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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Is there class in Carnival?

Often the celebrity is spotted in IslandPeople mas.
Here, Anya Ayoung Chee, right, parades with a friend.
 Photo: courtesy IslandPeople Mas
The spice of our island is quietly rearing its head. Carnival 2011 is near, and with the emergence of brand new soca music, the conclusion of band launches, and the ongoing hustle to register at mas camps where limited costumes remain, the scorch of the season can be felt. Anxiously, masqueraders from across the world wait with bated breath for that moment in time when all inhibitions will be thrown out the door. Revellers will dance in the street, party on the sidewalk, and drink festively. But the question that remains in the back of many people’s minds is, “Has Carnival been diluted?”
Carnival only for elite?
Over the years, world development, and by extension, the development of human beings, has fostered a whirlwind change in our island’s Carnival industry. The costumes have transformed from lengthy, bulky and heavy, to beads and bikinis, feathers and costumed embellishments, highly reflective of Brazil’s sexual staging of a similar festival. The music, too, has changed, with a greater embrace to popular foreign culture with its hip-hop beats, and even dancehall persuasion.
More than anything else, though, the financial climate of Carnival has changed. A band considered to be “the best to jump with on the road” can cost a masquerader in excess of $3,000, this even as the average man on the street is paid a minimum wage of $10 per hour.
Who then are bandleaders catering to? Is it safe to assume that Carnival is now an elitist party, where only those who can afford the exorbitant cost of a costume from the popular bands, and drink free cocktails at $650 all-inclusive fetes, can truly be a part of the cultural and seasonal landscape of our island?
Lewis denies class targets
While there remain public fetes that still draw large audiences, mainly from the lower echelon of our society, there is no denying that the bulk of Carnival’s engagements target the “haves”. Island People’s Derrick Lewis enlightened the T&T Guardian on how he perceives the ever-evolving event and Carnival-masquerade industry, and why it’s not a matter of class, more than it is the privilege factor. “Class is a factor, but not as big as it is played up to be, and certainly not the defining element.
“I think demographics and psycho graphics are playing a more prominent role than ever before, and choice is driven much of the time by the consumer who is looking for more and more service,” said Lewis. He added, “People are defining their targets much more strategically now. The marketing of a band, or an event has become more sophisticated than in years gone by,” he said, explaining that image and economic brackets were certainly included in modern day marketing layouts within T&T’s Carnival. Lewis, however, disagreed that class was a target that stood alone when it came to today’s event and masquerade-band marketing. “I think that based on the middle class being so big in Trinidad and Tobago, as compared to other places in the Caribbean, class boundaries are not defined here,” said Lewis.
“I think there’s more of a movement among local promoters and bandleaders, to offer a privilege to patrons, most of whom desire greater privileges. “At Islandpeople Mas we have one common target, ‘real’ passionate Carnival people who are looking for a creative, service filled, safe, Carnival experience come 2011.” Lewis said in local society there were people from all walks of life who wanted to be treated like a VIP, and would pay more to be treated as such. He said the words “uptown” and “downtown” that were so loosely used, really weren’t properly defined, and he personally did not believe they should be used in setting marketing targets for events and mas bands.
Polarisation in event promotion
The bandleader and educator agreed that the cost of mas today, as opposed to years gone by, was a big factor as to why some people stayed away from Carnival, and hinted that there certainly had been a movement toward polarisation in the local promotion industry in recent years. He, however insisted that social class was not a contributing factor, adding that privilege was key.
“The value and importance of Carnival of ‘we’ has started to move towards, Carnival of ‘me’,” said Lewis, citing that while the festival began many years ago as a national and cultural engagement, various societal elements, inclusive of crime and development of other ills, had diverted the natural course of the festival. There’s no denying that over the years a shift as taken place. Whether the shift has taken away from, or added to the notion of “the greatest show on earth”, is based on individual perception. One thing is certain though, and that’s the fact that one must be financially secure to engage in most of what’s offered within T&T’s Carnival.

Aba A Luke

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