Calypso Culture Festivals History Mask Music

“Rituals of Power and Rebellion”

The following article appears in Repeating Islands, Feb. 10, 2013.

Hollis Liverpool just released his book, Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962), at the John S Donaldson, UTT?Port-of-Spain Campus, last Wednesday, as Michelle Loubon reports in this article for The Guardian.

Strumming his guitar, veteran calypsonian/University of T&T professor Hollis Liverpool sang snatches of his comrade Slinger Francisco’s classic Congo Man. The setting was a canefield. It was captured in black and white film during a presentation by retired Alaskan judge and honorary distinguished fellow Ray Funk at the launch of Liverpool’s Rituals of Power and Rebellion The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962). It took place at John S Donaldson, UTT Port-of-Spain Campus, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday.

A blurb in the UTT pamphlet said Liverpool had successfully managed to put into context the political, economic and cultural forces which inadvertently come together to create Carnival. It also noted that what appeared to be simply a musical bacchanal was in fact the struggle of the oppressed people to maintain their cultural identity in a land of foreign domination and class struggle. During the author’s oral abstract, Liverpool lamented he had to go to Michigan, USA, to do his PhD, owing to the paucity of research material on Carnival locally.

Asked about his magnum opus, Liverpool said, “Besides historical sources I used oral sources. I depended on calypsonians, masmen, writers, masqueraders and boismen. The people whom I interviewed the majority have gone to the great beyond.” Zeroing on the themes of Rituals and Rebellion, Liverpool added, “To a large extent many of the songs, events and masquerades in Carnival are rituals of rebellion. The kalinda and calypso are rituals. We show our resistance at Dimanche Gras. It is a ritual of rebellion. Even the steelband. The Chinese man who was beating pan to attract people to his church. It was the first time we saw pan being played. It is in the newspapers. J’Ouvert represents the real African traditions of the Carnival. It is what Dr Kim Johnson (senior research fellow) called the African impulse. The soucouyant, La Diablesse and cow horns, bats and devils are in J’Ouvert.”

Asked if he felt there was an improvement in the corpus of Carnival literature, Liverpool said, “I don’t know. But the book is going to be an addition to the archives. The book captures all the documentation and historical development of Carnival over time. “It is intended to impart knowledge on the complex nature of Carnival and the different people who have contributed to its development. To a large extent the Carnival defines our personality and our cultural identity.”

Tributes to Liverpool

While preparing to vie for the C2k13 calypso monarch crown Liverpool heard superlatives about his scholarship. His songs were Prodigal Son and Virginia’s Alzheimer. In the background, traditional mas characters like a moko jumbie and midnight robber milled around. Playing Midnight Robber was Damien Whiskey, a student in Liverpool’s MA in Carnival Arts class. Liverpool had pioneered it. Apart from being an academic, Liverpool has clinched the coveted crown eight times with gems like The Bandit Factory and The Mailman. Programme administrator Lana Allard chaired the proceedings in which each speaker wished him a ninth victory.

But the focus was on Liverpool’s book. Among those paying tribute to him were Funk; deputy chairman board of governors Kwais Mutema; Dr Ajamu Nymoba; Dr Fazal Ali, provost and president (acting); senior research fellow Dr Kim Johnson; and Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training Fazal Karim. Johnson made the salient point that while everyone celebrated US president Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Trinidadians had written history by electing its first black Prime Minister, the late historian Dr Eric Williams in 1962. “It was the end of colonial T&T. Chalkie’s book was about the elements and one crucial element was the voice of the people. The voice of the people was not heard,” said Johnson.

Mutema described Liverpool as a cultural icon and said we are fortunate to have him at the helm of the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs. “With a PhD in history and ethnomusicology and as the recipient of the prestigious Nicolas Guillen Life-Time Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature, Liverpool stands well qualified both academically as well as practically, to inform us all,” said Mutema.

Karim noted Liverpool’s study of Carnival is a “continuation of the work of academics who are now deceased like Tobago’s Dr JD Elder and Prof Errol Hill, as well as those who are still with us, like Prof Gordon Rohlehr and Dr Jeff Henry.” Apart from Karim, Liverpool made a special presentation to his friend/chairman of committee US Virgin Islands (St Thomas) Kenneth Blake.

For more info, contact UTT at 642-8888 or e-mail

For the original report go to chalkdust-launches-rituals-power-and-rebellion

See also Calypsonian and WWI Professor Chalkdust launches “Rituals of Power and Rebellion” Repeating Islands.

Community Organizations Festivals

Disappointed at NYPD cops’ Facebook comments

The following is the statement of Yolanda Lezama Clarke, President of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association. This is her response to reports of offensive comments made on Facebook by members of the NYPD, about the Carnival and the West Indian American community. It was published in Caribbean Life, Dec. 11, 2011.

Hearing and reading about these remarks made by NYPD officers, “animals, savages, bomb them” was truly disappointing, however, not surprising. While these are the views of many, I am sure that does not reflect all of the administration. These are gross, irresponsible descriptions that undermine the mission and purpose of the event.

WIADCA is grateful for the ongoing long-term support of the Mayor’s Office, Commissioner Kelly, the NYPD and all of those officers who assist in the Labor Day parade, carnival and events. There are many NYPD officers that believe that our community, similar to so many other New York City parades and events, is simply having a wonderful time in Carnival song, dance, music and art. They also know and believe that WIADCA’s families, participants, supporters and children are expressing the performance, joy and exuberance of Carnival.

WIADCA is the largest parade and carnival in the city and a significant economic component of revenue for both the city as well as New York State. The positive economic impact on New York’s large and small businesses is unparalleled. The hotels, MTA riders, restaurants, and other tourism -supporting components of the city would suffer greatly without the Labor Day event.

Carnival is supposed to be a euphoric experience that is enjoyed by all who attend, police included. It is meaningful and brings together many friends and family members from “back home” every Labor Day in a reunion filled with music, island food, and beautiful costumes. The difference with this Carnival is that it is celebrated by many of the islands where Eastern Parkway comes alive every Labor Day with representation from Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Grenada, and even Panama. This carnival has become a celebration of over 2.5 million people, which also speaks volumes about the funds it contributes to the city’s coffers.

We are extremely disappointed to learn about the Facebook page set up by some NYPD officers that maligned not only the Labor Day event but also the participants and members of our community. The language and expressions used to characterize our community members is both racist and volatile and cannot be characterized in any other manner.

In addition, in sharp contrast to the current official reactions to any and all terrorist-type comments and actions, the comment such as: “I say have the parade one more year and when they all gather drop a bomb and wipe them all out,” would not be tolerated in any part of New York. It would not be tolerated on New Year’s in Times Square, it would not be tolerated at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it would not be tolerated in Central Park. NO EXCEPTION can be made. It cannot be tolerated on Labor Day.

If these statements are true, it justifies the need for more cultural awareness. When segments of our community, especially those who are supposed to protect our youth express these feelings and sentiments regarding other groups, then we need more effective dialogue, because it represents the most obvious need.

The fact that there are members of the New York community who are sworn to protect the rights of New York citizens and who function as role-models for our children, in 2012 would express such vile and historically racist beliefs, is greatly disturbing. Any culture of police officers’ contempt for New York’s Black and Brown communities — either real or symbolic, cannot be tolerated.

We are calling on our elected officials and communitiy leaders to support our effort to end any and all police contempt towards members of our community. We are calling on Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly and Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio for an immediate meeting to assist us in rooting out all volatile racist behavior and attitudes from members of our NYPD.

One medium could be a “wellness over violence initiative” to heal and address these types of concerns in order to bring us closer together, as a community and a nation.

In 1826 Thomas Jefferson passed away and stated that he was leaving the issue of race relations for another generation to solve. Did he mean 2012? Must it take so long for us to live up to the ideals of the founding fathers of this great nation? If we choose to become a leader when will we completely grow into our own ideal and can we bring these members of the NYPD along?

Neither the violence exhibited within the community due to various socio-economic ills facing people of color, or the violence against the community, including external and internal aspects of racism, can be accepted in any form. Today’s words become tomorrow’s bullets. It cannot be allowed to exist anywhere, any longer.

Yolanda Lezama Clarke

President, West Indian American Day Carnival Association.

For the original post: Disappointed at NYPD cops’ Facebook comments • Caribbean Life.


West Indian-American Day Carnival Parade Roars Through Brooklyn!

The following report was written by Saxon Baird and published on The Official Blog of Afropop Worldwide on Sept. 6th 2001.

While the rest of America was enjoying an extra day off with barbecues and baseball, Brooklyn was celebrating its Caribbean population with the 44th Annual West Indian-American Day Carnival Parade. The event is the biggest Carnival parade in North America and featured its usual, colorful array of floats stacked with speakers blaring the best in soca and new calypso, sparking carnival costumes and thousands of flags representing every country of the West Indies. Even Mayor Bloomberg and the “Rent is Too Damn High” pseudo-celebrity Jimmy McMillan made an appearance.

Roaring down Eastern Parkway, a boulevard that splits Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and parts of Brownsville and Bed-Stuy; over a million people had flocked to the parade by noon sporting colors, shirts and face-paint of showcasing their country of origin. Hundreds of Caribbean barbecue restaurants set up tents and grills in between tables of trinkets ranging with bracelets with the colors of countries flags to handmade art and t-shirts.

While the parade took place on Monday, the festivities really started on Friday with concerts at the Brooklyn Museum with such celebrated acts as Benjai, the Mighty Sparrow and David Rudder. On Saturday, a smaller children’s parade took place in Crown Heights while J’ouvert begin late on Sunday and marched throughout Brooklyn until sunrise as it traditionally does each year.

The origins of the parade go back to a 1947 Carnival Parade that took place in Harlem along 110th and 7th. In 1965, the carnival relocated to Crown Heights where it has existed and taken place each year since.

Unfortunately, the Labor Day festivities this weekend were slightly overshadowed by a sudden, and unexplainable outbreak of shootings. By Monday, over 39 people had been shot across New York City since Saturday. Despite just a few, minor incidences at the parade, the general vibe throughout was positive and jovial with people there looking to simply celebrate the end of summer with great music, food and dancing while refusing to let the few ruin this long held tradition for the many.

For the original report see: The Official Blog of Afropop Worldwide: West Indian-American Day Carnival Parade Roars Through Brooklyn!.


Ban on steelbands in Leeds West Indian Carnival parade Central Leeds

DOWN THE PAN: Members of the steelband that won’t be playing at the Leeds West Indian Carnival – from left, Ashley Hendricks, Victoria Jaquiss, Katie Smith and Varshika Patel.

Traditional Caribbean steelband music has been banned from the 44th Leeds West Indian Carnival parade.

The carnival committee of 13 members took the unanimous decision to have no live music in the parade itself at an emergency meeting this week.

Members said due to recent “unrest” in the Chapeltown area they felt they had no option but to make this year’s carnival “a bit calmer” with no steelbands playing on any of the floats.

Chairman Arthur France said: “We are not putting any steelbands on the road in the parade this year. It was a decision taken as we are being extra cautious following recent unrest. In light of violent events, and after careful consideration, we decide that we will not use any steelband on the road, which means no live music.

“We want to keep things a bit calmer. We fear it may cause trouble. It isn’t the noise, we just don’t want any interference on the road.

“We have been placed under a great deal of strain following the national youth uprising and other issues which have been local to our city.”

Music will be provided on a float by DJs and a sound system by Leeds Carnival Committee.

But Victoria Jaquiss, steelpan development officer for Leeds Music Services and band leader of the Foxwood Steel Bandits, The Leeds Silver Doves and Steel Rising, said: “Steelpan should be part of the carnival parade. It is the highlight of the musical year for some members, to play in front of their home crowd. I doubt very much that middle aged women and kids would attract any trouble.

“We performed at Otley Carnival in June and we were at Manchester Carnival last Saturday, following the riots there and it was brilliant atmosphere.”

She said they had been expecting to play at this year’s event and were bitterly disappointed after receiving a call and letter from the committee stating steelbands would not be invited.

Mr France who was founder of the first carnival in Leeds in 1967, one of the first in Europe, said: “At one point last week following an arson attack on carnival headquarters we were not sure whether the carnival would go ahead at all. This was a committee decision, not involving the police, but we have regular meetings with police to keep them updated.”

A steelband from Leeds, New World Steel Symphony Orchestra, will perform on stage in Potternewton Park after the carnival parade is over on Bank Holiday Monday.

Around 15 floats will travel the carnival route through Harehills and Chapeltown and feature people from the city dressed in colourful costumes as well as the carnival Queen, King and princesses.

For original article: Ban on steelbands in Leeds West Indian Carnival parade EXCLUSIVE – Central Leeds – Yorkshire Evening Post.