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Monday, July 31, 2017

It's Carnival, Baby!

Midsummer Nightmare

Dr. Lester Simon-Hazlewood


A long time ago in the land of Nti, the Arn festival of emancipation was celebrated by taking off one separate article of clothing every day for twelve consecutive days. To prepare for the festival, some folks dressed heavily, donning thirteen pieces, whilst others made no such stuffy preparations and gleefully, at the drop of a hat, started doffing their hats, their shoes, ounces, pounds and hundredweights of makeup, wigs, weaves and other hair pieces, over-wear, wear, and underwear, and even layers of their beautiful, black skin. Others just took off altogether and left for the neighbouring lands of Uda and Unda.

On the sixtieth anniversary of the festival, the king summoned all the minstrels to his palace. Some singers were also kings and queens of the land in their own musical realm; and musicians were regarded highly as the main custodians of culture. Some musicians played music that made people start to dance, stop dancing, and start to dance again; again and again. This led to some of them deployed as traffic wardens dressed in red, amber or green, to make drivers slow down, stop, and start again; again and again. They also played special music to stop drivers using their cell phones in traffic.

The most difficult task these warden-musicians faced was getting drivers to be kind; to say thanks to other drivers who were kind to them, and to be wary of weary passersby trying to cross the road. However, some of these passersby, old and young, were very cantankerous, an assumed native characteristic, and oftentimes told the warden-musicians, who were mostly horn players, that they, the musicians, were going to get a real, good blow…. in a certain, basal part of their anatomy.

At the meeting at the palace, the king announced that this anniversary was very special; that there should be no nastiness, not even from Queen Ivenus, the loved one; that the land needed special music and special songs and especially, special dances. No longer will emancipation mean taking off one’s clothes. Instead, emancipation will mean from now on, and forevermore, respect for each other. There was a long, deafening silence, so quieting one could hear the wailing waves of dead ancestors coming from the bed of the middle passages of the Atlantic Ocean.

The silence was broken by a silly musician, actually a comedian masquerading as a musician. Some often asked what was the difference between the two? He reminded that being respectful can be dangerous, even fatal. He recounted how his brother, a Rastaman, had ventured into a cowboy saloon in the Wild, Wild, West; and on pushing past the swinging, saloon doors, greeted the cowboys by hailing, Jah! May his wandering soul, emancipated from his bullet-ridden body, shredded to pieces, rest in peace. After the token laughter, the comic-musician didn’t tell them how the police said they had so much respect for the first, real Rastaman in Nti, Ras King Nki, that they respectfully locked him up innumerable times; seeing how he had plenty locks.

Being minstrels, they all tried to impress the king and queen with tales of misbegotten respect. Like the one, told after a festival many years ago, about the respectable, hoity-toity woman who didn’t want to dance in the middle of the road for all to see. Instead, she danced and danced, respectfully, round and round, behind everyone’s back, until she ended up dancing on top of her stepmother’s grave. Sadly, the stepmother had been buried at sea.

Some minstrels were not pleased with the new decree and wondered aloud why respect and lubricious, emancipatory dancing had to be separated. They reminded that respect begins at the bottom. A plump, maiden minstrel, of good background stock, as they are wont to say in the land of Nti, was not at all amused. They laughed at her and made her feel so badly, she had to retort. She reminded them how disrespectful many songs were of women, as if all women were descendants of Jean and Dinah, the English ones, and Rosita and Clementina, the Spanish ones.

She pointed at one musician in particular and told the gathering how he had tried to interfere with her, as they are wont to call it in the land of Nti, and how she refused his advances and told him what to do with his unrequited love. Now they all wanted to know what she told him. School children say, as they are wont to say in the land of Nti, that after he told her she was being obstinate, she advised him to go home, take a shower, drink a rum, lie in bed and, with a novel, sardonic double entendre, “Wet you hand and wait for me”! Even the nubile queen roared and choked with laughter, until her head fell off and landed in the king’s lap. No one made any jokes about the king giving back the queen her laughing, choking, fallen head.

The oldest musician showered bounteous praises on the female minstrels, until he was reminded that he had fallen victim to the mango juice legend. Again, school children had it to say that legend has it that whosoever washed their face with mango juice and went to sleep will fall in love with and become addicted to and tied to, as they said in Nti, the first thing they saw on awakening. So, who tied the red cow in the pasture next to his house? He quickly hid the Red Bull drink in his hand. And that was the clean version.

Then the king’s seer, Oma, addressed the gathering. A broad hush brushed across the floor. The ceiling dropped a few metres to meet it. Quiet filled the room as the walls drew closer. One musician thought of calling on the group, Air Supply. Surely the sage will have something sagacious to say. After all, school children say, he was the most learned man in Nti. They say whilst studying for degrees at the University of Timbuktu, he took Kelvin, Celsius, Fahrenheit and Centigrade too. By this time visitors to the palace, who had come from far and farther and farther still, had joined the assembly. Oma proclaimed emancipation, like reparations, to be a two-way civilizing act. And one minstrel whispered to another that to repair past damages, and with due respect, they will no longer play mas on Redcliffe, Market and High Streets, or any other one-way street.

And so it became that for that festival and thereafter, all the music and dancing were played on two-way streets. Then the visitors, some of whom were colonizers, went back to their homelands and told their kings and queens including King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, that carnival, emancipation and, most importantly, reparations all meant respect for all humanity including oneself. And they all lived and danced happily ever after.

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