Carnival ’77 – The first changeover
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
June 23, 2023
Carnival ’77 – The first changeover

Last week this column placed focus on the development of Vincy Mas since the change over from the pre-Lenten period to June/July. In commenting on the developments since then, speculation

was made whether in the undoubted development of the Festival, we have run the risk of losing the proverbial “baby with the bath water”.

Referring to the branding of our Festival to cater to tourism demands, concern was raised over the lack of a clear definition of our Carnival. To quote from the column of last Friday, “it seems though, we are still unclear of what constitutes the essence of our festival”, noting that even though the new focus was on being the “hottest” festival in the region, “ I am not sure that there is a common understanding just what hottest means, but that is how we are selling our product”.

Continuing on this line of reasoning, it was noted that, variation, experimentation and differentiation are all necessary, but we must never forget our roots”.

Having made those comments, I decided last weekend to visit my archives concerning our first June/July mas in 1977, long before many of today’s masqueraders were even born. The newspaper which I edited then, FREEDOM, published a summary of Carnival activities in its post-carnival issue. July 8, 1977. (Carnival climaxed then on the first weekend in July). I quote here from that issue:

“Carnival 1977 turned out to be a bumper success. Never before had one seen such huge crowds as witnessed at the various Carnival shows, never have we known such a hectic 10-day period, and never has the tourist trade got such a shot-in-the-arm as at Carnival 1977.

“On Thursday night (June 30), a massive crowd came out to welcome the Folklore Pageant which brought together all the old-time aspects of Carnival which commercialization and modernization have put out of the Festival. As was to be expected, most of the performers came from the rural areas, after all, it is the masses who preserve our cultural traditions.

There were quadrille dancers from as far north as Sandy Bay and Georgetown, string bands and boom-drum bands from different parts of the island.

“The show was a source of rich cultural traditions and also amusement such as when the wining donkeymen did their thing. Old-time calypsonian Rhymer was also there, doing a wonderful job entertaining the large crowd, estimated to be one of the largest ever seen at Victoria Park……….

“Last Friday (July 1), the big Carnival weekend began with the Pan-o- Rama competition. Despite the numerous problems which the pan men face, there was a bigger turn-out of Steel bands than in previous years and it was gratifying to see steel bands from the rural areas like Simon Superstars and Steggy’s United of Mt. Pleasant competing with the larger bands. Another pleasing note was the appearance of the FAIU steel band from Union Island. It is eight years since a steel band from Union Island competed in the national championship” ……….

“The massive crowd at Thursday night’s show had been estimated to be one of the largest ever at the Park but on (Carnival) Sunday night every crowd appearance record was broken….

“A novel and unplanned feature of this year’s Carnival was a weekend jump up on backstreet to the strains of a DJ running a local bar. Despite many attempts by police, crowds of people who had no money to go to fetes, feted in the streets all night on Sunday until J’ouvert. This too was another big success with the largest crowds and the most bands for a long time. The visiting Trinidad steel band Skiffle Bunch (pan around the neck) was also on the road…….

“Tuesday’s competition went up to 4:30 p.m. and was the biggest for a long, long time…..It was pleasing to note the participation of bands from the outlying areas such as “Island Splendour” from Barrouallie and “Sailors” from Questelles.

Steel bands from Simon and Union Island were on the road.”

Have we lost anything?

I have taken the trouble to quote extensively from the 1997 Carnival coverage so that readers can do some reflection. Is there any thing we have lost even as we have made significant progress in the development of our Carnival, particularly the economic aspect?

Are the cultural roots still redeemable and, if so, how can they be integrated in the modern Festival?

Much food for thought indeed.

  • Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.