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TT CARNIVAL — The Greatest Show on Earth — officially begins today with the staging of the National Calypso Monarch finals at Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain tonight and continues with a number of shows, competitions, fetes, parties and street mas right up to midnight on Carnival Tuesday, when “last lap” wine and jam on the road, ends.

Tonight, defending calypso monarch Duane O’Connor will attempt to retain his crown when he does battle with 11 of the country’s best calypsonians, of which seven are women. 

But even before the first notes are sung tonight in the finals, controversy was stirred when veteran calypsonian and eight-time Calypso Monarch Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool yesterday slammed and condemned the change in the format of the Carnival Sunday Dimanche Gras show, by the National Carnival Commission. 

Traditionally, Dimanche Gras usually hosted the finals of the National Carnival Kings and Queens and then the National Calypso Monarch finals in a show which lasted for several hours and which usually ended in the early morning hours of Carnival Monday, when the focus shifts to J’ouvert celebrations. 

However, during this year’s celebrations, Dimanche Gras will now be a showcase of the various aspects of Carnival — chief among them the Kings and Queens of Mas bands, Calypso and pan performances — but no competitions. 

The Calypso Monarch finals will be held tonight. The finals of the Kings and Queens of Carnival will be held tomorrow — the same time when the International Soca and Groovy Soca monarch competitions will also be held. 

Speaking at the re-launch of his book, Rituals of Power & Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad & Tobago, 1763-1962, at the John Donaldson Campus of the University of TT (UTT) yesterday, Liverpool pulled no punches as he accused those responsible for Dimanche Gras of removing the Calypso Monarch and King and Queen of Carnival competitions, solely for commercial considerations. “So many people are just going after the money. So many people are forgetting their traditions. And that is why I am against this year’s Dimanche Gras. 

We are losing too many traditions,” charged Dr Liverpool who is among the finalists in tonight’s Calypso Monarch show. 

Saying he believes that bikini and beads Mas has its place in Carnival, Liverpool said he does not think this should deter from the celebrations of “real traditions” of Carnival including the Dimanche Gras, which generations of people look forward to annually. 

“If more and more people knew about the traditions and history of Carnival, we would find more and more of them playing the Robber or the traditional mas characters,” Liverpool declared. 

Responding to critics of the new Dimanche Gras format, show producer and Managing/Creative Director of Unlimited Functions Limited Derrick Lewis said the public needs to have, “an open mind”, and comparing the old format to the new one is like, “comparing Beyonce to the New York Symphony.” 

Working with a $3 million budget and a time frame of little more than a month, Lewis said he hopes that by show’s end, the audience will be able to identify with this year’s Dimanche Gras theme, “I Am Carnival”. 

“I want to leave people so proud to be ‘I Am’ that they individually become Carnival by the time the show is finished. We want to create that emotion and feeling, that ‘I am Carnival, too’. 

We hope to engage all aspects and all senses,” Lewis declared in a Newsday interview in January. The Dimanche Gras producer assured this year’ show will have context, some artistic presentation, theatre, humour and even engaging banter. 

Liverpool’s condemnation of the Dimanche Gras format yesterday followed threats of a boycott of the Carnival Kings and Queens finals by some veteran and former mas kings and queens who objected to the finals being held on the same night as the Soca and Groovy Soca finals. 

Forming themselves into a group known as the TT Carnival Bands Association, the masmen and women made several demands on the organisers of Carnival to stave off a boycott. They subsequently decided to participate in the Kings and Queens of Carnival competition when the NCC revealed a list of improvements to Carnival chief of which was an improved and increased prize money structure.

In 2012, the first place senior King and Queen each received $120,000. Now, with an estimated 60 percent increase in prize money, whoever is crowned Senior King and Queen this year will get $250,000 each. 

Liverpool said he was thrilled to be competing in tonight’s final, especially as he is the oldest contestant this year. “I feel happy to be there among the youth,” said the 72-year-old singer. “At my age, to be in a finals...that’s just great. I feel very, very happy. 

I am the eldest person taking part in the competition. Just to be in the semi-finals was a pleasure,” he said while smiling broadly. 

Liverpool also disclosed to Newsday a little known fact about the country’s next President, Justice Anthony Carmona. Liverpool said in 1979, Carmona sang calypso under the sobriquet “Prophet of Sisyphus” and won a calypso contest hosted by the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine Campus. 

Today is the first of six jam-packed days of major Carnival events. 

The National Panorama Single Pan and Small Band finals are scheduled to begin at 6 pm at Skinner Park, San Fernando while the Conventional Individuals masqueraders will take to the stage at Victoria Square, PoS at 7 pm. 

There’s also the Ole Mas Competition at 8 pm at Petrotrin’s Fyzabad Sports Club. 

Shortly before dawn tomorrow, at 5 am, Piccadilly Greens in East PoS will become the stage for the annual Re-Enactment of the Camboulay Riots during the 1881 Carnival celebrations. 

Then at noon, selected streets in the capital will be taken over by the Traditional Carnival Characters Festival Parade. 

Once the sun has set, it will be time for the first ever “Big Friday” show, where the King and Queen of Carnival in the junior and senior categories will be crowned at QPS. 

Saturday begins bright and early for children participating in the Junior Parade of the Bands, which starts at 7 am in PoS and ends on ‘The Big Stage’ at QPS. 

Twelve hours later, a large crowd is expected to fill seats in the North and Grand Stands at QPS to enjoy the “sweet sound” of pan during the medium and large band categories of the National Panorama Competition. 

Carnival Sunday is all Dimanche Gras, which begins at 6 pm at QPS. It’s also about last minute preparations by Mas bands and their masqueraders for the Parade of the Bands through PoS and across “The Big Stage” on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. 

Of course, everything begins at 7 pm tonight with the National Calypso Monarch Finals, which will feature four former monarchs vying for top honours — Kurt Allen, Karene Asche, Duane O’Connor and Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool.

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