By Stephen Weir
Three months ago, plans for the 2019 Toronto Caribbean Carnival (Caribana for all us old timers) had all the makings of a plan for a funeral parade. The festival had lost Peeks, its name-sponsor, and behind the scene sources said that the Smart Phone App had not ponied up the total monies promised for 2018 – meaning the Festival was already in the hole before the first Mas camp opened its doors.
With no new major sponsors infusing big dollars into their empty piggy bank the FMC was broke. The owners of the festival were also hit by staffing issues early in 2019. The new CEO, Richard DeLima, only 6-months into the job, was dismissed even though he had been brought in to save the festival. Shortly thereafter, the number two man, Trinidad’s Gerard Weekes suddenly left the organization and the country (but he did come back to Toronto in time to be a spectator at some of the events).
Then there were the organizational problems of Pan and Calypso. The Calypso Monarch contest was cancelled, and Pan Alive was facing financial and location issues. The parade itself had to deal with creating a new parade route and deciding if non-competing bands could take part in the Big Show for the first time in its history.
Well, as Mark Twain said, “Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
With one notable exception – the running of the parade – 2019 was a banner year. Yes, something for the record books. The Costume launches organized by the nine Mas Bands were wildly successful. An estimated 10,000 people paid to attend at least one of the late night launches.
The Mas bands were able to generate big money selling costumes in advance of the big parade. Long before the Festival held its well-attended City Hall launch (another welcome surprise) the FMC were aware that there would be thousands more people in costume and on the road come August 3rd.
That City Hall launch was also well attended with all levels of government promising money, assistance and well wishes. It was announced that non-competing bands were being let in (for a fee) generating new monies for the FMC and bringing a new generation of people into the fold!
There were four events held in Malvern (Scarbarough) this year for the junior revelers. All of the events – from the kick-off press conference to the parade were huge successes. Compared to the 2018 Peeks junior King and Queen competition, which was a major flop, this year’s event was a community winner.
The Kiddies Parade, blessed with sunny, windless skies and good pre-event promotion, was spectacular. Three thousand kids and 10,000 watchers have now made Malvern the epicenter for junior jumping up. It will only get better in years to come.
This year the Gala was stripped down from being a formal sit-down meal to a costume filled Carnival buffet. It was a night of laughs and surprises – who knew there was a Mas Robot who could take your picture and sing you Machel’s music?
Except for a Children’s Monarch contest there was no formal competition for Canadian Calypso performers. There were several well-attended Calypso concerts in Scarborough and Harbourfront, which proved that there is still a fan base for the art form.
The Harbourfront Calypso Stars Holiday Monday concert was really a Last Lap for the 2019 carnival and saw a Calypso audience that was so large; people were actually backed up against the Lake Ontario fence by the stage! Luckily no one got wet.
The 2019 King and Queen was the best K&Q of this century! It is hard to imagine that it can get any better than what 10,000 people witnessed at the Lamport Stadium. Clear skies, shirtsleeve temps, a terrific stage, and costumes. That deserved Oscars!
Pan Alive did survive to see another day and was able to attract the largest audience in a decade. Pan Fantasy may want to think about retiring from competition after extending their winning streak to eight years.
Then there was the parade. The good news was that it started on time, all bands crossed the stage and there were no major fan issues beyond the usual army of stormers hell-bent on shutting it down.
The bad news was the four-hour delay in the parade. There was Mas confusion and poor poor treatment of the fans that paid big dollars to watch what was billed as one of the greatest outdoor parades in the world. Many tourists came, stayed a few hours in the sun and left never seeing anyone play mas.
“I didn’t have any problem with the route,” said 20-time parade winner Louis Saldenah, leader of the Mas K Club. “It would have been better if they had judged the bands inside the CNE when we were leaving (heading out on the road) instead of going away and then being judged as were coming back.”
Hayden Harbin, second in command at Mas K, was not as kind as Saldenah in his review of the 2019 parade – “It was the worst ever, there have to be changes made.”
Famed Trinidad trumpeter Etienne Charles fielded a non-competing band in the parade for the first time. They came out onto the road last, but Charles was happy with what happened. “We had a great time!!! It was amazing,” he told the Camera. “It was confusing at the end with no officials on the route! Glad to bring live brass back to Toronto! In 2020!”
Two non-competing bands – Atlantic and Carnival Dream had late starts because of the earlier delays and as a result lost many of the revellers who had signed up to play mas. D’Regulars, a long-time participant of the parade withdrew from the parade. They were scheduled to be in the non-competing category
The miles of fencing, the huge number of police and security and months of telling people to respect the parade did nothing to stop the brazen intrusion of drunken civilians who ogled the women and stopped the parade in its tracks.
The Camera received many messages of concern about the stormer issue.
“I hope that the stormer situation will be resolved, the route will be sensible and well secured and that the pan bands will get appropriate funding to have a greater overall presence in the carnival,” said CC Holder about the parade.
There was considerable coverage in the mainstream media about issues like the non-delivery of costumes to revellers by competing and non-competing bands.
City TV posted a statement sent by Tribal Carnival concerning the non-delivery of costumes. Apparently a section leader left the camp without supplying costumes to revellers who had already paid for them.
“Tribal acknowledged the hiccups in the past but we have always done our best to rectify situations that have occurred,” the band’s Celena Seusahai said to CITY TV. “This is completely different – this is a situation where the person responsible did not want to rectify the situation.” Tribal has asked revelers who didn’t receive their costumes to contact them by email.
Despite all the delays and costume screw-ups, Carnival continues to be in the community’s blood. In December the Camera attended Louis Saldenah’s birthday party. At the time he told the paper he would retire if he won the band of the year award for the 20th time. Well he did. Will he retire? Of course not.
“Staying for 20/20,” he said. “It will be my going away year.”