The covid19 pandemic has brought many challenges across the Carnival and entertainment sectors, however, practitioners are seeing the lockdown as an opportunity to be innovative and to find new ways of operating in 2021.
The way forward was discussed on Monday at the University of Trinidad and Tobago’s (UTT) webinar called Coronavirus and the TT Carnival: Impact and opportunities to rebound after the crisis.
The event was hosted by Lama Pollard, a doctoral candidate, who said the panel did not represent all Carnival stakeholders but it was meant to “spark discussion and thought” about the current situation.
Marcus Ash, education officer, Pan Trinbago; Devon Seale, Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) assistant public relations officer, Lionel Jaggessar, TT Carnival Bands Association (TTCBA) representative; Ryan D’Arcy manager, research, strategy and marketing, Tourism Trinidad; Jules Sobion, CEO, Caesar’s Army; Carla Parris entertainment lawyer and producer of The Business of Carnival and Simon Baptiste, creative director of International Soca Monarch were the panellists.
The webinar began with Ash discussing the innovative ways in which pannists and Pan Trinbago dealt with the challenges and spoke of the recent Panograma competition – hosted by Tobago-born pannist Nevin Roach and covered by Newsday – as one of the innovative events put on by the pan body and its members.
Ash said the pan movement saw continued events during the global lockdown and many bands like BPTT Renegades hosted online concerts. He added that the pan body also began looking at the social effects of the pandemic on its community and has formed a committee to deal with the “social prosperity of its membership.”
Ash said this programme will be launched on Friday where its members can apply for grants to assist with their expenses.
He said, however, the body has to be guided by the government and its medical professionals.
“Until we are informed by them on how we can proceed we are dancing to their music in terms of if we have to do a downscaled event depending on how the situation goes,” he said.
Seale said it is an unprecedented time for TT adding covid19 has had a negative impact on calypsonians and soca artistes which resulted in the loss of income for many and stymied their creativity.
"You are actually hearing from a number of artistes who are saying that they are not going to make any music.
“In TT there are no incentives to create that new music...for the artistes who would travel who would normally go out to the other carnivals... because of the fact that there are all of those cancellations of all those different carnivals and restriction to travel, we are not getting that new music.”
But this problem has led many calypsonians and soca artistes to want to explore social media platforms and this has created an opportunity for TUCO to create online training for its membership.
Going forward, post-covid19, Seale said calypsonians and soca artistes would have to do a hybrid model where technology is leveraged along with the traditional model.
“This might be a new opportunity for tent owners as well,” he said. Seale saw this as an opportunity for legislative change. He said the music industry is not driven by record sales and royalties.
“This is an opportunity for us because I think it is over 30 years TUCO has been lobbying and championing for at least 50 per cent airplay for the artiste...we need to continue that lobbying for that 50 per cent airplay,” he said.
He said there were a number of artistes who had shows scheduled for later in the year which had to be cancelled or turned into virtual events. He believes legislation is needed for the digital monetisation of virtual performances.
For Sobion, it was clear to see how the pandemic had affected mas and events. He said the Carnival industry not only comprised event practitioners and mas bands but a “multifaceted and expansive ecosystem that comprises a number of other professions and services.”
He said some of the struggles in the events and mas band sectors were complete loss of revenue, a complete halt of all economic activity with no potential restart date and carnival cancellations throughout the year which has also affected revenues.
He added even planning for the events have been hindered. “For the mas bands for example, we would have traditionally launched in July/August so that is no longer a reality. Even with respect to the actual Carnival in 2021 that is not set in stone either so it is kind of like you can try to plan as best as you can but the future is still so uncertain.”
Sobion said mas bands might have issues with the importation of certain items based on the global shutdown and closing of borders. Even if things were to return to normal, tomorrow, new policies and guidelines based on social distancing and large gatherings would affect the industry.
“Are people even able to attend large gatherings based on the new economic situation? Are people even comfortable to attend large gatherings,” he asked.
But Sobion said he remains optimistic. He saw the challenges posed by the pandemic as a time for transformation within the industry.
“This is a time for all of our stakeholders to strategise and creatively find new years to adapt and make your mark in the world of tomorrow,” he said.
He said the Government played a pivotal role in this.
His team has already started adapting for the future and is looking at creating new ways of virtual experiences. He said this could be in the form of live content on its social media channels where corporate sponsors can become involved in virtual programming that can be accessed by a large global community.
He cited the recent Verzuz (Instagram live series) battle between dancehall artistes Beenie Man and Bounty Killer on Saturday, as an example, which he said, had a viewership of 500,000 people and gained widespread international media attention.
Sobion said new forms of post-covid19 live experiences can be looked at such as reinventing the drive-in movie concept.
“Where you can still have a live event with the necessary infrastructural elements but with social distancing measures set in place.”
Parris also cited the Beenie Man/Bounty Killer Verzuz battle. When asked about the event, Parris said she thought it was brilliant.
She said it was interesting to see the different brands that got involved. Ciroc was a sponsor for the event and Parris said this showed that there was a role for Caribbean brands in these types of online/virtual events.
Although the concert showed that there was vast interest in the Caribbean music industry, Parris said there is little understanding that Carnival is a creator of copyright and intellectual property.
“Despite the fact that we have absolutely brilliant minds across the sector, there is very little understanding in all of these various areas – music, fashion, film, events and photography and so on – that Carnival as an industry is the creator of copyright and intellectual property which we can leverage for long-term generational wealth within our country.”
She said this downtime from the covid19 pandemic can be used to regularise some of the issues within the industry.
She said even if all of the events went online the issues remained the same. She said what was lacking in the events sector was that some of the event names and products are intellectual property in their own right and event names are trademarks which needed to be registered and owned either by an individual or company.
“There is a great lack of understanding of the value that brings to a company and can bring to us as a government,” she said. She added to make the sector clearer in this time people could use the time to do things like register the event names as trademarks.
The National Carnival Commission (NCC) was invited to participate but was unable to do so. The commission will participate in a subsequent webinar.