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BC’S BARBADOS: Carnival jumbie

B.C. Pires

BC’S BARBADOS: Carnival jumbie

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TODAY IS CARNIVAL Monday in Trinidad and it’s hard to believe, when I do the arithmetic, that my first Carnival, when I left my father’s house on Carnival Friday and did not return until Ash Wednesday, took place fully 36 years ago; why, I’ve had relations with women that old.
(Because I wasn’t at his home didn’t mean I didn’t see my father: on J’Ouvert morning, pushing Phase II Pan Groove’s pans out of the Carnival Sunday night fete at the Oval, who should end up shoulder to shoulder with me pushing the bass pan rack? He gave me a cigarette and a memory I will treasure to my dying day, but one I’ll never pass on to my son, because they don’t push pan again in Trinidad; they push head.)
It takes what the tata people accept for soca nowadays to underline how lucky I was that my first real Carnival, at age 16, was set to the tune of the Shadow’s life-, music- and Carnival-changing Bassman.
I was planning to forget calypso/ And go and plant peas in Tobago/ But I am afraid/ I cyar make the grade!  
Few songs have had as great an effect on me; offhand, I’d allow only Satisfaction, Stairway To Heaven, Samba Pa Ti, Purple Haze, War and the real Trini national anthem Calypso Music into Bassman’s company.
Carnival, for most of my life, was far too important to me to miss.
Understand: I did not have a costume (other than mud on J’Ouvert morning) until I was 20, when my gainfully employed elder brother paid for a sailor mas’ in his section for me, on the condition that I fetch his car, however far away parked, when he wanted to leave the band.
But I didn’t need a costume: the music and the mood of Carnival was enough.
In my 30s, I began to understand why Carnival worked: the immersion of Self in Other in mutual joy was a spiritual cleansing. As long as Peter Minshall was involved in it, to participate in Trinidad Carnival was to take part in, and do your bit for, a community-wide rebirth. It is what saved Trinidad.
Sadly, in the last 15 years or so, it has become the thing that is destroying Trinidad; depressingly, it is the worst aspects of Trinidad Carnival that Barbados’ Crop Over now apes.
This year, though, there is hope: Peter Samuel, who eight times took home for Peter Minshall’s band the title of King Of Carnival, is a bandleader in 2011; and the music for his band Skullduggery is by David Rudder & Charlie’s Roots, with Black Stalin also singing.
If the old Lowdown got off his sick bed and beat a healthy iron in the rhythm section, this Carnival might fly.