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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SocaMonarch Awakening

So we just returned from a 6 day trip to Grenada’s sister-island, Carriacou. However, before I talk about that (in the next blog), I have to say something about Carnival, despite it having been 3 weeks ago.

Carnival is essentially a 4-5 day cultural exposition of music, dance, costumes, and drunken madness (see Stephanie’s previous post on the main events). It’s traditionally held just before Ash Wednesday all over the world (though the only remnants in America would be the New Orleans Mardi Gras festival). A few Caribbean nations, however, Grenada one of them, moved their Carnival celebration to six months later, in the week following Emancipation Day (emancipation in the British Empire, 1834). While I think part of the reason for the change was tourism, the relationship to Emancipation Day cannot be overlooked since poignant references to slavery are interspersed throughout the celebration (see Stephanie’s post on Jab Jab, the Devil’s devil, a few months ago).

There are big parades on Carnival Monday and Tuesday (August 9th and 10th this year), comprised of paint throwing, drunkenness, glow-in-the-dark swords, and fancy consumes (for which Stephanie revealed her Vegas showgirl side). On Pantastic Saturday, just before Carnival Monday, an annual steel-pan competition is held, where pop and soca songs are covered by huge, 30-80 piece steel-pan bands. Before Carnival, this was what I most looked forward to, but it’s actually one of the least attended events! Only white people and older Grenadians filled the seats at the stadium- creating a sedate, tranquil event that, unfortunately, left many of us a bit sleepy.

The real event was the night before: the SocaMonarch competition. As became clearer after that night, SocaMonarch is essential to enjoying and appreciating the rest of Carnival. The songs that are sung will be played incessantly- particularly the winning soca song- throughout the rest of the week. On this night, the stadium was brimming was young people, crowding the stage and forming mash-pits on the grass.

I’ll have to say that at some point during Mr. Killa’s song, I had a realization. Honestly, some of the songs were a bit menacing when I first heard them the weeks leading up to Carnival. But Killa’s Tim-Burtinesque stage skeletons drove home the cynicism hidden in the death-references, blackened Jab-Jabs, and other dark Carnival traditions. His once scary song about death and revenge now seemed to fit into a repertoire of pointed, yet subtle responses to Western religious racism- that is, blackness as the color of sin (vis-à-vis whiteness as purity). There was a sarcasm here that reaffirmed stereotypes of heathens, the devil, and superstition. Carnival is an annual catharsis- the one time of the year that these sentiments are shouted in the streets (despite the vigorous religious community). This was a powerful insight that instilled in me a deeper appreciation for Carnival, and a better understanding of what it is to be black in a bleached world (where the successful must conform to white ideals)- something, of course, I will never fully understand.