Elitism or entrepreneurship?

Editorial written for the T&T Guardian for February 26 considering the implications of the Socadrome and its potential impact on Carnival 2014.
Written for the Guardian editorial published on February 26

The decision by four large Carnival bands to create their own venue at the Jean Pierre Complex for the Carnival Tuesday parade has raised questions about the nature of the festival that some find troubling to consider.
The bands, Tribe, Bliss, Yuma and Harts, represent a huge constituency of the upscale, fit and attractive young people who choose to wear a Carnival costume on Big Tuesday.

The evolution of these bands, which pride themselves on creating an all-inclusive party experience, has long provoked concerns about elitism in the festival.
On the other side of the ropes that have defined the borders of these mobile party engines, things seem decidedly all-exclusive.

The profile of the Socadrome’s masqueraders, the all-inclusive nature of their road party and their diligence in providing security for their members have all conspired to suggest a return to the middle of the 20th century, when the upper crust of society rolled through the streets safe on decorated lorries.

But the shift in taste from performing a masquerade to wearing a pretty costume that’s part of an exclusive street party has been happening for at least 20 years now.
It’s not the only way that Carnival has begun to fracture. Traditional masqueraders were exiled to Piccadilly Street more than a decade ago to have their own parade on a quiet Carnival Sunday morning and the steelband continue to struggle for relevance on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

And yet, avoiding the congested Savannah is one decision, creating an alternative stage is quite another.
On one level, it’s a simple response to the reality that for most masqueraders, performing on a stage is a part of the Carnival experience.

On another, it’s an initiative that puts the power of Carnival performance back in the hands of both bandleaders and masqueraders, creating a space that’s outside of competition and more clearly, outside any but the most perfunctory oversight of the NCC.

What has led to such a drastic decision, a reversal of the trend of blithely accepting State oversight and funding to defiantly and privately finance an effort to create a space that meets a specific and unadressed need in the festival?
For these four bandleaders, there’s the constantly underestimated effect of parking today’s large bands and leaving them at rest for hours at a time.

It’s simply impractical to expect a gathering of costumed masqueraders deployed at between regiment and brigade strength to simply stand still on the street.
No general would plan a campaign with such a delay in mind, so it’s no surprise that bandleaders often break ranks on the parade route to head off for spaces that allow their bands to flow.

This has caused some major problems in Carnivals past. A large Carnival band can take more than an hour or two to cross a street junction even if there are no obstructions, which can wreak havoc on other bands that intersect them.
If there’s any elitism at play here, it’s having the money to manage what Carnival’s leadership has treated as an insurmountable problem.

The individuals, the small and mini bands and that once lent potent spice to Carnival Tuesday’s offerings have also been marginalized – to the point of invisibility – on that stage but can’t afford to build their own solution to the challenges of the Savannah stage.

What happens next will certainly constitute a bellwether moment in the continuing evolution of Carnival’s biggest day. It’s a major change, one that likely offer new perspectives on the organisation of the annual festival on Ash Wednesday.

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