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Is it time for a Carnival Renaissance?

This past Saturday I experienced something that has now led me to conclude that the cancellation of this year's Carnival may in fact be an opportunity and a blessing in disguise. I know this might sound crazy to you but I will explain, so please keep reading and hear me out.

You see it all started weeks ago with a phone call I received from my dear friend Missy Chrissy. She said, “Barry I need your help, I’m gonna do a Verzuz battle in Grenada.” I gave her what limited help I could offer with the business plan and concept, but Missy is a talented young lady and she had it pretty much figured out. We visited the venue together and I also advised her on hiring the television crew and getting sponsorship and that was that: Grenada’s ‘Upstage’ was born.

On the night of the show, as I arrived at the venue, the first thing that struck me was how beautiful my friend Chrissy looked in her uniquely styled outfit and of course her hair style. As I greeted her I thought she could have been anywhere in the world and would have received admiration from anyone in her beautifully designed outfit. Hence folks I now get back to my first statement and here comes the first opportunity/blessing.

Caribbean Carnival Fashion Season

Every year mas bands spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lavishly styled carnival costumes. The carnival bands make some money, the mas players have a great time and the Chinese manufacturers who we buy all the fabric, beads and feathers from make a killing. We also have these elaborate Carnival launches which I must say look as good and as professional as anything that I have seen when I have attended events in New York or Miami Fashion week. So why don’t we host a Caribbean Fashion Season? Why instead of marketing our designs only to costume buyers why don’t we invite some of the top fashion buyers and designers from around the world? Why don’t we create a unique fashion experience with not only costumes for carnival, but also fashion forward pieces? This can help to launch a Caribbean fashion industry. With all the various carnival bands that we have and the level of professionalism and creativity that they display at the various launches there is nothing stopping us from creating Caribbean Carnival Season: Spring and Summer Edition. Trinidad, Dominica and others who have a Spring Carnival can start and Barbados, St Lucia, Grenada etc would fall in Summer.

In this time of COVID why don’t our carnival designers link with our hoteliers and make “theatrical” face masks which protect the workers and guests but also create different themes for the various hotels? I really think it’s worth a shot!

Friends, I hope you understand that for me this blessing and opportunity in disguise is not because I don’t like Carnival it’s the exact opposite. I said recently on a tv show that for the Caribbean, “Tourism is our greatest export.” The globalization of Carnival as I am describing, provides a personification of the idea I am purporting.

Made For TV Events

The next interesting feature I noticed about my friend's event was how quickly she was able to build a vibe with the television content for her show. Swizz Beats et al. produced verzuz for the world stage. Why don’t we have the same in our carnivals? Carnivals should not just be about the local audience, but should also have as part of the feature, a series of highly marketed made for television events, which people can participate in and watch. I am not talking about streaming the Soca Finals or other events which are currently live streamed. Instead I mean, like my friends Upstage concept, we should be able to create television events of an hour or so in duration, which entertain global audiences. We have enough media talent here and my friend Chrissy interviewed a few production companies before settling on the very talented and committed Mikey Live team. It is time now for our producers in the region to grab hold of the opportunity and think not just about the people coming in for carnival but also the bigger audience. The millions of people out there who can’t travel but love our culture

Producing Sustainable Music

What a joy it was to see the two talented artists at Upstage singing and dancing and battling it out for supremacy. As both Boyzie and Dash sang, I thought to myself just how much talent we have in the region. Just in the Eastern Caribbean alone, it is my view that we produce the most music in the world per capita. Every island has roughly 50 to 100 or more soca/calypso artistes and each of them has at least two songs. If we take the seven islands Antigua, St kitts, Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, and Grenada the numbers are phenomenal. At the higher number we could be producing as much as 1400 songs in a year in a combined population of less than a million persons. What if we started producing music which the whole world could identify with and enjoy rather than just music which speaks about our lives and culture and lasts only one season. There is so much musical talent in our islands and if we look at our sister Jamaica, we can see how she used her musical talents to capture the imagination and attention of the world. Jamaican artistes do not only sing about their culture and environment but produce music which people all over the world can identify with. How proud was I to watch the protests in the USA and to see the words of the late, great, Peter Tosh being used as a rallying cry for protesters. His musical legacy lived on and served to motivate the millions of people in the USA as they marched in unison to the theme “Equal Rights and Justice, No peace No justice!”

In a similar fashion, the opportunity is now before us to reframe our soca music to not only win the various soca titles up for grabs, but to export and showcase the talent we have here in the Eastern Caribbean for the world. Why shouldn’t Boyzie and Dash get their share of the global music industry? According to Forbes magazine:

The recorded music industry was worth $19.1 billion in 2018, which was almost a double-digit gain (9.7%) from the year prior.

This growth was powered by digital revenue which accounted for 11 billion of the total.

The opportunity here is immense and if our soca artists are able to retool their motivation and realize that the global stage is as accessible to them as the carnival stage, this would immediately be a game changer for the region. Of the 1400 songs we produce how many of them are relevant to the rest of the world, how many of them are even relevant to us after one or two years? Our music now has the opportunity to reflect global issues and perspectives, songs that embody our energy, love songs celebrating our beauty, inspirational music to uplift anyone anywhere in the world and music which identifies with and reflects not only our issues but the issues of the global audience.

Amazing Young Talent

And if the performances of Boyzie and Dash were not enough, what about the impromptu cameo by Duwan De Entertainer and the 14 year old DJ Charles. People, we have not only extremely talented and seasoned artists but an armada of young talent just waiting to burst on to stage. After the performances someone offered Duwan De Entertainer a drink at the bar, he politely turned to the guy and said “Boss I don’t drink, alcohol would slow me down.” Lol. Let us cultivate an environment where these budding talents can thrive!

Cultural Renaissance

Out of the Black Death in the 14th century, came the Renaissance. A period of cultural and artistic enlightenment, which saw a re-ordering of society as the rise of individual thought, science, innovation and creativity took greater prominence. During the Renaissance, scientists, artists, performers, designers and other creative thinkers took their rightfully deserved place in society and began to lead European societies.

Out of COVID 19, we are seeing another Renaissance one which is challenging the systemic racist and discriminatory structures in our global society and fighting to replace them with a more just, fair and equitable society.

Our soca artistes, musicians, carnival designers, band leaders and television producers must realise that they can shift their mindsets, in order to create a powerful global cultural “sunrise”. There must be a paradigm shift from “what we have” to “what we need”.

The need exists for a Carnival/soca Renaissance which leads to the global growth of soca music and Carnival culture. With the collective spontaneity and creative talents among regional practitioners in the creative Arts, specifically carnival, the attempt to experiment with different genres, and designs should be a welcome challenge. Then we will see an uncovering of fusions in music, fashion and media communication. We can incorporate multiple genres, designs and television or internet productions aimed at developing the artistic concepts of the Caribbean. So, my suggestion does not sound so bad after all, does it? There is nothing wrong with focusing on carnival, but we need to realise that our tunnel vision for carnival may prevent us from seeing the export-ready opportunities. Opportunities which could be diversified to reach our global audience and bring lucrative returns for our economies.

Chrissy realised the opportunity Verzuz presented and seized it. That is, what we must do; “we must be that guy.” That guy who realises how much more we have to offer the world, and how much we have been keeping ourselves back, by being so focused on just the Carnival stage.

It is our time now to Upstage: think about it!

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