Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

Black Kings: Aesthetic Representation in Carnival in Trinidad and London

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

Black Kings: Aesthetic Representation in Carnival in Trinidad and London

Article excerpt

In this article, I present an analysis of different celebratory movements in African-derived Carnivals artfully woven together through the stigma of European colonization and the macabre stamp left on the regions of the world it colonized. The article focuses on two geographical locales: Carnival in Trinidad, a victim of European imperialism, and its relocation in the global city of London, home of one of the major European colonizers. In Carnival, mas (a visual enactment with spectacular costumes) is played (kinesthetically displayed through dance, music, and collective participation). Bands (groups) of masqueraders (dancers in costume) play mas (don a costume to participate in Carnival) with each other on carnival days.

By conjuring up the creative weaving together of these diverse strands of carnival experience, 1 concentrate here on how Carnival is being reinterpreted as a major symbol for Afro-Caribbean (and Asian) peoples to redecipher and reconstruct their fragmented histories, which were effectively eroded through colonization and other problems of belonging encountered in the two metropolises. These degrees of difference manifested in Carnival are examined to draw together a variety of marginal voices spinning out collaged messages--of confrontation, rebellion, protest, and resistance--in two predominant cultural spaces, as these dispossessed individuals continually seek to dismantle and reposition both colonial and neocolonial hierarchies.

The title of this article--"Black Kings"--provided me with a framework to explore aesthetic representation in these African-derived Carnival celebrations through (1) a unique type of spatial ordering engendered by plantation slavery and (2) a dismantling of the colonial standard language code contained in the meaning of the word King. This term is a specific western European configuration. It stands for upper-class norms and values, which automatically put certain structures in place. The King resides in a palace/place/space, a monumental dwelling, which conjures up images of beauty associated with amassed and acquired wealth as well as respectability. This is the Big House--home of the master/colonial overlord--which ritually prioritizes the polarization of colonialism and its accompanying oppressive, authoritarian structures. The Big House conjures up images of fixity, permanence, stasis, and sterility associated with the norms and behavior of the elite class.

In contrast, outside the sacred space of the palace/Big House is the surrounding slave yard, with the plantations, slaves' houses, and masses of enslaved peoples, whose very existence is defined in the so-called economic capital sustenance of the Big House. Here one also finds the King's subjects--these enslaved masses--who have pledged allegiance, obedience, and respect for the King. In addition, this out-of-place space--the margins surrounding the Big House--is an overcrowded space. It is linked to coercion and denigration, and it is flooded with memories of the abysmal darkness of the Middle Passage and its accompanying trauma for the African enslaved.

I have used this dichotomy as a metaphor, first, to reconstruct that spatial division engendered by slavery in the West Indies and elsewhere (in this case, Europe) and its devastating effects on the lives of millions of Africans, and second, to demonstrate how this western European prescribed configuration--translated aesthetically as erasures and borders-can be, and is, used by displaced individuals to deconstruct those very dominant social structures and values. The end result--and the Black Kings I have selected demonstrate this--is a rearrangement, a relocation, of the African estranged peoples in the present, so that their culture in its different forms--thrust into the margins, occupying the out-of-place space outside of the sacred sphere of the Kings' palace--takes center stage over those other forms of prescribed European traditions and customs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.