“Giwwe a ministry of road (MOR Road)
To build when we mash up on de road (MOR road)
Fix up when we movin to de stage (MOR stage)
Nobody ca stop we
If iz lock up Charge or pay money
Giwwe road We have authority now to
Work, Work, Work, Work”
The Minister of Road won the Road March title. Surprise! I had hopes this year to be a little bit more involved with the Carnival event hopping, however, my pockets could only afford so much (or, so little). Maybe, I should have worked to be de man on de stage that held Machel foot in his localized version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ anti-gravity lean at the International Soca Monarch finals. Dat could win yuh $2million today, oui. I wonder if de foot holder get $1million?
The reality is that ‘Ministry of Road’ was always the front-runner for the Road March title since its release! It is an amazing song! I take the opportunity to big up the songwriters Jelani Shaw, Kasey Phillips, Nikholai Greene and Machel Montano. At the same time, one can listen to the song more carefully and appreciate that this Carnival road song is more than just another jump and wave power soca. The song had Kleptocracy, Kamla and Kublalsingh all over it. From the protest cry for “MOR” in the background to the Junior Sammy handshake (4:30) and brand placement of his company throughout the music video (Directed by Cowin Thorpe and Machel Montano). “Gi we ah Ministry of Road” was a rallying cry to some very specific segments of the society. We need to look beyond what the artiste said/sung and pay attention to what the audience heard/hearin’!
The same way Machel Monatano and Xtatik’s ‘Big Truck’ (1997 Road March) marked a shift from the centrality of Steel Pan bands to the supremacy of the Big Trucks in Carnival street parades – the ‘Ministry of Road’ describes a particular moment in the state of the affairs of our society and government.
The establishment of the Socadrome incited useful public debates on the parade of the bands and the meaning of Carnival. On one side, some passionately defended the right of bands to extend their route with the hope it reduced the human congestion around the Savannah stage. On the other side, some saw this move as antithetical to the spirit of Carnival and public participation – reading this shift as an elitist attempt to preserve the business and class interests of band membership and management. The social consequences of these shifts are significant. It cannot simplistically be understood as extensions of the parade route. We learn about the power of private capital in designing national festivities. Fundamentally, the problem is that the State is still not prepared to have serious discussions and decisions on the delineation of what is public and private Carnival activities and spaces. This determines what, when, why and how the State pumps tax payer money into the Carnival. Therefore, whose interests do we serve when we ask for more roads and more stage? For who to jump up, eh?
The song may very well be articulating a critique of the Highway Reroute Movement. In our island, leading public servants and economists continue to tout the developmental paradigm of “the road to development is the development of roads”. We are also aware that this model goes hand-in-hand with the underdevelopment and degradation of the environment when good governance fails. Montano’s political ties with the People’s Partnership Administration cannot be ignored when considering the multiple resonances of his music in which “MOR” can be interpreted as a justification and campaign advertisement for state projects such as the Debe-Mon Desir Highway.
Let us take a look at the role of roads and electioneering in Trinidad and Tobago. Road building, reconstructing and paving not only translates into real votes by beneficiary communities. The construction serves as a form of stimulus to campaign financiers, party activists and people who lookin’ for a wok long time now. We were exposed to the box-drain and road repairs “discourse” in the last local government elections. These projects involve major construction companies by some businessmen who wield political influence throughout switching government administrations. Within this road paving landscape, cabinet reshuffles in the name of cabinet discipline often accompanied with renaming and invention of new ministries – with roads so central to the electorate’s political feelings – are we thinking too far ahead when we consider a Ministry of Road is in the making or, does one exist already by function?
With all said, Machel Montano, song writers, music video directors and production team were on point with this chune! The song emerges from a set of social and political conditions that articulate multiple messages from the “Ministry of Road”. Yes, many of us like to whine, jump an’ wave and doe care and throw we stress away. I too like to throw my han’ up in de air but when I do, I also ask a question!