Red Cross 2017 Carnival Launch Address

Address by Her Excellency Mrs Reema Carmona at the 61st Anniversary & Media Launch of the Red Cross 2017 Carnival Launch – October 27, 2016

This year’s theme, “One big playground- a magical celebration and parade of music, theatre, pageantry and dance” defines the spectacle and showcase of real ‘Trinbagonian’ culture that awaits us in Trinidad and Tobago’s Red Cross Children’s Carnival 2017. Children’s Carnival, steeped in tradition, continues to portray our Mas in its purest manifestation. Every Children’s Carnival band, every costume tells a story or a tale of a time long gone or a pertinent or impending theme that supports or threatens the fabric of our lives. Some of the bands are even philosophical in their portrayals. As Patron of this good and honourable organization that, among other things, protects traditional Mas, I stand before you proud of the invaluable and indispensable contribution of the Red Cross Committee to the dynamic culture of this great Nation. I speak with authority, when I commend you all for painstakingly engaging this cultural service in real genuine terms, sometimes at great personal sacrifice. The cultural wellbeing of our Children’s Mas is assured by your unstinting service.

It would be remiss of me if I do not welcome the new executive of the Red Cross Carnival Committee and it is to your credit that you have hit the ground running, launching many months before Carnival, a wise strategic move. I note you have brought on board the very successful cultural impresario of Soca Chutney to help boost the stocks of this cultural package, intending obviously to sell it to the world. I do hope and pray that the collaboration raises the bar of the Red Cross Carnival in 2017 and results in both financial success and cultural outreach.

We are in the midst of Calypso History Month and I feel that there is a need to have greater integration of our various art forms and music in the Red Cross Children’s Mas. We need to explore in a proactive way having Tassa Drummers, Rhythm Sections and small Steel bands in children’s Mas so that we imbibe them with some of the defining features of what authentic Carnival is all about. This is what makes our Carnival unique. Only recently, I saw a documentary portraying ‘Tamboo Bamboo’ players accompanying masqueraders. Our cultural ethos is unique and we must not follow fashion, metropole carnivals, if we are to garner the multitudes of tourist that we seek to come to the greatest show on earth.

The genius of our Mas can be found in the creativity and originality of children’s Mas so wonderfully displayed at the Children’s Red Cross Carnival. The Mas is not imported. Its structures, frames, costumes, headpieces and traditional wire bending are the results of communities, schools, parents, teachers, seamstresses and designers huddled together in small rooms, homes and schools, working tirelessly, long days and nights to create a product that they proudly showcase. The story needs to be told over and over. They do not get subventions. They pool together their small resources, some generating income through raffles, cake sales, bazaars and even walks-a-tons. There is genuine bonding with the parents, teachers and children before, during and after the Children’s Carnival and this lends itself to more spirited and united communities. Children’s Mas is community Mas in the main and that remains its magic.

‘The Economics of Mas’, a phrase I coined in January this year at the launch of the 2016 Red Cross Children’s Carnival, regrettably as far as I know , has not been actualised in the way that I was hoping. I feel there is a need for us as a country to take charge of the commanding heights of the ‘Economics of Mas’ by way of our manufacturing sectors. We need to stop importing Mas and start manufacturing Mas in Trinidad and Tobago. For example, we can manufacture the synthetic feathers, beads, headpieces, glitter and costumes. Additionally, we can source feathers from the vibrant poultry industry (ducks, chickens and turkey feathers) and with the appropriate technology and benchmark hygienic, standards can produce a user friendly product, meeting all the quarantine requirements necessary for sale throughout the Caribbean and the world. We can collaborate with international brands and create indigenous, customized type footwear of all shapes, sizes and designs for Carnival. I will go even further and suggest that we have the talent to create our very own designs without international partnering. We need to believe in ourselves because we can take on the world successfully when it comes to Carnival and Mas. We have a history of Mas and Carnival so we have an inbuilt capacity and competence to create a unique kind of Mas, that can indigenously use local materials, products and expertise.

There is a growing crisis in the attendance of spectators during the Carnival season and during Carnival itself. We cannot be satisfied as a Committee with the attendance at the Red Cross Children’s Carnival. The decline in the amount of spectators in the Grand Stand and the North Stand is of grave concern and we need to be doing something about it. We all remember the massive crowds of yesteryear at Red Cross Children’s Carnivals. Is something wrong with the product we are selling? Or is it how we are selling the product called Children’s Mas? The lack of attendance cannot be rationalised on the basis that Children’s Mas is being televised. We need to create the kind of interest that encourages the potential spectator to want to see the real deal and we need to be proactive and practical. Financially, a win-win situation may well be, the promotion of Children’s Mas packages involving transport and tickets to the Carnival Stand together with PTSC buses or maxi-taxis, commissioned by the Ministry of Education to bring children from the suburbs, and particularly the rural districts. Children can thus, be safely transported with their parents and teachers, to and from the Red Cross Children’s Mas venues. In this way, we can fill those stands to their capacity. Children from Cedros and Icacos, Point Fortin and Morne Diablo, Toco, Blanchisseuse, Sangre Grande, Charlotteville and Scarborough should be able to experience that wonderful spectacle that is the Red Cross Children’s Carnival. One’s geographical location should not be a bar to enjoying this elixir.

I will even go further because of my firm belief that the Red Cross Children’s Carnival is an excellent product. Maybe the Committee can consider collaborating with travel agencies in Trinidad and Tobago to bring down tourists from Grenada, Barbados, Jamaica and even Tobago to enjoy this one day event through a weekend travel package. In an economy in distress, we cannot depend solely on Government subventions and corporate support as much as we appreciate them and yes, we still need them.

I wish to further suggest that the Red Cross Children’s Band of the Year should be showcased internationally because it is real Mas and the Authorities can consider showcasing the Children’s Band of the Year at international events, international fora and workshops in Trinidad and Tobago, rather than men and women scantily dressed in modern day Carnival pieces which are now a feature of the mundane Carnivals of the world. The Red Cross Children’s Carnival Committee can also raise awareness in our children using Mas as the medium.

As much as we have special categories and special prizes in the context of the size of the band and the age of the Masqueraders, the time has come for all to deal with the impending debacle that awaits Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as a result of climate change. I suggest this year that we have special prizes for bands and individuals portraying those environmental concerns.

The magnificent costumes with myriad colours and phenomenal designs  portrayed by our beautiful children invoke in each and every one of us, a great sense of pride and joy to call Mas ‘We thing.’ As Patron of this noble organisation, I look forward to working with the new executive to develop and push children’s Mas to its greatest heights. You have all embarked on a worthy and noble venture that can only redound to the benefit of our cultural art forms. Children’s Mas is international and can be a greater potent cultural force on the world stage, provided we pursue our mandate with the requisite vigour, passion and strategy.

I thank you.