FMC, Carnival & Caribana was the talk at York U

By Lincoln DePradine


More than a dozen years after the City of Toronto withdrew funding from the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) and assigned the festival’s management and operation to the FMC, disagreement still exists on how, as well as who facilitated the transition of ownership.

From Left: Professor Andrew Martin, PhD. student Denise Challenger and Toronto pannist Ivor Pico

“The FMC is just managing something to make money for the city,’’ veteran community activist Winston LaRose said last Saturday at York University, on the final day of a cultural event titled “Calypso, Carnival, Steelband: Expressive Cultures of the Caribbean Diaspora’’.

The three-day event was hosted by Founders College at the university, in collaboration with the Toronto Mas’ Bands Association, Organization of Calypso Performing Artistes, Ontario Steelpan Association, and organizers of the Notting Hill Carnival in the United Kingdom.

The get-together, which featured discussions, multimedia exhibitions and steelpan and calypso concerts, was in honour of the late Professor Christopher Innes, who supported Caribbean arts including assisting with digitizing videotapes of mas’ and music.

Innes, a Canadian historian of English Arts and Distinguished Research Professor at York University, was a department member of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, and the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. He died in June 2017.

LaRose, former CCC chairman Sam Lewis, and renowned masquerade bandleader Louis Saldenah, were the panelists at a discussion session, with Toronto’s carnival featuring prominently in the exchange.

In 2006, the City of Toronto – citing management and financial concerns – withdrew funding for the CCC and Caribana, and threw its support behind the Festival Management Corporation (FMC), which has been organizing the carnival ever since. Members of CCC, which has been renamed the Caribana Arts Groups (CAG), have been clamouring for a return of the carnival to the organization. “Give us our festival back,’’ demanded LaRose, a CAG member.

According to Saldenah, a lot of “misinformation’’ has been disseminate on the formation of the FMC: “The last three years of existence of the CCC, the City of Toronto requested audited statements from them and they did not produce it, and the bandleaders had problems with the CCC,’’ Saldenah said.

“Six bandleaders went into the City of Toronto and told them that we would not work with the CCC anymore and if they force us to work with the CCC, we’re going to boycott the festival,’’ he added. “The bandleaders were the ones who were responsible for forming the FMC.’’

LaRose’s version of events differed from Saldenah’s, recalling that “the city said, we’re going to take this festival over for a year. You (CCC) get your books in order and when it’s done, we’d give it back to you. And after they had it for the first year and we went back to them and said, we want our festival back, they said no’’. LaRose claimed that Toronto officials “proceeded merrily along their way. They won’t even talk to us’’.

The officials, he said, have not asked the FMC to account for money received from the city.

“When last have you seen a financial statement from the FMC? They do not have to account to anybody, the way that they asked the CAG to account,’’ said LaRose. “They don’t even have a membership. The city dictates and controls and tells them what to do; and then, they refuse to give them money if they don’t comply.’’

LaRose suggested there ought to be a “legacy and a monument’’ to Caribana’s founders, and also a “movement’’ to return the carnival to the community. “I would ask each of you to join in the movement,’’ he said. “Let’s get back and start talking to the CAG.’’

Saldenah, however, sharing experiences of the past of joining Caribana stakeholders in negotiating city and provincial funding for the festival, said “we are our worst enemies’’.

“We send our representatives there and we go there begging instead of making demands. We should be talking from a strong position because we bring something to the table,’’ Saldenah said.

In Saturday’s final discussion, York University PhD. student Denise Challenger, Trinidad filmmaker Christopher Laird, and American professor Andrew Martin, related the importance of archiving documents and the challenges involved in digitizing material.

“The value of archives cannot be underestimated. Just having them is a richness and a resource that is absolutely irreplaceable,’’ said Laird, founder of Trinidad’s Gayelle, a cable and online television station. “As far as I know, we have the only digitized video archive and it is specifically on Caribbean culture and society.’’

Martin, researcher and professor at Minnesota State University’s Inver Hills Community College, said many historical documents on the Caribbean are housed outside of the region and require a long process in trying to obtain them. At the same time, he pointed out that document preservation is difficult in the Caribbean’s humid weather conditions. “Old photos just don’t exist in these places because they just get eaten up by the humidity,’’ said Martin, an occasional freelance writer for The Trinidad Guardian.

He has visited Trinidad several times and is the author of a book on a steelband that once was located on the United States naval base at Chaguaramas. The publication is titled, “Steelpan Ambassadors: The US Navy Steel Band1957-1999’’.

 “When I was in college, I came across a record by the US Navy Steelband and I was very perplexed by this. I thought, ‘the US Navy Steelband for 40 years? How is that possible?’ It really peaked my interest, so I started researching it after that,’’ said Martin. Steelband members, he said, were used for a variety of purposes, but mainly for “recruiting and goodwill’’.