Evolution is a natural part of culture. There is an organic phase in every festival’s lifespan when organisers introspect to see how they can adapt to modern tastes while preserving rituals that root the event in the past.
Carnival appears to be at a watershed moment where a number of signature events are in flux, and organisers should be cautious about leaving the product with an amorphous identity because of too many changes.
Take Pan Trinbago’s restructuring of the Panorama calendar. The first test of Pan Trinbago’s decision to relocate medium band finals to Tobago comes this weekend when steelbands face off at the Dwight Yorke Stadium on Sunday. So far, the decision to put single pan finals in the Christmas season and move small band finals to an earlier date has been hailed a success.
But the jury is still out on one element of the Panorama metamorphosis: scrapping the North Stand. For a second year, the National Carnival Commission (NCC) maintained its stance that the North Stand was an unnecessary expense. North Stand devotees questioned whether to attend Panorama semi-finals last weekend because their customary towering structure has been substituted with a smaller, shorter platform under a row of tents. The change threatens to push away pan lovers who miss the energy of the North Stand, a worrying concern given the perennial fear that the audience for steelpan is diminishing.
These are only the latest in a slew of changes to Panorama. In 2017, NCC lumped small, medium and large steelbands into a marathon semifinal that began at 9 am. That year, they also scrapped the once-popular Greens, only for the venue to return in 2018. Then, it disappeared altogether.
Kings and Queens finals have jumped around like a jumbie on the Carnival calendar. The masqueraders were pulled out of Dimanche Gras a few years ago and forced to fight for attention on Fantastic Friday—the same day as the International Soca Monarch finals. In 2018, Kings and Queens returned to Dimanche Gras, only to be booted out again a year later and pushed to Carnival Wednesday. Now, the finals are back on Carnival Sunday.
The Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) has returned to its original two-song format for the Calypso Monarch finals after whittling it down to one song per calypsonian in 2017.
As even NCC chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters has attested, the branding of T&T’s Carnival as the “world’s greatest show” is under threat from the growing popularity of regional carnivals. Jamaica, Grenada and Barbados are expanding their tourism products through consistent marketing and easy-to-access packaging of their events. The constant tinkering with T&T’s Carnival could leave aspects of the festival difficult to define, especially for visitors.
If patrons cannot marry their expectations to a plausible forecast of how the event will pan out, they’ll become sceptical about spending their money.