During the recent Budget presentation (the Opposition boycott deprived it of its customary “debate” status), it was enthralling to hear from Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves and his Ministerial Colleague in charge of Tourism and Culture, Carlos James about exploratory efforts to ensure that some sort of Carnival activity takes place in spite of the Covid-induced restrictions.
In particular they spoke of the possibility of Carnival in the “metaverse”, sending many to google this relatively new term while leaving a significant number of listeners clueless. Clearly, given modern technology, this must involve some virtual aspect, but for most listeners, how is this to be applied to Carnival, the largest mass gatherings of people in our country and our premier cultural festival?
It was therefore heartening and enlightening that NBC radio hosted a discussion programme on Tuesday morning of this week with Minister James as guest. That programme provided very valuable insight as to the thinking on the matter and began to open minds, if not doors as yet.
Carnival is a very unique festival in the Caribbean. No other festival mobilises such a significant amount of people or engages such a broad range of people, cutting across all ages, classes and localities. It is also a major generator of revenue, foreign exchange and employment throughout the region. Yet because of its very nature, it has been a major victim of the onset of the Covid pandemic, and even the well-meaning but inadequate financial support provided by some governments to Carnival-makers cannot compensate for the massive losses. With Vincy Mas just five months away, there is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen this year.
It must therefore have been very encouraging to hear that government is exploring ideas for some sort of Carnival “in the metaverse”, wherever that is. Based on the explanations of the Culture Minister this involves seeking to exploit the global potential of Carnival virtually, hopefully creating financial opportunities for many Carnival-makers, in spite of the Covid restrictions.
Naturally, any person interested in carnival or the economic plight of our country and people, would be motivated to hear how this “virtual carnival” would operate, how it would benefit the country and what impact it would have on the nature of our unique festival. If initiatives in whatever verse or chapter can help us, then certainly they would be welcomed by all those involved.
As we await further explanation from government and those involved, there are some important issues to be addressed. First of all, there must be the recognition that such is the unique nature of Carnival that it is not just an economic venture, important as that is, it is also an activity that resides in our very being as a people. It is part of who we are. So how would the virtual operation impact on the very nature of carnival?
Secondly, again there is no other public activity which involves more physical contact and interaction. It presents a major challenge in pandemic times, that is why we have not been able to stage the festival these past two years. How will the “metaverse” Carnival help to mitigate the health challenge for those people actually present here in SVG?
Reference was made to utilising the recent experience of Nine Mornings to hold Carnival in a “controlled space”. All well and good, save that the very nature of Carnival runs contrary to the control concept. It is far, far different from Nine Mornings. It provides not just recreation but also valuable social release, and we will be challenged to balance this, and the spontaneity associated with it, with “controlled spaces”.
So, as we welcome the initiative and encourage the creative geniuses of those who are bravely exploring the possibilities, let us never lose sight of the vast masses of people for whom Carnival is their “thing”, the thousands of poor who cannot afford the virtual stage, and for whom the “wine and jam”, the gay abandon, the rural carnival, Soca Monarch, Jouvert and street jump are the essence of the festival.
Yes, let’s take up the challenge but always remember as the calypso legend Black Stalin sang, when we look at the product, we do not have to ask, “Wey my band”?