Thursday, February 09, 2006

3canal 4

Monday night, the Little Carib Theatre

As we stroll up White Street past the Little Carib stage door, we weave through a handful of young men warming up their voices, practising their harmonies. At their panyard a block away, Invaders are warming up too, chords floating by as though with the breeze.

There's a small, laid-back crowd on the Roberts Street corner--mostly friends and relatives of the performers, a few journalists and photographers hanging around, looking like they haven't been getting enough sleep. It's eight, and the 3Canal show starts in half an hour, but the main doors aren't open yet. It's preview night, so no one's bothered.

L--- the features writer and D--- the photographer are chatting about The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horseshoe Club, which opens on Wednesday. L--- is wearily nibbling a currant roll. D---'s been to a couple of Lucky Diamond rehearsals. "It's going to be a scandal," he says, eyes twinkling.

At the far end of Roberts Street the illuminated cranes swing lazily over the site of One Woodbrook Place. Mr. Manning says we need more tall buildings, and fast, so they're working the night shift.

The theatre's only half full when we get in, and we snag a spot on the right-hand side, second row. (Last year and the year before, coming to the show near the end of the run when houses were packed, I had to sit up in what you might call the gods.) Here we're ten feet from the stage, with a prime view of the jamettes--Cecilia Salazar, Dionne McNicol, and Tonya Evans--and the Cut + Clear musicians, and the Canals themselves when they bound on amidst smoke and flashing lights.

From the start, the energy is high and the licks are hot. 3Canal's music has always pulsed with political commentary and moral fervour, and in previous years the show took aim at all manner of public hypocrisy, but this year the edge is sharper and the thrust is angrier. The lyrics are plainspoken: "The people not taking that", says one song, "What you gonna do when the people come for their millions?" asks another (dedicated, Wendell says with a grin, to "Smiley and Eric", a.k.a. ex Cabinet ministers Franklyn Khan and Eric Williams, both under investigation on bribery charges).

Song after song, the Canals lash out at corrupt politicians, corporate fat cats, criminal ganglords, and every kind of authority figure betraying the public trust. And song after song, they link their protest to the tradition of Carnival "resistance", the confrontational "warrior spirit" of J'Ouvert, of the blue devil, the sly subversiveness of masquerades like the midnight robber, the Dame Lorraine, the jab jab. This music isn't merely angry--it's optimistic. It has faith in justice and hope for redemption and trust in the goodness of ordinary people, and it evokes the wrath of the almighty. ("When judgement come / we dropping the bomb".) It is the kind of music you'd want to hear on the barricades, and while Stanton and Roger and Wendell are on stage--tall and strong and fierce, their eyes flashing fire and their waists working up an irreverent rhythm, smoke swirling around and strobe lights transfixing the audience--for each song's duration, at least, the capital-R Revolution seems possible.

And just that morning an email had arrived in my inbox, forwarded via a string of acquaintances, announcing plans to resist Mr. Manning's attempt to seize the President's Grounds--a small park in St. Ann's, just outside the walls of the official residence of the prime minister, and used as a playing field by generations of sportsmen and schoolchildren--to seize the President's Grounds and incorporate that public open space into the prime minister's private garden, because Mr. Manning and his nepotite wife apparently feel their flowerbeds are not quite grand enough to match their combined dignity. Perhaps Mr. Manning thought no one would mind, or more likely he simply doesn't care, but the people of St. Ann's and Cascade do mind, and tomorrow morning at half past six--when the birds are still singing their dawn chorus and the foreday dew is still on the grass--they will walk up and down in front of Mr. Manning's big gate to make sure he understands that they don't intend to let him take their park.

In the second row at the Little Carib, bobbing up and down in my seat and smiling at the Canals on the stage, I think of the President's Grounds; and of the Red House, which Mr. Manning wants to turn into his private office, evicting Parliament; and of the cricket stadium in Tarouba that no one but Mr. Manning wants; and of the aluminium smelter that the people of Cedros are up in arms against; and of the skyscrapers going up in downtown Port of Spain that Mr. Manning says will make us into a developed nation; and of the multi-million-dollar blimp that Mr. Manning says will keep us safe from crime; and of all the other instances of Mr. Manning's megalomania that have proven--if we doubted--how little respect he has for even the appearances of democracy, and have proven--for perhaps we still need to be convinced--the bankruptcy of our politics; and I thought, lower-case or capital R, the Revolution cannot come soon enough.

Their critics say 3Canal's message is naive, their lyrics jingoistic slogans. Certainly a line like "The people not taking that" can't be described as subtle. But surely the time for subtlety is long past in this bacchanal pappyshow nation. The juggernaut of the Manning dictatorship--and that's more and more what this feels like--might be halted now only by a critical mass of real public anger, by enough people deciding they really aren't taking "that" anymore. And if (there was once a time I would have said "when") we do reach that point, well, I'll just say the soundtrack on my own barricade will be 3Canal.

They sing "Ben Lion" (with Christine Tanker in the audience), and, tantalisingly, the first verse of "Las' Carnival", but as always, it's "Talk Yuh Talk" that really works up the crowd. "Run your run, now is Armageddon...." By the curtainless curtain-call everyone's on their feet, and then the show is over.

In the lobby of the Little Carib someone hands us plastic cups of wine, but I take just a sip or two. I see L--- the writer again; she's grimacing with a migraine. Outside on Roberts Street the cool air is still fresh with the melodies of Invaders. Two blocks west, the construction cranes have shut down for the night.

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