By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
The online version of the Toronto Star carried an article recently on the tardiness of the Festival Management Committee (FMC) in paying its entertainers. There were a number of comments to that article that I found quite interesting.
There were those who felt the festival should be discontinued, downsized or made to pay its own way. One suggested that the committee shouldn’t hire more entertainers than they could afford to pay and another felt the entertainers should have performed for free.
This last one failed to recognize that most of these entertainers actually perform for a living and depend on the money they get from these gigs.
What struck me most at first was the ignorance of the comments; how little these people knew about the festival and how little they cared.
Then it dawned on me that there was little difference between those who wrote the comments and the people in government who actually are depended upon to support the carnival. They too expect the organizers to pay their own way and they struggle to justify the funding they provide. And they too, in large part, would rather see the participants continue to work for free as most now do.
That is because they still do not see this carnival as a part of the Canadian cultural mainstream as much as they like to boast about how much money it generates for the local economy.
And, if after more than 40 years, they don’t accept its true value, what does that say about us and how they see us in their general view of this society?
Whether or not you support the carnival, participate in it, enjoy it, the fact is this festival is one of the most public and positive expressions of our presence in this country. And even if you are not a fan, the fact that something that our community has created helps the local economy to the tune of some $450 million each year must make us all step a little bit taller.
While our many contributions and successes are for the most part ignored; while the great strides our youth are making in this society never make the pages of the newspapers (except for Share), the one thing no one can ignore is the contribution of our carnival.
It is always painful to read of the crimes committed by some of our youth that the mainstream newspapers seem to take so much delight in publishing while they ignore the youth who are excelling. The one thing we know they can’t ignore is the carnival, and for a few weeks each summer, Caribbean people are in the spotlight in a positive way.
So, regardless of how you may see this festival, it is a big deal. That is why so many people are fighting so hard to keep it in our community; to ensure that it is not stolen away from us as some seem to want to do.
If people respect the carnival, they must respect those who created it and those who organize and run it. Why should we let that recognition go to people who didn’t start it, who didn’t build it; who didn’t nurture and grow it to where it has become one of the largest and most successful street festivals in the world?
It is shameful that those to whom the running of the festival over the past many years was entrusted didn’t understand the value of what they inherited and allowed it to be taken from them, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.
Apart from the monetary value this carnival is to the wider society, is the cultural and historical value it is to us as a community.
Think of where it has come from as a celebration of the end of slavery. Think of the evolution of the costumery to what it has become today and the amazing talent that this represents, talent that could and should be shared and taught to our youth with a sense of pride and affection.
One day, decades ago, I stood at the CNE and listened, with tears in my eyes, to a group of young, mostly White kids, playing the steel pan. It was just an amazing experience.
I know where that steel pan came from. I remembered, as a boy, standing for hours on Observatory Street watching the men cut the steel drums with a cole chisel and placing them over a large wood fire to soften them so they can pound out the notes to create the sounds that these kids were now playing on the only musical instrument invented in the 20th century.
I can’t play the steel pan. I don’t play mas. In fact, I grew up in church. But this is my culture; it is something of which I am proud; it is something I can look to as part of my community’s contribution to this country. We must not allow its ownership to be stolen from us.
I suggested last week that those involved need to find common ground so that they can work together. That is the only way they can ensure control and guide its future.
But it will take a bit of doing. It will mean that members of the FMC; the Carnival Arts Group (CAG), which used to be the Carnival Cultural Committee (CCC), the founders and owners of the festival before it was taken away from them; the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA), the creators of the carnival bands which make up the parade and representatives of the calypsonians and the steelbands will have to begin talking to – and with – each other. They can’t continue to depend on others to make decisions for them regarding funding and the future of this festival.
Otherwise they could very well end up with something they don’t recognize, or worse, no festival at all.