By TONY GRANT JR
THE decorated complaints continue to parade on in our papers and on our radio stations concerning Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival.
“It will ruin our culture!”
“It’s a slap in the face to our culture!”
“We are mimicking other cultures!”
“Culture this, culture that; it makes me think to myself, ‘Why does our culture seem like it is under siege by the Carnival invasion?‘”
If we study Junkanoo, our largest cultural expression, it makes you question its reach and strength. We have two major Junkanoo parades a year, one week between the two with hard to recognise differences by foreign (and some local) spectators. Having two Junkanoo parades serves the unconscious and political purpose of giving one of the two favourite groups a shot at vindication if they were unsuccessful in winning the first parade on Boxing Day morning. After a year of preparation, it is very possible for either the Valley Boys or the Saxons to come fourth in the first parade, and then admirably win the second parade a week later by a landslide.
It makes you wonder, “what in the world did they change in a week?”
Theme and crowd reaction in anticipation of the big group and unfair judging all makes this possible, but that opinion comes from my subjective mind, and that’s neither here nor there; or is it?
How can a culture be annihilated by a festival like Carnival? Culture can’t be destroyed unless those that live the culture are destroyed or abandon the culture. So what is happening here, and why are many Bahamians either ‘Team Junkanoo’ or ‘Team Carnival’? There has been a failure to develop and evolve Junkanoo into a profitable experience that the world takes note of, and the possibility that Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival can bring in a bang of revenue while capturing the attention of thrill seekers and party animals worldwide exists.
Junkanoo has yet to produce such results, and that may create distaste with some avid “Junkanoo-ers”.
Personally, I am not concerned about Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival. Carnivals appeal to many, but only a few keep it going and become the locomotive to encourage a repeat year after year. So far in the Bahamas leading up to Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival, we had Rupee (the artist who hasn’t had a hit in about a decade), headlining a concert amidst the Carnival hype to perform for the “Carnival babies”. Added to that, every soca party around town seems to be a “wet fete”, like every party that blasts soca music is supposed to have a water truck parked outside. It is evident that the understanding of what this carnival is supposed to be and the atmosphere it is supposed to create isn’t clear with many, but it is trendy and fun.
The decision to name the festival “Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival” is also inaccurate. If we examine places where carnivals are held, they all have a few things in common. Those nations are largely and predominantly Catholic. Brazil, which hosts the grandest Carnival, is nearly 65 per cent Roman Catholic. Haiti is 80 per cent Catholic and Trinidad is 21.5 per cent Catholic, all being the largest religious expressions in their respective countries. The Bahamas is predominantly Protestant, it has no state religion.
Also, Carnival is a time of year in these places, not only a festival. It is a season of celebration that always takes place just before Lent and it is concluded by Ash Wednesday (which is the beginning of Lent). Other countries may celebrate Carnival in November, but it still ties into religion. Countries such as Barbados are predominantly Anglican, but they do have a celebration that resembles their neighbour’s (Trinidad and Tobago) Carnival celebrations. However, Barbados calls this time “Crop Over”, and it was historically recognised for being the time of year that ended their sugar cane harvesting. Toronto calls its celebrations in late July “Caribana”. Any country calling any sort of celebration a “Carnival” that is not just before Lent is inaccurate. We are no different in the Bahamas. Naming this festive time “Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival” is not only insulting to Junkanoo, but I feel it is insulting to Carnival as well. Obviously, our celebrations are just there for people to gyrate on the opposite sex, get drunk and be on our “worst behaviour”.
Furthermore, in the most obese nation in the Caribbean, I don’t know if we really want to see people wearing strings on our busy streets of New Providence, but I digress.
It seems like the money Carnivals make all around the world from visitors has appealed to our government. They should know that we don’t do Carnival best or naturally. We do Junkanoo best and naturally. So why haven’t we taken what we do best, and tried to turn it into something that can, not only be profitable via the support of Bahamians, but a major revenue boost by visitors, bringing new money into the country?
Why hasn’t Junkanoo made “cents”, that would in turn make dollars and “sense”? Why are the top seven bleachers in Rawson Square darn-near clear by 4am on New Year’s Day morning? Why do we repeat Boxing Day on New Year’s Day with different themes? Why don’t we make money from our largest cultural expression?
I can’t answer those questions best, but I know I can give an idea for free. During my stint at Guardian Radio as host of “Coffee Break,” I suggested that Junkanoo needs to be participatory and interactive. This includes lifting the rules on costumes (allowing the production of costumes to be cheaper), allowing the public to buy costumes, and allowing Bahamians and visitors to buy spots in a Junkanoo group to rush, whether they can play an instrument, dance, or just look as stupid as they want to look (which I will do) while having an amazing experience that will never be forgotten.
To delve a little deeper into that idea, here is my honest suggestion. I would create a week of events just for Junkanoo, where we can come together and celebrate our culture. You will only make people proud of their culture if they can show it off, so the week of events will be about putting our culture on display to the world. This would be my idea to evolve Junkanoo and make it more than a parade, but make it a festive and cultural experience.
Day 1 (Dec 26, 2 am)
Boxing Day should be the kickoff for Junkanoo. This will be the standard Junkanoo Parade. Groups compete their hearts out to take the title. By now people are pumped and excited to see what the bands have to offer after almost a year of preparation. This is where we see the hard work and dedication by all Junkanoo bands in a winner takes all parade. Junkanoo being the largest cultural expression in our country should be highlighted as a one of a kind experience that nobody would want to miss. Having this one parade of competition would also eliminate the failure to fill in bleachers at the top of Rawson Square, on the western end of the route on Bay Street, and on Shirley Street. People would want to witness the competition, knowing they won’t be able to experience another until the following year. Also, we can expect 100 per cent from all groups, putting forth their best knowing that they have no do-overs.
Day 2 (Dec 27, 2pm until)
This should be somewhat of a recovery day, but a day consistent with the festive theme of this cultural season for our country. A food and rum festival on the evening of the 27th should be the highlight of this day. It should feature real delicacies of our islands such as “11 crab dishes” from Andros, or “pickled conch and lobster salads” from Grand Bahama, or “everything pineapple” from Eleuthera, etc. Added to this, in the spirit of the pirates that once controlled our seas, we should have rum sampling at this same festival. People should have the option of buying an all-inclusive ticket or buying an entry pass.
Day 3 (Dec 28, 7pm)
This day will be filled with excitement. The competition continues! Junkanoo groups will clash and collide for the first time on one stage to showcase their music in the front of massive crowds. No dancers, no costumes, no choreography: just music! That’s what this night would be labelled: “Just Music!”
Day 4 (Dec 29, 7pm)
A sound clash will be a part of this day. Bahamian artists only come together to see who has the best song for the year. They will compete on one stage to determine who wins. Each artist enters one song, and we have the top 25 artists submit their music. One artist will only be allowed to enter one song. Now I know many artists hate the fact that they would compete against others, but competition improves the quality of the music being created and also it raises the standard of entertainment and how the artist delivers his/her music on stage.
Day 5 (Dec 30, 6pm)
This night will have two parts. This will be the night when the winners of the Boxing Day parade are announced. Also, the winners of the “Just Music!” competition will be crowned. Not only will they be recognised and crowned for their talents in front of a local audience, but they will be able to rub shoulders backstage with international superstars. The question must arise, which international superstars? Who are these superstars and where would they come from? Well, I would also make this night the international night. Artists who are globally renowned for producing great music within their genres should be featured. From the rock sounds of Lenny Kravitz, to the reggae sounds of Beres Hammond, to the down-home flavour of KB; this night is when the stars shine on one stage.
Day 6 (Dec 31st)
This is the rest day! This is the day before the big event, New Year’s Day Junkanoo Parade. Hang out with the family and wait for New Year to hit.
New Year’s Day (Jan 1, 3am)
This would be the grand finale. Not only will every Junkanoo group hit Bay Street and Shirley Street, but anybody who has bought a costume and purchased entry into a group will be there to participate. Keeping with the theme of junkanoo, you don’t eliminate the parade, but you allow everybody to be a part of the parade, and you help generate income for designers that build the complicated costumes. Bahamians and others will be able to indulge in a unifying experience, as we all celebrate a new year together in the streets in peace.
My idea of a perfect Junkanoo season may be different from yours or it may seem far-fetched, but anything that is different from the way we do things now is a step in the right direction. We have practised this unhealthy, repetitive behaviour when it comes to how we celebrate ourselves and build pride in this country. If we are going to align ourselves with the generation that will build and improve things, we have to be open to fresh ideas and solutions and not old gripes and complaints. Your feedback will be appreciated on this and I hope that this will plant seeds to bring forth more fruitful ideas and solutions.
• Tony Grant Jr is a photographer and former talk show host of Coffee Break. Email comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org