There’s no quick fix to carnival

Posted by at 19 May, at 08 : 53 AM Print

Caribupdate Weekly, Editorial

May 18, 2017

So, the annual season of carnival, which opens each year with pre-Lenten festivals in places like Trinidad and Dominica, now is picking steam elsewhere. For example, preparations are underway for Spicemas in Grenada, Vincy Mas in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Carnival in Toronto and Labor Day in Brooklyn, New York.

Pick your city, pick your country, and you are sure to find that every carnival is plagued by the same disease. And that includes perennial battles over money, growing deficit on the part of the organization charged with overseeing and running the festival, dwindling crowd attendance for some events, and conflicting visions on the future direction of carnival.

This newspaper agrees with commentators such as Lincoln DePradine, who have argued that the troubles of carnival arise from what carnival was intended to be when it began on this side of the Atlantic by our African foreparents, and what we want carnival to do in today’s modern age.

Carnival, in its original purest form, was simply an occasion for sheer fun and enjoyment, with no concern about judges, prizes and the sensibilities of spectators.

Nowadays, though, mas’ is expected to satisfy a diverse range of demands: retain its fun and entertainment; must be slickly packaged as a spectator product to encourage more tourists to attend; and generate enough revenue to meet the expenditure of organizers. And, it will be considered a failure if enough is not raked in by every vendor – from the street hustler to the hotel owner.

Invariably, the loser in the aftermath of carnival – the one holding the empty bag – is entities like our own Spicemas Corporation (SMC). Part of the reason: SMC and other organizing committees own nothing; they have to spend on everything, including renting venues, light and sound.

It appears that the people behind carnival were slow in recognizing that the festival was quickly evolving into a mega-capitalist business. Hence, no infrastructure – human and physical – was put in place to take advantage of the multi-million dollar carnival business. Therefore, we’re faced with a situation where the SMC could well find itself in a deeper deficit by the end of Grenada’s 2017 carnival in August.

We could cite other instances of the struggles of carnival. This year, for instance, is the 50th anniversary of Toronto’s carnival that started in 1967 under the name “Caribana’’. Unless you are told, you won’t know it’s the 50th anniversary of the festival. There is no major promotion, ownership of the carnival is still in dispute, the name “Caribana’’ is no longer being used, and there is nothing to show – not a road sign, not a pebble, not a building – for 50 years of a festival that is shown to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to Toronto each year.

Even in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago – considered the “Mecca of Carnival’’ in Caribbean – there is handwringing and complaints about mas’.

Prominent Trinidad attorney Martin G Daly, who describes himself as a “steelpan music enthusiast’’, wrote a very interesting newspaper article in March, following this year’s carnival in T&T.

He said the boast by Trinidadians that their carnival is the greatest show on earth, “has become a pappyshow claim’’. He believes it’s a false claim, pointing to such things as “the withdrawal of spectators, in ever increasing numbers over a decade, not only from Panorama but from the two days of parade of the bands’’.

Additionally, said Daly, “Dimanche Gras has been equally pitiful in its ability to retain spectators. That show so blight that even a series of bush baths would not relieve it from its terminal condition’’.

On pan music, Daly said: “Few commentators have advocated more intensely than I have, that the steelband movement be treasured; that its role in social development cannot be overestimated; that it is a scientific and musical patrimony; and that it must not be blitzed out of Carnival by the capitalist takeover of the Carnival routes by means of monster trucks.’’

Clearly, there is no quick fix for an issue that’s as complex as carnival. It cannot be fixed by holding a few consultative sessions with “stakeholders’’. It would require deeper, longer discussions by groups of people with passion and knowledge in various social and cultural fields.

And, as a final note, Caribupdate Weekly would like to pay respects to one of the greats of calypso, Lord Brigo. The Trinidadian, born Samuel Abraham, died Tuesday in Port of Spain. Brigo, 76, was afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease.

He enjoyed a singing career that spanned five decades, and achieved fame for his ability to contort his face to convey his stories.

Among Brigo’s memorable calypsoes were “Doh Beat Mama Popo,” “Limbo Break,” and “Voodoo Man.”

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