Judging by the response of the population of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) and the thousands of visitors, including from the Caribbean, who participated in 2023 Carnival in that country, the return of the hugely popular festival under the sobriquet “The Mother of all Carnivals” has proven to be a huge success.
It not only demonstrated what an important role Carnival plays in the life of Caribbean people, but after the Covid-related restrictions, the need for people to de-stress in a manner in which we are comfortable.
While it no doubt represents a victory for T&T, the success goes far beyond the shores of that twin-island state. It also represented a triumph for the Caribbean region, validating our Carnival as an authentic cultural festival which has its place on the world stage. The rest of the Caribbean did not just participate as visiting revellers proudly displaying their flags but even more importantly as participating artistes, with some from St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia being especially prominent.
Pride of place here must go to our own Gamal “Skinny Fabulous” Doyle, who in a collaboration with Naliah Blackman placed second in the race for the coveted Road March title. This follows his success in 2019 when he was joint-winner with Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin, incidentally his chief rival this year, with “Famalay”.
In addition to his success in T&T, on Wednesday Doyle was named by grammy.com as one of five “artists essential to contemporary soca”. This mention is a significant development on the global stage and is being viewed by some as one foot in the Grammy door, not only for the five artistes mentioned, but for the Soca genre on a whole.
Other Vincentian artistes including Shertz “Problem Child” James have had success in T&T, not only as a performer but also an important song-writer as well. St Lucia’s Teddyson John has made a name for himself as well, indicating the spread and development of the cultural industries in the rest of the region.
In the specific case of T&T Carnival, tribute must be paid to those who made the breakthrough possible, especially Dr Alston “Becket” Cyrus, Winston Soso and the Mighty Prowler from Questelles, Calypso Monarch in T&T in 1998. They followed in the early footsteps of another Vincentian calypso Pioneer, Mighty Jaguar in the 40s and 50s.
The success of these artistes together with that of Kevin Lyttle point to the role that the cultural industries can play in the development of our countries. Today there is at least a growing battalion of Caribbean artistes in varying art forms making their mark on the international stage. But there is room both for the development of the existing ones as well as the flowering of many more.
A most healthy development is the partnerships being developed by these artistes recognizing that cross-cultural, Pan-Caribbean and even Afro-Caribbean partnership is necessary. It means that we need to treat the arts and culture with far more significance than we do at the present time. It is not just a field for some budgetary increase on which we can brag and boast. It is an area for serious long-term strategising and investment.
Arts and culture are as important to our development, including economically as any other area and must be treated as such. Meaningful investment can bring rich rewards and result in lucrative cultural exports. We can ignore it at our peril.