48 Years And We Still Don’t Have It Right
After forty-eight years, it would seem to me, that the gift the Caribbean community gave to the city of Toronto, in Caribana (now Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival), is less about the celebration of culture, and more about the economic impact that it has on Toronto’s economy. Somehow, the largest cultural festival in North America still manages to miss the mark in very important ways, and cannot actualize its potential without these things being addressed.
First and foremost, even on tv and the radio, people still refer to the Carnival as Caribana, which highlights the rift between those who own the name, and those producing the carnival. This adds a layer of complexity, as you try to navigate through the world of naming rights and sponsorship. I grew up on Caribana, and it feels weird when I do catch myself calling the festival Carnival.
The organizers of the festival have done a horrible job of educating the public about what Carnival actually is; its origins, meaning, and the significance of why and how it is done in Toronto. There are few people outside of the ‘mas community’, who know that Carnival is a competition, what is being judged, how it’s being judged, and who it’s being judged by.
I am not sure how one can expect to have an engaging parade when there are often gaps between bands of at least forty-five minutes? How does one expect to have a successful tv broadcast when there is nothing happening?
Parade of the Bands
The highlight of the festival is the parade of the bands. Band leaders and volunteers, spend countless hours over months to prepare costumes that go with their theme for the year. Masqueraders carefully select which band they are going to play with on the day. This is what brings people to the city. This is what makes people pay to sit in the stands, and this is what the TV and personal cameras focus on. With that said, the speed, mentioned above, is a major issue affecting people’s enjoyment.
The beauty of the masqueraders, is being able to see them in their sections, which is almost impossible with so many people, not involved in the parade, taking up space on the parade route. There is no media outlet or sponsor focusing their cameras on those not in costume, as they have nothing to do with the parade. This year, I was at positioned at the judging station and watched as random people walked across the ‘stage’, while people were in the middle of their presentations to be judged. There were so many people crowding the stage, that the King and Queen costumes weren’t even able to turn around in front of the judges for fear of ruining the costume or causing injury to a spectator, clearly in the wrong place.
After months of preparation, money, and practice, it seems like a shame that the costumes weren’t able to get the spotlight that they deserve, when they’re the focus of the actual experience (well, when you aren’t focused on the economics that is).
I saw futile attempts by band marshalls, as they tried to stop people from walking across the stage during the judging. Some people stopped and waited, others walked right through, oblivious to the fact that they were now on ‘stage’ in the middle of someone presentation.
I believe that there would be a bit more understanding of this if the earlier issues about explaining the competition were addressed. Aside from the lack of regard for the backbone of the festival, this is also a major public safety issue.
With the budget available for security and police, I am baffled at the lack of safety being provided to masqueraders. I cannot imagine this being allowed at the Pride or Santa Claus parades, but for some reason, it is allowed here.
If people want to jump, dance, and get on to the music, there is no reason why they can’t do so from behind the barricades and fences. If they want to impose themselves on the masqueraders, who are paying to be in the parade, they should also purchase a costume for that opportunity.
As a photographer, it was extremely difficult to document the parade, when there were always random people standing in the way of the masqueraders.
As mentioned earlier, I have experienced Carnival in many ways. My first introductions to the festival, was as one who just jumped in to dance on anyone I could find. At that time, I thought that that was what it was about, until I learned more about the history and meaning, but that lesson never came from one of the organizers. It’s not hard to recognize the planning, work, and money that goes in to it, when someone takes the time to break it down for you. Once I received that education, my entire perspective changed, and I have, and will continue to do, whatever I can to maintain the integrity of the culture, and festival, beyond the economic impact, that rarely trickles back to our community.