Carnival Observations: Getting the Industry Right
When I bought my ticket to come home for a much needed break with sun, music and good times with friends, I didn’t think I’d end up doing so much thinking and analysing about how I see today’s Carnival. A few things struck me.
After not being part of it for eight years, the thing that struck me is how much more segregated things seem to be in the festival. The VIP phenomenon is alive and well, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. In most major arenas, you can pay for special packages that give you more comfortable access to the venue, refreshments and toilet facilities. That is good. The bad is that it seems to signal that the general public is in someway inferior or dangerous, so VIP is a way to feel safe and better about yourself.
I heard people at the Soca Monarch complaining about how they got ripped off in VIP because the food ran out and the bars were poorly staffed. I had to laugh because all of that could have been avoided, if the organisers had just worked harder to get proper concessionaires on location, and provided small oases in the stadium so that if people felt overwhelmed by the crowd they could retreat, but that’s not going to work if you oversell the tickets, is it?
What kind of experience are Trinis looking for when they spend megabucks to go to a fete? I heard that people were spending upwards of $1,800 for Beach House tickets that originally cost $800. Everyone I spoke to said Beach House was great, and congrats to the organisers for the consistently good fetes, but as a patron, do you really get your money’s worth at $1,800 or even $800?
I spent Carnival Monday with TRIBE. Everything I knew about TRIBE was anecdotal, as I wasn’t here when they became the popular band. I was very, very impressed with the organisation that I saw on Carnival Monday. I wanted it to be crap actually.
I got annoyed seeing the rope around the band, and I thought, this is real sh*t. What we doing? I still am not sold on the rope, but I can understand why it’s used.
When I heard that TRIBE used to rest for their masqueraders to eat lunch, sleep and get a massage, I used to laugh and sneer cynically. How wimpy was that? All yuh cyah eat on the move? But when I saw it up close, I realised that to keep thousands of people fed, and watered, you’ve got no choice but to stop and do it in an orderly fashion.
I walked around the park, and observed the provisions made for the masqueraders – clean loos, toiletries and a decent lunch. It all added up. Trinis are not alone in the world for demanding and paying top dollar for hassle-free, enjoyable experiences, and this is what TRIBE seems to offer in the main. I’m sure there were things that went wrong, but the people I hung out with looked clearly satisfied. I’m even thinking of trying it one year, so I can see what it’s like for myself.
While TRIBE and bands of that ilk seem to have the world of fun, I wondered about the traditional mas and its place on the road on Monday and Tuesday.
I saw a lot of traditional characters in the Carnival Friday parade in Port of Spain, and in Kiddies Carnival, but when it comes to Monday and Tuesday, where were they?
When Gypsy mooted his idea for a people’s band, I thought it was a lost opportunity, as this would surely be a way to give traditional mas a place in the Festival. But how do we engender the respect for those characters in the first place? The answer’s got to be somewhere out there. If traditional mas dies, then a lot of skills die, like wire bending for example.
I hear people complaining about the beads and feathers, and how they are killing Carnival, but I don’t believe that. I think Carnival was dying/evolving long before TRIBE, Yuma and ISLANDpeople came along.
We had Minshall and Berkley, and their presentations were iconic and loved, but they also papered over the cracks of a declining artform, a decline we chose to ignore. Instead we – and I include myself here – pointed the finger at the entrepreneurs who saw their opportunities in fun mas while not asking, so where are all these talented artists we’re supposed to have? Why aren’t they throwing their hats in the ring? Why didn’t we demand more from our ‘artists’?
We clearly missed the boat in recognising that Carnival is an industry that’s as crucial to our economy as energy and gas. The Minister wants to impose a hefty tax on completely assembled costumes, but does that make any sense? If we had a cadre of people skilled enough to make costumes at a reasonable price, we would not be in this position right now.
Could the Government not look at this in a more holistic manner? This country cannot provide the costumes for the many thousands who are playing mas; we just don’t have the resource to do it. So why not sit and look at the needs of the Carnival industry and begin to plan proper education around it? Then you can say to the bandleaders – “Listen, we want you to make a certain percentage of your mas output to be done here. You must give back to the country and work along with us in making this industry successful”.
There is an absence of joined-up thinking, and research on our creative industries, and we need to do it now – not only with mas making, but event management, musicians, videographers, makeup artists… I can go on.
Seeing the mas
I didn’t actually see much mas on Carnival Tuesday. I spent the day on Ariapita Avenue, where we felt we would see all the bands passing after they visited Adam Smith Square.
That was a joke. When will we get the formula for the Parade of the Bands right? Why can’t we just put bands in groups and send them along different routes that will take in all the judging points?
Instead, we have all the bands wanting to hit the Savannah stage first, creating a logjam around the Savannah and starving the other venues of mas. This isn’t rocket science is it? So why isn’t it happening? I heard a former beauty queen saying – “Mas is for the stage, not for the road”. Is she an arse or a marble? I had to look twice to see that she wasn’t blonde.
But that aside, the authorities need to sort out these sorts of issues about the workings of the industry once and for all. If not, then they’ll truly kill the wonderful spectacle that is Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.
Image source: trinijunglejuice.com.