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Jamette doh play jamette

By Bukka Rennie
March 01, 2003

It is rather interesting that last week so many commentators and social analysts have in one way or another supported our interpretation of the historic development of Carnival in T&T.

It has always been our view that the history of T&T's Carnival is in fact an interplay of two entwined Carnivals. The following is what this column had to say last year:

"...There have always been two Carnivals. Two perspectives from time immemorial to the reign of the so-called Mad Monarch. There was always the Carnival of the past governors and their entourage, the virtual "kings" and their court, the "citizens of substance", with their grand balls and masquerade parties particularly on 'Big Sunday'.

"And then there was always the 'Jamette Carnival', the Carnival of the streets, the Carnival of the ex-slaves and the plebs to whom Carnival was always about parody and portrayal rather than mere masquerade...

"That would continue until finally, with the massive bludgeoning of their class numbers and now no longer racially inclusive, they would take over the Carnival completely with the sheer weight of their historic commercial strength.

"The Jamette Carnival of the masses has now been pushed to the fringes, relegated almost to mere nuisance value, the nostalgia of traditional characters of bats, dragons and devils, and the rare appearances of steelbands blocking up the competition points and hindering the flow of the so-called 'big mas bands'. The impetus and drive for this nowadays Carnival comes from west Port-of-Spain rather than east Port-of-Spain...

"Carnival today is middle-class, largely feminine and superficial. There is no creative portrayal, save and except Minshall who moves to a different drumming of the heart, and everything boils down to decorative adorning and the application of 'bells and whistles' to bikinis that celebrate female nakedness, female narcissism and crude commerce.

"What a departure from the supreme days of the Jamette Carnival when every portrayal required intense self-preparation and self-discovery, including specific dance, stance and speech as well as definition of space. In other words, the fullness of art..."

Marion O'Callaghan, in her recent piece, reinforced the above view of the struggle of the people to retain and advance their conception of Carnival and she went further to even elucidate for the records the efforts of her father Patrick Jones ("Chinee Patrick") - well known calypsonian and socio-political activist at the turn of the last century - to institutionalise and strengthen downtown Carnival against the onslaught from the uptown Carnival that was managed by the middle-class big boys.

The point is that the people's art of Carnival, the very essence of Carnival replete with its inner dynamics of catharsis - as is the case with all art - has always been constantly threatened by the banalities and crassness of middle-class philistinism, commercialisation and bureaucratism disguised as professional management.

Look around, look back at the past years and at all that has been done recently, and you will see that nothing that has been introduced to Carnival by these managers work in favour of the essence of the art. Everything they do serves to marginalise people and stultify the process.

Carnival now, as a result of this degradation, has been confined to empty glitter, mindless nudity and profit. Interestingly, all the huge bands declare numerical membership of 2,500 to 3,000 for tax purposes, while in fact 6,000 to 10,000 cross the stage. So in addition they are all national thieves.

And with the withdrawal of men and the overwhelming involvement of women, Carnival seems to be drifting into the mere projecting of sexiness.

Peter Minshall in a recent interview was quite clear in his pinpointing of the exact moment in history when this degradation of Carnival became imminent.

He recalled when the middle-class white girls began to destroy, maybe the better word is "desecrate", Lil Hart's costumes to allow for the baring of skin. Peter remembered because Lil Hart in anguish complained to him and expressed her bewilderment at what had begun to happen.

Well today that process of desecration and degradation of Carnival has been taken to the ultimate. It's amusing though that these middle-class white girls, in doing what they did back then, thought they were being groovy, relating to the masses, relating to the roots by being "jamettes". What they missed is that jamettes never played jamettes. And who says that a jamette is a naked woman?

That association of jamette with the flirting and flouting of nakedness and being coquettish is indeed a middle-class perception. In any case, the art defined that you did not play what you were in real life.

The jamettes played and portrayed everything else, they played flagwomen and section leaders in the bands (we need to remember that they were custodians of "pan", the instrument, in its early struggle for existence), they were lovers and solace-providers to the pan pioneers, they were organisers of mas sections, they played SPs (Special Police) in the sailor bands (one great friend of mine left All Stars never to return because Ms Camps give him a "butt" for not getting into his proper section when the band was due to go on stage for presentation), they played imps, bats, devils, followers and concubines of kings and king devils, dame lorraine and burrokeet, and yes, they played queens - in parody - the biggest jamettes of all.

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