I welcomed the news that government was going to assess the economic impact of carnival. It is something I had been asking for before. What is strange is that we are told that such an assessment was done before, but was not satisfactory. Who did the assessment and what were the terms of reference? An assessment is really needed and once the terms of reference are broad enough, it should provide us with valuable information that might inform a number of things. We have traditionally seen carnival as mass, calypso, and pan. In the past these took precedence. Fetes on the night of any of the major shows happened after the show. Following the Queen Show persons journeyed to Aquatic, Crows’ Nest or wherever. On Carnival Monday and Tuesdays, the dance halls started after the street jump-ups were finished. Times have changed, people come to the country for carnival and many of them do not even go to the park or attend any of the official carnival shows, except perhaps for the Soca Monarch.
There had at one time been talk of banning competing shows. This was an impossibility. There had for years been some deterioration in what had been provided at the park, the real carnival that is, and private promoters pounced on that. Isn’t it all about entrepreneurship wherever it can be found? A people to whom jumping up meant more than the creativity, art and imagination of carnival provided a captive audience which preferred to pay large fees for the private ventures, some of them all-inclusives.
The message here is that carnival is more than mass, calypso, and pan. As we stress the economic importance of carnival, some hard choices will have to be made. In recent times the ‘purity’ of culture, not only in SVG, has been giving way to finding an economic thrust as we seek avenues for economic development. Can a balance be found? When we think of carnival today, of what do we think? Returning Vincentians seem more interested in ‘Nice time’ wherever it is found than listening to say, Starlift or Sion Hill Euphorium. Over the years we have been told, despite the many sponsorships that CDC does not make money. What do we do? There is no doubt that a lot of money comes into the country, so then do we continue to incur losses knowing that in the long run the country benefits? Is there a way of attracting more people to our carnival shows? The results of the economic assessment must be balanced with wide discussions through town hall meetings about the state of carnival.
The Mardi Gras show at the park is now free because there have been complaints about losses, but a lot can be done to improve what happens there. On Tuesday the first band turned up at the Park at about 11.30 a.m., but band number 2 took the stage shortly after 1. There was no entertainment on the stage except some soca music which many of the visitors seemed not to understand. The answer is not to shift to Little Tokyo as was done two years ago. There are many elderly people, some with children who prefer to be seated at the Park looking at the mass presentations on stage rather than have to walk around town in the midday heat. It also provides a better opportunity for family, friends, and all to take photos of the costumes of their favourite bands. Can we not reorganise what happens at the Park at Mardi Gras? Is it possible to get the bands to the Park earlier or start the show later? Whatever is agreed should come after a hard assessment of carnival itself. There is a lot more to be said, especially about the hooliganism and vulgarity that have become even more prevalent, that warrants a separate article.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian