Tobago bands: We want Carnival competitions

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Queen of Carnival Lue-Ann Melville, portraying the Spirit of Carnival.

The mas fraternity of Tobago is voicing disagreement with the inaugural Tobago Carnival Committee’s decision not to make the inaugural celebrations in October competitive.

Speaking with Newsday on Tuesday, chair of the Tobago Carnival Bandleaders Association (TCBA) Jemma Bedlow said there can be no Carnival without competition.

“Why have something called Tobago Carnival and no competition? If you want Tobago Carnival separate from Trinidad, what are we showcasing? The bands want competition. We need some sort of competition.”

Bedlow said there are 42 bandleaders registered with the organisation and they have been meeting on a regular basis, as this issue remains disputed.

“The bandleaders had this argument about competition. Some of them are saying they want the competition, some of them are saying that they don’t want to look bad.”

Repeating the call for competition, she said Tobago mas bands could not survive financially otherwise.

“People don’t understand Tobago Carnival – the name Tobago Carnival says it all. It is Carnival. We want it unique from Trinidad mas, something that would attract people to play in a band here. What are you telling me? Tobago Carnival is just a showcase? If it is just a showcase, let us stick with the national one where it has competition.”

She is hoping to raise the issue with those in authority shortly.

“I have a meeting planned; I don’t know if it’s with the committee of those in authority, but we are raising it again because the chairman of this Carnival committee has said, ‘No competition.’”
Asked whether the four months left was long enough for planning competitions, she said: “Yes, it is enough time.”

She said Trinidad bands have already started calling with the aim of forming alliances with the Tobago bands, and the bandleaders intend to capitalise on this.

But she insisted: “Any bands coming to Tobago to take part in Tobago Carnival must link with a Tobago band. This is Tobago Carnival. Trinidad had their Carnival already. This is Tobago Carnival, and no one is coming here to take Tobago Carnival bandleaders’ space, it must be Tobago.”

Additionally, while she is excited about having a separate time of year to showcase the unique offerings of Tobago, she feels the details are late in coming.

“I was happy when I heard that we are having it – but we are lagging behind. This thing could have been advertising and out early. We are now scrambling to put something together in the area of Tobago Carnival.

“When you say Carnival, the world is looking for Carnival like Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados – all these things – looking to come to Tobago for Carnival.”

But she said despite the odds, the fraternity is ready.

“Mas don’t wait. Bands have started to make their costumes. We have started long before the date was announced.

“I have been getting calls from bands from Trinidad. Tobago bands are starting to affiliate with bands from Trinidad to take part. We are ready and gearing up for this October Carnival.”

Workshops for bandleaders, she said, begin this coming weekend, and she has submitted a proposal which has been approved, and Trinidad-based experts were coming to help.

“I have people like Big Mike Antoine, Tribe coming to show them (how) to design and make their mas. So that is the first step for Tobago Carnival.”

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