By Stephen Weir
Atlantic Carnival, one of the newest mas bands taking part in the annual Toronto Caribbean Carnival Parade, isn’t going to be competing in this year’s massive August 3rd event. That doesn’t mean you won’t see them out on the road, or hosting their signature gigantic mas costume launch – they have been granted special non-competing status in the 2019 carnival despite being banned from the parade!
The Caribbean Camera has learned that the Festival Management Committee – the owners of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival – has just changed the structure of the parade itself. They have decided to allow a number of Mas Bands to sell costumes to revelers and go down the road with the other competing bands but while avoiding the judging process. The bands will also not be allowed to participate in the King and Queen competition and the Junior Carnival Parade.
This year the FMC expects that there will be some 17,000 people taking part in the parade. The revelers will go down the road in three or four distinct groups – Guest Bands, Competing Bands, Non-Competing Bands and possibly Pan Groups.
Atlantic Carnival and possibly six other bands will be placed in the third grouping. People taking in the parade will not see any difference between the Competing and Non-Competing bands. On the downside for the third group, if stormers do take down the fences and stop the parade (an annual problem), it will probably be when the non-competitor bands are on the road.
“ We are good with the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. In fact it has always been good,” bandleader Akil Heywood told the Camera. “We have decided to take our band out of the Competitive portion of the Festival and focus on selling costumes and providing good customer service to revellers. We no longer want to participate in the King and Queen portion of the Carnival which cost us way more money then we can make from winning the (top prizes). “
Competitive bands must take part in both the King and Queen competition and the Grand Parade. In the big event parade, competitive bands must also parade in front of a stand where their costumes, music and presentation are judged. The winning bands receive cash prizes for their efforts.
“ As well, why should we put our energy into competing (on the road) when the same three bands have won it all over the last 10 years?” he continued. “Atlantic Carnival is in the parade, on the road but we are focused on the masquerade experience not who wins the awards!”
In a taped phone call with the Caribbean Carnival, Richard de Lima, the new CEO of the festival confirmed that Atlantic Carnival would be allowed to take part in the parade, in costume. There has been, according to the FMC, problems with Atlantic Carnival’s conduct (and three other bands) on the parade route last yea. A few months ago the Parade Governor’s Committee banned Atlantic Carnival from taking part in the 2019 parade.
“Atlantic Mas has been allowed (back in, even) after they have been banned by the Parade Governor’s Committee,” explained de Lima. “That decision was amended and they have now been allowed back into the parade as a non-competing commercial costume band. They can sell costume and will be in a different category – non-competing – and they will go at the last segment of the parade.”
Atlantic Mas is probably not the only band that will bring up the rear of this year’s festival parade. According to de Lima, he is looking at seven bands interested in taking part in the parade. If all seven get the go-ahead there could be a thousand or more masqueraders on the road.
Atlantic is making a bold move to bump up their numbers and win over revelers. At the end of the month they are staging a massive, star-studded daytime costume launch on May 25th at the Rebel Night Club in Toronto’s Harbour district. Themed as the “Rebellion”, it will feature a costume fashion show and live, in person performances by both Bunji and Machel Montano.
Costume launches introduce the costumes that each Mas band will be wearing on the road during the annual Toronto Caribbean Carnival (i.e. Caribana). The fetes – many of them attracting over a 1,000 carnival fans — are meant to encourage fans to sign-up to play mas and to purchase the costumes of their choice. Atlantic has had big name acts including Destra and Machel perform at their previous launches.
Last year 11competiting bands held launches and took part in the 2018 parade. This year two bands are missing from the list; De Regulars (who say they will be competing) and the previously mentioned Atlantic Carnival. The FMC says there will be only 9 bands competing this summer.
The reduced number of competitive bands may be the reason that the parade has changed how bands are going to be judged. A recent Carnival news release said that this year there will be only one category of competing bands.
In year’s gone by the competitive bands have been split into three categories Large (1,000+ plus in costume), Medium and Small. The bands are judged and prize money is awarded to the winning bands in each class. In 2018 there were just two classifications – Large and Medium/Small sized bands. No announcement has been made on how judging will take place this summer nor how prize monies will be allocated.
De Lima told the Camera that he will soon be releasing information about the parade route, the order of the bands and updates on the Carnival’s events.
However, the issue about Atlantic Carnival is taking a backseat in the mind of the CEO. Right now the FMC is once again dealing with two major problems – a lack of operating capital and sponsorship.
“Overall our (sponsorship and finances) are not good,” he admitted to the paper. “ We have a number of applications of grant funding into the three levels of government. The city has been doing yeoman’s work, we are extremely happy with them. The real key is that we are looking for positive outcomes with the Province and the Federal Governments.”
“The immediate problem is money. We have to get some soon if we are going to mount a decent festival,” said de Lima. “Attendance is declining. There is a waning interest by a number of stakeholders including sponsors who recognize these things themselves. Boy I tell you something, if there was money available, we could make some miracles happen.”