THE MOVE to return the senior Kings and Queens of Carnival competition to the Dimanche Gras stage as well as the increase in the competition’s prize money are welcome moves that should be part of an overall plan to restore the event’s once legendary lustre.
For some time now, the kings and queens have been complaining about what they felt to be their sidelining. State organisers insisted the masqueraders were excised from the proceedings in order to give the mas its own moment in the spotlight, and to trim the epic running time of the Sunday show. With costumes at one stage ballooning into giant warships, it was further felt the cuts would force creativity and a return to basics.
Yet, that’s not entirely how things turned out. Instead, the move to give the kings and queens their own showcase simply placed them under a harsher spotlight, underlining the decline in the mas itself. The result: an inability to garner the kind of crowds that would attend Dimanche Gras. And the perpetuation of the belief that the mas has been bottled in a time capsule: dominated by tired repetition of tropes with none of the innovation needed to thrill crowds and draw onlookers in.
To be fair, the artists have had to contend with dwindling prize money within a recessive economic context. Creativity and resourcefulness are important but for many of those who cross the Big Stage annually, for whom this is a passion in which they never break even, the burdens may simply be too much.
It is also the case that the world has changed since the heyday of the great kings and queens. Costumes, stripped of innovations that could make them relevant to contemporary audiences, are competing with a growing number of forward-looking distractions within the entertainment world.
And yet, whatever we may feel about the standard of the mas, few will disagree that our Carnival has at least two major components: music and mas. As such, it is only fitting that Dimanche Gras reflect both.
The pressure will now be on for the organisers to avoid the problems of years past. And while there has been a laudable embrace of change – such as in the successful staging of Panorama for medium bands in Tobago, and the shifting of Calypso Fiesta to Guaracara Park – it’s important to maintain what has worked well in the past. And to learn lessons from what has not worked, such as the many delays and glitches at the Pointe-a-Pierre venue this weekend.
But not only will organisers be on trial on Sunday. Like the masqueraders, all of the calypsonians will bear the responsibility of carrying the torch for the show’s relevance as a whole. Can they see to it that this is the year Dimanche Gras returns, and returns in a big way?