By Anthony Joseph
I recently delved into the archives of The Caribbean Camera for the year 1998 to see what had taken place at the Caribana Festival, then organized by its founders, the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC).
There was a media launch, then the official launch of the festival, three boat rides, the king and queen competition at Lamport Stadium, a kiddies parade, the grand parade with 21 bands and two days of fun “for island people” on Olympic Island.
Then I looked at this year’s events organized by the Festival Management Committee (FMC). There was a media launch, the official launch of the festival, the king and queen competition at Lamport Stadium, the kiddies parade, the new junior king and queen contest and the grand parade with eleven bands competing. (A Sunday event was postponed to be held in conjunction with Trinidad and Tobago’s 60th Independence anniversary celebrations at Dundas Square.)
This set me thinking about the need for innovations and how the FMC, that great saviour of the festival which they now call a carnival, has failed us – time and time again. Let’s look at some of the “innovations” that they “introduced” over the last 15 years.
Back in the days of Caribana, a VIP section was set up at the annual king and queen competition, held on the Thursday before the grand parade, at Lamport Stadium. Among the guests in the VIP section were the premier of Ontario, the mayor of Toronto, several MPs and MPPs as well as Caribbean dignitaries and sponsors of the festival.
As I recall, the VIP area was set up on the stadium floor close to the stage where the masqueraders performed and the crowds of carnival aficionados were in the stands on the east side of the stadium. The organizers made sure that there was always a clear line of sight from the stands so that the paying audience had an unobstructed view of the stage.
An early “innovation” the FMC made was to increase the size of the VIP area and invite the public to rub shoulders with politicians who were in attendance, at a price of $100 per ticket. The first year this was introduced, about two hundred tickets were sold. Since then, the king and queen show has experienced “VIP creep” – look out: the VIP area is about to take over the stadium.
At this year’s king and queen show, the “creep” went so far that people in the stands had a hard time seeing the mas’ players and their costumes. They were so far from the action. Then the sponsors had their tents in the VIP area and this created a visual barrier between the “masses and the mas’.” At the same time the bar was still on the field, which means that if you needed a drink, you would have to walk from the stands to the field for that drink and then make your way back to the stands. Many in the audience are seniors and to subject them to this type of punishment is criminal.
However, the worse thing the organizers could do at this show was done in the hope of selling even more VIP tickets. Would you believe that the FMC increased the size of the VIP area to the point that they had to decrease the size of the stage? As a result, mas’ players did not have enough space to display their costumes properly. Some of these costumes are twenty feet tall and thirty feet wide and to maneuver them requires enormous skill, strength, and intelligence.
The fall that could have killed a mas’ man at this year’s king and queen show at Lamport stadium came when Ronne des-Vignes was crossing the stage in what many considered “a winner of a costume.” The mas’ man went down or rather went over. His wheels came off the stage, dropping about nine inches, causing his costume to become “off balance,” trapping the 75-year-old below it. His costume was about four hundred pounds of steel, fiberglass, fabric and a host of other things that go into making one of these elaborate masterpieces.
But wait! There were other “innovations.” In the old days, the CCC used to provide seating, breakfast and lunch for the VIPs. But the FMC opened it up to the community – at a price, of course. With the FMC, it’s anything at a price and prices have gone up every year since they introduced it and, let’s face it, the festival events have not changed much in the last 40 years.
Nothing new here except in the kiddies carnival which celebrated its 35th year in 2022. The innovation here was to “split off “the king and queen from being judged on the road at the kids parade and having a separate event that can be another profit centre where the kids are playing the mas’ and their friends can’t afford to come to see them.
Many of us recall that the CCC used to provide what was called Carnival food at the festival – home-style paleau, macaroni pie and calalloo with stewed chicken.
Not these days. You are more likely to get Italian-style pasta and some grapes, instead of mango, along with cheesecake and, for a Caribbean flavour, Jerk Chicken.
Let’s not forget: we are Caribbean people.
If this parade is to continue and grow, the festival must become innovative in the true sense of the word. It must use technology to help the sponsors and the stakeholders develop their programs and the funding should not be used to keep the stakeholders” under control.”
It is high time that our beloved parade is given back to the Community from which it was stolen.