Remember Caribana’s roots

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor

I watched, in dismay, the news on television last week Wednesday when a number of folks were shown at the podium announcing the name change for this year’s Caribana festival.

There they were, as smug as ever, lauding the benefits of the festival to the city and mouthing their support.

Where were they, I thought, 20, 30 years ago when members of our community were struggling to keep this thing afloat? I remember hearing of board members taking out personal loans, second mortgages on their homes or tapping their credit cards to pay the bills. In fact, I have seen some of those supporting documents.

Now that it is a huge success, these folks are all over it talking about their efforts to keep it going.

And how?

The city – through its liaison to the festival, Councillor Joe Mihevc, announced the usual “just under $500,000″ and a $100,000 reduction in permit fees. You remember last week I wrote that the city claws back most of the money it gives to the festival to pay for such things as the police, the rental of the CNE and garbage collection? And, yes, they also charge all kinds of fees for permits which are now going to be cut by $100,000. So how much are the fees they are not forgiving? How much were all those fees in the first place?

Most of that money the city is “giving” will be paid back to the city or withheld (by the city) to pay the bills, and to give to the bandleaders, the calypsonians and the steelbands. Of that “under $500,000″, the CCC then and the FMC now receives less than $100,000 to run the festival. That is why they have to go cap in hand to sponsors to raise money and turn over the name of the festival to them.

Then my good friend, Mike Colle, announced a provincial “investment” of $400,000. Mike, do you remember when your government gave $1-million to Luminato two years before it was even launched and $15-million one year after it was launched?

What kind of investment is this? Don’t you find this an insult to the Caribbean community by your Liberal government?

The Festival Management Committee might be tempted to blame the Caribana Arts Group for the delay – because of the court action – in getting the seed money for the bandleaders, but you should be blaming your “funders”. They are the ones holding your money back; they are the ones starving the bandleaders.

While a couple or three of the top bandleaders might not be tight for funds and may be able to get going without this seed money (more like chicken feed money), the majority of them – especially the ones who produce the small- and medium-sized bands, are really suffering. These are the folks who have been faithful to this festival for decades; these are the ones who, rain or shine, thick or thin, have found a way to bring out their bands every year.

But they need help. They don’t need to be disrespected like they have been over the years. In fact, they need to be paid substantially more money than they are now receiving – and not as a grant or as a gift. The work these people do, the effort they make for an entire year getting ready for the parade, need to be acknowledged in a very tangible way in light of that more than $450-million.

And what about all the volunteer hours their members put in year after year to help make the costumes? Shouldn’t they get some of that “more than $450-million” too?

It is time we start putting a real value on all the work and effort that go into making Caribana (sorry, I can’t accept the new name. I hope the CAG will bear with me) a reality each year. It is time the bandleaders put their differences aside and work together to have their talent and the product of that talent properly compensated. It is recognized, but it needs to be fairly compensated.

As I wrote last week, I really believe that even the people who play mas should be compensated. Instead of them paying (some in the thousands of dollars, depending on the costume) to play in a parade which brings in more than $450-million to the city each year, benefitting everyone else but us, why shouldn’t they be compensated? Why shouldn’t the bandleaders receive enough money to pay their workers and their performers? The days of the free sugar plantation labour or the free cotton picking are long over. Or are they?

It is all well and good for these nice folks to get up and talk about how wonderful Caribana – or whatever the hell they are calling it now – is and to mouth words of support for the festival, but we need to see their cash. We need the city, the province and the feds to increase their commitments. We need the businesses which benefit the most from that more than $450-million to also put something back so that the carnival bandleaders, the steelpan performers and the calypsonians, without whom there would be no carnival, can see a real return for their contribution to the success of the festival.

Since we don’t know how much the bank is providing – no one is allowed to say except that the bank never discloses what it donates – we can’t say if they also need to step up but I have a feeling that they get a hell of a lot more from this festival in terms of publicity and goodwill than they put into it. By the way, do you think if they were providing real money they wouldn’t find a way to let us know?

Oh, yeah, and $10,000 will be donated as prize money for the entertainers. Are these people for real or do they think we are really that stupid?

We are not asking for any favours. It is we who are – and have been for the past 43 years (44 this year) – giving out favours to everyone else but ourselves. It is time that this is recognized and treated accordingly.

The FMC’s Denise Herrera-Jackson was quoted last week as saying: “We have to bring the festival in line with others like Luminato and the Harbourfront Centre…” Sounds good to me…except…is she just speaking of the output or is she also speaking of the input, as in the financial investment from the beneficiaries?

I know that the FMC staff are just employees hired by the city (or by those appointed by the city) to do a job but they need to be respectful in what they say about the history of this festival and those who started it. The FMC’s Chris Alexander was quoted as saying something about Caribana being “important to the roots of this city”. Caribana is only important to this city as far as the money it brings in. If it was important in any other way, it would have been financed properly and you folks would not be in the financial bind that you reportedly are in to pay the bandleaders and other outstanding debts.

Learn and understand the history of this festival and those who started it and nurtured it. Don’t be taken in by those mealy-mouthed folks standing up now and talking about what they don’t know. Remember the real roots of Toronto’s Caribana – in Laventille; Behind-the-Bridge; East Dry River; Observatory Street; Belmont Circular Road; Woodbrook, San Juan; Arima; San Fernando. Remember Jab Jab and Midnight Robber. Remember George Bailey and Harold Saldenah; remember Renegades, Invaders, Tokyo, San Juan All Stars and Despers and bottle, stone and cutlass on Park Street.

It is the evolution of that rich culture that members of our community brought with them to this city which they wanted to celebrate and to share, not to have it usurped – stolen – by others.

We’ve come a long way. We have endured much. We are not going to just give it away now.

Or are we?

And, by the way, Caribana is not a multicultural festival.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>