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Vincy Mas 2017: A Call to Memory

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Carnival 2017 has come to an end – a glorious end for winners of the various competitions across pan, mas, and song; and a wonderful end for tens of thousands of revellers who took to the streets on Monday and Tuesday in joyous celebration of our 40th anniversary of July mas. Every Carnival has always produced an enduring memory that defines the season – an extraordinary mas, a commanding road march, a compelling calypso final night, a dominant panorama performance. This year, however, has been different. For, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it will be remembered as the celebration of 40 years of July mas. And it is good that this is so.

Vincy Mas 2017 is the first Carnival defined by a call to memory across all elements of the Carnival. In choosing to celebrate 40 years of mas, it by no means indicates that the 40th year of the July mas is more important that the 39th or the 41st year. Rather, it underlines the principle that, as a society, we need moments of recollection, remembrance, and contemplation, so that we can allow past experiences to inform current choices and shape future vision. The transmission of knowledge across generations is the greatest cultural legacy a society can bequeath to its successors. This is true not simply of Carnival, but of every aspect of national life. So surely, the 50th year of July mas will provide another occasion to celebrate and remember the past.

In 1976, in one of his greatest songs, Vibrating Scakes intuited the value of memory and Carnival. He sang, “I want to revive carnival, bring back the old bacchanal.” And just one year later Vincentians answered the call to reinvigorate Carnival by shifting from a February Mas to the July Mas we have just celebrated. It is therefore interesting to note that today, as Vibrating Scakes and others sing about celebrating 40 years of Carnival, the Carnival Development Corporation replaced Victoria Park with Little Tokyo as the venue for the Mardi Gras celebrations. It is at once both a confrontation of the past where Victoria Park has held and continues to hold a privileged place in Carnival lore and an opening to a future where the evolution of Carnival brings new theatres of action.

We cannot know, of course, which experiment will stand the test of time and which would not. But we can observe that the Little Tokyo experiment brought masqueraders and spectators in much closer proximity to one another and that is a good thing indeed. It is also true that the backdrop of the sea and foliage of Little Tokyo provided some impressive photography of revellers at mas. The debate will therefore proceed on whether this is a temporary or permanent innovation to our July Mas.

But perhaps the greatest gift of our 40th anniversary of July Mas is its elevation of a principle – the call to remember, interrogate, contemplate, celebrate, and innovate. In this regard, it has triggered a profound response on the value of national memories that we need to emulate elsewhere in our national life.

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