Carnival’s rocky road!

Photo by Bill Mortley. Costume: Just for Fun Carnival Band

The countdown to this carnival weekend here in Saint Lucia, has not been very smooth. In fact, at times it seemed like the whole carnival train could have been derailed as controversy after controversy, issue after issue had to be dealt with by the organizers. In fact, I think this carnival had more meetings and discussions to diffuse one area of contention after another, than there were actual meaningful carnival events.
The rocky ride this carnival experienced started in January after a post mortem where findings were not tabled before government until months later. The findings of the exercise revealed, among other things, that most of the major carnival shows were operating at a financial loss and that the government’s subvention was way below what the carnival budget required.
Then in May of this year, the Cultural Development Foundation headed by

Photo by Bill Mortley. Costume: Just for Fun Carnival Band

Director Kennedy “Boots” Samuels held a press conference to launch carnival under the theme “Nothing sweeter dan dat.”  At the time, the director announced the date for the launch of Carnival as June 5, 2011 and that this year the Beausejour sporting compound would serve as the venue to at least three events, namely panorama finals, Calypso finals and Soca Monarch finals.
The director then offered the news that EC$1.1 million dollars was on offer by the government to the CDF to produce carnival. At the time Boots stated about carnival: “It is a time when we have some of the most quarreling, when we have some of the most mistrust of each other, when we have some accusations, things of sabotage controversies etcetera,” he countered. “Our task is to minimize some of these and focus on the realities of this proud moment in our history that we relive every year and it has been done for generations,” Samuel said.
Well “Boots” could not have been more correct this year, although little did he know that this year’s controversies would start closer to home. A month later, it appeared that the CDF would have been ousted from carnival when a new carnival entity was installed by the government through the Prime Minister, to oversee carnival for 2011. The new entity, headed by WASCO’s John Joseph with the CDF having representatives as part of the composition was first described as a secretariat. However, that was quickly changed to “carnival committee” after the validity was questioned over the role of the CDF which was enacted by an act of parliament to oversee all things cultural here including carnival. In the weeks following, there was much wrangling about the exact role of the committee and even their ability to see the season through after the opening of carnival was then delayed by another week. With carnival culminating July 18, 19 the past month was packed with issues over a venue for the opening, subventions for various carnival entities, the use of a trini based back-up band for Calypso semi finals, calypsonians threatening to boycott semis, the issues of lack of airplay of some songs by certain DJ’s affiliated to certain camps,  and the issue of some of the soca songs instigating destructive behaviour from the audience. There was even talk that “Bingo’s” song “My Job I was protecting” was causing the government of the day some discomfort. With so much “halay casay,” two weeks ago the talk around town was that hardly anyone was feeling “the carnival vibes.”
Well we came down to the final week of carnival which started with a successful hosting of Junior carnival last Sunday, followed by the inter-commercial house calypso competition another success, which was won by the representative of LUCELEC. On Wednesday carnival band Red unlimited staged Machel the Return, the first major concert at Beausejour which was a great event. On Thursday Ricky T won the Groovy Soca Monarch competition which was held in conjunction with the King and Queen of the bands for the first time and last night the Wave 94.5 hosted Outrageous Sexy in Black with KES Denise, Iwer, Ricky T and more. It was also the return of panorama after a two year absence.
Tonight it’s the night of power, Power soca, with the mother of the carnival music Calypso being held on Sunday July 17. It is a move some are keeping a keen eye on as those objecting to the switch believe that the move to have calypso finals on Sunday before carnival as opposed to Soca finals will affect the numbers. Over the past years carnival Sunday was outfitted with the King and Queen of the bands competition along with the Caribbean Soca monarch which was discontinued. This event in recent years was the biggest event for carnival. The shift to take the shows to Beausejour in the north as opposed to Mindoo Phillip Park in the city centre has also raised concerns as to accessibility to the masses.
All this aside, carnival is expected to climax on Monday and Tuesday with ten bands taking to the streets from Choc to Castries. Whatever the controversies we are certain that many will be “getting it good” on those days.  However if there is to be any sustained satisfaction after the climax, the way forward has to be to take a critical look at this thing called carnival right away and decide on the way forward in order to improve. After all, truth to be told we have regressed and digressed, coming from an all time high three years ago. And one weekend of gaiety and wanton revellery will do little to change this.

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