Comments on the Statements of the Hon. Minister of Road

“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!

5 replies on “Comments on the Statements of the Hon. Minister of Road”

  1. Milkman,
    Nice commentary. I’m encouraged when I see young people like yourself offering a view on issues of the day.
    However I wish to take a different view wrt one key point that you made. You may be too young to know the history and I therefore feel compelled to put my perspective in on perhaps a secondary metter reaised in your commentary. Machel’s Big Truck did not herald the advent of Big Trucks on the road. The demise of steel bands on the Road on Carnival Tuesday and steel bands having an impact on the Road March predated Big Truck by more than 15 years. The last song that was a steelband favourite and simultaneously won the Raod March was Rebecca in 1983. Even then the Road was dominated by DJs and Big Trucks but at least the music was amenable to both pan and the road. To may mind, Big Truck was an important event mainly because it ushered in the era of Machel Montano as a dominate force in the Carnival. He has not disappointed since.

  2. I was troubled when I first saw the video – and notably the Junior Sammy handshake. Also, the irony of PP leaning Machel self appointing himself a Minister was not lost on me. But somehow the reroute movement never crossed into my musings. You have just managed to wrap up in a neat tidy package a lot of loose ends I had in my mind ever since I saw the video. Well done! Wouldn’t mind sharing some thoughts with you on the Historicity or lack thereof of and in soca music.

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