By PAT WATSON
Ah yes, July, when we should all be readying ourselves for one of the most jubilant periods in Toronto’s transplanted Caribbean culture. Except the dynamics of politics and public monies and of respect requested and withheld are the costumes that will mark this year’s festival formerly known as Caribana.
By the way, it now becomes necessary to refer to the festival that began in 1967 as a gift from Canada’s immigrant Caribbean population to Canada on its centenary as CaribanaTM. That it is trademarked has to be noted with just about any current reference.
As a show of solidarity or as a concession that, yes, in fact there is such a thing as Caribana, and as much as it looks this year like Caribana, the event coincidentally taking place at the same time as Caribana has and following the same route as the Caribana parade did in years past, is not it. But you would have to look really closely to tell the difference.
Shakespeare did ask the question in Romeo and Juliet, another tale of tragedy, whether a rose by any other name would not still smell as sweet.
Ask the mas’ players. They will feel the same vibe from the music. They will have the same fabulous mas’ bands and they will chip along the same Exhibition Place to the Lakeshore Blvd. route that Caribana used in previous outings. But just as the big event had in the past played out along Yonge St. and later along University Ave., the music, the sentiments and the heart of this massive cultural expression remain the same.
Some people are fighting for it though. And while we sing and dance in our costumes there is a matter of principle being crushed under the weight of the politics of public funding.
The spirit of carnival in Toronto is being held for ransom. The hundreds of millions that this Caribbean cultural event has brought in over the decades is the prize in a face-off between the original festival managers, formerly the Caribbean Cultural Committee, now renamed the Caribana Arts Group as a mark of their commitment to new standards of business practice, and the City managers who hold the purse strings and seem to be under the peculiar impression that they can decide who this Caribbean cultural festival should belong to.
The heart and soul of the event formerly known as Caribana is not in the unfortunate and misguided squabbling over money; it is the spirit of the people who bring their energy to it and make it the exuberant, joyous event that it is. It is the many bodies become one to shout our joy to each other and to reaffirm we will have a moment to just be in happiness, regardless of the mundane challenges that insist on encroaching on that joyous spirit. The truth is that the spirit of this festival is not tied to a name because it manifests itself in all parts of the world under many names. The fact that we here do it bigger and better than any other place in North America is a matter of pride. But if the squabbling continues there is no doubt that someplace else will stand ready to claim the title.
I don’t have any ready answer for how to solve the ongoing dilemma between the city and the Caribana group. But wiser heads have certainly voiced sound solutions.
What I do recall though is an old calypso (by the Mighty Sparrow, I believe) that offers this sound advice: “Hold on to yu man if you love him, don’t ask my why. Watch him in the ban’ when him jumpin’ or you goin’ cry. Darlin’ we live and we learn, you got to keep what you earn… yu can’ trus’ you pal. It’s carnival.“
Yes, carnival, so engaging, so rich that if you don’t keep your eye on it and hold it close, someone will take it away from you.
A note on the fan versus the A/C…
It’s getting hot out there and the desire to feel comfortable will have many turning on and turning down the air conditioners. But who will speak for the environment at this time? Consider that for the sake of comfort, the trusty fan is the lesser of two environmental evils. If you’re feeling nostalgic about the Caribbean what better way than to install a ceiling fan, like in days of old?