The old template has been thrown out of the window. What Carnival is likely to be today is not what – and possibly might never be – what it was like in 2020.
Two years since the covid19 pandemic began, Trinidad and Tobago is grappling with how to start having Carnival again. Other cities and countries like Miami, and now St Lucia, are braving the pandemic and setting new rules for how carnivals can be held.
Although there is no answer yet from Government – except that there will be no parade – about Carnival 2022, National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters says some form of activity will take place, virtual or otherwise. Peters and NCC CEO Colin Lucas spoke to Newsday in an interview about plans for this year, and the future of Carnival.
In November, it was announced that a proposal had been put forward for a Carnival that fits into TT’s safe-zone initiative. But the delta and omicron variants are casting a shadow over what can be done.
Peters said, “While there are variants to the covid pandemic, there might very well have to be variants to our own proposals. Because you will understand that things are not cast in stone, and we have to work for the betterment of all in the country – and nothing comes before your health.”
He said the commission was not considering amendments to the proposals at the moment, but given the variants, it might need to do so.
A safe-zone Carnival is not Carnival as TT knows it. Peters said it is a “venued Carnival.” The commission proposed the use of three or four venues where entry and exit can be controlled. The Queen’s Park Savannah, Brian Lara Cricket Academy and the Arima Velodrome are among the venues.
He said the venues the commission plans on using – as long as they are given approval – will be used for all activities, including private ones.
Although there was no allocation to the commission in the 2022 national budget, its board asked the NCC to prepare a budget to submit to the Ministry of Finance based on four scenarios: no Carnival; a commemorative Carnival; a slightly-upgraded Carnival; and the “Mother of all Carnivals,” Lucas said.
The NCC has since cross-referenced its original submission with a budget for a safe-zone Carnival.
Peters believes the Government will give the commission the funds it needs to host whichever form is approved.
Asked how soon the NCC hoped to hear from the Government, he said the proposals were being made with Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell. Last week, Mitchell said the proposals will be sent to the Health Ministry for review, after which the Prime Minister would make the final decision.
What will people see in a venued Carnival?
"Snippets" of a regular Carnival, Peters said. “It is snippets of all aspects of the Carnival activities that we know. You have calypso, some aspect of pan, some aspect of mas. We may very well have a little circle-around parade inside of the place, there with all those who are vaccinated.”
There will also be a heavy focus on the traditions of Carnival as Peters believes this is the difference between TT Carnival and others.
“You will see a blue devil, you will see a bookman, you will see a clown and you will see a bat.”
Even if the safe-zone Carnival is unable to happen, the commission will use its digital platform – tntcranivalworld.com – to host Carnival-related events.
“But we would prefer to have a Carnival where we have interaction,” Peters said.
While the virtual will become a part of future festivals, Peters does not see Carnival going fully online.
“Carnival, by its very nature, is a contact sport. Carnival, by its very nature, is a collaboration of people. It is an amalgam of different people coming together, and Carnival virtually is not Carnival. It is a movie. I can watch Carnival from 1952 right now that is on the TV, YouTube all kinds of things – but that does not mean that it is Carnival.
“Carnival is participatory. People want to enjoy themselves physically in a Carnival, and I don’t think that is going to change.”
Lucas said there can be a million carnival shows on the internet, TV, and on digital platforms, but agreed that the Carnival experience is participatory.
But positives have bloomed out of the Carnival pandemic experience. Peters said future carnivals will be better documented because of the forced reliance on digital technologies.
“I want TT’s Carnival to be the way we know it, with some improvement on our physical ability to do it better.”
He said the greatest export TT has is Carnival, but it has been exported in a way that may be to its detriment.
“People all over the world, now in every metropolitan city in the world, have a carnival, and they continue to add more,” he said. “What is happening now, unlike in 1972, where we could have slipped Carnival from February or March to May, and we could have said, 'We having Carnival in May,' around the world did not have as much Carnival as it has now. So great is the exporting we have done, either deliberately or unwittingly.
"But we have done the exporting on Carnival, so every date that you change now, there is somebody or somewhere in the Caribbean, or other parts of the world, that have a carnival on that date.”
But carnival held in any state, city or country is good for its socio-economic well-being, Peters said.
He believes that, like him, the country feels it when there's no Carnival.
“The Treasury feels it. Carnival is the best investment a country can make on a short-term basis.”
He added that there was restlessness in the country as a result.
“TT Carnival means something to us. Carnival helped us to be free. Carnival, in a lot of ways, keeps us free.
“Carnival is important to us. Carnival is not a by-the-way thing.
"There are people who do not want to participate in Carnival and that is fine, but TT is Carnival country."
He didn’t want Carnival to be a casualty of the pandemic, he said. TT’s biggest tourism product was Carnival and that was why he wanted Tobago to have its own.
Asked if consideration would be given to hosting a Carnival in Tobago, Peters said that would have to be done in collaboration with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), and he is due to have a meeting with the new THA executive soon.
He remains cautiously optimistic that by 2023, TT will have sufficient people vaccinated for the countryto return to some kind of normality, saying TT cannot continue like this.
But, he added, “These are things we have to live with in the world and our cultural activities have to be figured into those ways.”
Any hope for Carnival lies in vaccinations, and he and Lucas had a closing message for TT: vaccinate to gyrate.