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Socadrome grows up at four

Published: 
Monday, March 6, 2017
Masqueraders in Bliss, the first band to cross the Socadrome stage on Carnival Tuesday.

 It’s the fourth year running for the little Carnival Tuesday venue that could, and while it continues to be plagued by the same problems, the organising team hasn’t been deaf to the issues and rallied very well this year.

For anyone tuning in late, the Socadrome was a project initiated by a coalition of some of the largest bands on the road on Carnival Tuesday. In 2017, that was Tribe and its sister bands Bliss and The Lost Tribe, Yuma and Harts.

Together these bands were notorious for contributing greatly to the congestion leading into the Queen’s Park Savannah judging venue and only slightly less so at the other venues in Woodbrook and Downtown Port-of-Spain.

While nobody in the bands particularly seemed keen on missing their moment on the Savannah stage, they were increasingly less enamoured of hours spent at a standstill heading northward to the entrance to the Savannah.

So the leadership of the bands, which included Passion in 2014, decided to design a space at the Jean Pierre Complex large enough to accommodate a large pretty mas band comfortably, equipped it with a high-definition video feed and offered spectators access at a peppercorn fee.

Winning crowds proved a slow process, much harder than crowding winers into the complex, and eventually the Socadrome team, led by the Tribe bandleader, dropped the admission fee, since it probably cost more to collect it than they were earning at the gate.

But the Socadrome isn’t immune to the considerable vagaries of Carnival Tuesday scheduling, despite the organisational chops that these bands have invested in managing their costumed troop movements.

That led to two of the biggest snafus of this year’s event, the nonappearance of Tribe itself, which is pretty much like scheduling a heavyweight championship and sending the audience home before the title bout, and a staggering lull between bands of almost three and a half hours.

An earlier gap was handled smoothly by an extended a cappella extempo session featuring Lingo, Gypsy and Black Sage and a brief appearance by Calypso Rose, who offered up a lively rendition of her popular lavway Leave Me Alone to an appreciative crowd and interacted spicily with the young people playing traditional characters during this first intermission.

I’d started out indifferent to this group of youngsters, who sported budget versions of traditional costuming and were, well, just too young to be doing the stuff they were doing.

The Pierrot Grenade and Midnight Robber may not have had any speeches to offer, and the Jab Jab may not have been any good at cracking the rope whip, but the young cast worked with genuine commitment and a tireless enthusiasm that kept them onstage and among the audience, performing for hours.

The group, from NA Productions, apparently a performing arm of Necessary Arts, won the audience over with their energy and warmth, making it almost embarrassing to think of leaving while they were working so hard.

The planned entertainment was quickly sucked into a black hole of apparently endless time, but along the way we were offered quite pleasing extended sets by Baron and David Rudder and lively interludes by Omardath Singh, Ravi B and Singer Boi Sergio.

Rudder took advantage of a steady rain that ruled out stage performances to do his trademark walk among the crowd, stoking the audience into a memorable fervor with a range of past hits and his 2017 offering, This is Trinidad.

Add in a series of beer giveaways, a crowdsourced extempo competition that collapsed into good-natured shambles and nimble hosting work from a ceaselessly game Nikki Crosby and you have a mix that held most of the crowd together, astonishingly, until 3:30 when the final band of the day, The Lost Tribe, appeared. 

The team running the Socadrome did a remarkable job of working through the issues that have plagued the venue since its inception. Most days at the Socadrome ended early, but this fourth effort ran its course from an early start right through to its end.

In much the same way that Tribe did when it chose the Savannah over its own venue, the Socadrome must choose between placid rebellion and pushing for organisational change.

There is a livestream from the venue, an audience and a stage—but the NCC refuses to acknowledge the space as anything more than a release valve for its parade route, missing opportunities to use the space to provide an additional showcase for aspects of the festival that are often given short shrift at the competition venues.

The Minstrels, Bats, Jab Molassies, small bands and individuals that go largely unnoticed on the Savannah stage could have found an appreciative audience and the time to deliver a real performance at the Socadrome.

The NCC and its stakeholder cronies will have to be prodded into rethinking what’s possible, despite having staged Carnival in the same space themselves once before.

There is only so much space in Port-of-Spain. There is only so much time on Carnival Tuesday. An international livestream feed that could cherrypick between action taking place at the Savannah and its feeder venues and the Socadrome with a nod at actual stage management and direction could be the start of something of commercial value to more than the diaspora.

Despite the resistance to the idea of the Socadrome that accompanied its establishment and lingers still, using the space more formally can only open Carnival’s potential and provide more opportunities for more creative expression and broadcast opportunity.

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