Michelle Lochan brings hope to the Carnival

Publishers note

Anthony Joseph

For many years the Festival Management Committee (FMC) has been run by people who have never been within 20 feet of the culture of the Caribbean carnival people. They have spent most of their time in the boardrooms of Canada than in the mas’ camps, pan yards or calypso tents where the culture lives. In other words, they were more interested in the business and money than the culture.

It is true that few, if any, festivals like the Toronto Caribbean Carnival can survive without money; but if it is mishandled and you fail to recognize and nurture the culture that is at its heart the money will dry up. A balance must be maintained; so you nurture and develop the culture so that you can grow your bottom line. This has not been done since the festival was taken away from the community in 2007.

There is reason to be hopeful as Michelle Lochan takes the reigns of the carnival. The fact that she grew up in a carnival environment inspired by her father, the late Dick Lochan – a man firmly rooted in the culture as a practicing calypsonian who sang calypsos in the home in which she grew up – Michelle could not have been better prepared for this assignment. She would have also learned the art of organisation from her father who oversaw the staging of the last successful Calypso Monarch back in 2016.  

Dick Lochan’s death, which followed soon after that event, coincided with the Organisation of Calypso Performing Arts (OCPA) lapsing into a state of financial and organisational poverty. It did not help the organisation when the FMC found several reasons for defunding the calypso fraternity. Hopefully that will change.

Michelle’s mother, Frances, ran the most successful calypso tent for many years. She also played a vital part in the staging of the King and Queen show; also on Parade Day Frances could be seen directing traffic to ensure that the bands made it across the stage safely. So to say that Michelle grew up differently is an understatement; she grew up with culture all around her, she has culture in her veins.

I had the good fortune of speaking with Ms Lochan recently, and was quite impressed with what she had accomplished as a Federal and Provincial public servant. That experience, taken together with her “Lochan upbringing”, should serve her well as she takes over the helm of the FMC.

It is no secret that in recent years the number of attendees of the carnival has dropped precipitously, as are the number of mas bands that participate.  There is still a great divide between big bands and small ones. Meanwhile the calypsonians haven’t been paid in several years; neither have the steelbands.

Ms. Lochan will also have to make sense of the City’s continued financial support of the FMC in the past two years when the pandemic did not allow for parades to be staged, while the FMC in turn failed to share any of the funds with the cultural components (the Steelband and Calypso organisations) of the festival during the two years of forced inactivity. 

Lochan has a struggle in front of her because the key organizations, calypso, pan and mas people, are all small businesses and should qualify for their share of the $1.8 million the FMC received from the federal government to support small businesses.

I trust that this money is not spent on consultants, some of whom have been directors of the festival, while overlooking the people who have struggled for years developing and maintaining the culture of the Caribbean here in Toronto.