WHAT’S in store for Carnival? Monday’s webinar hosted by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) gave clues. The “Coronavirus and the TT Carnival: Impact and opportunities to rebound after the crisis” event encapsulated the unprecedented challenges and opportunities facing Carnival as a cultural art form and suggested the way forward must involve embracing the new.
Carnival has faced many trials before and it is unlikely something so pivotal to the national psyche will ever disappear overnight. Even when it has been cancelled or postponed, the festival has bounced back, returning better than before. But the prohibition on gatherings, requirement to wear a face mask, closure of borders, disruption of supply chains for materials, and the overall aura of uncertainty are severe blows.
The irony is while some aspects of Carnival, such as fete culture, have been thriving, there has been for decades now, the belief among many that Carnival has been on the decline. Depending on the approach we adopt as a society, covid19 could well be the final nail in the coffin.
And yet, the same challenges presented by the pandemic give us the opportunity to re-formulate Carnival from a clean slate. The imagination and daring evident in some of our finest costumes and mas presentations must now be applied, creatively, to re-envisioning how things can work.
Good examples of this kind of creativity include the “Panograma” Instagram competition, highlighted at Monday’s forum, as well as online concerts hosted by bands such as BP Renegades.
As Saturday’s social media battle between Jamaican dancehall artistes Beenie Man and Bounty Killer demonstrated, online media can be a useful tool to build and satisfy demand. It is therefore disheartening to hear reports of some musicians opting out of producing new tracks at precisely the moment when they should be poised to use the global reach of online media to promote themselves.
This is also a moment for artistes to lobby for greater airplay. Even traditional zones such as the good, old-fashioned calypso tent might benefit from a revamp by turning to electronic media, allowing people to tap into vast historical repertoires which modern audiences might not even be aware of.
“This might be a new opportunity for tent owners,” said Devon Seale, Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) assistant public relations officer. And we need not give up on real-life completely. Downscaled events could well offer the kind of intimacy of yesteryear, though without dancing and behind masks. Could "calypso dramas" make a return? Steel bands could play in empty stadiums, as footballers in Germany recently have, even if this could never replace the thrill of the North Stand.
The social well-being of the Carnival fraternity is also important. Given how many workers are involved in various aspects of Carnival as a production, we cannot afford to play ole mas in terms of providing support during these lean times.