by Arley Gill
It is fast coming to the end of what I refer to as the “off-season’’. In other words, carnival “soon come’’.
I suspect that Spicemas Corporation’s (SMC) plans for Grenada’s carnival are complete and the SMC is getting ready for the implementation phase.
There is no doubt that the euphoria caused by Mr Killa, and the other local artistes who participated in the recent International Soca Monarch championships in Trinidad, would have created a buzz and – no doubt – a swell of great anticipation. There is an expected increase in arrivals from across the region and further afield. Grenadians and visitors will be looking forward to bigger and better produced carnival events, both from private promoters and the SMC.
There are a few issues that I hope we can successfully deal with before the season starts. Almost every year issues surface and there is public discord between and within stakeholder organisation that leaves carnival with a black face. Carnival is bacchanal for true; but, these unnecessary quarrels can be avoided.
One of the fundamental shortcomings of our carnival product continues to be the weak stakeholder organisations; we have two calypso associations, a fractured steelbands’ association and a largely ineffective Mas’ Band Association (MBA).
Since the splitting of the calypso association many years ago, calypsonians have failed to have one united organisation. Initially, political considerations by calypsonians were the primary reason they went their separate ways. However, the political dynamics have changed. To me, there is no reason – other than personal differences and immaturity – for calypsonians, as a group of artistes, being separated and apart from one another.
The question must be asked: How different are the needs of calypsonians that they cannot speak with one voice? Having two associations has resulted in a weakening of the calypso tents, the wastage of human and financial resources, and confusion over selection of judges, among other deficiencies.
For years, the Grenada Steelbands’ Association (GSA) represented the most stable and productive body of cultural performers. But, over the last year or so, GSA has descended into chaos. So much so, the majority of steel orchestras – consisting primarily the “big bands’’ – voted against the president in a no-confidence motion. Although a minority of bands voted for the president, he still holds onto office. As I understand it, there is a grey area in the GSA constitution regarding that vote; that is, whether any provision is made for a no-confidence vote. Be that as it may, is holding on to the presidency so important that it matters not that the association becomes dysfunctional? I don’t know, but my personal preference, were I GSA president, would be to step down and let pan people handle their business.
Now, with the pan association crippled for the last year or so, I doubt that any meaningful discussion could have been had about any reforms for Panorama; a competition, which we can agree, is an issue that needs addressing. So come carnival season, we will have the same discussion we had last year about pan and Panorama.
We need an all-inclusive Mas’ Band Association, which can represent the interests of both fancy and traditional masquerade. The interest of ‘ole’ mas can be adequately represented within the MBA as well. There is no need for small, splintered organisations representing the different carnival stakeholder interests. We can consolidate the efforts in one umbrella grouping.
Moreover, a Mas’ Band Association must be made welcoming for masqueraders, so that masquerade bands in the rural communities do not think that only mas’ bands and bandleaders in “town’’ are taken care of. I hear these things all the time; true or false, we know what is said about perception. Thus, the Mas’ Band Association needs to grow and get stronger. Some bandleaders resign themselves simply to paying their registration fee and getting on with things. The mas’, pan and calypso associations only come alive around carnival and then they go to sleep for the rest of the year. This cycle continues year after year. Maybe that, in itself, is cultural; but, we can change for the better.
These dysfunctional organisations directly affect the governance of carnival, since each of them has a representative on the SMC board of directors. So, if they are not meeting regularly – or, at all – how can they develop policies and positions to be tabled at SMC board meetings? These representatives’ work is made difficult, if not impossible; it is unfair to them.
Additionally, SMC board representatives must have the support of their respective organisations; if not, more confusion is created. Thus, it is my respectful view that these nagging issues should be addressed in the carnival off-season.
To be clear, no minister or chairperson of carnival could force these organisations or group of individuals to fix their problems. However, those in authority must encourage, be proactive and adopt strategies to assist in addressing lingering issues. In my time, as Minister responsible for Culture, I tried to assist with varying success. Maybe, my strategy was not the most effective. However, I console myself knowing that I tried. In some cases, personal friendships were sacrificed for the good of culture and for that, I have no regrets. In retrospect, I am firmly of the view that I did the right thing.
I want to sincerely encourage all concerned with Spicemas to put aside their personal differences. Look at the bigger picture. And, make the right decision for the love of culture!