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Fya Empress bacchanal goes beyond Carnival

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There is a saying which seems to be eternally accurate – Carnival is bacchanal. It, however, is not always of the enjoyable type which causes millions of people all around the world to annually perform their ritual of throwing all cares aside and wrapping themselves in the arms of music, food and dance, often carried to the extreme.

All too often that ‘bacchanal’ is steeped in controversy, whether in the fabled Carnival of Rio [de Janeiro in Brazil], on the streets of London or Brooklyn, right here in SVG, or typically, at the mecca of Carnival in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago. The causes are many and varied, ranging from prize money, the treatment of mas makers, facilities for spectators, and, most times having to do with carnival rivalries of one type or another, arising from intense competition among bands, individuals or even among rival governing bodies.

This rivalry sometimes brings out the ugly side of us.

Some years ago, some Vincentians objected to Trinidadian revellers who visit annually for Vincy Mas and spend heavily, thereby contributing to the success of our festival, being allowed to cross the stage on Carnival Tuesday. Up to today, there are those who object to Trinidadian arrangers and designers contributing to our bands.

While there are still those who maintain this trend of thought, the driving forces of globalization and regionalization are forcing people more and more together. Vincy performers, masqueraders and revellers participate in T&T Carnival, Crop Over in Barbados and various Carnivals in Antigua, St Lucia and the metropolitan cities of Toronto, New York and London, and vice versa. Our soca stars compete in various Soca Monarch competitions throughout the region and we, in turn, welcome designers, arrangers, players and revellers from our sister territories. In that way, at the people level, we are cementing the ‘One Caribbean’ concept.

How disappointing it must be, therefore, nay, repugnant, disgusting, to hear the news that Vincy-born Fya Empress, a multiple-crown winner of calypso competitions in SVG, the land of her birth, and also where she resides, Trinidad and Tobago, has been denied the right to compete in the finals of that country’s Calypso Monarch show on Sunday night.

Fya Empress, real name Lorna Nedd-Reid, has been living in that country for the past 15 years, being married to a Trinbagonian. She has participated in and been successful at various levels in those competitions, including winning the National Queen and Tobago competitions and has never been denied participation. Suddenly, based on a possible legal challenge by an aggrieved competitor, the authorities have taken the shameful step of ruling that Fya Empress cannot compete because she is not a national of Trinidad and Tobago.

This goes far beyond calypso, Carnival and Fya Empress. She has every right to challenge the ruling legally and has our support and solidarity in any such endeavour. But we are talking CARICOM here and in the 21st century, that is the kind of backwardness to which people are pandering. This nonsense must stop. We might as well stop calling our passports CARICOM passports.

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