THE jury is still out on the police decision to crackdown on those who invade carnival bands and the City Council’s decision to collect taxes from vendors on carnival days. Likewise, there’s also much talk about the large number of clashing events per night as the two days of breakaway revelry approach.
The debate is welcome, but the discussion isn’t in any way new.
On one hand, you have those who argue that the idea behind carnival is for people to ‘enjoy themselves’ to the max — and therefore, anything that happens on the road in that regard should be excused as coming with the territory. On the other hand though, is the argument that freedom to have fun does not at all mean freedom to be vulgar and insulting to any sense of human dignity.
The carnival changes being complained of are all cyclical. Where carnival bands ‘long ago’ featured choreographed lines of revelers, today’s renditions are more akin to personal displays of actions barred TV.
As every year, we’ve already had complaints about excessive ‘over the top’ displays during Kiddies Carnival that would have been normally deemed vulgar, but which seem to have become acceptable and ‘understandable’ today. But what else to expect when adults take every opportunity on the same road to let off even more erotic steam?
Yes, carnival has come full circle, from an annual display of colour and creativity to an annual exhibit of colourful wannabe Sex-on-the-Street male and female takeaway models.
The decision by the authorities to impose a tax on vendors is also being criticized, if only because it is the first time they will have to pay to sell to those who play. But the City Council will easily argue that its job to keep the streets clean before, after and between shows is always at a cost.
The amount of money being invested by the government in carnival is also coming under scrutiny this year — not because of the amount this time, but on account of the (supposed) failure to make allowances for people who want to play but cannot pay. However, opponents argue strongly against spending taxpayers’ money to give anyone a free fete – taxpayer or not.
All these new interventions – from warning invaders that if they don’t pay they shouldn’t play to taxing vendors on Carnival Monday and Tuesday — are, in one way or another, adjustment for the new times.
Where once the parading carnival bands were supported by musical steel bands, today they are supported by deafening electronic sounds blasted through over-powered speakers. Indeed, steel bands have now been effectively sidelined to their own annual Panorama competition — minus the street vibes.
Of late, an increasing number of Saint Lucians have been noting the positive quality participation of the ‘French bands’ (from Martinique especially) that annually grace our streets with decent and well-choreographed displays of creative and largely indigenous costumed bands backed by non-amplified musical bans also featuring indigenous and improvised local instruments. The ‘French’ bands also studiously avoid outrageous behaviour in their ranks by insisting and ensuring that no alcoholic beverages are served while they are on the road.
So yes, carnival is no longer what it used to be. It has very much changed.
Therefore, just as change breeds more change and actions breed reactions, the new changes being introduced by the Carnival administrators must be seen as reactions to changes that have demanded responses.
Here’s hoping the new changes and actions bring the expected reactions, while keeping in mind that the most constant change is change itself.