There is yet to be a proliferation of calypso and soca on the airwaves but believe me when I say there is already a huge simmering pot of activities relating to carnival. The best part is not much of it is government-driven. This, to my mind, is how it should be; arts and cultural expressions by the people, community-driven and facilitated by the government agencies.
Over the past seven weeks the island has seen the return of Soufriere carnival, the launch of carnival in Dennery, and also the Dezolee band launch in the Roseau Valley. The teachers’ union and Massy Stores hosted their internal calypso competitions to select representatives for the inter-commercial calypso competition. The first tent, TOT/Soca Village, opened recently. Soca fans have also witnessed the third annual Soca Switch event, featuring the first-ever Kuduro (Dennery Segment) competition. This new genre of soca, birthed in the eastern villages, was once frowned upon by some DJs and promoters. Now it is the new rave, maybe thanks in part to its being embraced outside of the island. I guess in Saint Lucia it’s “Dance abroad before you dance a-yard”.
In any event, the first sign of an activity under the national umbrella came with the launch of the Carnival Queen pageant. Then on Tuesday May 30, the new government-formed entity Events Company Saint Lucia held a press conference to explain the structure for the design and management of carnival, long heralded as the island’s main cultural showpiece.
“Carnival remains a very significant festival that touches the length and breadth of Saint Lucia every year,” said Thomas Leonce, CEO of Events Company Saint Lucia. He went on to explain that the arrangement for Carnival 2017 will see the Cultural Development Foundation taking responsibility for conceptualization and designing the broad carnival product.
As Leonce told it: “The CDF is supported in its effort by a carnival advisory committee, with representation from the calypso tents, the Steel Bands Association, the Carnival Bands Association, a Calypso Management Committee which provides a strong supporting role to the Calypso fraternity, and a Queen Show Committee.”
For 2017 and beyond, Events Company Saint Lucia assumes the responsibility for producing select events on the carnival calendar. These will include the Soca Monarch Semis and Finals, Calypso Semis and Finals, Kiddies’ Carnival, and the parade of the bands on July 17 and 18 which brings the curtains down on the carnival festivities.
“The institutional framework to support carnival stakeholders is already in place and some carnival bands have begun tapping into that facility,” Leonce reported. He said a waiver of duties on carnival-related materials, of work permit requirements and the extension of opening hours for certain establishments have been requested.
“The Carnival product does not belong to CDF nor to the Events Company; it belongs to all of Saint Lucia. So it is very important that all stakeholders continue to embrace the festival,” Leonce said. “We need more and more to transform our carnival into an export product, as some other Caribbean islands have successfully done. We must develop activities to attract visitors from our source markets and, of course, the Caribbean diaspora, and encourage them to spend more money with us.”
Among the exercises the CDF will undertake for carnival: training in costume design and building, calypso and soca lyric writing workshops, vocal development workshops and training in steel pan and calypso judging.
Over the years Saint Lucia’s carnival has received much criticism for falling prey to the panty, bra, beads and feathers costume syndrome pervasive in most of the other Caribbean carnivals. Some say carnival as an artistic and creative expression is dying.
Said one official: “We recognize that for the main bands this is a business that involves importing of costumes to be sold at a profit. The community carnivals provide us with the greatest opportunity for the costume design we would like to see showcased at our carnivals.”
Some of the events already slotted into this year’s carnival calendar include an event dubbed Epic Wednesday on 14 June. This is expected to be the launching pad for the main events for 2017. Then there are the Carnival Queen Pageant (July 1), Junior Carnival (July 9), Inter-Commercial (July 11), King & Queen of the Bands (July 13), Panorama (July 14), Calypso Finals (July 15) and Soca Monarch Finals (July 16).
The June to July Carnival calendar is also filled with a number of fetes and events by individual bands and promoters, as well as the community carnivals.