…if, that is, you can catch up with him…because Michael la Rose is, in his own words “good, but busy”!
Unsurprising, when you consider the fact that he is; 1) “a cultural and political activist, author and researcher”; 2) “chair of The George Padmore Institute (an archive of the black struggle in Britain of people of African, Caribbean and Asian descent) “; 3)”a director of New Beacon Books”; 4) the Founder of ‘Savannah View’, the umbrella organisation under which he manifests his skills as a writer, lecturer, publisher and event co-ordinator and add to that 5) his role as Curator of the BFI Southbank’s upcoming ‘We Love Carnival’ event, and you’ll understand why this expert in all-things ‘Carnival’ might be more than a tad occupied!
What with May to August, being Carnival season and in spite of Hurricane Bertha’s attempt to rain on the parade, nothing can quell the excitement which surrounds one of the biggest and best examples of street celebrations. Thus, in the run up to the BFI Southbank’s ‘African Odysseys’ festivities, of which ‘We Love Carnival’ forms a significant part, the wonderful organisers arranged the opportunity for yours truly to conduct a thoroughly modern and time-saving e-interview, with the polymath who is, Mr La Rose!
Hailing from Barataria, Trinidad and Tobago, born to activist parents, John and Irma La Rose, whom he cites as having “influenced [his] perspectives and activities”, the family moved to Venezuela, finally settling in North London, where he was brought up. Having established his roots, so began the parallel journey of rooting around the topic of ‘Carnival’, resulting in an extremely enlightening unfurling of answers! I defy you not to become your own expert, by the end!
“WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST CARNIVAL MEMORY?
My brother Keith and myself were taken by my father to the ‘Carnival Gala’ events at the Commonwealth Institute in London. They were electric, exciting and creative.
WHO IS/ARE YOUR MOST INFLUENTIAL CARNIVAL PERSONALITY/IES?
Other than my mother and father, in the Caribbean, it will be the many Kaisonians (Calypsonians) and Soca artistes like ‘Roaring Lion’, ‘Sparrow’, ‘Gabby’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Scrunter’, ‘David Rudder’, ‘Square One’, ‘Machel Montano’. Then ‘Mas’ designers like George Bailey, Stephen Derrick , Frank Smith, Dragon of the Moko Jumbies and Peter Minshall. Finally cultural activists including Lennox Pierre, Ian “Teddy” Belgrave and Gordon Rohlehr. From the London Carnival community it would be Selwyn Baptiste, Johnno Roberts, Dexter Khan, Vernon “Fellows” Williams, Darcus Howe, Keith Lackhan and Philmore “Boots” Davidson.
WHEN DID YOU REALISE THAT ‘CARNIVAL’ WAS YOUR TOPIC OF CHOICE?
Many Trinidadians are born into Carnival. My family and relatives educated me about Carnival. I went to Notting Hill Carnival for the first time in 1973 with my brother, mother and girl cousins from Brooklyn. The experience of dancing in the streets behind ‘Ebony Steelband’ was magical. The pride for the beauty and complexity of the Carnival festival we (Caribbean people) produced was very important to my identity as a young black youth in Britain.
WHAT IS ‘CARNIVAL’ ABOUT?
The Caribbean Carnival is a celebration of the end of slavery and is a festival of cultural resistance, identity and survival, though many do not know it, even those who participate in Carnival. It incorporates Europe, Africa and Asia and is an artistic expression and creation of the poor and oppressed of the Caribbean, the most underprivileged, the ‘Jammette’ (French diametre from the other side). There are similar Carnival histories in South America (Brazil and Colombia), Central America (Panama), Caribbean (Cuba, Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada and Haiti) and North America (New Orleans).
WHY IS THE CARNIVAL TRADITION SO GLOBALLY INFLUENTIAL?
The Caribbean Carnival tradition has global appeal because it is a unique, exciting, expressive, dynamic street festival which empowers the powerless through songs, dance and masquerade. It is theatre of the streets. It is, on many levels, about freedom. It is carried in the hearts and soul of Caribbean people and reproduced in a local form in North America, Caribbean, Europe and now increasingly, Asia and Africa. It is an empowering, exciting, truly inclusive, enjoyable global product.
WHEN DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE ‘WE LOVE CARNIVAL’ SEASON?
I used to attend the incredible, monthly ‘African Odysseys’ screenings at the BFI. Someone on the committee suggested to David Somerset at the BFI to approach me to present an anniversary screening of the Brazilian film ‘Orfeu Negro’ (Black Orpheus), which is the Greek myth, brilliantly set in Rio Carnival. After that, I suggested screening ‘Calypso Dreams’ and did other film introductions and presentations for ‘African Odysseys’. I eventually suggested the idea of ‘We Love Carnival Screenings’ in 2012.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN THE ‘WE LOVE CARNIVAL’ SEASON?
I chose the films for the ‘We Love Carnival Screenings 2014’.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE PARTICULAR FILMS INCLUDED IN THE SEASON?
The films, in their different ways, encompass the history of the key moments in the history of the Caribbean Carnival in Britain from 1959 to the present day.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS COLLABORATION WITH THE BFI, TO PERPETUATING THE FUTURE OF CARNIVAL?
The collaboration is very important . A national institution like the BFI, through ‘African Odysseys’, is reaching out to a section of British society (the Black community and Carnival community) [and giving] an opportunity for people to see and hear the untold story of the Caribbean Carnival in Britain. Film is a powerful and immediate medium to inform, educate and open up debates about Carnival art and struggle. The future for the Notting Hill Carnival will rest on information and education.
WHO DO YOU ‘SEE’ COMING TO THE ‘WE LOVE CARNIVAL’ SEASON?
In terms of attendance, I would expect the London Carnival community, scholars and academics, teachers and people who want to know more about the history, art and struggle for a Caribbean Carnival in Britain.
WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO SEE ATTEND THE SEASON?
Everyone, all classes, all races, all religions. Caribbean Carnival is totally inclusive and welcoming. I would like to see those people who are curious and want more knowledge and understanding of the Caribbean Carnival and what lies behind the masquerade.
WHERE DO YOU ENVISAGE THE SEASON WILL ‘TAKE’ VISITORS?
The ‘We Love carnival screenings 2014’ will help people understand the role of an important figure in British history, Claudia Jones, on the 50th anniversary of her death. They will understand how Notting Hill Carnival was transformed into a Caribbean Carnival. They will see the events that led to 1976 Notting Hill Carnival insurrection. They will also learn about a Carnival musical institution, the Panorama of the Steel orchestras.
A VISITOR CAN ONLY ATTEND ONE EVENT, WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
I would recommend the film on Claudia Jones and [although] there is much debate about her relationship to the Notting Hill Carnival, the film shows the impressive, high-profile, indoor Caribbean Carnivals she ran for 5 consecutive years.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN TO CARNIVAL IN THE FUTURE?
I would like to see the Caribbean Carnival and the Carnival culture of the African Diaspora understood by the people who create it, take part in it and attend it. That it is studied and respected on all the myriad of levels from sociology, economy, maths, folk art to fine art and theatre. That it is recognised and appreciated as a fantastic creation of the poor and underprivileged.
HOW CAN THIS BE FACILITATED IN THE WIDER WORLD, E.G EDUCATION?
It definitely can be achieved through education at all levels, from primary to tertiary, or just by those who are informally interested. I have done a publication for primary children with ‘Tamarind Books’ on the Steel pan and been involved with projects for teachers to incorporate teaching on Carnival culture in performance, maths, history and many other creative classes.
WHAT HAS CARNIVAL TAUGHT YOU?
There is no limit to the imagination or what you can achieve if you work together in unity.
HOW WILL YOU BE PROMOTING CARNIVAL IN THE FUTURE?
For the future, I will be using my skills in unity with other committed people like BFI ‘African Odysseys’ [team], to promote the unknown history of the Caribbean Carnival and promote its art and creativity.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT ABOUT CARNIVAL TO YOU…WHY DO YOU LOVE CARNIVAL?!
For each individual, the answer is different. For me as a designer, bandleader, DJ and plain Caribbean Carnival participant and spectator, it is to experience the indefinable ‘Carnival Spirit’. That physical and cerebral joy that comes when the hard work of the preparation [and] practice comes together on the streets, on the days of Carnival. Here masquerade, performance, dance, music and spectators are one, in the freedom of the Carnival Spirit. Unique.”
On that Carnival crescendo, the online ‘q and a’ session was at an end! I was left, ready to join the celebration of the ‘We Love Carnival’ season and after such a rousing e-interview, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same!
Many Afrow thanks to:-
Michael La Rose for taking the time out of his busy schedule to provide such inspiring answers!
Troy Pickersgill for organising such an amazing interview opportunity!
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TICKETS TO ‘WE LOVE CARNIVAL’, CLICK THE LINK BELOW!
©AFROW2014-2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (INTERVIEW EDITED BY AFROW)
EMAIL EXCHANGE FROM TROY PICKERSGILL (BFI)