“Carnival Rising” - 24 aug 2008

“Carnival Rising”

Confession - I have been one of those following the launch of the various carnival bands.  My angle however 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, is something that is 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 another trinity of steel-pan, mas and calypso.  He argues that outside of Oil and Gas, this is our biggest contribution to the world 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 is a direct result of 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 Aming from Island People who’s also designed for bands / carnivals in St Lucia, Holland, and England.  She is adamant that 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 wondering how could such a vibrant and powerful cultural expression virtually disappear 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 consumers needs and wants.  She knows bands that watch their skimpiest sections sell out within days – much faster than those sections with more material and which are 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 some 200 or so community centres across the country.  Community centres that would serve as incubators for cultural activity.
In time history would tell us whether this period benefitted or hurt 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.


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