CALYPSO tent managers are hopeful for their Carnival 2019 opening. However, opening depends on whether or not they get allocations from the Government, namely the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, or from corporate sponsors.
Newsday spoke to the managers/chairmen of three privately-run calypso tents who all said they had applied for a government allocation to run their tents.
But Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts said funding of private tents, as has been traditionally done, will depend on releases. When asked exactly what she meant by this, Gadsby-Dolly said, “The ministry just dealt with Christmas grants and is now looking at Carnival grants.” In WhatsApp responses to Newsday she said no grant to Carnival would have been made before Christmas grants were dealt with, no matter how early the application was made.
The ministry does not have set allocations for private tents and based on the tent’s request will recommend a grant, she said. She said she had to verify the number of tents applying for grants. Funds are released on an as-needed basis, with priority placed on the most imminent events, she said.
The National Carnival Commission (NCC) was allocated $142 million, she said.
Walking on eggshells
Michael “Sugar Aloes” Osuna said that as the chairman of Kalypso Revue, one of the oldest tents, it will still be functioning for Carnival 2019.
“We cannot allow the legacy of Lord Kitchener to dwindle away and just die like that. So we are going to ensure we keep things in a certain way so that everybody can still enjoy,” he said.
The tent is hosting auditions on Sunday at Kaiso Blues Cafe on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. Last year the tent opened but had to close because of a lack of funding.
As for its 2019 opening, Sugar Aloes said, “We are walking on eggshells because we do not know exactly what to expect but we are hoping for the best. We just have to sit and hope for the best.”
He hopes to open on February 8 in Arima, then on February 9 at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) and then at its SWWTU (Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union) Hall, Wrightson Road home base on February 14.
He said an application for funding was sent to the ministry but does not know “what will transpire from that. We have not gotten any answer on that. We are still looking at positiveness.”
Asked about sponsorship, Sugar Aloes said last year the tent “had it rough” with the sponsorship. Sponsors, he said, cut down offerings to almost just five per cent. “We try to make things work out with that. We are looking to have dialogue with them this year.”
He said the tent has made moves to improve on its offerings by having more of a mixed programme with not too much politics and cutting back on the “magnitude of singers.”
The tent has also reduced the performance days and will operate from Thursday to Saturday.
Lack of funds
Rudolph Ottley, calypso historian and manager/owner of The Divas Calypso Cabaret International which started in 2004, said the question of his tent opening this year is a “yes and no.”
This, he added, was in the context of, traditionally, at this time, it would have already acquired “some sponsorship.”
However, this year “is posing to be a more challenging situation than even 2018 and although we have done all of the preparatory work, in terms of having our team and our songs ready, unless there is some kind of financial corporate assistance, it will be a real challenge to open.”
He said this is the tent’s 16th year and he really would not want it to “miss a year” but “the corporate world has not been very kind to us. And we are solely dependent, right now, on some funding from the Government and the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts.”
Ottley said he was sure the ministry will help but that its quantum has been decreasing, annually, based on the Government’s lack of funds.
The tent, he said, usually operates outside of the Carnival period but because of the lack of corporate sponsorship was unable to execute some of its 2018 projects.
Calypsonians to blame
He believes, however, that the lessened crowds at tents were caused by calypsonians themselves.
“For me, it is the calypsonians who have caused their own demise in terms of the tents.
“The calypsonians of long ago were involved in entertainment. Their focus was entertaining an audience. The calypsonians of recent vintage have been involved in winning a crown.
“Their focus has been on winning a championship or being crowned calypso monarch. And therefore the product in the tent has become monotonous or boring in most instances,” he said.
He said the Divas tent, however, highlights other artistes, sing popular songs and does not focus on the crown.
Ottley said until TT gets to the point whereby calypsonians, on the whole, see the art of calypso as a product and not for winning a crown, the tents will continue to see lesser numbers.
He also believes calypso’s governing body, Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) has also contributed to the demise of calypso tents.
“With TUCO becoming the organised body for calypso, TUCO has in a way contributed to the demise of the tents. In that TUCO management/executive is of the view that all calypsonians must sing every year. So you have a tent with 35 and 40 people. It is not a business model that positively helps the tents,” he said.
Ottley said it must become competitive for calypsonians to be employed in a tent, as it once used to be.
The Divas tent is tentatively scheduled to open around mid-February at either Kaiso Blues Cafe on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain or a new establishment called Monarch opened by former calypso monarch Duane O’Connor on Wednesday night on Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook.
Govt must have money for culture
Weston “Cro Cro” Rawlins, manager of Icons Calypso Tent said he has not gotten any negative vibrations from the system that usually funds the calypso tents. Cro Cro said the tent management was working toward “having a great show.” Cro Cro said they applied for funding. He refused to consider the possibility that Government might not be able to fund private tents.
“They must have money for culture...we are not even entertaining that thought.... Culture is alive and culture will always be. Kaiso will never die and we expect them to do what they are supposed to do, what they have been doing,” he said.
Cro Cro said he does not expect the Government to say it does not have the money.
Icons has approached sponsors as well, he said, but because of the downturn in the economy some might say no or give less. He added that they can only make adjustments when they are certain as to the amount of money they will be receiving.
Cro Cro said to run a calypso tent takes about $400,000 to $500,000, if “you are doing it the way it used to be done when we had money.”
He said whatever is given to them they will “cut and contrive.”
Winston “Gypsy” Peters calypsonian and National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman said the Government does not have to make any allocation to any calypso tent.
Gypsy will run his own tent this year called Back to Basics and it is solely funded by him and not by the Government or any of its agencies, he said. He plans to open on February 1.
While the Government may have made allocations to calypso tents in the past, it is not obligated to help any calypso tent, he said. Whether the tents will be funded, he said, is a question for the Culture Ministry.
His personal view is “that these are private enterprises and should be operating privately and you cannot depend on the Government to fund and subsidise everything that you do.”
Gypsy agreed with Ottley that the tents lacked entertainment, saying that when you go to the tents it is like going to a “political meeting somewhere.” He said that is why he was having his own tent and hoping to bring back entertainment value to the tents.
“I agree with Mr Ottley. The entertainment value in the calypso tents are lost because everybody trying to sing one thing to get up to the calypso finals to win the calypso monarch,” he said.
He wished the tents would be privately funded and independent of the Government. “I think the whole industry has become too dependent on the Government.”
Asked if he meant the entire Carnival industry, Gypsy said, “Not the whole Carnival industry but aspects of it like the calypso tents and all the other interest groups.
“They are all depending on subventions from the Government and if they don’t get subventions then it don’t look like they can operate at all. They used to be operating long before they ever got any subventions.”