Carnival tabanca as covid19 closes festival

The gate of Paparazzi mas camp in Woodbrook was closed last week. Around this this the mas camp would have been busy as costumes got in order for masqueraders. - SUREASH CHOLAI
The gate of Paparazzi mas camp in Woodbrook was closed last week. Around this this the mas camp would have been busy as costumes got in order for masqueraders. - SUREASH CHOLAI

This year the revelry, the mas, the paint, the mud, the costumes, the fun, the sound of pan and all that encompasses Carnival are just a memory for most people as they reminisce to the tunes played on the radio.

There will be no Carnival 2021. No physical events such as fetes, stick-fighting, ole mas, Dimanche Gras, J'Ouvert, parade of the bands, and Panorama.

The annual event has been cancelled this year as a consequence of the covid19 pandemic.

The Prime Minister said at a Spotlight on the Economy forum in September: “It would be madness to be talking about Carnival. Today I can put everybody on notice, unless there’s some dramatic wind that will blow across us whereby Christmas the pandemic would have been a thing of the past, Carnival in TT in 2021 is not on.”

The National Carnival Commission’s chairman, Winston “Gypsy” Peters, told Newsday in December the organisation did not plan any of its events to take on a virtual component as some private promoters were doing.

He said, “Since the government announced there would be no Carnival 2021, the organisation has not been planning any Carnival activity per se.

“What we are going to be doing is compiling a lot of what we have. We are working on it right now. So, we will have a kind of antecedental look at what Carnival in TT is all about, historical as it is.”

Gypsy said TT couldn’t have a virtual Carnival, as that was an oxymoron.

Apart from the missed glitz and glamour, Carnival is a major income-generator for the country, and the season has been one that many people look forward to for an income or supplemental income.

Statistics from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) showed that 2019 visitor expenditure was $27,400,122 and for 2020 it was $25,884,971, a decline of $1,515,51.

The colourful booths usually erected around the Queen's Park Savannah for vendors. - Sureash Cholai

Expenses included prepaid package, entertainment, inter-island transport, land transport, tours and sightseeing, groceries, shopping, medical, accommodation, business and conference and other expenses like repairs.

For vendors, mas camp workers, tour operators, clothing and apparel stores, artists and artisans the cancellation will be a big blow to their pockets.

Sunday Newsday caught up with members of the Desperadoes steelband at their base on Tragarete Road in Port of Spain on Tuesday. A group of men sat under a tree in the panyard as they listened to the band on the radio and exchanged memories of Carnivals past.

Former trustee Glenford “House” Wallace said it was a sad moment for all its members, but they understood the need for the cancellation.

Former Desperadoes trustee Glenford Wallace reminises about Carnival at the band's panyard. - SUREASH CHOLAI

He said, “Playing pan at this time of the year was always something we looked forward to. People feel like a piece of their heart has been taken away.

“Some of us just come to the panyard, like today, and reminisce about what was and what this year could have been like. They bring a pan and knock a little thing.”

Desperadoes, last year’s Pamorama winner, has 12 titles in the large band category.

Wallace said many of the players looked forward to the stipend for playing at Panorama and at different shows.

“Our members love playing, and it was a little side income for many. We looked forward to it, because some people make plans around these additional funds. But now there is nothing, they will have to find alternatives. This will be hard too, because of covid19.”

While there was a virtual pan show, the Championship Christmas celebration on Christmas Day, members said there is doubt that another will be put on for Carnival.

Wallace explained, “We have not been practising and since the announcement people got engaged in other activities.”

A tarpaulin drapes over the bass pans at the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra on Tragarete Road, Port of Spain. - SUREASH CHOLAI

There has been a year withough Panorama before: 1979, when there was a boycott of the event. Pan players expressed their disgust with the industry through a silent protest. Remuneration, concern over masqueraders’ preference for brass bands and the migration of pan players were some of the issues cited then.

The steelband movement was growing and Pan Trinbago, which was formed in 1972, was stumped for solutions. It eventually established a year-round calendar for pan, and fees for certain performances were increased.

But Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore said the organisation was working on plans for virtual pan shows this year.

Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) president Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba said the group was also planning virtual events and because of their genre no Carnival would not have any effect TUCO's output.

Sunday Newsday also visited several mas camps in north and south Trinidad, but was met with shut doors and padlocks. Mail was seen stacked on the floor and most of the places were covered in dust.

Mas leader Ronnie McIntosh of Ronnie and Caro, based on Warner Street, Port of Spain, said they were prepared for the fallout early last year.

“While this is a seasonal thing for many people and they are sad now, we were preparing for this since around May last year. We are doing what we have must to survive since there were no concessions or bailout from government. We are hoping for a better 2022.”

His sentiments were also expressed by south mas band Kalicharan.

Ayanna Kalicharan of Kalicharan Carnival mas band at Harris Street, San Fernando. - Marvin Hamilton

Ayanna Kalicharan said no Carnival could also be described as a blessing, because the slow economy over the last few years saw them operating at a loss.

“The economic downturn has affected our sales a lot over the last three years. It is probably a blessing in disguise, because a lot of people incomes were affected.”

She said luckily, they do not have employees and their costumes were usually made by volunteers. To maintain employees at this time, Kalicharan said, would have been tough.

Beach resorts, a familiar place for many people, especially Carnival Monday and Tuesday, have also seen a decline in bookings when compared to last year.

Sunday Newsday, in a telephone survey, found the main reasons for the decline were covid19 and the cancellation of Carnival.

Alex Gonzales, the receptionist at Sunset Beach Resort in Mayaro said, “We usually have an uptick during this period, but covid19 has hampered that. When people call, the first thing, they ask about is health protocols. And because borders are closed, there are no tourist bookings.

“The slow pace of work and bookings have also seen staff rotated, especially cleaners.”

Food vendors at the Queen’s Park Savannah and on High Street, San Fernando, said they were not fazed by the cancellation because it was being done to protect the population from the covid19 virus.


"Carnival tabanca as covid19 closes festival"

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