Above: Elements of Carnival. Flag. Big Truck. Gyal. Fella. Correct pose. Hard wine. Rogue by Caesar’s Army at the Socadrome, February 13, 2018. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
BitDepth#1132 for February 15, 2018
It might be more accurate to ask what Carnival’s stakeholders want, but the reality of 21st century mas is that it is driven by powerful interests, most of which are self interests.
The NCC has abdicated its role as the guiding arm of the state in the festival to become an enabler of the duly elected representatives of masqueraders, calypsonians and steelbands.
That’s turned into an unmitigated disaster for Carnival, as tends to be the case with any business model that is driven by massive, poorly controlled subsidy.
The result is a hierarchy of control which creates unhealthy tenures in high office among stakeholder organisations, the entrenching of well-tended cabals and the institutional discouragement of difficult decisions which advance the art forms but are likely to prove unpopular.
Management of the event has now become politics.
It might be more useful to note the successes of Carnival over the last ten years and to examine the reasons for their rise.
After soca artists finally got the message that they weren’t wanted in the Calypso Monarch competition or needed in tents except as curiosities, they left to build their own empires, first in parties, then in their own bands and on tours.
Their guiding principle? Capitalism and unfettered creation.
The most successful of these performers, who now stage their own branded events, have graciously taken up the mantle of providing a stage for upcoming talent in a professional, non-competitive environment.
Pretty mas bands long ago made the calculation that appearance fees and prize money were an inferior return on investment compared to fees paid by satisfied masqueraders. That’s led to a generation’s worth of bands that have focused inward on their players, and only tangentially on their audience.
Inventive and heartfelt mas now comes almost entirely from small and mini bands who subsist on appearance fees and the prize money from endless categories in multiple regional competitions.
The most successful of these bands own more than a hundred little trophies that represent receipts in chrome for government subsidy.
Few steelbands have a business model outside of competition and even fewer offer one that embraces community as an ongoing social engagement as well as support system.
Look to the strategies of Exodus, Renegades and Golden Hands for bands that exist robustly outside of Carnival.
Pan Trinbago mishandled the Greens concept with criminal levels of tone-deaf ineptitude. After two successful events, The Greens became a wasteland, only surpassed by the organisation’s coffers.
What do we want?
People have been voting with their dollars and that cash hasn’t been going to the institutional Carnival industry.
There, half-hearted demands by the State for accountability for the spending of the public purse on Carnival are only a part of the lack of hard data available on the multi-billion dollar investment in Carnival that successive governments have squandered on the Carnival industry.
A Joint Select Committee reviewing any other government investment on this scale with an equivalent lack of supporting data would probably be in line for forensic auditing at the very least and would probably be immediately referred to the DPP’s office.
Destra Garcia and Machel Montano created the anthem for the dismissal of serious consideration of Carnival almost two decades ago with Is Carnival.
They probably didn’t expect the song to be the road march for administrative and governance indifference to the very real need for an examination of the financial backbone of Carnival.
The structures that a subsidised Carnival has created are formidable.
I spoke with two mini-band producers for stories this year, and their experiences entering the national competition were identical. Both Alan Vaughan of Moko Somokow and Josette James of Alias found an administration unable to provide even the most basic information about Carnival months before the event.
“Finding information online was tedious and near impossible last year,” said James who brought her first mini band this year.
“As a newbie with little knowledge of the procedures it was really hard for us to get a clear idea of how this all works.” “The system seems to cater for people who already know what they are doing so we have been calling and asking a lot of questions.”
It’s not realistic to say that Carnival is for everyone. That’s salesmanship, not reality.
Mas is now for masqueraders, not an audience, and only a distinct minority are focused on performance.
Soca is now almost exclusively designed for dancing, with its ultimate catharsis being the road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
Pan has a shaky home in Panorama and an even more wobbly presence on the road.
Calypso is essentially homeless and working hard to on evicting its audience from Dimanche Gras, its shelter of last resort.
The story of the last decade of Carnival is a case for study in all the ways a massive infusion of subsidy into a creative industry unprepared to manage it effectively has the potential to destroy what it hoped to improve.
Governments are not designed to be creative, they have one mission, to woo and satisfy constituents.
The most dramatic example of their core failing in managing Carnival was evident after the Grand Stand had to be demolished because of the pervasive presence of asbestos.
After political shenanigans that prolonged the process for almost two years, the leveled building, built for the finish line of long relocated horseracing, was rebuilt exactly as it was before, with no consideration of its main use since 1948 as the nexus of the events of the festival.
The question is not what the NCC wants, but what each of us wants from our Carnival and what we are willing to do to make it real. The governments who have run Carnival over the last three decades have proven that they have neither answers nor ideas worth considering.