Excitement builds over Tobago Carnival
With most people not revelling in a Carnival since 2020, stakeholders foresee that the October celebrations in Tobago will not just produce bumper events but provide a much needed economic boost for the island.
The anticipation is so great that some Tobago mas makers are already designing costumes in preparation for the first Carnival that is separate from the annual celebration.
Chairman of the Tobago Carnival Bandleaders Association Jemma Bedlow said on Tuesday that members welcome this separation. Tobagonians usually participate in the national celebration held between January and March but Bedlow said it now allows Tobago to celebrate in its style.
On Monday, Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris announced that Tobago will host its Carnival between October 28 and 30.
Burris said there was already a committee to oversee the festival.
Bedlow said bandleaders are waiting to meet the committee to plan the celebrations.
“If we put our house in order now and start to put things in place, we will have a bumper Carnival in October. COVID-19 has slowed down the Carnival. Some bandleaders are not working but by the grace of God, they will be given a grant as they usually do to start to hype up their Carnival and with that, we will be linking up with bands from Trinidad. The Carnival will be good,” Bedlow said.
The idea of a separate Carnival for Tobago is not new and several Tobago House of Assembly (THA) administrations discussed and planned to execute it.
Chief Secretary Farley Augustine signalled the THA’s intent to follow through when he met Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Cabinet members earlier this year.
On Tuesday, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell said the THA has not written to the ministry but it is something they support. Mitchell said the ministry is excited, as one of T&T’s niches is events tourism. However, he said creating a new festival in Tobago can only have a net positive effect.
“Our culture, our Carnival culture, our music, the steelpan, once these things are included in the festival that Tobago expects to host in October, we expect it to be very attractive and attract many visitors to the island. We are excited and we stand ready to assist our countrymen in Tobago regarding the planning and taking this event forward,” Mitchell said.
Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) president Chris James sees it as a potential revenue booster for the island’s tourism sector. James said October is usually a quiet month. He said the THTA looks forward to seeing the format of the celebrations and hopes to partner with the organisers to ensure success.
“We will be happy to be involved. Any role we can play, we will play. I am sure we can help with hotel accommodations and things like this to help encourage people to come to the Carnival,” James said.
The Tobago Business Chamber is also waiting for the itinerary and hopes there is due diligence and proper planning and execution of the event. Chamber chairman Martin George said it would set the tone and pace for future events of this kind.
“We want this to be stamped on the calendar as an event that people will be looking forward to annually, the same way they look forward to Crop Over in Barbados, Miami Carnival, Jamaica Carnival and Toronto’s Caribana. Tobago Carnival must make its mark. To do so, we must ensure that we get the best and the brightest, the most competent professionals in the industry, all the great event promoters and persons like Randy Glasgow, Johnny Q and Dean Akin of Tribe and Ultimate Events,” George said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Promoters Association (TTPA), Jerome Priscilla, says Tobago Carnival can serve as a litmus test for Carnival 2023. Priscilla said the TTPA supports Tobago having its celebration and are ready here to lend assistance to events organisers there.
“You have a great resource in Trinidad’s Carnival product being the mecca of carnivals. We will be able to share a lot of the knowledge and experience in putting on a carnival and help Tobago Carnival to be one of the biggest,” Priscilla said.
Carnival Bands Association president Rosalind Gabriel says some members hope to participate in the October events and are already reaching out to Tobago counterparts.
From an economic perspective, Gabriel said the Taste of Carnival last month only allowed a select few to participate. With a full-scale Carnival coming, she said it presents earning potential for mas makers.
“I think it would be well attended. We have enough notice, so people have time to plan for October Carnival. I heard from one of the kings who were in the Taste of Carnival. He is very excited and hopes to go across, so there is a lot of excitement in the mas fraternity,” Gabriel said.