The Geography of Carnival

Written for the Guardian editorial published on March 02

Major changes to key band routes were the headline topic of discussion over the two weeks leading up to Carnival.
After the NCC gave guarded blessing to the extension of the route requested by four of the largest bands in Carnival to accommodate a new, privately funded venue, another major shake up of band routes was announced mere days before the start of Kiddies Carnival on Carnival Saturday.

On Friday, the Children’s Traditional Mas parade fell flat. Removed from downtown to the Queen’s Park Savannah and stripped of identifying placards, the children danced their hearts out in intricate costumes that recreated heritage mas to cars passing by.

The event started two hours late and offered not even a drink of water to students and children from 160 community councils, groups and schools.
A bitter conflict over the change in the start of Saturday’s Kiddies Carnival parade arose on Friday as well. The Mayor of Port of Spain, Raymond Tim Kee publicly took issue with the change of the start of that parade from downtown PoS to Adam Smith Square.

Bandleader Rosalind Gabriel was moved to describe the firm insistence on the route change by David Lopez, President of the NCBA as “vindictive,” and stuck to the original starting point, risking disqualification.
It wasn’t the only parade change to raise concerns.

The route extension granted to four large Carnival bands, Tribe, Bliss, Harts and Yuma also unsettled Mr Tim Kee who described the decision as “ill-concieved.”
The road, this Carnival makes clear, is no longer made to walk as Lord Kitchener sang.
It’s now an event management challenge that must be planned and curated with immaculate clarity if everyone who hopes to enjoy Carnival is to have their space.

The country’s largest annual festival is being convened along roadways that no longer meet the needs of the vehicular traffic they were originally designed for, so it’s no surprise that they are also inadequate to meet the surge in Carnival Tuesday foot traffic.
Carnival has simply outgrown its traditional home and like an adult child still being forced to live under the rule of parents, it’s acting up in ways that are proving troubling and downright irreverent.

The tweaks and adjustments that have sought to meet the growth of the festival amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The good ship Carnival is listing badly and there seems to be a dearth of either creative or sensible thinking about how to address the problem.

It’s been more than 60 years since the administration of Carnival came under the oversight of the State, and this premier event has attracted increased taxpayer funding even as the planning invested in its long term development has withered.

In that time, calypso has become a ward of the state, the steelband is in desperate decline and design has been balkanized into traditional and fun silos, neither of which has advanced the design of Carnival over the last two decades.
Carnival needs better analysis, better management and better organization than it has seen in the last 60 years.
The continuing wonder, that the event is so exciting, so agreeable and so much fun should not cloud the thinking of the festival’s leadership over the next two days.
The growing pains are real. The problems are pressing.

It’s time to seriously examine the issues and make hard decisions about the festival itself that separate history, tradition and sentiment from reality.
Carnival is creatively reinvented from the ground up each year, but there is no reason that its infrastructure and organization should follow that model.

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