TO those who saw and heard Sparrow live, supported by a live band, including “brass”, it can feel like a vanishing world of music and “culture”. Well, “brass” is promisingly coming back onto the Carnival streets. Still, it’s an aural throwback for those of a certain age capable of recalling the unsheltered sound of trumpets, trombones and saxophones, as opposed to, the boom-blast of DJs dispensing “rhythms”. That term, “rhythm”, with its presumed identifier, confirms the discard of brass-based orchestral arrangements.
Those welcoming the return of “brass” thank Etienne Charles, the internationally celebrated jazz trumpeter and bandleader. Annually, he blocks off days on his busy big-city engagement schedule, to reconnect with his T&T Carnival roots. The entrepreneurial Carnival Monday “Brass Mas” of Etienne Charles shows hopeful signs of starting a counter-revolution for music on the road.
It happens, too, that Peter Minshall, the mas man with exalted national and international fame to his name, is bidding for 21st century highs with his “Kinetic Mas”. Maybe only in the Minshall mas camp can you find a section unapologetically branded “Le Paradis Retrouve” (French for Paradise Regained). Kinetic Mas is planned to move on the road to the music of two “brass bands”, Charlie’s Roots and Dil-E-Nadan, plus Exodus Steel Orchestra.
Observers like me, hoping to tune in and be turned on by what the 21st century Carnival is “saying”, catch on to trends or maybe innovations. Exodus, judged first in the Panorama preliminaries, drew to play first at Sunday evening’s semi finals. Once again forgoing the shelter other bands crave with convex aluminum roofing over their carriages, Exodus presented its players as if they were symphony musicians racked on a sloping pavilion. Eyes catch the front-line star-girl tenor player, singularly clad in a long red skirt, but nonetheless fitting into the choreography now part of all pan performances.
Nearing 7 pm, it was still too early for the typical Carnival surfeit to induce aural and visual disconnecting fatigue. So my notes on Exodus included the jotting, “Quite a thrill”. For the trending fashion of pannist as choristers voicing refrains or hook lines, maybe it’s only a matter of time before choral arrangers from Marionettes or Lydians get summoned to organise and polish steelband vocals.
By when Invaders and Skiffle showed up, the band conductors were proving to be a new category of star turn. Wielding batons evidently as something to wave, rather than to direct the players, conductors execute dance steps and moves, giving expression to the music arrangement, but not the song lyrics.
My trouble with lyrics proved early to be given effect. Soca singalongs are inevitably called upon for relief from the bloody reports on the news pages. As one challenged to hear the words actually being voiced, distractions always come from the response to the Skinny Banton story titled “Wrong Again”. The self-pitying serenade (“I get horn again”) by the hoarse-voiced Banton invariably prompts a singalong of the chorus, and all-on-the-floor dancing.
Stickler that I am, I could never get his quasi-apologetic “I don’t want to hit on love”. Or is that “hate” on love. A little research having been called for, the line seems be have been excluded from the YouTube lyrics.
I was moved to sad recall of when you could buy printed lyrics, then called “song copies”, from Port of Spain pavement vendors, and 45 rpm discs in “record shops”, allowing for home turntable replays at will. Seeking to track down the image by Blaxx, “like a bite-up shilling”, caused an unshelving of my go-to reference, Lise Winer’s Dictionary of (T&T) English Creole. I failed to find any explication under “bite up” or “shilling”. In the same song, however, Blaxx included references to “Kangalang”, “bangalang”, “Canboulay” and “Jean and Dinah”, evidently a caution against denying access to pre-contemporary language users or watchers.
Panorama attendance, even when foreshortened, lasting more than six hours, occasioned various thought triggers about the music and the show arrangements. Again and again, my notes record cheupsing jottings about undue straying from original melodies of the four songs the bands chose to play. Again and again, improvisations invariably wander away from the familiar melodic line.
Unlike jazz improvisations that hold interest, in the pan arrangers’ scripted (non-jazz) excursions from the basic soca melodies, a listener, this one for sure, could get lost. So that my notes record the jotted word “joyful”, on hearing the All Stars arranger’s seguing back and forth from the basic melody, never letting a listener forget what the song is all about, the alleged reason for being of the Panorama presentation delivery.
Another head-shaking observation was the deployment, back and forth across the stage, of a police riot squad in breeches and bullet proof vests, wearing visored helmets and holding clear plastic shields, batons and even rifles.
At Panorama it has come to that. This observer went home imagining his evolution, maybe a result of age, from a cultural and social mainstream defined by, among other things, language, music, and “law enforcement”.