Letters & Opinion

COVID Opened New Doors for Better Caribbean Carnivals

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

With no ‘Jump-up’, ‘Playing Mas’ and costume displays along crowded streets since 2020, Carnival enthusiasts across the Caribbean, like in Europe, North and South America, are determined not to spend a third successive year Staying-at-Home when festival time comes around in 2022.

Several Caribbean nations will also host Carnival in February, in keeping with the traditional pre-Lenten season, starting with similar low-key observances in the Mecca of Caribbean Carnival, Trinidad & Tobago, where Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced last November that T&T Carnival 2022 would be from January 28 to March 1, 2022 — but with no Parade of the Bands.

February celebrations would normally also take place this month in Aruba, Curacao and Dominica and Guyana will host its ‘Mashramani’ (coinciding with its Republic Day) on February 23 – but (officially) only online.

St. Vincent & The Grenadines long-ago planned to be the first Caribbean country to host a ‘Carnival in the Metaverse’ — described as “The merging of virtual, augmented and physical reality in an alternate reality, where users can interact in a computer-generated environment with others, facilitated by headsets that support both virtual and augmented reality in the completely immersive 3D world.”

‘Vincy Mas 2022’ will be from June 24 to July 5 — but much of its shape will depend on the health authorities’ ultimate advice.

Haiti and Virgin Gorda normally observe Carnival in March; Jamaica, St. Maarten, Cayman Islands normally play in April; with May jump-ups in St. Thomas and the Bahamas.

June also sets Bermuda afire.

But July is the most-celebrated Carnival month (after February) with revelry in Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Barbados, USA, British Virgin Islands and Saint Lucia.

August sees Spice Mas in Grenada, while the September revelry is in Nevis and Belize.

Then, in October and November, the Caribbean Carnival Spirit gives way to preparation for the biggest global Christian festival Christmas — and the New Year – after which the annual cycle resumes in January and February of the next year…

But those Normal (pre-COVID) times have now been replaced since 2020 by the New Normal the world is still trying to adjust to after two short years of everything from millions of deaths caused the multiple variants of COVID-19, to the ongoing food price rises caused by today’s Supply Chain blues.

As governments chip-and-skip between protecting the nation against any worsening of the virus’ effects and the yearnings of COVID-fatigued Carnival revellers, some are opting for middle-of-the-road positions by flexing protocols to (try to) allow the most-partying-possible within ‘safe’ zones and virtually taking the festivities to homes.

But while COVID has closed many Carnival doors worldwide, it’s also opened many, including new opportunities to take the annual creative event to another even-better stage that will tap and tax the creativity of many more and reach-out-and-touch more people in many more places, including those safely at home.

The doors closed by the Supply Chain problems have also opened new ones for a combination of more local creativity and use of more local resources instead of bands in the business of investing in quick and juicy returns from the celebrations only importing container-loads of costumes and supportive materials.

Before costumes ‘Made in Trinidad & Tobago’ became a sizeable profitable annual export, each Carnival Band had creative ‘Mas Camp’ where costume-designs for King and Queen of the Bands, Band of the Year, Ole Mas and other performing categories were quietly but quickly shaped (usually by night) into final elaborate frames produced from local products or created through local artistic and creative input.

Back then, bands and members were more interested in winning prizes than earning profits; Calypso Tents prepared their singers for the King, Queen and Monarch components, including songs paced for Road March consideration; and a Steel Band accompanied each carnival band for the two days of parades.

Hi-Fi music blasted through deafening giant speakers mounted on flatbed trucks eventually virtually drowned-out the steel-band accompaniment at band parades and the profit-motive that followed turning carnival from a popular event to a private sector business led to bands competing more for numbers of revellers than almost anything-else.

As with all major sports, commercialization of carnival came at a cost price of putting profits before people – and everything else – with costume costs increasing by the year and bands offering different price rates for jump-up membership packages ranging from ‘Regular’ to ‘All-Inclusive’ and ‘Very-VIP’.

But COVID stepped-in and forced an entire review of all aspects of how best to ensure Carnival and Cultural Mass Crowd Events were presented in the new COVID-sensitive environment.

Barbados was one of the first countries to invest in collective video productions by several artistes performing one song in diverse locations for sharing online with home-based audiences – and the world.

Designers across the region have also shown since 2020 they can adapt their creations to suit the new audience delivery realities and produce products that aren’t simply advertised online, but intended to take their artistic talents to more people more easily — and more permanently — in more spaces than the usual limited crowds lining sidewalks once-a-year.

Calypsonians and Soca artistes regionally have also demonstrated their ability to adjust and innovate with online versions of Ex-Tempo and Calypso Tent performances.

And people everywhere continue to show that if the production is good, they will appreciate it as well online as on-the-street.

Thanks to COVID, Caribbean Carnivals can therefore ‘Go-Back’ and ‘Move-Ahead’ to ‘Build-Back-Better’, each variant of every national festival also-open to the likes of a three-year-plan (as in the case of St. Vincent) allowing for advance-planning rather than continuing the outdated tradition of awaiting a review of every year’s carnival to plan the next.

Yes, COVID dampened the Caribbean’s carnival spirit in 2020 and 2021, but it’s also opened-up opportunities to breathe new sunlight into the region’s primary annual cultural festival in the Age of COVID and The New Global Norm.

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