MEN & their STORIES
WENDELL MANWARREN- IF YOU DON'T KNOW YOUR POWER YOU WILL GIVE IT AWAY
People hear Three Canal (Rapso group) making a statement - but they don’t consider that we didn’t just wake up one day and decide to, we tapped into that all-emcompassing, colourful, creative environment of the Trinidad we grew up in.
When I was nine, my cousins and I were designated as Jacka’s chariot pullers. We didn’t know much about what was going on, just that Jacka was playing Caesar for J’Ouvert and his chariot needed some pullers and they pull us in and say ‘Here, alyuh will be chariot pullers’. We didn’t think anything of it - we took the Carnival, the culture for granted, it was just always there - it was a mas camp next to my house, it was Riley the old Bat man who was my grandfather’s friend always liming by us, it was everywhere and everybody - everybody involved in a mas making, mas playing, pan beating, wire-bending, costume sewing something.
So us nine year old boys getting pull in to pull Jacka’s chariot was just another part of this something. They put us in some crocus bag costumes and slap some mud on us and all I thought then was how cold and horrible the mud felt - and then we were out and up the road J’Ouvert morning, pulling Jacka’s chariot. Somewhere, sometime, some scamble take place, next thing we see is Jacka head get buss, blood spilling and some uncle whisk us away and then we were back home.
The whole thing was a surreal experience that had no starting and no ending, it was just a fluid movement of a multitude of people and a series of events that left me with a ‘what just happen?’ feeling.
I wasn’t allowed back into J’Ouvert after that but when I was old enough to go on my own I went right back into the thing. That was a time in Trinidad when my generation was influenced by the idea of independence and looking to a new future, we were fuelled by the Masters all around us, the Helen Camps who showed us that what we had to say in Trinidad Tent Theatre was relevant, the Peter Minshall who showed us that mas was about intensity and a manifestation of a collective vision - however long and hard the days were, however creative we had to be, it wasn’t about a cut and paste, finish it fast, import something, it was about an important something. We fed from the tables of Trinidad and Tobago Television and Dave Elcock on the radio who showed us how to feast on our own food. And when I went on tour to London with Helen Camps and realised how interested these English people were in who we are, what we were doing, what we had to say, I came back with an even greater appreciation for what I was experiencing here.
It wasn’t like we planned to make some statement with J’Ouvert or had some profound vision of J’Ouvert and Carnival, it was an organic thing, a product of the environment we were in, so me and Roger Roberts and Steve Ouditt just fell into that energy and formed the band as another part of that us.
When we came with the song Blue - me, John Isaacs and Stanton Kewley - that was another organic thing - the first draft was a social commentary and it was Jean -Michele Gilbert who brought his posse from France and played with us every year who said: But alyuh should make a J’Ouvert song…yeah…duhhh ent? That line ‘Three canal making a statement’ was our expression of what we knew Carnival to be, that all encompassing, all inclusive thing around us that we grew up on, we were just saying: everybody come in, this is we!
People know the success of Blue, but they don’t know the life-lesson of the artist having overnight success he isn’t ready for. The J’Ouvert band grew from 500 to 10,000 that year and J’Ouvert morning ended with drunken scragglers making their own statement that sent Roger to hospital with a buss head and left me with no voice from a big stone thrown at my throat. But everybody know you can’t play mas and fraid powder, so Roger break out from hospital and the next day we were back on the road playing mas with Minshall.
So we making the statement: What time it is, what going on? Because that environment that fed us is gone…the Woodbrook we knew was cottage industries facilitated by mas’, the mas camps we grew up in were huge teaching arenas that understood Minshall’s statement that ‘the mas happened only by the permission of the people’ because mas starts from the ground up, the music was about being accessible to the people, it was about engaging not pandering…the original Carnival was all-inclusive.
We can’t necessarily Bring Back the Ole Time Days like Nappy sang, but we can find ways of reminding the people, showing the people, engaging the people in the power of the Carnival imagination in this time. Without our real understanding of this thing - this festival of liberation, renewal, affirmation of self, participation by all - without that knowing, we are abducating our power. This is what the collobrating and mentoring and Boom Up History and the Big Black Box is about for us…finding ways of keeping that Carnival imagination alive, creating spaces for everybody to come in, to say this is we and to learn together through practise.
We not interested in legacy; what time it is, is NOW. What going on is the re-evolution of the Carnival imagination.