“Spicemas” expected to be Grenada’s first festival since two-year Carnival hiatus 

By Lincoln DePradine

Shannon Hawley

Neither Trinidad and Tobago nor neighbouring Grenada has had an official, government-sanctioned carnival in two years. However, carnival organizers in Grenada are seeking government approval for hosting a festival – formally known as “Spicemas’’ – in 2022.

“We want to be able, in a matter of two weeks or so, to present to cabinet what we believe we can do with carnival,’’ Arley Gill, chairman of the Spicemas Corporation (SMC) told The Caribbean Camera.

The SMC was established as the chief organizing body for carnival in Grenada in 2011, when Gill was a senator and the culture minister in the government of then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas.

An attorney by profession, he now also is Grenada’s ambassador to the Caribbean Community.

Gill was appointed SMC chairman last November, promising to give serious attention to having a 2022 carnival in Grenada.

“Of course, a lot will depend on our COVID situation before a final decision is made by government,’’ Gill said at the time. “Nonetheless, I can assure you that once sanctioned by government, whatever format a 2022 Spicemas takes – virtual or otherwise – it would be a festival of a high standard; one incorporating all the elements of our carnival, with the objective of producing a world-class carnival arts product.’’

Arley Gill

As part of preparations for the possible holding of a carnival this year, SMC officials, carnival practitioners and members of other interest groups met last Saturday at a retreat in St George’s, the Grenadian capital.

The retreat – an “all-day brainstorming’’ and “consultative activity’’ – was “really a strategic visioning session to explore what we can do in the throes of the pandemic. We’re not going to be in the pandemic forever, regardless of how long it lasts. So, we also have to look to see how we could develop the product after the pandemic,’’ said Gill. “The whole idea is not to put our hands down and say there’s a pandemic and we can do nothing.’’

Spicemas culminates on the second Monday and Tuesday in August. It’s not only Grenada’s premier annual cultural festival, but also a major revenue earner for government and businesses.

Last Saturday’s SMC event was held under the theme, “Carnival in the Pandemic and Beyond”.

More than 30 people participated in the retreat – some in-person and others virtually – including the chairperson of the St Kitts Carnival Committee, Shannon Hawley, who delivered an online presentation to the session.

St Kitts, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, has hosted its annual carnival in December two years in a row, including the 2021 festival last month.

Gill said the SMC wanted to learn from the “St Kitts experience’’, with Hawley relating the country’s vaccination and testing mandates for live in-person shows, and she also pointed to increased viewership from abroad that the carnival attracted. Viewership exceeded one million, she said.

“We’re looking for cabinet’s approval to say, yes, to Spicemas for 2022,’’ Gill said. “Once they do that, we can go into planning mode and start outlining what we’re going to do. We want to do so early, so that we could send the word out that mas’ players can get going, pan people can get going and calypsonians can get going.’’

COVID-19 is responsible for more than 200 deaths in Grenada, with about 8,272 contracting the virus. Of a total population of some 112,000, just over 36,000 are said to be “fully vaccinated’’ against the virus.

Gill said as an organization, the SMC is encouraging Grenadians to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “We, in SMC, will go on a vaccination promotion drive,’’ he disclosed.