Daly Bread: Are we seeing a Carnival evolution, or a free-for-all?

The hyped-up Carnival 2023 has concluded, but the lack of changes in the traditional infrastructure and other provisions continue visibly to hurt the annual festival.

Immediately after Carnival 2020, the last one preceding the forced cancellation for two years because of Covid-19, I asserted that Carnival post-mortems are usually futile because the vested interests in Carnival are so strong that those with the power to make changes will not attempt to solve the recurring conflicts over our Carnival products.

The Trinidad and Tobago Fire Services Steel Orchestra puts on a show during the 2023 Panorama Single Pan finals.
(Copyright Carnival Institute of Trinidad and Tobago)

In the context of the futility of post-mortems, an editorial in the Trinidad Guardian, also post-Carnival 2020, pinpointed the now ill-fated International Soca Monarch production as a priority for “hard discussions between the National Carnival Commission and stakeholder bodies on whether they are truly getting it right”.

The Guardian editorial ominously stated: “The first stakeholder we suggest in this phase is the Caribbean Prestige Foundation, which hosts the International Groovy and Soca Monarch competitions. We doubt whether there is any right-thinking citizen or tourist who has been privy to this event before of course, who can truly feel comfortable with what transpired at this year’s event.”

An even greater discomfort emerged from the widely reported Carnival Friday Machel mess and the extensive pain and shortchange reportedly inflicted on patrons. This Machel mess at the Hasely Crawford National Stadium has highlighted the lack of a dedicated arena for entertainment to provide for bumper audiences who are not expected to remain passively seated during the performances.

Parts of the Hasely Crawford Stadium’s football field was exposed during Machel Montano’s One Concert on Friday 17 February 2023.

The National Stadium was not designed for that purpose but successive governments have bowed and allowed it to be used for large concerts as a stand-in for an outdoor concert venue, despite a decade of allegations of damage done to the venue.

Construction works at the National Stadium are scheduled for after Carnival to facilitate the Commonwealth Youth Games 2023. In addition, the adjoining Jean Pierre Complex sporting facility is to be demolished and rebuilt. That will raise the additional issue whether the Socadrome, which was set up in Jean Pierre as a supplement to the Savannah stage on Carnival Tuesdays, will be permitted to continue there.

What will happen after completion of the proposed Stadium construction works and Jean Pierre rebuilding works? How will the authorities reconcile the continuing conflict between the demands of sport and those of cultural promotions?

Carnival mas at the Socadrome.
(Copyright Trinitraveller)

Whatever the touted “niceness” of this year’s Carnival, also lacking is the implementation of a coherent cultural policy which balances support for the traditional Carnival elements and the use of public facilities, including the roads, by entrepreneurial investors in those bands whose costuming provoked bitter criticism and spectator turn-off. Ironically, a jumbie of fake news relating to past artistry stalked Carnival Tuesday.

This conflict was incisively described by Laura Dowrich, Mark Lyndersay and Tracy Assing in Caribbean Beat Magazine as follows:

“Purists believe today’s Carnival retains the DNA of social resistance that shaped its nineteenth-century incarnation. Entrepreneurs see the festival as an opportunity for investment. The state subsidises the Carnival season to the tune of many millions, arguing that it stimulates tourism. And ordinary revellers, for the most part, just want to have fun, which increasingly means spending big bucks for an ‘all-inclusive’ experience.

Masquerader Joanne Briggs enjoys herself on the road with Los Tribe on Carnival Tuesday.
(Photo Jordon Briggs)

“Somehow, Carnival still manages to accommodate all these agendas—but not without an annual upwelling of heated debate.”

(See Caribbean Beat Magazine issue 137 January/February 2016: ‘Not your parents’ Carnival’.)

This conflict has been glossed over as “an evolution” of Carnival. This and the other issues I have raised looks more like a free-for-all rather than an evolution—a free-for-all in which high-price mas and events and stush-inclined elements dominate while many others falter.

Meanwhile, renewed praise to Pan Trinbago for reportedly making the Grand Stand full again on a Panorama final night reserved for participation of large bands: “the big guns”.

A pannist plays for Old Tech Steel Orchestra during the 2023 Panorama Small Conventional Bands category.
(via Pan Trinbago)

Application of the concept of prime bands in prime time, repeatedly advocated in this column, is a revitalizing success—but fix the long lines for admission please.

This success must also not be jeopardised by another free-for-all arising out of inadequate operation of the Tobago ferry transport for the separate Tobago staging of the medium band finals, which has freed up Carnival Saturday Panorama.

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