Commentary: ‘Thiefing’ judges

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Lincoln Depradine has worked in journalism, marketing and public relations for 20 years. He has been published by the Grenadian Voice, Toronto Sun and Share (Toronto). He was also sports correspondent for the Caribbean News Agency’s radio division. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (York University), a diploma in marketing (Seneca College) and a diploma in Mass Communications from the University of the West Indies

By Lincoln Depradine

The Grenada festival, officially titled “Spicemas”, is over and prizes valued at more than EC$1 million have been distributed to the top finishers of this year’s carnival. Hearty congratulations to all the winners!

Many others have congratulated the winners; some that have done so, I’m certain, have not extended the commendation with any degree of sincerity, but because it’s the polite and “politically correct” thing to do. Privately and within earshot of their most trusted confidantes of family and close friends, they bitch about “thiefing” judges and quietly harbour a litany of complaints and grudges, which they’ll carry into the next season of carnival.

The idea of “thiefing” judges, in my opinion, is absolutely absurd. For “thiefing” to be effected successfully in any carnival competition, it would require collusion at a level deeper and wider and greater than what is alleged between the Russians and the 2016 election campaign team of now US President Donald J. Trump.

Carnival adjudicating thievery would demand that two or more judges – even all the judges – deciding on this course of action beforehand. And, it would call for complete secrecy. The dishonest plot must be kept among the conspirators only and not leaked to anyone – not the spouses of judges, not their children, not workmates, and not the Spicemas Corporation (SMC); unless, of course, the advocates of “thiefing” judges believe the SMC also is involved in the conspiracy to rig the judging of competitions at Spicemas. No part of the theory of “thiefing” judges makes any real sense.

Certainly, judges may – and do – get things wrong; but, I’d rather put that down to the frailty of human nature and the fuzziness of the criteria used for adjudicating at competition.

I grew up in a steelband family; spent years running through the “Coals Market” on The Wharf and listening to Angel Harps, before following my brothers and cousins to join the band myself. As a Hindsey School student, I was recruited to play in the rhythm section when the newly formed Panasonic Steel Orchestra, with a Trevor Emmanuel-arranged song, won senior panorama in its first year of competition.

I have attended the panoramas of not just Grenada, but also those of Trinidad, New York and Toronto. However, I have pledged to myself never to patronize another panorama – whether in Grenada or elsewhere – until the organizers clearly define what is panorama in the 21st century. I have witnessed too many panoramas in recent years that have included things like marching bands and fairly elaborate props that you’ll think are more appropriate for a soca monarch contest.

So, this has left me wondering and pondering what is panorama. Is it a genuine music competition, where participating orchestras are adjudicated on the quality and content of their music and musical arrangement? Or, is it a pan jam, where bands are judged primarily on the quality and vibrancy of their jam or “rama”, with a sprinkling of arrangement for added flavour?

If the former is true – that panorama is a genuine music competition – then, I have another question for the Grenada Steelbands’ Association, Pan Trinbago, Ontario Steelpan Association and other steelbands’ organizations. Does the panorama composition have to played in a calypso rhythm?

Or, can a panorama song be performed in any “upbeat” rhythm? An “upbeat” rhythm could include jazz and Latin music. And, if “upbeat” is acceptable, would a steelband – Angel Harps, Commancheros, New Dimension, Pan Ossia, Desperadoes, Renegades, Pan Fantasy, Afropan, CASYM, Ebony or Hells Gate – be adjudged winner of a panorama if they present a selection with a completely jazz or Latin rhythm, from start to finish?

These bands, at panorama, performing upbeat jazz or Latin music – even a classical piece – of a calibre not heard of since the days of Frédéric François Chopin, Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.

As a whole, our carnival arts organizers must clarify and reevaluate what it means to be a champion. To be a champion in or of anything, in sports or in culture – including pan and calypso – one must do something special or extraordinary on the competing stage or on the field of play. You don’t become FIFA World Cup football champs simply by booting the ball from one goal-end to the next for 90 minutes.

With reference to the recently 2018 Spicemas, it’s becoming more abundantly clear that appealing to the good sense of Jab Jab masqueraders, urging them not to indiscriminately discard their Jab paraphernalia after Jouvert, is falling on the deaf ears of too many of them.

A next step should be government action. Provide receptacles for the deposit of unwanted Jab gear and also set up special areas with running water for masqueraders to shower. And, let’s permit bathing by Jabs only at certain specially designated beaches and rivers, where an oil slick is more easily controlled. Legislation must be passed imposing penalties on anyone violating the proper disposal of Jab gear or the designated bathing areas laws.

This was our first carnival with Senator Norland Cox holding the portfolio of minister of culture. He appears to possess the energy, interest and enthusiasm to take Spicemas to another level. However, listening to some of his post-carnival comments, I’m concerned he could be headed down a rabbit hole. Senator Cox said among areas of Spicemas to be reviewed are the “lyrical content of calypso” and the “decorum” of masqueraders.

Senator Cox, you might want to steer clear of those ideas; you have too many more important things to do than to get bogged down with the issues of calypso content and the behaviour of masqueraders, even their code of dress. If you think those are major issues now, just try to set up a committee to screen calypso content or establish a carnival decorum monitoring committee.

Censoring of all kinds has been tried from the first day the first calypso was sung in the Caribbean. And, censoring has never worked. What has worked is the marketplace. Consumers and promoters, who hire calypsonians to perform at home and abroad, always decide which songs are worthwhile and which survive in the post-carnival period.

And, in every decade and with every generation, there always have been people complaining about the decorum and comportment of masqueraders. I, like many of you, am offended by some of what I see and hear at carnival. I avoid the offensive, whenever and wherever I can.

But, I’m also aware that carnival is a “bacchanalist” and an hedonistic festival. It’s what it is, no matter our personal taste, preference and religious and moral sensibilities. We cannot make carnival what it’s not and what it never was intended to be.

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