Fete wildness: Culture or irresponsible behaviour?
Mr Killa's Run Wid It had everyone picking up whatever was in sight and running with it from people to chairs.
Throughout the history of soca, there have been many songs that got us obeying every command.
We made like bulls and trampled through the crowd for Machel Montano’s “Toro Toro”, we ran left and right in fetes thanks to Marvin and Nigel Lewis’ “Moving to the Left”, we hopped from one foot to the other for JW and Blaze’s “Palance”, sat on men’s shoulders for Ronnie McIntosh’s “Donkey” and thanks to Superblue we are still waving.
These days, the songs encourage us to go beyond silly dances.
In 2019, Mr Killa swept the nation and the International Soca Monarch title with ‘Run Wid It” and, thanks to his clever social media marketing showing Grenadians picking up items and running with it, many people followed suit, picking up everything from chairs to other people.
Problem Child’s ‘Nasty Up’ is the latest song eliciting wild behaviour with its call for strange behaviour.
“We go mash-up and buy it back, tear it down and build it back,” he sings in the chorus.
The actions of patrons at fetes have one DJ expressing concern for the ramifications on the future of Carnival events, not just in the Caribbean but in foreign countries where the culture is not mainstream.
Private Ryan’s concern was registered after the release of a video in which a young woman clad in a bikini is seen diving into a sea of people from a music truck during a J’ouvert party in Miami.
Ryan, who was the DJ on that truck at the time, said in an Instagram post that the incident got him thinking.
“Recently with “Nasty Up”, “Run With it” and the rise of music that encourages us to "mash up everything" are we setting ourselves up for something that could inevitably cripple us and our culture,” he asked.
“What if venues start to deem us unruly because we destroy venues, tear up plants, rip down banners, remove trash cans etc. What if the person who dives or tries to outdo this moment gets fatally injured? What if on @ubersocacruise they mash up essential things on the cruise ship and they don't want "our kind" back because we are too wild. I know for a fact in Trinidad Fire Services would have shut this down immediately,” said Ryan.
He said he knew that many clubs and promoters that have discriminated against other genres of music such as dancehall and rock for the wildness and made it hard for them to get proper venues.
Private Ryan’s questions stirred a debate among many people, some who disagreed with any call for censorship and called for West Indians to own their own venues to have events, while others urged DJs and mic-men to be more responsible in how they encourage people to behave.
But is it the responsibility of DJs and their hype men?
On whose shoulders does the responsibility lie when it comes to wild behaviour at Carnival events?
In an essay titled Soca Music: Enjoy responsibly, published on Medium, Jeanelle Frontin, former General Manager of MusicTT, said she was hit in the face when someone flung a cup during Private Ryan’s Soca Brainwash at this year’s Miami Carnival.
Jeanelle Frontin, former GM of MusicTT
She said in reviewing the footage she took in the fete in an attempt to identify the cup thrower, she observed the happy crowd destroying all the plants and using the branches as rags and flags to the sound of “Nasty Up”.
“One “mild concussion” diagnosis later, I began to wonder about the role of music and the responsibility of artists, DJs and mic-men, event promoters, broadcasters, and, of course, patrons when they all come together in a fete or on the road. Is destruction ever justified when it is in the name of good-natured fun or even “culture” (as I’ve heard some say)? Aren’t these people generally upstanding, rational, and well-intentioned outside of a party? Do the same rules apply when people congregate? Do they become sheep? If they do, whether by following the instructions of lyrics or mic-men, who then becomes the Shepherd? And, ultimately, whether in leading ourselves or others, how far is too far in the name of “culture” or fun?” she wondered.
Commenting on the video of the girl jumping off the truck, Frontin wrote: “What if something serious did happen, and it was picked up by an international news channel and propagated by those without any understanding of our complex cultural choices, would our events even get Problem Child’s “insurance” anymore? Would venues (regional/ international) want our bookings in their spaces if they believed there would be damage to their property that would result in loss of use or worse? Would the world be open to understanding our culture if it is painted for us by the few who push it too far in the name of wildness?
In examining where the buck stops, Frontin ultimately decides that in the mix of DJs, hype men, broadcasters, promoters, artists and patrons, the latter is the one to be held ultimately responsible for his/her behaviour.
“I am not saying that all of the entities discussed above don’t have a part to play in promoting our culture while reasonably ensuring its safe enjoyment. However, each person who chooses to destroy a plant, rip out decor, and any other action for the sake of “following instructions” is individually responsible for what they have done.
“If a mic-human instructs you to jump off a cliff to your death, good sense is what should kick in because you are not a child. The patrons of these parties are all adults. They can all be arrested and convicted as adults. In all the grey areas, that much is strikingly clear,” she said.
The price for the destructive or life-threatening actions of promoters can have a serious impact on promoters and not just financially.
Jules Sobion, head Roman of Caesar’s Army which does events regionally and internationally said any damage to a venue can affect their event insurance and the loss of the contingency fees which are deposited in the event of an incident.
He said negative stereotypes also affect a promoter’s ability to book a good venue.
He said in the US, Caribbean promoters aren’t accepted and it is difficult to book venues based on what may have transpired in the past or stereotypes based on past behaviour.
He said he has been fortunate to book venues that have not been used by Caribbean promoters before but it is hard.
“Our goal is to break out of the usual venues, our aspirations are high to get places we have never been before but many times we are faced with the stigma of what being a Caribbean promoter represents. They ask what you all coming to do here? We don’t do those parties here. So now we have to move with a liaison that will endorse us,” he said.
Sobion said he, too, has had concerns about the new trend of singing songs that elicits extreme behaviour.
He said his first encounter with a song like that was last year when Dominican Bouyon singer Asa Bantan sang “Do Something Crazy”, which sent people into a frenzy on the Ubersoca cruise.
“So when I first heard it I was like ok and I thought I need to have him in a fete but then Mr Killa superseded him and he made it more commercial because he is more well-known here in Trinidad. So I saw the trend on Ubersoca when that song mash up the boat, they lifted up everything and I said this is going to be difficult for promoters and people having events,” said Sobion.
He said one way promoters can protect themselves from extreme behaviour that might cause damage to property or people is to not hire an artiste even if the song is popular.
He said that was a decision he had to make for a Carnival fete with Mr Killa.
And while he agreed with Frontin that patrons should take responsibility for their actions, Sobion also believes the artistes have a role in limiting the wildness.
“We had Problem Child in Mai Tai Miami but even though there was a frenzy it was not bad. It is part of the artiste themselves not taking it to that level,” he said.
When contacted, Problem Child said adults should be responsible for their actions.
"If we as responsible adults are depending on music and movies to tell us how to act then we have already lost as a person. Each person should be their own person bigger than music," he said.
"If you don't know how far to go as an adult, you have issues within you that you can't blame anyone for but yourself. When my song is played, not everyone does something crazy. You know what this says? You have a choice to or not to."
He noted, however, that in countries such as St Vincent, where he is from, and Grenada, that music and behaviour is the norm.
"You would never hear anyone name a song for anything they choose to partake in," he added.
Problem Child warned that we have to be careful about seeking acceptance about what belongs to us and damaging an artiste's potential to make a living.
"No other genre has ever asked society to accept them. Every other genre has always been this is what it is and you are gonna like it for what it is or not. We have to be careful about thinking about our personal needs when we want to critique the music that also helps make us our funds because when you say something to defend your right, your family and your finances you have to careful about hurting someone else's family income, finances and so on. While somebody is worried about if I can make money if this happens, in the same stride you should worry about would this person make money if I say something negative about their music?"
"You can't worry about am I gonna be good if I play this song, am I gonna be able to rent this place again when you have the choice to not play it. You can't do it and then be worried because some people do want to hear the song, some people do want to have a great time, some people do enjoy it," he said.