Conversations about a summer-held carnival have perpetuated social media following Thursday’s announcement that the ban on entertainment events would be lifted.
However, principal at prominent carnival band Xaymaca International Andrew Bellamy is proposing that carnival, usually held in Easter, be held earliest October. Speaking to The Sunday Gleaner, Bellamy said the recommendation is in line with Xaymaca’s desire to see a sustainable, long-term reopening of the sector, contrary to the short window last summer due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“Carnival is a very intimate experience, and it’s very large scale with multiple moving parts,” he said. “There’s a concern that we don’t want carnival to be rushed and it possibly leading to a COVID issue or be attached to a spike. While we have been given ‘free rein’ with certain guidelines, we still want to be mindful that COVID has not completely disappeared.”
Then there are considerations concerning maintaining healthy relationships with regional and diasporic partners and masqueraders. This summer, several carnivals will be held across the region, including the resumption of carnival in St Vincent and the Grenadines in June, St Lucia in July, and Barbados’ Crop Over and Antigua’s carnival from late July to August.
“There’s a natural ecosystem of carnivals throughout the region that have established days and times, and I don’t think it’s good for Caribbean relationships, especially because there is like a round-robin type of experience where a lot of people will leave one carnival in one nation and go to another,” Bellamy said. “Us going into a space that already has established schedules, we’re competing with people who normally support us, which again, yes, can be done, but is that best for business and the brand carnival Jamaica in the long run? Is that fair to our masqueraders to now force them to choose, especially with the financial strains coming out of the pandemic?”
He added that summer in Jamaica has its own cultural history of ‘Emancipendence’ celebrations and other staple events, including Dream Weekend and Reggae Sumfest, and that a summer carnival would be misfitting and counterproductive.
HEROES WEEKEND CARNIVAL
“A carnival in October wouldn’t be competing with any other carnival. It would actually be the last carnival in the schedule of events for the year as the only carnival before that would be Miami,” he said. “We could tie it into the Heroes weekend, which is normally a party weekend for Jamaica, and treat the Heroes weekend as an Easter weekend and have our road parade the Sunday after. That’s basically six months away, which gives our main target audience in the region and diaspora sufficient time to plan.”
Worst-case scenario, Bellamy proposed an April 2023 carnival date.
“I know people are very frustrated, I understand… . All of us want to deliver a carnival experience that we have promised our masqueraders, and it has been postponed beyond our control. At the same time, we have to do it when it’s right and, in an environment, when it’s safe so that we can deliver the best experience ever. These thoughts are really from dialogues with my partners, dialogue with the regional relationships that we have, with our stakeholders and masqueraders. We’ve been doing informal surveys as to when is best.”
Until then, carnival activities are already being advertised, including Bellamy’s I Love Soca and Sunrise Breakfast Party events for April.
Meanwhile, Scott Dunn, managing director of Dream Entertainment and Xodus Carnival, said that he and his team would like to see carnival celebrations launched in the summer.
“Summer is the earliest we’d be able to be ready for with everything that’s in place, so we want to be able to execute a carnival as soon as possible, being that this initially should have been Carnival 2020 that we’re finally getting around to having in 2022, [so] we basically want to have the earliest date possible which would be July 2022,” Dunn offered.
He explained that the costumes designs presented for Carnival 2020 are the same ones that people can expect to see on the road.
“At this point, the costumes were just a design that some persons had paid a deposit for. This would be enough time for us to have all costumes made and ready for our masqueraders.”
According to Bacchanal Director Michael Ammar Jr, all the bands participating in Jamaica’s annual carnival celebrations were prepared in March when Jamaica recorded its first case of COVID-19, and that it should not be difficult for them to be ready if the Government raises the green flag for it to be staged this year or in summer.
“We had everything ready to roll out for March 2020, including costumes. Bacchanal costumes were actually sold out, and we had them manufactured, so the only thing left to be done is assemble them,” he shared.
Give supporters time to prepare
He added that the bands involved could “turn carnival over very quickly” but that it would be unreasonable to make that announcement with such a short time to prepare.
“The reason we are not trying to rush and do it in April is to give persons coming from overseas time to make the necessary arrangements … to book their flights and hotel accommodations,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
“If it was just a local thing, it would be a go, but we are trying to give our supporters and persons from the diaspora at least three months’ notice to prepare. But, as far as Bacchanal is concerned, we are having carnival this year – not wants to – no ifs and buts. I think the idea of a summer carnival sounds nice,” he added, noting that it has already been proposed.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the reopening of the entertainment industry on Thursday, but no date has been confirmed for carnival 2022 by the Government. “Nothing is official yet,” said Kamal Bankay, a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board, who is also chairman of Dream Entertainment, Carnival in Jamaica and the Sports and Entertainment Network in the Ministry of Tourism. “I’m calling a stakeholders meeting on Monday to discuss it. And then I’ll announce it,” said Bankay.
Efforts to contact Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett were unsuccessful. Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, was unable to speak when contact was made.