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A New Journal For Carnival Arts

Studying Carnival arts will never be the same again. Research will be so much easier after a new academic journal dedicated to the subject has launched later this year.
The International Journal of Carnival Arts (IJCA) represents a new approach to writing about and recording our core Carnival artforms – steelpan, calypso and mas.

The IJCA is not intended to be a news magazine, but instead will act as a forum for more in-depth discussions on a wide range of subjects. Examples might include the new research into early calypso recordings, intellectual property rights in mas, advances in pan technology, or the economic effects of Carnival-related tourism. Being dedicated solely to Carnival arts, the IJCA is expected to become the go-to place for anyone seriously interested in the subject.

But why do we need an entirely new journal, when academic papers and Masters and doctoral theses on Carnival are regularly published in existing journals or made available on the web?

Whilst much good work is indeed being published today, sadly these papers are inaccessible to the great majority of readers. They can be hard to find, and even harder to buy; journals are often eye-wateringly expensive. Those without access to a well-stocked university library or academic subscription service are effectively excluded from current knowledge and discussion on the subject.

Journals can sometimes apply an ‘ivory tower’ filter to intending authors. In consequence, most are drawn from a rather narrow, ‘high-level’ academic background. Yet Carnival is created and directed by practical people; their voices are heard all too rarely in academic circles.

As a result, much of what is written about Carnival arts represents a limited viewpoint. It’s usually that of the outsider looking in, who may not always understand enough about the subject and those involved to be able to effectively analyse what they see.

Feedback and informed criticism are lacking too. Many years ago, Ashton Moore – the calypsonian Mighty Tiger who was President of the Association of British Calypsonians – told Soca News that every year students and academics would come to the London Calypso Tent. They would ask a host of questions, take photographs, and interview visiting and local calypsonians and musicians, sometimes for the whole season. After the final night, they would go off to write up their theses. And then – nothing. By now, we should have benefitted from a wonderful library of material, some of it likely to be of great historical value because so many pioneers have passed on. But the very people who were put under the microscope never got to see what had been written about their work and their artistry. This is a grave failing: surely the ultimate ‘peer reviewer’ is the subject of the academic work themselves.

By contrast with the traditional model, the new journal will be open to all, from professors to practitioners, Masters of Arts to masters of their art. The Author Guidelines make clear that the IJCA will be “an open access journal… available to authors and readers without financial implications”. Unlike some journals, authors will not have to pay to be published; unlike almost all journals, readers will not have to pay to access the papers – they will all be freely available on the web.

The International Journal of Carnival Arts is the brainchild of Haroun Shah, of Nostalgia Steelband. Haroun is also the organiser of the Biennial Steelpan Conference (despite its name it covers more than pan). He reports that after each conference he receives over 2,000 requests for copies of the conference book. However, the conference book only includes the summary of a particular presentation. Recipients of the book often respond by asking for more details which IJCA may now be able to fulfil. Clearly, there is a hunger for ground-breaking research and writing about Carnival arts.

Haroun told Soca News that he expects the first issue to appear in the first quarter of 2020. “I am excited and positive it will work,” he said.

Haroun was motivated to take this project forward because, “Far too much fantastic steelpan, kaiso and Carnival arts work is being produced… and falls by the wayside without being properly documented.” So who will write for the journal and how can a writer with something new and original to say about Carnival contribute?

Haroun is keen to attract first-time authors and especially practitioners. He explained: “I am hoping this journal will persuade many who would not normally consider writing to use their laptop and write something that [appeals] to them.”

Papers can be on any aspect of the Carnival arts, and should normally be between 3,000 and 7,000 words long. They should, of course, include references, and everyone’s work will be peer-reviewed. This should be especially helpful to less-experienced authors, and it will ensure that the journal’s content is of lasting value.

To date, 50 editors have been recruited from around the world. They represent an impressive spread of knowledge and experience in the Carnival arts. Their specialisms include cultural studies, journalism, music history, theatre, tourism, pan composition, arranging and judging, events promotion, Carnival heritage, gender issues, calypso history… and more.

At this point, in true academic style, the present author must disclose an interest: he is one of the Journal’s seven senior editors. The full editorial board are: Haroun Shah; Dawn Batson PhD (USA); Kim Johnson PhD (CITT, Carnival Institute of Trinidad & Tobago); Suzanne Burke PhD (UWI, Trinidad), Robbie Joseph (Pan Podium), Alexander Loewenthal BA (calypsonian Alexander D Great, ACASA); Stephen Spark MA (University of Westminster), consulting editor Soca News.

So, if there’s a Carnival arts topic that’s been burning away in your brain for an age, and which you really think people ought to know about or that ought to be debated, do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

For more information, contact Haroun at: harounnshah@gmail.com

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