What a weekend it was – and what a week it’s been.
Last Thursday evening saw the contestants for the Kings and Queens of the Bands do friendly battle onstage, on Friday night the Steel Bands pit their pans in a panorama of competition, on Saturday night the Calypsonians belted verses and choruses for titles and crowns, the Sunday evening saw Groovy and Soca artiste battle it out for the crown then came Monday and Tuesday’s J’Ouvert, Ole Mas, Parades of the Bands and the final ‘Vaval’ ritual.
It used to be that yesterday would have been Ash Wednesday and the advent of the Lenten season. But much has changed since Carnival was officially detached from the Christian calendar.
Costumes are no longer burnt at Queen’s Lane and there’s no longer any of the spiritual expectation of Abstinence that comes with Lent. Similarly, calypsonians are no longer tolerated just because they are ‘liked’ and people in power are reduced to ordinary fans and equal citizens in tent audiences.
But even while the usual discussions and debate continue about what used to be versus what is today, while politicians sang or sung about continue to regard calpysonians as public enemies and activists continue to rile about under-aged children gyrating over-the-top on the streets without restraint, positive changes can also be sought and seen – and not all have to be big.
Take, for example, the increasing use of technology in calypso: where singers used to go overboard to spend on people and things to stage impressive props on-stage at the Calypso Finals, more and more are today using video images professionally stitched to help audiences see the message in the song.
Similarly, whereas costumes and delicately constructed portrayals used to be burnt to ashes ahead of revellers starting their 40 Days of Lenten Abstinence with their foreheads crossed at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Ash Wednesday, today such products of creative imagination are being put to better use, either on permanent decorative exhibition at places like the National Cultural Centre, or donated to the likes of the Marian Home, which held its own unique Carnival celebration yesterday.
Like with everything else, everything about Carnival is discussed, debated — and mostly disagreed on.
No matter which party is in power and what administration administers that power at carnival time each year, there will always be questions about whether the millions being poured annually into related events are well spent – and this year, whether street-side vendors should be taxed on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
But perhaps one of the most interesting (yet least observed) aspects of the changes accompanying the evolution of carnival here is the business element. Carnival has evolved from an annual pastime for pleasure to one where finance houses are offering loans for those willing to invest in ‘having a better time’.
Bands today compete for sheer numbers, offering attractive packages that include not only costumes but also ‘VIP’ and ‘VVIP’ (as in ‘Very, Very’) treatment — including unending access to a constant flow of ‘all drinks’ on the road and at all related public and private activities planned.
Likewise, the number of Saint Lucians abroad registering in advance and arriving in time for the weekend leading to Carnival Monday and Tuesday is increasing proportionally each year, leaving hoteliers jumping for joy over occupancy rates.
In other words, Carnival is no longer just about ‘Playing Mas’. Like cricket, football, tennis, golf, athletics and so many other sports at all levels, carnival today is a business – and the business of carnival revolves around money.
And that’s the bottom line…