As expected, the hundreds who paraded through the streets of Castries on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, some in a state of inebriated stupor, seemed to have had the time of their lives. But the national cultural expression that it is supposed to be carnival was, to my mind, far from spectacular – at least the two-day finale. The quality of fetes, however, and some of the events leading up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday as well as the music, overall surpassed that of previous years.
I watched from the sidelines on Carnival Monday, near the Castries waterfront as the bands passed by – a melee of beads, bras, panties and feathers. Save for the banners on the trucks, it was hard to tell the bands apart, impossible still to detect any sections.
On the second day I stayed home. Watching the parade on CHOICE TV two comments, both by visitors to the island, caught my attention. The first came from a radio DJ out of Barbados who described the carnival route from Choc to Castries as “the most scenic in the Caribbean.” “I’ve travelled to carnivals from Cayman to Trinidad and I can tell you there is nothing quite like this. What those responsible need to do is market the product and get more people in the bands and on the road,” he stated.
The second visitor who was interviewed expressed disappointment in not seeing the beauty of the mas as the bands passed by.
On the first comment I had not quite looked at the route through the eyes of the Barbadian but suddenly I did and I had to concur. It then dawned on me that the hundreds of visitors who had lined up on the Castries waterfront, some on yachts, were getting more than they had bargained for: not much by way of a street parade, or any thread of artistic expression running through the mas, but at least they had some scenery, some ambience. But is that enough?
Several years ago I spoke to at least two leaders of the so called party bands, about the possibility of ensuring their masqueraders remain in their sections from the top of the Vigie playing field down to the Castries market. That is usually the area where there is the greatest concentration of spectators and so that way they would be able to witness the beauty (or lack thereof) of the various bands. I have also suggested that if some of these bands want to “do their own thing”, they should not be judged and afforded part of the prizes which comes from the taxpayers’ purse.
Carnival is a spectator sport and revelers usually feed off spectators, many with zooming cameras. And while I also understand that band-leaders cannot control the actions of revelers, likewise they will not be able to control what is captured and posted for the world to see on the www. And so I have to question again why under-aged girls are allowed in some of the bands and consume alcohol while band leaders look the other way but then turn around and complain about what they deem are unsavoury carnival photos posted by photographers. But that’s for another story.
The fact that most of the bands showcased the same style panty and bra meant that there was very little creativity on the road for carnival. The fact too that Augier’s Tribe of Twel, which reeked of Peter Minshall and with very few revelers, won band of the year spoke loud and clear to the lack of creativity. I have heard the hue and cry about how expensive it would be to return to mas camps and the making of local costumes. This is where the ministry of creative industries should step in and source annual funding for at least two bands whose mission it is to present a carnival street theatre that can be relished by both locals and visitors.
Two visiting French bands leading the parade Monday and Tuesday made for a carnival story with a great opening but a bad finish. Some of the bands with few revelers were overwhelmed by invaders, making it impossible to notice their own participants. As I have indicated before, I have no issues with the “party bands” which are, by and large, commercial entities with profit on their minds. But if this business of carnival is a national event funded by government then a wider canvas must be employed to paint a much bigger and better carnival. We must go back to the drawing board to redefine our product, define what it is we are selling and plant fresh seeds of this carnival so that it becomes rooted in something meaningful.
Oh, I almost forgot, the Barbadian DJ also lamented the fact that with so much good Saint Lucian music for carnival, he was hearing way too much “foreign” music on the road for carnival. Ah well, I guess something had to go with the imported costumes and borrowed themes, right?