The decision by the Ministry of Education to host its own competition for the title of Junior Soca Monarch in the wake of the sudden cancellation of the event created by Caribbean Prestige Foundation is both exemplary and worrying.
It’s good that even at the last minute, young artistes are being given an opportunity to perform. It’s an event that’s taken seriously by its participants, and over the years of its existence has offered a valuable engagement for school-age children interested in creating music. It’s worrying that one single-purpose event is being replaced by another with no ambition, it seems, beyond replacing a failed Carnival competition with a state-run equivalent.
For 2020, with less than two weeks to go before Carnival Monday, it’s probably the only solution that could be offered, but once the State takes up the reins, the event tends to continue plodding along with no examination of the nag in bridle. In a statement on the sponsorship, Minister of Education Anthony Garcia said, “We have a responsibility at the Ministry of Education to ensure that our culture is being kept alive.”
Those are bold words, but they are fundamentally wrong. The Education Ministry has a responsibility for developing a well-rounded curriculum for students, and it has historically not paid enough attention to the role of music in student development. If anything, it is the role of the Culture Ministry to participate in the development of culture and its own blunders in that regard over decades are glaring.
This is a year for vision in Carnival, particularly when it’s becoming quite clear that cornerstone institutions in the festival are failing.
The St James Children’s Carnival was saved only through state intervention from disappearing. The Red Cross Children’s Carnival, an event that was once a serious fund-raiser for the emergency service, now raises bake-sale money. Regional carnivals universally complain of lethal cuts to their subventions and diminished interest in their product. Calypso tents are in such decline that they might be said to be within degrees of full recline.
These are not hiccups in the national festival. They are symptoms of a deep rot that is not being addressed in any systematic way, save for financial bandages quickly slapped on sores by a Culture Ministry and now an Education Ministry keen to arrest the proliferation of such narratives.
These are not solutions, they are salves and the approach has done nothing to address the core re-engineering that the festival demands from its leadership and stakeholders. Carnival’s problems demand more fulsome interrogation, investigation and clarification. The national festival is not well served by pappyshow efforts at salvaging a culture in need of reinvention and rejuvenation.