Tobago’s Carnival questions


Before I proceed, let me state categorically I am fully in support of the October Carnival in Tobago. Indeed, I am not only paying lip service, I am also offering my tangible support. To this end, since June this year, even before the details of the festival were announced, in a move akin to ‘buying cat in bag’, as a Tobago patriot and Carnival aficionado, I made arrangements to be present in my homeland to fully immerse myself in the festival’s activities.

Notwithstanding this decision, I have had some burning questions for a while, but I was waiting and hoping to get some of my answers without asking publicly.

However, seeing that October is fast approaching and my answers are not forthcoming, I can’t wait any longer. So here goes:

• Is the Tobago Carnival in October a replacement on that island for the NATIONAL festival in February/March? In other words, is the plan to have a Trinidad Carnival in February/March and a Tobago Carnival in October?

If the plan is to have separate carnivals;

• What will be happening in Tobago during the pre-Lenten period?

• Is it that there would be no Carnival-related activities or very limited Carnival-related activities?

• Will Tobagonians be expected to go to work/ school normally on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday?

I really cannot picture a scenario where on the traditional Carnival Monday and Tuesday Trinidadians are engaged in serious revelry and in Tobago it is business as usual.

• Will Tobago steelbands be allowed to take part in the Trinidad (formerly National) Panorama competition?

• Will Tobago calypsonians be allowed to participate in TUCO’s Calypso Monarch competition? And the Soca Monarch?

• Will Tobago have a separate Road March?

The Mas Band of the year would not be an issue since the competition has always been held separately on the islands.

In my opinion, having two separate events is highly impractical and unlikely, therefore the more likely scenario is one in which Tobago will be in the unique position of hosting two carnivals annually. However, several questions still arise with this scenario If Tobago is to produce two carnivals annually;

• What will be the scale of each?

• Will both have equal status?

• What will be the similarities/ differences?

• Does the Central Government / THA have the financial wherewithal to fund two annual Carnivals in Tobago in this ‘guava season’ on a sustainable basis?

At present the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) under the NCC (Pan Trinbago, the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), and the TT Carnival Bands Association) rely heavily on Government funding to execute Carnival activities for the National Festival. The same will obtain for both Tobago Festivals. SIGs will solicit funds directly from the THA, or indirectly from the Central Government, since the THA in its annual budget, will seek funding for both events from the Central Government.

Of course, the reliance on Government/THA Funding could be alleviated if the corporate sector in Tobago is prepared to provide meaningful financial assistance, but;

• Will Tobago businesses which stand to reap significant financial benefits from the October Carnival be prepared to assist annually with the necessary funding to undertake the event?

Or are they prepared to just rake in profits without investing?

• Do Tobago bandleaders and masqueraders have the financial resources to produce/play mas twice per year?

In this regard, several concerns come to mind, two of which I will highlight.

The first concern is for the bandleaders. Based on what is happening this year, the competition from the surfeit of fetes for the limited funds of potential masqueraders can be a big threat to the successful production of a mas band. Indeed, I saw a recent post by one band, Paragon Promotions, where they were considering ‘pulling the plug’ on their mas production because ‘the Tobago Carnival has been bombarded with alternative fetes as opposed to the actual Carnival’.

Fetes are an integral part of Carnival and will definitely attract visitors to the island.

However, given the limited size of the potential market and the aforementioned financial considerations, holding too many fetes may severely compromise the success of the other key elements (mas, kaiso, pan) of the festival.

• Is this what the THA really wants? An October FETSival, as opposed to an October FESTival?

From the masqueraders’ (both Trinidadians and Tobagonians) standpoint, down payment for costumes for the February/March Carnival is due by August/September of the prior year, with full payment due in some cases by December of the prior year.

• Will masqueraders who usually play mas in February/ March be willing/able to pay for two costumes in a three to sixmonth period?

I am aware that at some carnivals which occur after ours, some bandleaders/ masqueraders recycle costumes from their band of the particular year, however since the THA has strongly indicated that the idea is to produce a uniquely Tobago experience, using recycled costumes for this event cannot/ should not be an option.

This is not an exhaustive list of questions. Based on the feedback I have received to date; I actually have several others concerning the operational aspects of the festival but these can wait. For now, I am hoping to go and have a grand time at the event with the expectation that it will live up to the hype.

Claude A Job