moments. Maybe you are recalling that time you moonwalked past the security line and tiefed a jump in another section (or 2 or 3), or maybe you remember when your entire section simply refused to budge and you stayed on stage forever, or maybe you remember crossing the stage after a full day of parading in the streets and as you crossed the stage with the sun setting and the cool breeze blowing and all the stage lights blazing you wished the day would never end. Call me a sentimentalist, but in my mind that is what the Carnival Tuesday experience is all about. Carnival Monday is perfect for a street jam but Carnival Tuesday, with everyone dressed to the nines in every piece of costume you could get/make/add on, and with the ladies (and some fellas) bedecked with body art, makeup, and more accessories that you would imagine existed, there needs to be a specific spot, a particular moment where all lights and eyes are upon us – the masqueraders.

This level of detailed preparation clamors for an appropriate venue on which to proudly display the months of hard work it took look as spectacular as we look now and to say that the current stretch of road by the savannah being used for this purpose is NOT ADEQUATE IN THE LEAST is a gross understatement. To the casual onlooker, Carnival Tuesday looks like a group of people who simply put on a pre-made costume that they were given by their band of choice. This could not be further from the truth.

It has been my privilege to observe carnival preparations from a different point of view from mine and maybe even different from that of a casual masquerader. My own preparations are minimalist at best: I get my costume and ensure that the shorts fit, I try to find an alternate pair of shorts to wear on Monday that would match my section’s colors and I make sure I have one hell of a sun block ready and my preparations are done. A dedicated group I know begins their carnival planning many months before Carnival Monday and Tuesday and their preparations and infinitely more intricate and involved. Once their sections are selected and costumes purchased, there are in-depth discussions about weather proofing the feathers, accessorizing the bras, belts, and bottoms, selecting appropriate footwear (sneakers vs. boots) and accessorizing those to match the costume as well.

Makeup appointments by this time have already been reserved and confirmed for Carnival Tuesday morning and since all of this merely serves as a complement to the wearer’s body, aerobic training as well as dietary modifications are suggested, evaluated, and implemented many months before the actual parade and while I can comment about this group of lovely ladies that I personally know about, I am sure that this is the case for the majority of masqueraders on the road. The long and the short if it is peeps, what you see on the road does not happen by chance. The beautiful ladies I was fortunate enough to photograph did not merely throw on a costume and look as fabulous as they did. They worked very hard both physically and mentally to look their best for their moment in the limelight and without a suitable venue to properly display this beauty for the world to see and appreciate, they are being done a grave injustice. WE NEED A STAGE!

I hear talk that plans and momentum exist for building such a place and I implore the powers that be to take their time and do it right. It is better to measure ten times and cut once, so take the time to discuss EVERYTHING INVOLVED with the people who know about such things as well as the people that will actually use the facility and then decide on its features. When it comes to things that matter deeply to us, we are a patient people and once we know there are good reasons for a slow and deliberate pace we will accept it, just make sure you do everything you can to ensure that you get it right because what you build now will shape the perception of Trinidad carnival for not just this generation, but for the one after this, and the ones yet to come.

After passing the savannah judging point, Tribe was due for a break so the band headed over to their customary rest area where delicious meals and snacks awaited the somewhat weary masqueraders. We feasted on hot food and cold ice cream and lounged under the trees on the blankets that were spread out all over the square. Some masqueraders availed themselves of the foot massages that were offered while some made use of the powder tent to reapply and touch up their makeup. Most of us however, just rested and grabbed a quick nap because we knew we were only at the midpoint of the parade and after this, there would be no resting. We stayed at the food village for some time gathering our strength and when the music trucks started up again we roused ourselves from our various manners of repose and followed their call down into the heart and heat of the city. By now, the band’s sections were in complete disarray as everyone was everywhere and the section markers were there only for show and as we flooded down the streets past the Queen’s Park Oval we encountered what would prove to be the defining aspect of the rest of the evening’s parade, congestion.
Congestion (n): To overfill or overcrowd

If you recall, I complimented Tribe for leaving early in the morning and heading directly to the savannah because, due to the size of the full band, Tribe would not be able to maneuver easily within the confines of downtown Port-of-Spain. Well here we are in the afternoon and now that Tribe is at full size, we are experiencing the congestion we only semi-avoided earlier. The streets chosen by the band were definitely too narrow to comfortably support the massive numbers of Tribe masqueraders plus the onlookers trying to get a glimpse of the band and though the drinks were still flowing it was much more difficult to even get close to the mobile bars.

The music was coming through loud and clear but there was barely room to wine much less palance comfortably so most of the band just stood and limed and chipped along whenever the trucks moved forward. Tribe, despite all its yearly claims to reduce in size, yet again was clearly way too large and hence was unable to move freely unless it was on the largest of thoroughfares. By now the security, which had been doing a commendable job of keeping a wide space clear for Tribe as well as keeping the band clear of stormers all day, seemed to lose their enthusiasm for the job and consequently the space available for the costumed members of Tribe shrunk markedly.The fact that the crowds along the Avenue were very thick definitely contributed to the lack of space and as a result the masqueraders’ space shrank to a strip in the middle of the road right next to the music and drink trucks. The disappearance of much of the security forces also exacerbated the situation.

Maybe they were only paid to secure up until a certain time and since that time had come and gone, they were gone too. Mind you, security was still present but definitely not in the large numbers as before. We headed down Ariapita Avenue towards the judging point for a very long time and I chipped along until around 6:00 pm when I decided that I had done enough chipping for the day and with no indication of anything else in the near future, I decided to call it a Carnival and head home.

Despite the difficulties with the slow pace of the march through the streets, my carnival experience with Tribe was, as always, absolutely first class. I have no complaints whatsoever concerning the quality and quantity of the food and liquor available to me on both days and the music was excellent. My fellow masqueraders were as beautiful, sexy, and as fun loving a bunch as I could have wished to spend the carnival with and I am grateful for their company. I do think the band was too large and this likely necessitated the unduly long lunch breaks each day as everyone had to be given ample time to eat and rest and it was a bit difficult regaining momentum after an almost two hour stop but we made do as best we could.

Keep doing what you are doing Tribe but listen more to what your masqueraders are saying and take note of their suggestions as they are being made not out of spite or acrimony, but rather a genuine attempt to help improve on the carnival experience you provide and to help keep Tribe at the forefront of mas in Trinidad and the world. I for one would love to be playing mas with Tribe whenever the new carnival venue is christened and I am truly looking forward to that experience. It would be a huge loss to Trinidad carnival should Tribe go the way of Poison and implode under the weight its own success.

I hope you have enjoyed this look into the 2010 Trinidad Carnival season as seen through my eyes and, once the green is still smooth, rest assured that I will be back again next year.
Kermit D. Frog

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