Our annual Saturnalia


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Category: Trinidad Society 02 Mar 14

Our annual Saturnalia, in this the season of the flesh. And what else is there to talk about other than flesh? Rolls of it, folds of it, juggling, jiggling flesh, spreading lean taut flesh, roly-poly flesh, a quivering semi-autonomous backside, a shivering eager receptacle to a man’s loins. I thought I had seen everything in Trini Carnival, women grinding on the road, wrapping themselves around poles, couples swivelling on one leg, as if posing for a doggie-style porn poster, men on men, women on women.

I began my love affair with calypso music not knowing anything about Trinidad. It was Christmas in the nineties. We climbed the precarious stairs to a tiny restaurant, an establishment called the Moon Over Bourbon Street at West Mall, where you could watch silvery scales on the sea at night, smoke (it was all right then), have a rum and Coke and feel all right after being pushed about all week at work.

That first Christmas, a tall taut slim man with a broad smile, and the kindest, smartest, rudest, sweetest eyes, in tight tight pants (he turned his one longer leg into a kind of edgy trademark), a tight shirt and long hair, and in long locks, sang calypsoes all Christmas night. David Rudder was there with the moon, singing calypso music, rallying us around the West Indies, giving us a High Mas, telling us bout the Man with the Hammer, and Bahia Girl and Panama, and everything we lived with around us, with a rhythm that made you moan in an obscene way and lyrics that were like rubberband shots in the middle of your eye.

Yes, he got it: the love, the brutality, the sexiness, the warmth, the wounds of this country. He was our mirror. They say a language is the “in” into a culture. The calypso was my “in” into this world. They never made another like him but I see flashes of him in others. It takes one man, one man to open up a world to you, so I could see the nuance in Sparrow, Calypso Rose, the Roaring Lion, in Kitchener, in Black Stalin.

This year I got complimentary tickets to a big-people fete. At US$500 or $275, Carnival is no longer  bacchanal, no longer the greatest show on earth, but a burlesque, machiavellian version of “art”—it’s the ugly little hand of greed and commerce playing on vanity—the exact opposite of what David Rudder taught me about calypso.

Still, when Kes was on the stage, and even when Bunji with his very raw male power sang, I felt the surge of the crowd, flesh on flesh, and nobody could deny that it was a raw sexual feeling.  That the mind and reason empties and the crowd, the strangers touch is an Aladdin’s cave of exploding desire.

But minutes later, when the alcohol wore off, the “music” morphed into yelping, ugly orders, hoots, “raise yuh han’,” “putawineputawine” by “artistes” (how I loathe that term), the women who are supposed to have more self-esteem because they are dancing to Rolly Polly are actually being made to bend over like dogs in a circus, while a man tames them with his loins: it gets nasty. Then sobriety hits you like a rocking hangover. Self-esteem is one thing, but I wonder if it’s good to aggrandise obesity; the eat-all-you-can; the masturbate all-you-can on strangers; the drink-all-you-can. It doesn’t make people happy. It makes them ill inside and out.

I met a Frenchman last week that said the concept of “eating all you can” is so alien in France.  It’s about the aesthetic, the quality of the light, the slant of sun on a table; the play of wine, conversation, people and humour; the sudden insight. It’s about engaging all the senses, and the intellect. The sacred and profane, the visceral and ethereal, the tension of holding back a bit, and letting go a bit, is what it takes to savour and celebrate.

If you remove everything, and fete all you can, it becomes about money and sex only, gets ugly and it reflects ugliness within us. There will be magic this Carnival as there always is, but the yelping that drowns out thought makes me think it will be less.

On Ash Wednesday when the murders begin, and the car crashes take more young lives, we will wonder about where we went wrong again, wonder why our humanity is being shredded raw and wounded. 


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur