Why the Carnival stop so

BitDepth #975 for February 17

These masqueraders from Yuma were in the first section to “bless” the Socadrome stage in 2014. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
These masqueraders from Yuma were in the first section to “bless” the Socadrome stage in 2014. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

These masqueraders from Yuma were in the first section to “bless” the Socadrome stage in 2014. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Carnival in 2015 might best be described by the four growth poles that are its popular vectors.

In common discussion (and at least one advertisement), we are variously identified as being in the fete, on the stage, in the pan, and on the road.

Long gone are conversations about in the tent, grooving to brass and chipping along with a steelband.

These are liabilities, along with artifacts like intelligent old mas, theatre driven costuming and, apparently, engaging calypso, of a Carnival that’s being pulled between spotty efforts at entrepreneurship and an official effort to engage with the festival that’s equal parts politically driven State subsidy and blind enthusiasm for embalming the shambling traditions that remain.

The tenure of Allison Demas was most notable for its extended stakeholder consultations, research and evaluation projects and a serious effort to understand, through scientific observation and deep discussion with subject matter experts, exactly what’s actually happening in Carnival.

Those sessions were recorded as well as in reports. Some of those documents have been made available to seminar participants, but the wider Carnival community would certainly benefit from access to the recordings of those deliberations and the strategic plans that followed.

Taxpayers, after all, did pay for their creation.

Divining the difference between the pervasive and persuasive old talk about what everyone thinks is happening, and the reality on the ground will be critical to both understanding and planning the future of Carnival.

A blinkered approach fuels the idea, for instance, that the Greens and the North Stand have anything at all to do with the rather severely circumscribed world of the average panman.

The myth of a functioning, viable calypso tent culture also still seems to linger on, despite that the disastrous evidence that the Calypso Monarch Semi-finals offered to anyone with the stomach to listen to the entire debacle of dirges.

The real successes of Carnival remain firmly in the private sector, where ideas like return on investment and accountability to investors still hold sway.

That business focus has galvanised opportunities for soca performers, all-inclusive fete promoters and the bandleaders who manage street party bands.

A surprising level of fuss seems to accompany efforts by these entrepreneurs to operate without access to the public purse.

Machel Monday in its earliest incarnations earned the type of reflexive accusations of elitism and general uppityness that the Socadrome concept has been earning since it was introduced.

It’s time to acknowledge that the aggressive state sponsored subventions that represent the Government’s involvement in the festival have only served to create, support and entrench a Carnival welfare state that has effectively killed any lingering indications of the pride, ownership and accomplishment that characterised the event’s early development.

Competitiveness is not the same as competition and by putting money behind prizes instead of properly monitored and supported grants, the billions of dollars that have been poured into Carnival over the last decade have created a festival designed for sprints, not marathons.

The rush is to win the big pots of gold in the Road March, the Soca Monarch, the Calypso Monarch and the King and Queen of Carnival – what happens to all this work after that moment of triumph is never discussed or planned for.

It’s as if a business planned their success measurements and goals, those delightfully named KPI’s, around winning business of the year instead of designing an enterprise engineered to maximise shareholder value.

Business continuity, the riding of the peaks and valleys inherent in any commercial enterprise, is crucial to planning any serious project that intends to turn a profit, but for Carnival, we pile the money to the Everest peak that’s achieved today, followed by a slide into a Marianas Trench of disinterest by tomorrow afternoon.

Within 24 hours, we go from “The Party Start” to “Party Done.” Did Beck’s career depend on winning a Grammy? Where in the world is this a business plan?

I’ve been writing about Carnival issues for decades now, but the stories over the last six years have been particularly relevant. You can find them here.