With seven weeks to go to Carnival 2019, San Fernando mas bandleaders say it is shaping up to be a bleak season which they blame on the closure of Petrotrin and problems with the San Fernando Carnival Committee (SFCC).
One of them Michael Ramkissoon, of Southern Mas Associates, has gone as far as to declare San Fernando Carnival season. He said not a single person has registered to play mas with his band.
Ramkissoon’s Fyzabad-based band has won the city’s medium Band of the Year award five out of the seven times they competed.
“If I tell you, you might not believe, I have been working to get the band on the road for 2019 and I have not received a customer as yet, not one,” he said.
“Last year I had about 150 masqueraders. Before I used to have six sections and in 2018 I only came out with four sections and this year, I have plans for six sections again and I don’t think I will even get people to do four.”
Ramkissoon said most of his regular masqueraders are former Petrotrin employees, so the closure has hit him especially hard.
“People are just not going to spend their money for mas when they don’t have a job and they are at a point when they need to watch how they are spending,” he said.
However, he is most upset about the failure of the SFCC to pay him and other bandleaders outstanding prize money.
“We were having problems with the San Fernando Carnival Committee for payments,” Ramkissoon said.
“We were not receiving payments for two years and when we do get payments, they cut our prize money in half. It has affected the bands in paying our bills and so forth because we are budgeting for a certain amount of prize money. Bands in San Fernando, especially the medium and small bands, are struggling to make ends meet.”
Ramkissoon, who said he incurs extra costs to bring his band into the city from Fyzabad, declared: “I don’t think south mas is dying, south mas is already dead.”
Ayana Kalicharan, daughter of veteran San Fernando mas man Ivan Kalicharan, also anticipates a slow season.
“It is a very iffy thing,” she said when asked if she believes the band will be sold out this year.
“We had a lot of people from the oil and gas industry who would normally play with us but remember they have been majorly affected so we have to wait and see.”
Kalicharan, who was at the band’s Harris Street, San Fernando mas camp, expressed concern about the SFCC’s failure to launch Carnival.
“There is no feedback. Whenever we call they say they will call back but they never do. There was also no launch of Carnival in San Fernando this year. Normally we would have a meeting in preparation for City Week and the launch of Carnival but they had nothing for 2018/2019, so we don’t know what is going on,” she said.
However, she said, Kalicharan’s, which has won the Band of the Year award in San Fernando 25 times, is pressing forward.
“Because it’s a longer season, we will see the rush at January month-end into February. A few people would have come up front—those who want the frontline costumes—we have people registered already but we have a trend of latecomers, so we will get worried if it doesn’t pick up by the end of January. That will be the point when we know what is really happening.”
Kalicharan said last year, the band missed it’s 1000 masqueraders target by about 350.
“Last year we had about 650 to 700 and that was a big drop from 2017 when we had about 1000. We have a cheap section that might pull in the bulk because a lot of people who come are going towards that section. There are a lot of people who want to play so they will take the cheaper option,” she
Nation’s People bandleader Michael O’ Brian said only 15 masqueraders have expressed interest in his 2019 presentation. The Marabella-based bandleader said he does not believe the Petrotrin closure will affect his band which is usually registered in the medium band category.
“We have been putting out a band 14 years and I don’t think Petrotrin’s closure will really affect us because we don’t really have any oil workers in the band,” he said.
O’Brian said he will visit the San Fernando City Corporation “soon” as he has been trying to find out when the city’s Carnival will be launched.
Regrello: Don’t depend on state funds
When contacted for comment on the bandleaders’ concerns, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello said the southern city’s Carnival is well established and does not need to be launched. He said he is waiting on word from the National Carnival Commission (NCC) before he speaks about Carnival 2019.
“Any mayor and any council can choose whether or not to launch Carnival. We have not spoken about Carnival because there are some outstanding matters with NCC and money, bills and debts and we need clarification before we go and launch Carnival,” he said.
Regrello said the NCC owes the city payments dating back to 2013 for use of Skinner’s Park for events.
In response to Ramkissoon’s complaints about non-payment, the mayor said: “They all came in and we explained to them over and over what the issues are. Our budget was cut from $1.2 million to $800,000, to $400,000 in 2018.
“There is no way you can run Carnival in San Fernando with $400,000. We had to cancel a whole set of events last year because of that and before we can launch Carnival we need to get a statement from NCC saying what we are allocated so we can say we are having Carnival and these are the terms and conditions.”
He said some stakeholders were paid outstanding money after Carnival 2018 but that was done on a “needs analysis.”
“We paid some of the immediate debts that we had and during the year we paid some people who came in and said they had debts to pay and they couldn’t deal with it and based on that we were able to release some money,” he said
For this Carnival season, Regrello said he anticipates a further reduction in the allocation to San Fernando.
“At the rate they are going it could be $200,000 this year,” he said.
However, he does not believe South Carnival is dying and said the band leaders need to be “smart” to survive without any state prize money.
“If you are a good band leader and you promote your band well, you are not depending on NCC prize money. You build a costume, put a profit margin inside there, you market your band and you make a profit. The money that NCC is giving is an incentive to band leaders
“Carnival is not as it used to be years ago. Carnival and mas producing is big business and if you are well organised and you promote your mas, you don’t need to go to an NCC competition or a Carnival competition because your profit margin is built into the cost of your costume,” he said.