The short Carnival 2016 season is a topsy-turvy one. Either that, or the recession has removed the scales from our eyes. Regular paradigms are being turned on their heads. We are are seeing popular soca artists’ brands diminished as concerts are cancelled and Fantastic Friday appearances are not guaranteed. Prominent masquerade people are proving that intelligence and reverence for our mas’ traditions are irrelevant by stating that “how would it look if next year everybody play moko jumbie. That is not a mas.” In steps 3Canal with their annual Carnival production—this year their thirteenth, Out + Bad—as a kind of antidote for the mind-boggling vapidity that is passing for Carnival in 2016.
Out + Bad celebrates and re-imagines the black jab, the jab molassie mas’ as a kind of allegory to the current state of the country and the Carnival. To quote the King Black Jab character from the production: “the carnival imagination has been hijacked, kidnapped and is being held for a ransom by a set of mocking pretenders and frigging oppressors and bloody bloodsuckers in the guise of entrepreneurs and promoters and administrators.” From a script written by Wendell Manwarren, one sees and hears the continuation of the theatrical style that separates this show from any other concert event.
By placing the production in their home at the Big Black Box “in the heart of the red light district,” the physical visceral gap between audience and artist is minimised to allow for an almost tangible experience where one literally feels the sweat and black grease dripping off the performer. Manwarren: “The yard is the crucible of our culture: the panyard, the barrack yard, the old yard of calypso and chantuelles, the Rituals yard where 3Canal was developed. It’s a natural gathering point.” Limiting themselves to just 250 spaces there, these cultural entrepreneurs have created a production akin to a high energy creole cabaret.
What audiences are in for—the Canal crew are thinking of developing this show beyond and outside of Trinidad and it’s short Carnival—is a tight production that again forces audiences to open their eyes and see. Freakishly decadent and abundant dancers celebrate in movement our licentious and “dutty” otherness despite the propriety of a somewhat staid audience this night who seemed to shackle ebullience.
Solid musicianship by the Cut + Clear Crew shines through, although they were not lit, a minor default in an otherwise high valued production. Jayron “DJ Rawkus” Remy has produced 3 new songs for 2016 to add to a catalogue of hundreds that 3Canal have produced over the years. That night we listened to fifteen songs that address the j’ouvert tradition, the jab, the canboulay, and “throw shade” at cultural critics who disparage the New World African ethos in Carnival. Like Walcott, who gave nobility to the speech of slaves, via poetry, in his early play “Henri Christophe”, Manwarren, in bitter prose enhances jab molassie speech wars to reach beyond the mere superficial experience towards a celebration of Trinidad oral tradition.
Black jab represents the void, a kind of deprivation, the “antithesis to a life of fun at the expense of knowledge of self.” Derek Walcott posited that one virtue of deprivation is “salvation from a cascade of high mediocrity.” Out + Bad serves that virtuous purpose in Carnival 2016.
- A version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “3Canal get gritty and grimy – Out + Bad: a review”
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.