By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Someone said to me recently that many of the local carnival bandleaders are under the impression that the Festival Management Committee (FMC) is working for them. This is the committee that was set up by City of Toronto councillor, Joe Mihevc, to run the carnival when he defunded the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), the founders and owners of the festival, six years ago.
These bandleaders, who are members of the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA), the organization which represents them, are under the impression that the FMC was set up to manage the festival on their behalf, according to this individual.
This is news to me. Actually, I am sure it will be news also to the principals of the FMC who are under the distinct impression that they are accountable to no one other than the city and their sponsors. At least, that is what I have been told as part of the explanation as to why they do not feel they have to provide any kind of information, such as a financial statement, to our community.
So, bandleaders, is the FMC reporting to you about how much money they receive from the various levels of government and its sponsors? Do you get a report on how much they take in and how much they spend?
If you don’t, then it is a sure bet that they are not working for you.
When your representatives meet with FMC officials, do they present their proposals for the upcoming festival and the ancillary events for your approval or do they just outline what they are going to be doing with little or no input from you?
If it is the latter, then they don’t work for you.
And, if the bandleaders think the FMC is working for them, where does that leave the calypsonians and the steelbands?
Look, it is in the interest of the FMC to make you believe that they are working for you. So, when you meet with them they will probably tell you about the effort they are putting into finding more sponsors so that they can get you more money and things like that. But you will not get anything substantive from them. That is because they don’t see you as a partner in this enterprise; just as the workers who produce the carnival which brings in $450-million to the city’s and the province’s coffers each summer.
Here’s another thing. This year, the FMC barred the bands taking part in the Toronto parade from taking part in the carnival in Vaughan and the kiddies carnival in the Jane & Finch area. They told the bandleaders that it was the city’s decision and that the city didn’t want the money they were giving for their parade to support competing parades. Then, how come they allowed the bands to participate in Hamilton and Barrie (until that parade was shut down by the police)?
The city did not make that decision; it was the FMC. They felt those parades would compete with theirs – especially the kiddies carnival in Jane & Finch a week before theirs. So they insinuated that if any band participated in those events their funding could be affected next year.
By the way, bandleaders, does that still sound like these people are working for you?
More importantly, who gave them the right to dictate to the bandleaders which parades they could participate in, especially since all these (except the kiddies carnival) are held after the Toronto parade? Mihevc gave the principals of the FMC a huge gift when he gave them the Toronto carnival but that shouldn’t mean they should be allowed to negatively affect other area carnivals, using the city’s money as leverage.
Having a kiddies carnival in the Jane & Finch area is a very good idea. As one of the so-called priority neighbourhoods, here was an opportunity to provide the kids, not just with a chance to play mas’, but with some real-life experiences designing and building carnival costumes. This could be a year-round exercise and could be extended to teach them the art of creating and singing calypsoes and playing the steelpan. What an opportunity! But the people at the FMC, with their eyes fixed firmly on finding more ways to make money, chose to move the parade to Downsview Park. While it was free this year, do you think it will continue to be free? Most events held at Downsview are paid events. Watch out for this one.
When I questioned someone about the wisdom of moving the parade to a park since carnival parades are street parades, I was told that there is a road in the park. Of course there is a road in the park; in fact there are roads in all parks. But a park is not where a carnival parade should be held; it should be held in the community, on the streets, where people can enjoy it. But this is what you get when you have people who don’t understand the culture trying to run a Caribbean carnival.
It was good that the Caribana Arts Group (CAG), which replaced the CCC, accepted the challenge, with the support of Yorkgate Mall, to keep the Jane & Finch kiddies carnival alive. But none of the regular bands were allowed (by the FMC) to have their children take part in it.
Last week I wrote about the delays along the parade route. I understand that the steelbands are no longer allowed on the route because they were accused of causing the delays. Well, if they were not allowed on the route, who is responsible for the delays this year that saw three bands shut out of the parade? The fact that the police shut down the parade an hour early also didn’t help.
Folks of a certain generation/age will remember the big clashes on Park Street, for example, when steelbands such as Desperados and Renegades met. The steelbands were a big deal back then. They were the ones which brought mas’; they were the ones everyone wanted to play with. All these sound systems on trucks came later – a lot later.
The steelbands have, from the beginning, been an integral part of the Caribbean carnival. They were at the root and at the foundation. In fact, when former African slaves celebrated their emancipation, they did so by parading through the streets in costumes masquerading as – mimicking – their former masters/mistresses and using whatever noise-making objects they could find – such as old drums and pans –to provide rhythm. These objects evolved over time into what we know today as the steel pan. They should not be barred from the parade.
The youth now playing the steel pan need to know its history and to know how valuable they are to our culture. And they need to be respected.
But, that is what you get when you have people who don’t know their a.. from their elbow about our festival trying to run it.
There are a lot of people in our community with the knowledge and ability to run this festival. But they probably wouldn’t want to get mixed up with these folks. Or, maybe, those running the festival don’t want those who know better to show them up for the incompetents they are.
A new group called MASCAPAN – representing the masqueraders, calypsonians and the steelbands – was founded earlier this year. Are these people ready to stand up for those they claim to represent? Or are they going to be just another ineffective, rubber stamp group afraid to speak up for their culture?
In essence, can they truly understand that it is we, as a community, who hold the handle and not the blade where our carnival is concerned?