Drop your keys and bow your knees

For I, O’Cangaciero has come forth

May 17th 2011 marked the 6th anniversary of the death of Brian Honore, who was known in the calypso world as Commentor, and in traditional mas’ circles, as the Reincarnation of the O’Cangaciero, Midnight Robber. Brian dedicated his life to the defense and upliftment of the rich cultural traditions of the people of the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean at large.

His commitment as a cultural activist fueled his development as a composer and performer of calypsos with incisive social and political commentaries, which he performed in the calypso tents, communities, and as a member of the People’s Cultural Association. His love for the theatrical arts led him to study at the Creative Arts Centre of the University of the West Indies, and he played significant roles in some of the Centre’s signature productions: Sing the Chorus, Ah Wanna Fall, and The Roaring ’70s. These shows featured calypsos, calypsonians, and the social and political conditions of the historical periods engaged in these musicals.

Brian Honore – Midnight Robber. Photo: Triniview.com

Among the traditional mas’ fraternity, Brian earned the deepest respect and the highest of accolades for his annual portrayals of the Midnight Robber, and his tremendous efforts to revive and propagate these doughty characters of the Trinidad Carnival. He paid homage to the “ole timers” of the art, developing a solid friendship with the late Anthony “Puggy” Joseph with whom he produced a recording of “robber speeches.” One of Brian’s biggest accomplishment, with regard to this art form, is the overt fusion of boasting bravado of robber-talk and the social/political commentary of calypso.

This was first revealed in his seminal calypso – The Opera of the Midnight Robber, a song that imaginatively dealt with the numerous exposures of corrupt business deals in the upper echelons of Trinidadian society and government in the early 1980s. The Satellite Robber, which focused on cultural imperialism, and the growth and impact of satellite television on “home-grown” artistic production in Trinidad, is another of Brian compositions that embodies this style:

The Opera of the Midnight Robber

Chorus

Tell Minshall gih mih back mih crown, gih mih back mih crown, gih mih back mih crown

Tell him ah say, ah want back mih crown, I am the King Robber in the de town

Verse

Stop! Stop! Stop!

You mocking pretender

Get down from my thrown

Peter Minshall that Midnight Robber

Was only a mas ah bone

When he come out to kill or slay

He has to point revolvers at men

But when this Robber want to plunder

All I need is a ballpoint pen

I aint pulling off no robbery

Or risking shoot out with Randy B

When I could open an agency

for some airline company

The Satellite Robber

Verse

Ah meet a robber in town

with a Devilish frown and a big, big dish on he back

He say drop on your knees

Surrender your keys and get ready for my attack

He say, ah bring you a dish

To fulfil your wish

For cultural subversion

To dazzle your eyes

Till you conceptualize

That you belong to Uncle Sam

Chorus

Call Toll Free

Join the US army

No Scouting with Holly B

When ah dishing the Dynasty

I am your satellite robber

Your midnight deceiver

What you can not tote you will drag

I’m here to ripe out your heart

Tear your culture apart

Till you worship the Yankee Flag

Solid Gold

Brian Honore’s work in the arts was but a part of a larger commitment he held for the noble ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all. Thus he took the passionate fire in his soul to the trade unions, into the sectors in which he labored, and the communities in which he lived.

Tributes to Brian – Web sources

The importance of the Notting Hill carnival

Dancers at the Notting Hill carnival, 2009. Photograph: Nicholas Bailey/Rex Features

Look at them,” instructs Clary Salandy, her voice growing ever more urgent. “Those boys are making hats. Those girls are making costumes. Those over there are welding structures for the costumes. They are creating things. They are not rioting. They like Nike and all that stuff but they are here working until the early hours and then they go to the shop and buy them. We have seen what some kids do. Carnival will show what our good kids do.”

It will if Clary has anything to do with it. She’s a veteran, colonel-in-chief of the celebrated “masquerade” band Mahogany. Its vivid designs and brightly coloured processions have been a highlight of every Notting Hill carnival that anyone can remember. That’s no accident. Mahogany know what they are doing and they worry about the details. An instruction here, some encouragement there; from her shop premises on Harlesden High Street in north-west London, Clary runs a tight ship.

It is people like Clary who put the spectacle on the street and make carnival happen. It’s hard work, not least because the event carries expectations commensurate with being the biggest street festival in Europe. But this year the stakes could not be higher.

The 46th Notting Hill carnival will attract a million people this weekend – more if the sun shines – and, as always, placing that many revellers in such a small space presents particular challenges. But it will also be the first big public event in London since the terrible riots that scarred the capital and other cities just three weeks ago. The first chance for the mob to run amok again, if permitted – and so inclined. For many reasons, that cannot be allowed to happen.

One is the future of carnival itself, for the event is popular but never universally so. Another is the reputation of the Metropolitan police, which met such criticism, not least from the prime minister, for the tactics deployed when the rioting spread from Tottenham and the looters appeared to have the upper hand. Another is the reputation of London, with the Olympics barely a year away. Then there is the reputation of the UK itself. No one cares to contemplate more shamefully embarrassing images of disorder making their way around the world.

So no chances are being taken. There will be a record 16,000 police officers on duty. Preliminary raids have already been carried out to identify known troublemakers and ban them from carnival. The event itself will provide between 500 and 700 stewards. This year, in an unprecedented move, everything will wind down at 7pm.

Notting Hill carnival, 1975. Photograph: John Hannah/Rex Features

One senior officer tells me carnival is being seen as a litmus test. “There is definitely a keen perception of the risks involved,” he says. “Not just at carnival but also the risk from those elements who think they might be able to fill their boots in other areas while so many officers are at carnival. We got a bloody nose in Tottenham and in other areas and we can’t afford to have this at carnival. The last thing we need is more pictures that say London isn’t safe.”

So the runup is a nervy one. But then, has there ever been a year when malign forces have not been conspiring to derail the Notting Hill carnival? No one can remember one. Consider the money. It is expensive to stage, the direct organising costs alone being around £500,000. Add in the amounts spent by the police and other public services, particularly the council cleaners, and then consider that for much of its life there has been no easy assumption that politicians or donors or individuals or corporations would come forward in sufficient number to fund it.

Consider that, even now, the event has no primary commercial sponsor and that much of the most vital work involved in putting the show together is done by volunteers.

In recent years it has been relatively tranquil, with new faces at the top and a marked improvement in the management of the event, but money has long been a problem. In 2003 the Arts Council refused to give the organisers a proposed grant of £160,000 because of perceived irregularities in the accounting. The Greater London Authority in response decided to steer its grant for stewarding away from the organisers and to pay the companies concerned directly. Three years ago, the new team took over and discovered that the event was seriously in debt.

Consider crime. Even without the backdrop to this year’s event, carnival has been forced each year to answer those who say that in terms of crime and antisocial behaviour, the annual revelry is a price not worth paying. Last year’s event was relatively peaceful. But these things, critics say, are indeed relative. Crime was down by 31% compared with the previous year, and some crime is inevitable, but still there were, at one stage, bottles and missiles thrown at police and 280 arrests.

Consider the route, always a point of contention, which one might expect given that last year up to one million people crammed the narrow streets of Notting Hill. Thousands flock to west London. At the same time, scores of residents keen to avoid the noise and disruption move out.

“Notting Hill carnival is almost here,” said one press release sent out on Wednesday, a catalyst, “for those toying with the idea of getting away over the August bank holiday.”

Jennette Arnold, the chair of the London Assembly and a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, believes carnival has only intermittently enjoyed the sort of support it deserves. “There has been an ambivalence about it. I think it is the jewel in the crown of London’s cultural life. But many throughout its history have seen it as just a black event. They have viewed it negatively, seeing only the potential for trouble.”

A reveller confronts a policeman at the 1976 Notting Hill carnival. Photograph: Homer Sykes

The event has regularly faced the threat of being taken off the streets, particularly those gentrified Notting Hill streets familiar to residents such as David Cameron and Michael Gove, and being cocooned in a more manageable open space, such as Hyde Park. Had the Royal Parks been more amenable to the idea, few doubt that by now it would have been condemned to such a fate. And to those who see carnival as just another festival – a black lord mayor’s show with dancers and tinsel – that approach might seem to make sense. But there is a history and a philosophy to carnival that sustains it, and frustratingly for politicians who would like to get a better handle on it, makes the event hyper-sensitive and hyper-resistant to change.

Claudia Jones, the veteran Trinidadian communist, activist and publisher exiled as a menace from America, is always known as the Mother of Carnival. The first one organised by her in 1959 was largely static, in St Pancras town hall, and was designed as both a comfort and a statement. The race riots in Notting Hill had scarred the area and shocked the nation the year before.

The first carnival as we know it in Notting Hill itself took place in 1964 when, spurred on by another pioneer, Rhaune Laslett, marchers and steel bands spilled on to the streets with their artistry. That took chutzpah, for though many embraced the idea and welcomed a dash of colour to what was then a down-at-heel district, race relations in Notting Hill were a constant difficulty. In his new re-investigation of the 1959 murder in the heart of Notting Hill of a black man, Kelso Cochrane, author Mark Olden brilliantly describes a postwar world where feral young white men, drunk on beer, high on bravado, terrified at the emergence of a community they did not recognise or understand, made a statement of their own with regular bouts of “nigger hunting”.

So carnival was a pointed response to recent domestic events. But it was more than that. Trace them back – the dances, the rituals – and they transport one back to the West Indies, but don’t stop there. They transport those who know back to the emancipation of forefathers from hundreds of years of slavery. The whole thing, beneath the swaying and the jollity, could not be more historically loaded.

Professor Gus John, the historian, author and government adviser says: “People must understand the origins of carnival. It is a festival created by freed slaves in the Caribbean in a period when the only opportunity they had to express themselves and their culture was at the end of the sugar cane crop. The British and French had banned the use of drums, cow horns and conch shells; not only because they were used in traditional religious practices that they wished to outlaw, but because they were also used to organise rebellions. In time, the resourceful workers started making percussion instruments with sticks and with bamboo and with metal implements.” Forerunners of the steel drums. Part of the ritual, he says, was a joyful mocking. “Carnival has always been associated with self-affirmation, assertion of cultural identity and African origins and a parodying of the habits, dress, mores and lifestyle of the oppressor class. The festival has always combined music, drama, costumery and satire.”

What happens, Clary tells me, while quality-checking a pointed yellow hat beautifully crafted from gold plastic and white foam, happens for a reason. “It is on the street and it stays on the street because once there were laws forbidding black people to be on the street. No more than 10 were allowed to congregate. We are not taking it to a park behind a fence. No way.”

There is a bitter irony this year, he adds. Unsolicited, it falls to carnival to provide some joy to erase the rancour, to show off London’s diversity, to rehabilitate the nation’s reputation as a place where mass events can occur without near anarchy. And yet recently, when there was a chance to truly embrace and promote carnival as part of the Cultural Olympiad for the 2012 Olympics with a widely trailed Festival of Carnivals, the officials responsible decided at the 11th hour not to bother. “One minute the money and the will was there,” Clary says. “We were all preparing to be part of it. The next it wasn’t. When I think of all the good that could have been done with that money, all the young people we could have engaged, doing things, learning things, it makes me disillusioned. What we do is world class. But we don’t get the respect.”

There is something unsatisfactory about the establishment’s relationship with carnival. It is liked – a study for the GLA in 2004 suggested it pumps £93m into the London economy. But it isn’t loved in the way that Rio loves its yearly spectacle. It too suffers from crime, sometimes deaths, but these never lead to a questioning of the fundamentals. It is one of the key ways in which the Brazilian city sells itself to the world. For all its longevity, carnival has never enjoyed that status here.

As a director of the Notting Hill Carnival Trust for the past three years, it’s now Chris Boothman’s job to change that. It’s a mammoth task, but many feel that so far it’s going well. After two years of internal changes and the forging of new relationships with politicians and the commercial world, this was to be the year carnival showed a new, confident face to the world. The goal is still to make sure everything goes right this weekend. Most believe that will happen. But more than that, it can’t afford to get anything wrong. Pressure aplenty but Boothman, a solicitor, once the legal head of the now defunct Commission for Racial Equality, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and a veteran carnivalist, has the sang-froid of a man who’s coping. “There will be 4,000 extra police a day on duty in the carnival area but they won’t be in the immediate area of carnival,” he tells me. “The look and feel of carnival won’t be much different. But they will be available if needed.”

Carnival always weathers the storms, he says. “There are people who annually whip things up; a small and hardcore number of individuals who want it scrapped and talk about violence when in fact the event is getting safer every year.”

He loves the traditions, but is unafraid to modernise. “The street parade will never disappear but part of the challenge is getting back to the way it used to feel. It has got so big.” Thinking aloud he wonders if they might extend the six-mile route. Or extend the event itself into a season, like the Edinburgh festival.

He hopes and expects to be able to continue that work unimpeded, with the aspiration that next year’s event, in Olympic year, will attract both establishment love and sponsors, creating a new normal. “The 80s riots never impacted carnival. When there was trouble, it was about issues between black youths and the police. But people rioting and looting is not something we expect to see at carnival. We have worked hard to get this far. Whatever happens, we’ll be here.”

For original article: The importance of the Notting Hill carnival | Culture | The Guardian.

Spicemas: Character, Class, Jab Jab, Controversy & More

St. George’s, August 18, 2011 – Spicemas organizers are standing firm on this year’s theme which sparked debate among Grenadians at home and abroad.

The 2011 carnival theme was, “Uniquely Rooted in our Rich Ancestral Traditions. Spicemas: Home of 100,000 Jab Jabs.’’

“I am comfortable in saying that traditional mas is what stands out for Grenada. Jab Jab is unique to Grenada,’’ said Senator Arley Gill, Minister with responsibility for Culture.

He made the comment on “Beyond the Headlines,’’ the live GBN television show hosted by veteran broadcaster Lew Smith.

Sen. Gill and Grenada Carnival Committee (GCC) Chairman, Collin Dowe, both defended the chosen theme, despite criticism from some individuals and groups such as the Alliance of Evangelical Churches.

The Alliance called the theme “distasteful and disrespectful of the sensibilities of Grenadians who subscribe to Biblical Christianity.’’ It described Jab Jab as “a celebration and worship of Satan who was cast out of heaven in the first place because of his ambition and desire to claim God’s prerogatives.’’

However, historian Dr. Nicole L. Phillip is among many Grenadians who find no fault with the theme.

“Firstly, throughout the debate the theme has been misrepresented in its stating,’’ argued Dr. Phillip. “Critics, including the churches, claimed that the theme was ‘Grenada: the home of 100,000 Jab Jabs’. Simple research and inquiry, just by looking at the advertisements on television, would have informed them that the theme was: ‘Uniquely Rooted in our Rich Ancestral Traditions. Spicemas: Home of 100, 000 Jab Jabs.’’

She added that by “misrepresenting the theme, the critics have entirely missed the point of or substance of the chosen theme. In so doing it is difficult if not near impossible to make a rational judgment based on erroneous information.’’

According to Dr. Phillip, Spicemas is one of the best carnivals in the Caribbean.

However, she said that if Grenadians are to compete and establish a carnival niche, “an appropriate tag line needs to be used to promote this festival. It seems obvious that this was the thinking behind the theme chosen this year. Grenada can boast of being the only island that displays, year after year, from as far back as carnival has been recorded, unique aspects of traditional mas.’’

As far as Dr. Phillip is concerned, “the choice of the number 100,000 is simply a play on our population figure. It does not imply that all other aspects of carnival would be sidelined and there will only be Jab Jabs on the road. It simply emphasizes the need to highlight our traditional mas as being different and thus making the Grenada carnival experience one of a kind.’’

For original article: Spiceislander.com » Spicemas: Character, Class, Jab Jab, Controversy & More.

Photo: http://www.spiceislander.com/?p=1229