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Saturday 21 September 2019
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Leave Tobago Carnival alone

Band of the Year winner says bigger isn’t better

Masqueraders from Astra Winchester's mas band frolic in the street on Carnival Monday in Scarborough. PHOTO BY DAVID REID
Masqueraders from Astra Winchester's mas band frolic in the street on Carnival Monday in Scarborough. PHOTO BY DAVID REID

Kinnesha George-Harry

A veteran Tobago bandleader has added her voice to the debate over the practicality of changing the date for Carnival to be celebrated on the island or staging a second Carnival later in the year. Candace Chang-Sandy, who won the 2019 overall Band of the Year title with her presentation Kaleidoscope- We Colourz, stressed Tobago Carnival is unique and should be left alone.

“Changing the dates of the national festival, it being referred to as a blocko, degrading some of the costumes produced – I am standing firm against those comments,” she told Newsday Tobago.

“Being involved in Carnival for the past 30-plus years – because I grew up in this – I don’t see these people anywhere around Carnival. Most of them spend their Carnival in Trinidad.

"Tobago Carnival is not Trinidad’s Carnival. We bring our own culture to our Carnival and people have to understand that. A bandleader’s presentation more than likely is something that they would have well thought through.That is their idea and their vision that they’re bringing life to, and we need to respect those things.”

She argued that the two-day festival in Trinidad and in Tobago must be measured differently.

A Masquerader portrays Astra Winchester's creation, Pheonix, on Carnival Monday in Scarborough. PHOTO BY DAVID REID

“For us to have a Trinidad (style) Carnival here, it just does not make sense. We have to look at our culture, we have to look at our niche market, we have to look at what we really want to get from Carnival. It comes across as though if you have 10,000 persons in a band then good, that’s a successful band. I am saying that it cannot be. We must have a different measuring tape for success – it cannot be numbers.”

The Stoute Next Generation bandleader believes the quality of Tobago’s mas is quite good and could rival others.

“I am seeing a number of Tobago bands with good-quality costumes. Some of them could match up with Trinidad costumes. Maybe we can’t match up in size, but in terms of quality it's there, and every year it’s getting better. We have a good quality product.

"How we market it is a different story. Who are the people we want to attract? I am an avid Carnival lover, but I would never play mas in Trinidad. We have to decide what we want our product to be and I don’t believe our product should solely be about the number of people you have in your band.” .

Saying there is still room for improvement in the mas fraternity in Tobago, Chang-Sandy said this could be realised with unity.

“I have been calling for bandleaders to unite. I made a couple Facebook posts sometime recently, hoping that bandleaders would unite, because only when we unite, we would have one strong front like pan and calypso. At this time, because we are divided, Festivals (Tobago Festivals Commission) runs mas in Tobago, which doesn’t happen with any other entity.”

This is not the first time the issue of Tobago having its own Carnival has come up for debate.

In March 2012, then Art and Multiculturalism Minister Winston "Gypsy" Peters and THA Chief Secretary Orville London met for an hour on the issue. Peters, now the National Carnival Commission chairman, recently reiterated his past support for a separate Carnival in Tobago in October, saying it could surpass its Trinidad equivalent in terms of profitability. Peters said Tobago, given its status as the tourism hub of the country, already had strengths on which it can capitalise.

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