At the Panorama semi-finals two weeks ago, I became involved in a discussion with Eintou Springer, her daughter Attilah and an official of Pan Trinbago. The discussion turned to how Pan Trinbago spent the taxpayers’ money it received from complicit governments in the past and apparently continues on the same path.
I supported the position of Eintou and Attilah that the persons who benefit most from the largesse are not the authentic participants in the Carnival tradition.
To my delight, it subsequently turned out that another person fully articulated why a lavish budget is not required to support authentic Carnival activities.
In a recent report in the Newsday, Mr Kwasi Robinson described the “lost opportunity in years gone by to be prudent with spending and just to manage Carnival itself.”
Mr Robinson was identified as the local Economic Development Officer at the Tunapuna Corporation, who has oversight over a regional Carnival celebration.
His articulation of the alternative to wasting money was so on point that I am pleased to adopt and recommend it in this Carnival Sunday column—at a time when the usual foolishness about why there must be endless subventions without any adjustments is being spouted:
“When you look at who makes significant money from Carnival, it is not the revellers or the people who make it happen. It is sound-system people, lights, people who rent toilets, tables and chairs.
“What we need now is to re-align our expenditure to make sure that money is in the hands of the masmen, the pan players, the calypsonians, because they are [the people] who provide the content for the Carnival.
“I could do a big sound system with TT$40,000 or I can do some self-powered monitors for TT$5,000 and give three bands TT$5,000 each and I have TT$20,000—and my event is much better than what I would have spent.”
For my part, the sound systems are deafening and I have never understood the fixation with tents. Carnival takes place in the dry season, punctuated by rare but stimulating wet me down. Massive festivals abroad—where the weather is much less kind—are held without the use of as many tents for spectators.
The Calypso Fiesta crowd know to use their parasols. Ask Tantie Merle about parasol for cricket when cricket mattered.
It is also very noticeable that the tents are erected two weeks before any event is scheduled. Let’s hope the taxpayers are not paying a daily rate for the rental of those tents. Town say that the tent people pocket strong.
These excessive expenditures illustrate how complicit governments have enabled others, at taxpayers’ expense, to take the Kambule—the Kilongo word for procession—from its roots. Thankfully the Springer family and others point out to us the elements of African origin in Carnival, which owes its birth to the processions of important but frequently neglected ancestors.
It is reported that Machel Montano recently visited the Ministry of Tourism and advised the Ministry that “tradition and technology must be brought together in the interest of advancing the culture.”
Then followed the inevitable press release. In pursuit of a desire to make themselves relevant, the tourism authorities have declared that music and culture can promote tourism. They suddenly wake up or what?
The press release contained fine words about looking for “definitive ways” to promote our culture and a reference to “tourism offerings, including soca music.”
Soca music did not drop from the sky; it evolved through authentic Carnival traditions. It cannot be successfully linked to a Trinidad and Tobago cultural tourism destination detached from the Carnival activities that dominate the first quarter of the year.
What does “definitive ways” mean? Everything we need is already on the ground. It requires genuine recognition, non-partisan funding and, dare I repeat, promotion of the Trinidad and Tobago culture destination as a first quarter festival, and not simply the new Mardi Gras from which many real people are excluded by the re-introduction of colonial ropes around certain bands.
This is the context in which we need a new Kambule, a people’s procession in which authentic Carnival arts are given their rightful place in a re-engineered Carnival calendar.