by Arley Gill
The Spicemas Corporation (SMC) of Grenada was established after years of lobby and debate, with the aim of having a permanent body to plan and organise year-round for carnival.
Further, the stakeholders of carnival had always fumed at the lack of representation in decision making. Thus, in deciding the composition of Spicemas board of directors, it was a no-brainer to ensure that the stakeholders had representation at the board level.
So, I had a smirk on my face when I heard leaders in pan, after the panorama debacle in August, calling for the entire board to go. It was laughable, leaving me to ask, where is pan’s representative? If the steelband movement had strong and purposeful board representation, the sham that happened on Pantastic Saturday would not have occurred whatsoever.
Rest assured that the panorama stage being incomplete is only the symptom of an existing and ongoing problem. The real problem is the policy — or lack thereof — of the SMC and the leadership of culture.
The 24 August Caribupdate Weekly editorial, titled ‘Crocodile tears and hypocrisy’,’ is a good guide as to how we have reached today where we are and what unfolded on panorama night, 12 August. The Caribupdate editorial could very well be added as an appendage to this article, as I would not rehash what I cannot say better. The editor, as a culture man, knew of the struggle; indeed, he was used as a sounding board on several of these carnival issues.
Now, before I was fired as minister with responsibility for culture, my next challenge would have been institutional strengthening for the stakeholders; because after 3 years or so, in spite of our best efforts, it dawned on me that apart from underfunding, weak stakeholder organisations remained the biggest impediment to the growth and expansion of Grenada’s carnival.
The Steelband and Mas’ Associations are essentially weak, with poor leadership; and, there were 2 dysfunctional calypso associations and therein, too, lies some serious problems. If the stakeholders cannot get it right, carnival will always be bothered with basic challenges.
I recall one Dimanche Gras when one of the mas’ band leaders had an issue with where the costume of another band was made. As a result, he refused to move or allow the show to start until that issue was resolved; consequently, the show started terribly late because of that band leader’s protest. An issue like that should be dealt with after the show, rather than damaging the product. I was very annoyed not only because we had present an esteemed guest from Trinidad who was rather generous to us; but also because of the inconvenience to the patrons at the venue, and to those who had subscribed to pay-per-view transmission of the Dimanche Gras show.
Could you imagine the television viewers — in and out of Grenada — ‘quarrelling,’ not knowing what was happening and wondering if they were cheated of their monies. Carnival stakeholders must take some responsibility for the development of the product; it cannot be any other way.
Well, I am still not in good standing with a few of my calypso friends because I had insisted that we were not going to engage any of the calypso associations unless there was 1 grouping of calypsonians. Please tell me, what different interest calypsonians could have that they need 2 associations, eh? It is all about personal differences and discord among calypsonians. Those involved to this day are not big enough to swallow hard and make the decision to unite and put their personal differences aside.
The quality of calypsoes keeps deteriorating, and the attendance at Dimanche Gras continues to dwindle, while at the same time private calypso shows are sold out. This, to me, indicates Grenadians still love and will support calypso. However, I hear them say they are not paying to go and look at ‘nonsense.’
The Grenada Steelband Association — although more functional than that of calypso and mas’ — continues to experience uninspiring leadership, lack of vision and dithers from one crisis to the other, without developing strategies and tactics for the growth and development of pan and things of pan, including panorama. We recorded the biggest attendance at panorama for quite some time in 2010. In those days, I had a strong SMC chairman in Colin Dowe, an unpaid advisor in Alan Robinson, and with Pointy Archibald assisting with the development of policies and strategies for pan.
The next year, 2011, the steelbands boycotted panorama, because they were not paid. The truth was, we did not get the money from the ministry of finance in a timely manner to meet our commitments; and, as a result, we in culture were ‘hung out to dry.’ However, I told the pan players then that we should persevere and have panorama because the people in culture were friends of pan and, secondly, I smelled the ‘wolves’ circling. They failed to see the big picture in 2011, as they still do now in 2017.
It is my considered view that as long as the executive members of these associations persist in being active competitors with one another, the associations will always have organisational and leadership issues. I am tempted to suggest that these associations need to get retired and interested persons from the various fields, with a professional background being an asset, take over the leadership of the associations and allow the competitors to compete. This might be a good start in solving some of the issues. What is clear, though, is that we need stronger, more effective associations.
You see, the vision was that the associations would meet and develop policy positions on issues touching and concerning their interests in particular, and then take it to the SMC’s board of directors. That way, their interests would be on the table. Then, the board would have discussions as to the feasibility of these proposals and find ways to move them forward. However, if the stakeholder associations are dysfunctional, what level of representation could they make to the board? What quality of contribution are they making at the board level? Their representatives are not there to represent their personal interest. So, how come the pan association is complaining about the stage? And calypsonians about judges? Long time, the calypso association was so powerful that when they said no to a judge, it was no. Now, they have 2 associations. I guess 1 is saying no and the other, yes; or, both are saying nothing. Why does it have to be that way?
I heard the CEO of Spicemas Corporation, in a press conference, saying that he called the president of the Steelband Association to meet with the service provider to have discussions. He also said he spoke with the said president to discuss innovations for panorama, such as whether to make it a family affair, with people entering free of cost and bringing with them their coolers; as well as having an artiste performing after every band plays; among other suggestions. That is what used to happen when there was a carnival committee; but with the new SMC structure, such innovative proposals should be happening at the board level, where the CEO sits as an ex-officio member. I am not sure if that is what he meant, but he surely came across as if he — as CEO of SMC — was having these meetings with the president of pan. Now, this is where the pan representative comes in, and not so much the president.
So, it appears to me that the dysfunction of the associations is weakening the SMC; and, adversely affecting the corporation’s function.
In the circumstances, going forward the associations have to examine themselves. They must strengthen their weaknesses and make their presence felt on the board of the SMC.