The week leading up to Antigua’s Carnival, I did a tour of the pan yards to hear some of the works in progress. I stopped by Panache, Hell’s Gate, and Ebonites, and I’m not done. The pan crawl is a delightful lime if you have the time. Hang about, sit in your car or move about mixing and mingling, and take in the opportunity to look behind the curtain (the curtain in this case being the open air or galvanize shed that passes for a music room at your typical pan yard).
It’s important sometimes to see the work that goes in to what goes on show – whether we’re talking the Queen Show, which wrapped amidst much chatter in the pre-Carnival, or panorama which comes up the Saturday before Party Monarch, Jouvert, and Mas. Criticism is important to improvement – it’s not just haterade (or it shouldn’t be) – but more thoughtful criticism comes of an appreciation for the effort and artistry.
Whatever happens come panorama night, I’ll remember the runs the pannists – most of them very young – repeated over and over again; the way those whose section wasn’t being drilled just then waited on their feet patiently until called to action; the lack of visible complaint or even temper – though I’m sure there was some of that too; and the commitment to fine tuning to as near to perfection as possible. Never let it be said that our young people can’t put heart and mind to something, never let it be said that our parents don’t show up – because such blanket statements do a disservice to the young people clearly tired but committed to the task at hand, and to the parents hanging around the pan yards until all hours, just waiting, never mind that they had to put in a full day of work the following day.
This, too, is Carnival.
All of the work taking place behind the curtain across tents, mas camps, band houses, and pan yards – keeping in mind that when we ended our slow too-short pan crawl they were still at it in preparation for the explosion of artistry that is Antigua and Barbuda’s Carnival.
The opening date of the 2018 Carnival is/was July 27th and if this isn’t an example of the continuing shift for modern tastes and sensibilities, it’s hard to say what is – because the parade with all its glitz and glamour has yielded (much like Calypso with its traditional Sunday spot going to Party Monarch for the first time ever) the prime time Saturday afternoon opening spot in recent years to t-shirt mas which has in many ways taken over the Carnival. Jaycees (July 29th), Teen Splash (July 30th), Junior Carnival and Calypso (August 1st), Melting Pot (August 2nd), Calypso (August 3rd), Panorama (August 4th – so grab a beer and get your own pan yard crawl in before then), Party Monarch (August 5th), Jouvert and judging of the bands (August 6th), and the big kahuna – the parade of troupes and last lap (August 7th) round out the week’s programme.
Maybe I missed it but I don’t see Watch Night activities on the official programme – which is unfortunate – as if we’re looking for any meaning in Carnival at all then surely it’s about freedom at its core – freedom to celebrate who we are (Expose as Tizzy and El A Kru sang once upon a Carnival), freedom to create (and if the tunes being worked out and drilled not just in to heads but in to body, soul, and spirit as witnessed during our crawl isn’t an example of that, I don’t know what is), freedom to be (Carnival being one of those times where the infectious music and the mas is a license of sorts to, to reference an old Burning Flames track, go on ah kinda how). Watch Night observed over these several years since the advent of the Reparations Support Commission has been a deeply reflective moment in the Carnival coinciding with August Monday or Emancipation day. If it is happening, and it may yet be, it hasn’t made it on to the official media circular re seasonal activities. So, in case we’re on our own, still remember to pour out some Cavalier for the ancestors because none of us would be here to rock and wine (referencing a Short Shirt classic) if it wasn’t for them.
Finally, in case you missed it, the Calypso Monarch finalists are Black Mahdi, Douglas, King Bear, King Fiah, Kaseba, Queen Singing Althea, Queen Thalia, Sage, and Stumpy – so show Calypso some love (by supporting the show and all such live shows, buying the artists’ products, and insisting that your favourite radio station give them some airplay all year round), lots of royalty in the line-up; and across the two party monarch categories – groovy and jumpy – we have CP, Ezzy Rattigan (continuing to build on the legacy of Burning Flames), Kimmy (part of her own musical dynasty as Thalia’s sister and 2017 calypso king, Zacari’s daughter – if I’m thinking of the right Kimmy i.e. the artist formerly known as Little Kimmy), Lyriksman, Zamoni, DJ Who, Menace, and, of course, defending champs Ricardo Drue and Tian Winter.
And to end where we started, big up to de pan wo/man an’ dem. Competing for boasting rights in 2018 are Ebonites, Halcyon, Harmonites, Hell’s Gate, Westside, Gemonites, Panache, Original, and East Side doing their interpretations of classics by Short Shirt, Swallow, and Burning Flames, and contemporary tunes or new classics by Ricardo Drue, CP, Tian Winter, and Queen Thalia. The blend of then and new, young and old, tradition and nowness holds promises of an entertaining show that honours the roots of both Carnival and pan.