The Merry Monarch is expected to reign on the streets and entertainment arenas of T&T once again come January and February 2023. Fuelled by the pent-up energy and anticipation coming off of the pandemic which constrained festivities for the past two years, Carnival 2023 or C2K23 is expected to be a mega one. Leading the charge in declaring the 2023 festival “The Mother of All Carnivals” is the governing body for Carnival the National Carnival Commission (NCC).
The organisation scheduled the 2023 Carnival Launch for November 5, 2022. at the Grand Stand, Queen's Park Savannah at 5 pm after postponing it from its initial date of Republic Day last month due to competing Golden Jubilee Independence celebrations. A J'Ouvert Experience, a Mega Concert, a Pan Jam Zone, a Rum and Wine Street, a Kiddie Zone and an Art and Craft Village feature on the lineup of the events planned.
Asked last week to expand on the nature of the advertised events for the launch and on any other special features which may have been added to make Carnival 2023 stand out, the NCC's Communications Officer Kyle Pilgrim said the organisation would hold a board meeting on October 26 after which such information would be given. Up to October 27, no information was forthcoming.
Meanwhile, having launched portrayals “Awakened Treasure” and “202WE” respectively, bands like Yuma and 2020 second runner-up for Band of the Year The Lost Tribe are already indicating that costumes for many of their sections have been sold out. 2020 Band of the Year Kinetic Mas are gearing up to “Exhale” on Carnival Monday and transform into “Cyber Nation” on Carnival Tuesday, while popular medium band K2K Alliance and Partners will showcase “World Wars–In the time of Salomé”, lessons on the physical, emotional and psychological aspects of war when the greatest roadshow on the planet kicks off in a few months.
“Utopia” is part of Ronnie and Caro's “This is Paradise”.
Photos courtesy Ronnie and Caro
Sunday Guardian asked soca veteran and masmaker Ronnie McIntosh of big band Ronnie and Caro– 2020 Band of the Year first runner-up–what the atmosphere in the lead-up to C2K23 has been like for the band thus far. He was at his Corner Ana and Warren Street, Woodbrook mas camp ensuring that costumes for his clients were packed and ready to be sent to Tobago for the island's first-ever Carnival this weekend. He said starting with Tobago mas, the atmosphere was abuzz as people were excited and planning on showing up to C2K23 in full force.
“I could safely say from our end, the excitement, the energy and the interest are definitely there,” he said.
He said his foreign and foreign-based clients were steadily registering for their costumes as they were usually the first ones to do so as they had to give themselves enough time to plan their entire trip to T&T for Carnival. He added that whether local or foreign, real masqueraders “didn't play” when it came to booking their spots in the band.
Apart from masqueraders for T&T Carnival, his band outfits and services masqueraders at festivals in various parts of the Caribbean.
“All our foreign Carnival clients are back on. The Bahamas is back on, St Croix is definitely back on–early January. St Maarten is back on, St Thomas is back on. Everybody's on,” he informed.
However, McIntosh was not so sure how the NCC organisers would capitalise on the anticipation of the people in the wake of the COVID squeeze on events, to make the 2023 experience unique.
He said the independent promoters and stakeholders were the ones who usually were left to innovate and put a new spin on Carnival.
“The governing body has not introduced anything new for the last how much years. What are they going to do to make this the 'Mother of All Carnivals'? Are independent promoters bringing different things to the Carnival calendar? A li'l J'Ouvert here, cooler parties there; different things have been popping up. I anxiously await to see what new functions, what new ventures the governing body is going to bring to the Carnival calendar,” he said.
For Ronnie and Caro's “This is Paradise” 2023 presentation, they again have created 12 sections and this time, the band has formed an alliance with debuting band Dream by Shastra Maharaj to share resources like shuttle services and sponsors. Dream aims to provide a space for people from South and Central who wish to play mas in Port-of-Spain and it also intends to cater to the Venezuelan market.
McIntosh said Ronnie and Caro would help introduce the new band to the public and “chaperone” them on the road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
McIntosh has been involved in local culture since age seven and a bandleader, alongside his wife, Caroline, since 2008. They dominated the medium category and later moved to the large band category where they have captured the Band of the Year title on three occasions.
For Tobago celebrations this weekend, Ronnie and Caro produced 200 costumes for three sections for “A Tribute to Blaxx” by Tobago band Jade Monkey Mas. McIntosh felt that judging from the Tobago experience in the pandemic's aftermath, some quick solutions would have to be found to make the C2K23 mega event a success.
“Because it's difficult to get a flight. It's difficult to get a hotel room or a guest house or an annex. It's difficult to get a rental car at this point because due to the pandemic a lot of the rental car companies had to sell a percentage of their fleet to stay alive. Now that Carnival is back on and the interest is there for rentals, I guess the rental car companies will have to find the funding to purchase new vehicles. But there's no rental car available, no hotel available (at present), there are no flights available. But the energy is definitely there.
“Tobago Carnival is the first-ever and right now it's shaping up to be a bumper one in terms of the costuming, the street parade, even the J'Ouvert. A high percentage of the people coming in are foreigners, well, foreign-based masqueraders and Trinis, of course,” he said.
He suggested that all stakeholders work in tandem to coordinate any Carnival T&T hosts.
“I felt that Caribbean Airlines and even the ferry, they made it too difficult for people to get across. Caribbean Airlines started putting on flight late which affected the costume sales. An individual cannot purchase a costume before they get a confirmed ticket, it's going to have a last-minute rush for costumes because people just got their flights,” he said.
Pointing out that for Easter getting accommodation in the sister isle was already difficult, he said for a massive event like Carnival it would be much worse. Thus, proper planning for these events is crucial.
Caribbean Airlines bumped their flights up by five per day one week before Tobago Carnival.
“It's all connected. Carnival takes planning, we can't just get up two weeks before and say let's go make 500 costumes, so they can't wait 'til the week before to say, look, we put on two flights,” he said.
McIntosh said the planners should do all they could for such events since it was about building the economy, and he was always willing to give suggestions. He recalled that he had spoken to the media on the issue of having direct flights to Tobago for the island's inaugural Carnival outside the regular season mainly held in Trinidad.
“Do not bring people from New York to Port-of-Spain, then to put them in Piarco, then put them on standby to bring them Tobago. Put some charter flights on so it could have direct access–Toronto/Tobago, JFK/Tobago, Miami/Tobago. But you still bringing people to Piarco and them women coming with their three, four suitcases. Them four suitcases now, can't fit on the small plane,” he said.
He said there should also be easy access from Trinidad to Tobago on a permanent basis.
“It's supposed to be like Port-of-Spain to San Fernando. If you get up a morning and you feel to take a li'l sea bath in Store Bay or Pigeon Point, you should be able to get a ticket, spend the day at Pigeon Point and walk back to the airport and come home,” he said.
“Jewel” is one of the sections in Yuma's “Awakened Treasure” for C2K23.
Yuma: We are catering for a lot of newbies
Tanya Gomes who co-directs Yuma along with Sean Burkett said that nine out of the band's 13 sections had been sold out. She said the band fully agreed that 2023 would see “the Mother of all Carnivals”.
“We have a lot of newbies who we’re catering for. We feel energised and excited over the local and international response. Our band size has increased, and we are fully equipped to give our masqueraders the best experience on the road,” she said. To enhance the 2023 experience for its typical 4,500 masqueraders, she said the band has added a costume delivery service option for those who are unable to make it to Yuma's distribution centre.
“It is an efficient and convenient way of collecting costumes, and we believe this feature will eliminate a lot of congestion.”
Yuma is also planning a special design for Carnival Monday by Marie Collette who has been designing with the band for over five years and whom many consider to be the pioneer of Monday wear that differs from a band's Tuesday costume.
Known for their in vogue designs and appeal to the young and vibrant, Gomes described Yuma as “the embodiment of Carnival 2023–whether it is building the momentum, living vicariously through past moments or creating and sustaining the excitement YUMA is the Vibe!” she said.
Visit Ronnie and Caro the Mas Band @http://www.ronnieandcaro.com
Visit Yuma @http://www.yumavibe.com
“Mint” from “Awakened Treasure” by Yuma.
Photos courtesy Yuma