Carnival musings with Alwin Bully
Would changing the Carnival date generate more visitors and revenue for the long-term benefit of Dominica?
To get an informed opinion, we asked Dr. Alwin Bully, Dominica's first Chief Cultural Officer.
Bully is fully aware that changing the Carnival date has not been a popular idea over the years, yet he thinks it should be explored with due care and attention.
In his view, the Dominica Festivals Committee (DFC) should keep this option open for an experiment. "My position is to do a trial… this would have been a good year to do a trial," he said.
Giving his rationale for a date change, Bully noted that Dominica's Carnival date clashes with the carnivals of Trinidad, New Orleans, Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
As such, changing the date raises the possibility of getting more visitors, especially if the new date is aligned with school holidays, which would allow children of the Diaspora to participate.
"Our main clientele . . . are Dominican residents in foreign lands… Diaspora people who are able to get away at that time of the year because that's pretty early in the year. . ."
"Most people can't get leave so a lot of the people who come are retired people. Most people can get leave in the summer time and their children can travel with them," Bully pointed out.
A new date would also allow local musicians to participate in the Trinidad Carnival where there are talent scouts, he said, and musicians would also be able to promote their music further afield.
He noted that Dominica has performers with world-class talent like 'Dice', yet this outstanding local calypsonian is practically unknown.
Bully also contended that many of Dominica's 'Bouyon' artistes are committed to the local carnival and changing the date would allow them to seek vital international exposure at other carnivals.
Explaining the importance of promotion, Bully noted that artistes in other Caribbean islands are incorporating Dominica's Bouyon rhythm in their music, but they do not call it Bouyon.
Bully believes Dominica would be inundated with visitors if the Carnival is moved to a more opportune date, which would positively impact the food and hotel industries.
He alluded to multiple spin-off benefits from this projected surge in visitors, like greater income from visitors' spending and more tax revenue.
Nevertheless, many traditionalists and some members of the Diaspora strongly oppose changing the Carnival date, he remarked.
Apart from the date-change issue, Bully has other concerns about Carnival.
He commented that there has been a growing decentralization of Carnival as more rural communities are holding separate carnivals.
"This has been depleting the strength of the Roseau carnival," Bully said, adding that Carnival was bigger and costumes were more spectacular when it was centralized.
Nowadays villagers come to Roseau for the opening parade and sometimes for Carnival Monday, then return to attend community carnivals, he observed.
Such carnivals generate income for the communities, Bully said, but the downside is that the central Roseau carnival has lost its impact, especially in terms of traditional aspects.
And sponsors now have to spread their disbursements more widely, Bully noted, thereby reducing funding for the main event.
While Bully supports community carnivals, he recommends that they should be held on weekends leading up to the date of the central Carnival.
That way, villagers can participate in the Roseau carnival and residents of Roseau and other areas can attend the community carnivals.
"Carnival has potential to attract new audiences, but we have to be innovative . . . and see where change is necessary, because not all traditional aspects of culture are beneficial," he said.
"There might be certain traditions that need to be changed," Bully said, and poor revenue-generators should be reviewed with a view to changing them or using the same components in different ways.
He noted that the DFC, of which he is a member, has an uphill task to develop Carnival with limited budgetary allocations, which has curtailed new developments over the last few years.
Bully recalled that the Opening Parade was introduced as a Carnival event when he was Chief Cultural Officer.
"My argument all along with Carnival was . . . if we want to make it a truly income-generating event, then some drastic changes have to be made…." Bully said.
Pointing out that there is a great demand for 'Soca' artistes, he suggested that local 'Soca' singers should form an association to get more meaningful representation.
Bully also recommended holding workshops, sensitization programmes and training sessions on different aspects of Carnival, including in the building of costumes.
He cited the urgent need for a permanent site with appropriate facilities for building and storing costumes and other Carnival paraphernalia.
Bully stressed the need to keep rich Carnival traditions alive, such as 'Bann Move' and 'sensay' by teaching them to children. T o him, it is also essential to do general sensitization and promotion of Carnival all year, possibly via magazines, documentaries and other means.
Bully also advocated a more focused programme of Carnival activities, but acknowledged that it would be costly.
Since sponsors are usually beleaguered by late requests for sponsorship, he suggests approaching them early in the year so they can consider Carnival for annual budgets and promotions.
Bully called for greater synergy among various sectors involved in Carnival, particularly in terms of organising and funding costume bands and preparing the ports and the city for Carnival activities.
Bully is also concerned about the lack of formal feedback after Carnival because, to him, over the years the turnout at meetings to get feedback has been too low to yield meaningful results.