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Synergy with Overseas Carnivals
Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

by Stephen Kangal

The growing annual staging of T&T- inspired Carnivals overseas not excluding those celebrations organised by our Caricomrades in Jamaica and Barbados constitutes no real threat, imagined or real, in my objective analysis, to the continuing cultural viability and long term economic survival of the original, indigenous Carnival Festival in Trinidad and Tobago.

On the contrary the plethora of Overseas Carnival audiences found in metropolitan enclaves constitutes a lucrative and fast expanding hard currency market receptive to the many cultural product lines dispensed by the Carnival Industry of T&T.

Carnivals Overseas now generate all- year -round, lucrative engagements amply beneficial to our growing cadre of young and established soca and chutney artistes, music ensemble/bands, as well as a market for records, cassettes, CDís, carnival costumes and Carnival videos.

Capitalizing on the medium of Overseas Carnival celebrations, Carib beer, Angostura rum and bitters, Solo, Chubby and Matoukís Products have now made enormously successful albeit segmented inroads into these hard currency markets not to mention the growing appetite for some of the more popular and delectable elements of T&Tís indigenous, cosmopolitan cuisine.

The international reputation of artistes/designers from Trinidad and Tobago in the fields of cultural innovation and creative costuming is enhanced at these metropolitan Carnivals.

Accordingly the stakeholders must conceptualise and transform Carnival into a viable industry taking into account that its cultural offerings and products are being sold on the domestic and overseas markets. There is understandably therefore, a compelling need for the relevant stakeholders, most notably Central Government, NCC etc to invest increasing resources in further overseas market penetration initiatives. Since T&T is an indisputably enormous beneficiary from the celebrations of Carnivals Overseas it can no longer justify its stance of semi-detachment and hope that market forces of supply and demand will achieve their equilibrium and continue to benefit T&T vicariously.

At the official Governmental level the annual semi- detached ritual practiced by the respective Heads of our Overseas Missions of extending his/her patronage and donating bottles of rum and bitters to the Organising Committees thanks to the generousity of the House of Angostura has degenerated into outworn, cosmetic panderings. A more meaningful and supportive role geared to reclaim the ownership of the most important component of the export of our cultural patrimony abroad is the sine qua non. Doing so and doing so early on the basis of appropriate directives issued from Knowsley is in our economic, cultural and our international relations interests and objectives.

There is need for encouraging reputable T&T-based mas designers/band leaders, in the post-T&T Carnival period, to contribute towards upgrading the colour and pageantry at these Carnivals by way of an NCC/ TIDCO subsidy/ arrangement. Panorama champions as part of their prize, should be sent to perform as cultural ambassadors of T&T at these Carnivals as well as the Kings, Queens etc. Angostura, Carib, TIDCO and the respective Overseas Missions can facilitate the implementation of these proposals in close collaboration with the Overseas Organising Committees that can participate on a joint venture, cost-sharing format.

T&T designers/ pan arrangers can also conduct overseas workshops for aficionados/apprentices to benefit from a transfer of cultural technology on a fee collection basis.

No one can steal Carnival from flourishing in its natural habitat in T&T. That is pure sensationalism nay shortsightedness. The festival has become internationalised similar to so many other works of art and crafts indigenous to other countries. The possibilities for the carnival industry based in T&T continuing to derive enormous hard currency profits from its internationalisation (invisible exports) are limitless.

The NCC should as a fundamental module of its strategic planning process, unless it is also heir to the proverbial Carnival mentality, consider strategies/options for establishing functional and mutually beneficial relationships with the respective Overseas organising committees. Officials should be encouraged to make official working visits to our Carnival celebrations annually at their own expense. Functional relations can then be cemented in T&T not only with the NCC but also with officials of TUCO and Pan Trinbago. Overseas Carnival Committees including those operating at Notting Hill (London) and Caribana (Toronto) receive huge annual subventions from local government institutions/bodies to run their activities and can easily justify these visits. Such co-operation can also be facilitated via our diplomatic representatives in the respective countries.

The NCC should provide for the establishment of an effective, value-for-money External Relations Unit to prosecute relations with Overseas Carnival entities.

Should not the NCC also collect royalties from negotiating live television broadcasts to our Caricomrade partners and metropolitan audiences in Europe and North America? What about the fledgling Carnival souvenir segment of the industry? These are all income-generating sources that can mitigate the annoying historical dependency syndrome perpetrated on the Exchequer.

The imperative is to institute a serious business focus within the NCC. It should consult with all the important stakeholders to formulate a strategic business plan for developing Carnival as an all year round, income -cum employment-generating industry targeting the home and foreign markets. At present we in T&T are merely scratching the proverbial dust of the Carnival gold rush.

There is another important spin off to be derived from the celebration of T&T- Carnivals undertaken in metropolitan centres. They enhance the international reputation and attract goodwill potentially beneficial to the national interest of Trinidad and Tobago. These Carnivals also serve as a powerful informal marketing tool to increase the flow of potential metropolitan visitors to the real Carnival in T&T. It also establishes a bridge between the ex-patriate T&T communities and the wider host community resident in Canada, USA, UK, Europe and elsewhere.

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