THE Tobago region of National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) launched the rebirth of the Tobago Fest (TF), with a mission to also bring back the joyous years of playing mas for “small money.”
NCBA president David Lopez said with the festival is to be developed as a tourist product. He said there was too much emphasis on competition in Carnival, and the competition in Carnival as it stands today
“is in intensive care”, and if it continued on that path, soon TT Carnival will become a thing of the past.
Speaking at D Original Backyard Restaurant and Sports Bar at Tragarete Road, Newtown in Port of Spain, last week Friday, Lopez said, “It is going to be a major challenge because Carnival is being taken away from the people and it is important for the people to take back their Carnival. Based on the competitions in Carnival you have to pay upwards of $5,000 to be in a costume, we are saying that when Carnival started in Trinidad it was a people event. There was no competition. People used to come and play in their costumes and have a good time.”
Emphasising his mission for people to “pay small money” to enjoy themselves and the desire not to see “Carnival taken away from the people”, Lopez cited how a rival Carnival event was birthed when certain people were denied the opportunity to participate.
He said, “As we move on today, it is important to understand the importance of why we are here at D Original Backyard Restaurant and Sports Bar. This place that we are standing on here was a barrack yard where people of colour had their own Carnival when they were denied participation in the Carnival by the French. So, it is important for us as a people to understand the history of our Carnival. If we don’t do that and allow the Carnival to be taken away from the people in the name of competition, the people who produce the Carnival will not benefit from the Carnival because they are not service providers.
So the reason for the rebirth of the Tobago Fest is that you will be able to pay small money to enjoy yourself. The Parade of the Bands is to bring your costume and come and have a good time and enjoy yourself, and to see the rebirth of TF, the real Carnival.”
There will be four major events, two free and two with paid admission at festival which begins this weekend. Originally, the festival ran from 1998 to 2006 –when it was stopped by Orville London, then chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, following a stabbing incident in the J’Ouvert. Back then, London stated that TF would have had to be restructured, promising to return in a few years.
Twelve years later, Terrence Sandiford, who took up the chairmanship of the NCBA Tobago Region in 2012, spoke about the rebirth of TF.
He said, “I have been clamouring for the return of TF because it must be understood that Tobago Carnival can’t compete with Trinidad, and so the intention was to have a Carnival-style, tourism event that we can benefit from because when we celebrate our Carnival same time with Trinidad, we don’t get the level of sponsorship or participation that is deserved. Apart from all of this, a survey was done by our office and it revealed that the past three to five years we have been losing at least 15 per cent of masqueraders going to Trinidad so we decided something had to be done and earlier this year we took the decision to bring back TF.”
Sandiford said the festival is of significant importance to Tobago for a number of reasons, one being that years ago Tobago use to have over 90,000 people visiting its shores, but this has dwindled to seven or 8,000, which has taken a toll on the island’s economy.
Tobago Fest begins on Friday with a welcome party designed specifically for sponsors, well-wishers and the public, then follows-up next morning with a J’Ouvert presentation at Canoe Bay from 5-10 am. At 1 pm, the Parade of the Bands will start at the park by the Shade Restaurant up to Store Bay car park and back, ending at 6 pm.
“We are fortunate to have T&TEC on board with us for the Brite Nite experience that takes place from 8 pm-1 am on Saturday night. And between 10 and midnight T&TEC will be taking off lights in order to see the spectacle of hundreds of neon lights glowing in the dark,” Sandiford said. On Sunday, there will be a cool-down from 12 pm-6 pm.
Summing up Sandiford said, “Tobago Fest is an economic investment for the future of Tobago. This year’s TF is 2.4 per cent of the budget that is given to Tobago Jazz Experience, Heritage Festival and the Carnival, and it is expected to have more people than those three events combined. Without any man-made or natural disasters TF is well on its way to revive the economy of Tobago.”