By Lincoln DePradine
Calypso and soca artistes, like other Toronto Carnival stakeholders, have been negatively impacted by underfunding and the deadly Coronavirus pandemic, which forced the shutdown of the economy and cancellation of large social gatherings.
For performers of every genre, surviving and earning income during COVID-19 have involved utilizing online platforms such as Zoom to host concerts.
“We’re doing what we have to do virtually. It means turning the living room into a stage, using a phone or camera, and working from inside your home in order to stay current and to earn something,’’ calypsonian Tara Woods told The Caribbean Camera.
Tobago-born Woods, whose stage name is Macomere Fifi, is a six-time Calypso Monarch of Canada. She also is the immediate past president of the Organization of Calypso Performing Artistes (OCPA) and serves as a member of its board of directors.
OCPA has been meeting but, “it’s kind of difficult to work and come up with ideas and to hold people’s interests’’ during the COVID-19 period, Woods admitted, as she discussed the organization, its plans, Toronto Carnival and the Festival Management Corporation (FMC), which organizes and oversees the carnival celebrations in the city.
The FMC, with money received through government grants, also provides funding to the three main pillars of carnival – calypso, steelpan and masquerade bands.
In its July 8 edition, The Caribbean Camera reported that the FMC received a grand total of $825,000 for 2020 and is expected to receive the same amount for 2021.
However, the FMC has said that a reduction in cash inflows has necessitated a cut in financial support for artistes and performers.
A joint OCPA/Ontario Steelband Association proposal for about $80,000 was rejected by the FMC, which said its own funding was cut by 60 percent.
In 2019, for OSA’s pan events and for OCPA’s hosting of a “Calypso Extravaganza’’ that brought together artistes resident in Canada and the Caribbean, they received FMC funding of $36,000. FMC has indicated the amount they received in 2019 amount will be reduced by 60 percent in 2021.
“This year, we’re going to get a portion of what we would normally get. Everybody is getting cut,’’ Woods said.
“As everything else, everybody wishes they could get more money. We intend to look into other ways of getting funding; look into other avenues such as co-sponsors for events. Even FMC has offered to help to look for grants to accommodate some of the efforts we’re thinking of.’’
Calypsonians, like pannists, have been participating in a program with the FMC that brings artistes to restaurants owned and operated by members of the Black and Caribbean community, as part of a slow reopening of the city from the COVID-19 lockdown.
She disclosed that this week, a recording of calypso and soca music is being made and it will be broadcast at month-end.
OCPA, as well, is planning “an extravaganza’’ to commemorate the “milestone’’ of the 40th anniversary of its founding, and also will be marking “Calypso Month’’ in October, Woods said.
“By the time we get to October,’’ said Woods, “if the city is all opened up, we may change the virtual celebration to an in-person celebration. Who knows.’’
Woods said it’s the desire of OCPA to expand the association’s membership, including reaching out to younger people.
“We recognize a lot of the young people are online. So, in order to reach them, we have to create programs to reach young people and create that interest,’’ she said.
As it relates to Toronto Carnival, calypso is at a disadvantage and “We are always left behind’’, Woods claimed.
She noted, for example, that OCPA’s annual showpiece event, the Calypso Monarch competition, usually is held prior to the peak point of the carnival.
“A lot of visitors are in the city closer to the parade day. I would love it,’’ said Woods, “if we get the support to move our titled calypso event to say the night before the parade, which is usually ‘Pan Alive’ steelbands’ competition.’’
On the Saturday of the carnival parade, “when everyone is down on Lakeshore Boulevard, I would like local calypsonians to have their own tent,’’ Woods recommended.
“They have a tent somewhere along the Lakeshore where local calypsonians perform for the whole day. Or, maybe, you could have a world stage, where you have artistes from various islands performing,’’ she added. “In between mas’ passing, you could have calypso live performances.’’