did the judging go?” I asked casually, poking my head out of the car
window. “A farce, they gave us sheets and then said don’t worry to
fill them, and they just in it for the whisky and... and... and...” The
words were tumbling out, in a breathless and unstoppable torrent. I got
out of the car and talked for an hour. I recount what he told me because
he is a respected Carnival practitioner, had nothing to lose or gain and I
believe him. There must be other sides to it, but this is his story.
are you ready for Carnival?
(not his real name) was a Carnival judge this year, who saw the ad, sent
in a CV, sat before a panel, and was recruited as one of the 120 Carnival
judges. This was the first time in years that the process has been thrown
open, a stipend offered “to recruit good people.” And this was the
best thing they could have done. A closed circuit of people, it seems, had
been judging for the past 10, 15, 20 years. At first all went well. All
120 judges had to attend compulsory seminars. “The one on calypso was
excellent. It was conducted by Alvin Daniel, and Jocelyn Sealey. They gave
us papers that explained melody, rhyme, and rhythm, suggested further
reading, provided a wonderful historical perspective. It was well
researched. I felt that at least I had a good start. “Things fell apart
on the mas seminar. Speaker after speaker spoke about his day in the sun.
Nothing about material, traditional mas, the evolution, history or
economics of it. We heard about the technicalities of judging, which was
ironical because we didn’t need it. “The seminar on pan was useless.
Pan Trinbago refused the invitation to teach. We learned nothing about the
instrument. We got lots of memories of judging, were told how the system
works. Pan judging is handled separately by Pan Trinbago who bring in
“musicologists” to do it.”
you see her with a cold Carib beer.
do people judge, year after year?” I asked him, “if they don’t get
paid, and aren’t particularly good at it?”
“Alcohol and the lime. Their glasses are never empty, when
whiskey runs out they go onto rum and when that runs out... well, the
beers never run out. Many of them just get sloshed. Not fall down sloshed.
One said to me, ‘You know how hard it is to drink all this and sit up
last year, when the judges were late in announcing a certain king? People
assumed that there was a complicated technical hitch. In fact, one judge,
having had a little too much to eat and drink, went to the bathroom and
stayed for over an hour. The others had to wait for him before announcing
this year no one registered for certain categories which were to be judged
at South Quay. But those judges still sat and drank from 6 pm to 1 in the
would give anything to know how much the alcohol costs the NCC. He
and bounce and bounce and bounce and bounce and bounce. Calypso
Competitions. The system sounds straight forward: score sheets,
tabulation, the winner gets the most marks, the highest and lowest marks
are dropped, the winner is the contestant with the highest aggregate,
right? Wrong. Although judges make the rounds of tents, score sheets are
discarded: “It’s my 24 against your 24 and who argues better gets
it.” Competitors would be interested to hear that they placed 12th on
one person’s list and 24th on another. The judging is about seven people
sitting around, finding a consensus. Evidently the loudest voices decide
the winner, and not just in the stands.
de wavers? Where de wavers? How are the costumes judged? There is a
multiplicity of criteria and the system seems foolproof. Judges for the
Kings and Queens competition are divided into two committees of five for
the skills. One committee is supposed to give marks for portability,
craftsmanship and design; another for wire, moulding, carving, use of
aluminium and metal. The rule book tells the competitors they are going to
be judged for a total of 100 marks. “When we asked for the score sheets
to record marks, we were told that we didn’t need them. On Dimanche Gras
night, we would be given an award sheet to sign. The NCC officials decide.
judges, especially the new ones, have no say. In essence, the committee
heads say ‘that costume, that’s the one which is going to win.’
Sometimes judges have a say, like the man who was judging his own wire
work on a king competitor.
many are asked to judge over areas they know nothing about, designing,
wire or moulding, or how much materials cost. Minshall’s use of the
chicken wire to create a head piece was part of the earliest kings and
floats. But most judges thought it was new, something he’d dreamed up.
If they only understood the history they would understand that he is
bringing back things that are very much in the mas. They should then give
him marks for application rather than invention but they don’t know any
sit there and look like we are judging costumes, so the process seems to
work to the masqueraders. NCC adjudication commissioners have the last
word. Last year a certain king was late for on track judging and he was
given marks anyway.
in dey face.
is the pretty mas judged?
is no natural sensitivity and this is because they don’t understand it,
they want to take away marks for bands where people wear sneakers. We
tried to explain to them that band leaders cannot control the women who
don’t want to wear the loin cloth or the man who leaves his standard
home. The band should be judged on its exuberance, its overall impression.
When Minshall talks about his tribe playing mas and freeing up that’s
what its about. But they hold masqueraders and bandleaders to ransom on
day in paradise. And how many judges were used?
120 of them. Even when they were not needed. So everybody could get a
good about it all?
saw extempo judged on marks, on score sheets... I saw the system work
a mad man’s rant.
breathes easier, he’s got it off his chest and onto mine. He has lots
more to say but I’ve run out of space. So he contents himself with this
epilogue. “It was a waste of time.” And I drive off thinking it’s a
little selfish of a band of Carnival judges and NCC Adjudication
Commissioners to have been making mas all these years and leaving us all
out. Now that we know about it, I think they deserve the chance to be
judged like the rest of us.