The collapse of the Carnival
First some facts. Nearly every single small and medium size band—and all but about four of the large bands—is losing money. Massive sums of money. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. The economics of the Carnival has fallen.
Part of the reason is that the all-inclusive model is not sustainable. It is quickening certain class-based biases in the Carnival. Corporate resources have migrated toward the four biggest bands. These bands were started and sustained by independent wealth. Their corporate relationships are all network-based.
Mas bands from historically poor communities with problems sourcing capital in all aspects of their lives are now locked out of Carnival economics. The collapse of the community bands which began 25 years ago will be complete in two years. By this time most of the pioneers will be dead. We are looking at the complete marginalisation of the lower class out of Carnival. Except as servants in the middle class bands.
The young, black lower-income male who was the propulsive force of the Carnival and its principal architect and inventor will be completely locked out of the festival—except as a holder of rope and cleaner of pee trucks… This will spell the death of the Carnival. It will also have implications for the country during the rest of the year…
Of the 30-something traditional Carnival characters that were in existence from our Golden Age period—1930-1950—fewer than ten are still in existence. The Panorama is in a crisis of songwriting, arranging, skilled players and in community participation. The North Stand is becoming a symbol of the alienation of the young generation from the festival.
Calypso has become completely excised from the radio and the festival. The tents have been mishandled out of relevance. The Dimanche Gras has been so interfered with that the Calypso Monarch does not matter to the population. King and Queen costumes are built at massive economic losses which the prizes cannot sustain. The Golden Age technology of constructing them resides in only about three people’s heads—and they are over 80. There are a number of such issues. When these problems in the Trinity of Mas, Pan and Calypso come to a head in the next two years, the entire festival will collapse overnight into something we do not know.
The custodianship of Carnival by every single political administration and NCC has been decrepit, imbecilic and found wanting. It has been their interference and mismanagement which have led to these issues. The continuing ministerial refusal to consult with stakeholders while continuing the bombast of “this year was the biggest and best Carnival ever” is going to be a fatal mistake. The festival is at a critical stage of its life cycle. The nature of the intervention at this stage will determine its life or death—and possibly that of the nation as well…
The solutions must come from a place that understands the ritual root of things. The business will follow. Here are some ideas: establish secret societies for traditional mas traditions. Create architecturally appropriate houses for each tradition—the House of the Midnight Robber, the House of the Sailors—within the communities with the highest concentration. Build it and they will come… The people who want to belong to those select orders will find themselves at the doorsteps. These will be lodges with their own initiations, rituals—our own Carnival priesthood.
Create guilds of traditional mas alongside the other guilds of masters requested by the creative sector. Here masters are attached to master apprentices to create masterworks (in this case “bands”) where the ceremonies and techniques are transmitted, documented and analysed. Curriculum will be extracted from this for the Performing Arts Academy.
Carnival Monday could become “Acoustic Monday”: only steelband, drummers and live band music should be played inside select zones. No DJ music and DJ music trucks. The bands required to be in full costumes would be traditional bands, Kings and Queens, and select small, medium and large bands which will cross the stage as decided by lottery. Every steelband should be aligned to traditional mas bands. Steelbands would receive a special prize with points for music on the road and mas. There should be designated traditional mas performance stages throughout the city.
Mas bands at one time originated from certain Golden Age communities like Belmont, San Fernando, Pt Fortin, Woodbrook… Now mas bands are created by people who are independently wealthy, investing and corralling social networks. Something needs to be done to facilitate the new type of modern “communities” to create mas bands and to revitalise Golden Age centres.
Peter Minshall’s idea is to restrict the “big stage” to bands numbering 30 to 300 masqueraders. The first prize should be $3 million—a category to be deemed The Future of Carnival. With this, many fine artists and working-class artisans will get involved in mas and risk to create bands. More importantly, limes, youth groups, families, communities and other new social groups will become involved in mas making… This will become the second Golden Age generation of mas making.
Next, I’ll explore more solutions.