Carnival Rising – 24 Aug 2008
Confession - I have been one of those following the launch of the various carnival bands. However, my angle has been admiration for the teams of entrepreneurs who partner with artists to not just add to our local festival but to take brand Trinidad and Tobago to one of the estimated 200 or so carnivals across the world. In that way, it fits under the Vision 2020 pillar of ‘facilitating business competitiveness’ as entrepreneurs are encouraged to do their part as the nation moves to diversify away from energy. Furthermore, carnival, soca, and the apparently very lucrative event-management industry that continues to grow are worthy of exploration. This was, of course, until I started talking to other people about carnival...
Cultural activist Rubadiri Victor was particularly passionate as he expressed his views. He said that out of the trinity that is - Laventille, Belmont, and Port of Spain has come to another trinity of steel-pan, mas, and calypso. He argues that this is our biggest contribution to the world outside of Oil and Gas, which makes it our most ‘successful’ alternative export. Rubadiri continues by saying that the people that produced this cultural expression have been marginalized as the (upper?) middle class is taking ‘control.’ Internationally, he says, Trinbagonians no longer control the direction of the various carnivals as we once did. If we are not careful, he warns, Trinidad and Tobago will be marginalized from carnival as we have been marginalized (in his opinion) from the steel pan – he points out that the largest pan factory is in Ohio. Rubadiri believes that the ‘death’ of carnival directly results from ineffective and even absent institutional support.
So now we come to what I call the all-inclusive bands. To me, they bring to the table the same institutional support that Rubadiri called for. In fact, they go further by listening to the market, both local and international, and producing a product that customers are willing to pay for. Testimony to the feasibility of their business model is seen by their ability to export. I spoke with Crystal Aiming from Island People who are also designed for bands/carnivals in St Lucia, Holland, and England. She is adamant that the Trinbago carnival is growing and being taken to more audiences than ever before. In this way, we are exporting not just finished costumes but designs – our intellectual capital. Benefiting our local economy as well as promoting brand Trinidad and Tobago.
Rubadiri, on the other hand, described this one particular carnival when he bumped into another ‘cultural activist,’ who was watching bands passing by the savannah. They were chatting about the European carnivals that predated the ones here in the new world and wondered how such a vibrant and powerful cultural expression virtually disappeared from Europe? They agreed that it was a result of it being high-jacked by another social class - a class for which it is not a matter of the heart. And that is happening in Trinidad carnival, which is driven by greed and where those young people from its cradle – Laventille, Belmont, Port of Spain – participate as security or service workers. Rubadiri believes we are witnessing the death of costume tradition. For example, there is just one Pierrot Grenade left!
Nicole Des Vignes from Elements, of course, disagrees. She praises the professionalism of some of today’s Band Management Teams. Teams that have become extremely adept at responding to the consumer's needs and wants. She knows bands that watch their skimpiest sections sell out within days – much faster than those sections with more material and, therefore, more ‘traditional.’ In Nicole’s mind, it could be seen as democracy in action. These ‘new’ bands give the customers what they want, and the consumers reward the bands that listen to their tastes with their hard-earned dollars. Those that do not listen will not prosper. FATCA Compliance Singapore
But Rubadiri does see some hope. The government is constructing three badly needed cultural academies – in San Fernando, Wallerfield, and of course, the Princes Building grounds around the savannah. Rubadiri also commended the government’s constructing of some 200 or so community centers across the country. Community centers that would serve as incubators for cultural activity.
In time history would tell us whether this period benefitted or hurt the carnival. Nevertheless, our festival does serve as a tourism magnet. And with the continued support of the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Culture, it continues to grow, and its benefits are felt across the economy. Food and beverage companies, accommodation providers, event managers – so many earn a living from carnival activities.
Note: The above reference link was live on December 2010, but it has since been taken down.