Daly Bread: “Conglomerate mas” subduing our authentic Carnival experience

There is speculation how tomorrow and Tuesday’s Carnival will turn out, as it is taking place amid concern about the price of Carnival participation and the possible deterrent effect of rampant violent crime.

At last, there is also intensity of concern about the changing character of the mas’. Social media last week contained several expressions of such concern. The home-based spectator crowd has already walked away in droves.

A model shows off a Tribe Rain Forest costume for the 2024 Carnival season.
Photo: Tribe

Joanne Paul’s Carnival report card in the Trindad Express newspaper, on 26 February 2023 vividly described the “hit and miss” aspects of the Carnival products and the “low creativity” in costuming.

Sadly, to the detriment of the visual spectacle, many of the authentic elements of Carnival have already been subdued by conglomerate mas’. But that is how we are.

We drink the Kool Aid that “God is ah Trini” and that our governments, however comprised, will always “run something”. Consequently, we live in denial of things plainly, and even murderously, in our face.

The lack of a coherent culture policy has assisted the elite takeover. Throwing money around in such an environment does not provide a boost to Carnival-related small vending and art and craft businesses.

At least pan music is still saving a piece of our cultural soul.

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

On 12 February 2006 I wrote: “Costume mas on Carnival Monday and Tuesday has long ago been priced out of the reach of persons other than those with strong incomes, the ability to borrow money or the willingness to find a sponsor.”

I asserted that the all-inclusive concept and the big mas bands were in “an embrace, which is as excluding as it is inclusive”.  See Segregationist masquerade.

I continued my questioning of the status of Carnival as a “national” festival because of the division between those who buy membership in expensive all-inclusive bands and those outside the ropes which cordon off many bands.

Masqueraders enjoy themselves with the Harts band.
Photo: Harts

“In many respects, the segregation in Carnival is a reflection of our wider society in which the worth of individual citizens is assessed not by merit first, but by reference to wealth, shade, address, connections and perceived status.”

Prior to that, as a Trinidad All Stars Carnival Tuesday sailor, I challenged the sneering at traditional sailor mas’ from certain rope-enclosed quarters when All Stars won Band of the Year for its traditional sailor mas’ portrayals in 2014, and 2015.

In Newsday, 2 March 2023, lamenting that Carnival is no longer a carnival of the people, Paolo Kernahan wrote: “It’s a bitter irony that a festival born of the elite, then claimed by the proletariat, has swung back to the elite.”

Young men work as security officers for a high-end Carnival band.
Photo: Mark Morgan

I have advocated the need for a re-engineered Carnival calendar to provide adequate space and time for the return of some authentic elements of Carnival for more than the brief gigs currently offered.

Our cultural self-respect requires that our authentic Carnival arts are given their rightful place in a re-engineered Carnival calendar. In 2016, I recommended that “the Carnival season be expanded and marketed as a first quarter festival running from January to March into which 200 events can be inserted.”

These can be scheduled at appropriate times and focused on music, theatre, crafts and culinary.

A moko jumbie struts through San Fernando as part of the funeral procession for iconic calypsonian, Black Stalin.
Photo: Roger Lewis/ Look Into My Eyes

I complete this retrospective with reference to the distinguished president of the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTATT), Dr Keith Nurse, who 25 years ago wrote a pivotal paper on the globalisation of carnival.

Last year, at a panel discussion entitled Re-engineering the Economics of Carnival for Sustainability he reportedly stated: “We all cherish this thing called TT Carnival, but we’re not investing in it from a strategic standpoint because we view it as an event, as a party, as a really good time, but not as an industry.

“If you apply an event-focused approach, which is what most of our institutions do, the bulk of the funding that goes into Carnival is spent on the event but not to build an industry.”  See Newsday- 23 October 2023.

Dignitaries open the Desperadoes Pan Theatre on Sunday 16 April 2023.
(via Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts)

On the eve of this year’s Carnival, our governments remain blind to the diversification potential of our arts and culture, which I previously described as “our other oil”.

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About Martin Daly

Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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