DID YOU KNOW?

September 29, 2006

That Alfonso Ribeiro a.k.a. Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Belair is the great Roaring Lion‘s grandson? I just found that out so I thought I’d share it with you. I think that’s pretty cool.

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Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks that there’s a resistance brewing in Trinidad for Carnival 2007 . I’ve made it home to Trinidad for Carnival almost every year since I moved to the U.S. The only years that I had to stay put were the three years I spent in college – even grad school, which was 10x more difficult than college, couldn’t keep me from making the trip.

As a Trini living abroad, traveling to Trinidad for Carnival is always somewhat expensive because of the plane ticket I have to buy on top of my costume. Still, it’s never been so prohibitively expensive that I had to seriously consider snubbing Carnival for a year.

But this year, like some kind of I-didn’t-know-it-was-coming slap in the face, something very ugly emerged from TRIBE and Island People’s pre-Carnival registration process – discrimination! TRIBE and Island People are two all-inclusive Carnival bands in Trinidad. It’s a relatively new concept to Carnival. Prior to TRIBE’s launch in 2005, all-inclusive was a term only associated with the sections of a band. TRIBE saw an opportunity to cater to these ‘all-inclusive’ masqueraders and took it. By 2006, they had mastered the art of providing an all-inclusive experience to their masqueraders and had distinguished themselves as not just another Carnival band, but a Carnival band with a massive marketing muscle and a dedicated band of followers who were willing to part with any amount of cash in order to be a part of that experience.

That same year, Island People Mas entered the all-inclusive market. Notice that I use the terms all-inclusive and market to describe the environment in which TRIBE and Island People compete. I do so because I view them as corporations, business enterprises that exist with one goal in mind – PROFIT! They compete with each other because like Pepsi and Coca Cola, they’re going after the same group of consumers. However, as I type this, I realize that there’s one essential difference (besides the fact that we’re comparing carbonated beverages to mas) between Pepsi vs. Coca Cola and TRIBE vs. Island People – competition between Pepsi and Coke causes the price of their products to go down, or at least keeps it relatively low, while competition between TRIBE and Island People seems to cause the prices of their costumes to increase substantially each year. (Have you seen how expensive their 2007 costumes are?) Oh, what a pity! If only the rules of free-market competition applied here too.

As expected, price has been the predominant reason for concern among Carnival-loving Trinidadians, Trinis living abroad and tourists, especially for the tourists who have to think about air fare IN ADDITION TO costume prices. There have been a lot of bad vibes surrounding Island People lately because they’ve taken the crisis to an even higher level by requesting that masqueraders residing abroad pay for their costumes in full – no down payment, no ma’am! Obviously, the management of Island Peole is more concerned with their bottom line than with developing loyalty among their customers. Maybe somebody on their team should have taken a business or a marketing course. They would have learned that you always, always put your customer first. Treat them right and profits will come.

A woman and man in New Jersey who had had enough decided to write letters to the Island People team and the press highlighting their disgust with the entire situation. These letters have been circulating around the Internet and have caused whispers to turn to shouts. A revolution is happening – and me, well since I’m a big fan of revolutions(!) I’ve decided to shout share those letters with you. If you have the stamina, read them and let me know what you think.

LETTER #1

September 27, 2006

Island People Mas Camp
#11 Stone Street
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad

To Whom It May Concern:

Dear Island People:

For the past couple of weeks there have been numerous amounts of questions and speculations about your organization and treatment towards your loyal and new masqueraders who would like to play with you Carnival 2007. It has been said that your customer service thus far has been horrible and disrespectful; and one can only imagine if we are being treated like this now, what should we expect come Carnival Monday and Tuesday?

Is your organization going to treat us to a wonderful and unforgettable on “de” road experience or are we to expect the abuse that was thrown to my friends, to their faces, lining up to register at your Mas Camp. And I quote, “Island People is not begging anybody to play with them, and you free to go elsewhere if you not happy with our service.” Secretly we know some mas makers may think this way, but it should not be blatantly thrown in our faces. And why does an overseas masquerader have to pay full price? An explanation would help as to why such a drastic measure is in place. Could you not have suggested half down? After your hiccups for Carnival 2006 could we trust IP to deliver our goods? If we can forgive you for your inaugural year why is your organization treating us like this?

We are not stray dogs looking for food. We are Trinidadians, along with every other Caribbean Islander and people across the world. Is this how you want to represent our culture, and our heritage?

To really understand the impact of how your customer service is affecting everyone, visit some of the blogs that are circulating on the web. This is an excerpt from a heavily frequently visited blog. “Every Mas maker thinks that way: “We not begging anyone to play in our band.” Let’s be REAL this morning please! They put out a band, you like what they offering, pay your money and join them. I have no problem with that mentality, its business after all. BUT!! And this is the KEY difference: It seems EVERY OTHER Mas maker except Island People has grasped the concept of treating their potential and confirmed masqueraders with some respect. i.e. you don’t have to play with us, we not begging, but you are after all the ones with the buying power so here, and we would be happy to have you, so: take an up to speed website, here’s an email with all you need to know, enjoy the airconditioned room while you wait to register, you thirsty? No, problem, help yourself to water and gatorade while you wait, and for all our overseas masqueraders, we’ve hooked y’all up with a payment system to help the process along. That! My darling is how you do business!” (Anonymous)

It’s easy for your committee to ignore and dismiss these blogs and not be concerned. But this blog has had 24,467 hits to date from all over the world, and people are reading and taking note. Through this blog and other online chat forums people are expressing their disgust, anger, and frustration with regards to your organization. And these are people who are registered with you, and or thinking about registering. Negative remarks can influence and open the minds if not all, but the majority of the people that support or are thinking about supporting Island People.

Your lack of communication to your masqueraders thus far has been cryptic.

Here’s some advice; “If you want to muzzle people like me and everyone else that are criticizing you, there’s something call damage control. Take out a press and media release, addressing the situation and assuring everyone that Island People have made changes to their organization and customer service and promise that come Carnival Monday and Tuesday 2007 THERE’S NO WHERE ELSE YOU RATHER BE, BUT WITH IP!”

I hope you do take this letter into consideration and make changes.

Respect!

Thank you,

AHRoberts
Angelina Haylee Roberts
New Jersey

CC: Alan Green
Editor
Trinidad Express
35 Independence Square
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

Natalie Williams
Head of TV News
Trinidad Express
35 Independence Square
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

Dominic Kalipersad
Editor-in-Chief
The Trinidad guardian
22-24 St. Vincent Street
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

Peter Ray Blood
Associate Editor, Features
The Trinidad guardian
22-24 St. Vincent Street
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

Daily News Ltd.
23 A Chacon St
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

Mr. Terry Joseph
Public Relations Officer
NCC
Queens Park Savannah
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

David Cameron
Public Relations Officer
Queen’s Park Savannah
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

Ms. Candace Ali
Communications Coordinator
Tourism Development Company
Level 1, Maritime Centre
Barataria
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

Mr. Donald Little
Chairman
NCDF
143 Belmont Circular Road
Belmont,
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

Ms. Sherma Mitchell
Communications Specialist
Ministry of Tourism
Clarence House
125-127 Duke Street
POS, Trinidad
W.I.

LETTER #2

From: Donald R.
New Jersey
18th September 2006
To whom this may concern: Media, Bands, etc
Hello, I am writing this in hopes that this problem surrounding our
Carnival bands in Trinidad can be solved.
First and foremost let me start off by saying that these new bands
emerging out of Trinbago need to be exposed on the basis of their:
ridiculous prices, segregation of classes, and unaccomodating nature.
Two bands in mind, the top two among young individuals, Tribe and
Islandpeople, have both been leaving a negative taste for many locals and
nonlocals. Their price of admission is ridiculous, often leaving the
working class people of Trinidad unable to participate in their band.
Who next to follow this trend? Pulse 8, Legacy, Trini Revellers? Mc
Farlane?
They have set a bar where elite individuals are the only participants.
Many of these bands do not care about the artform, the history and
beauty of our sacred festival, to them it is all about the money generated
out of producing a band. Once bandleaders’ main focus become fixated on the
revenue generated by bringing out a band, opposed to developing and being a
part of the culture, it takes away from the festival and the rustic charm
people love about Carnival.
Mas is becoming too expensive, a trip to Trinidad for carnival as a
whole is becoming to expensive. Many tourists come to our island to
celebrate and have the time of their life, but if bands in TNT continue to
follow this trend of over priced mas, it is going to turn people away from
coming to our island, which will hurt our tourism. The fact is, Trinidad
doesn’t rely solely on tourism to build up its economy, however, Carnival
does bring in a lot of people into the island, exposing them to a piece of
Trini culture.
Many people abroad have opted to skip out on this year’s carnival due to
it being too expensive. Airfare to come to Trinidad for Carnival isn’t
cheap, nor is lodging for those who don’t have family to stay by in
Trinidad. Many of these bands, such as Islandpeople have a hand in the
party market for Carnival.
Fete prices doubled from 2005 to 2006, and created a major dent in
people’s pockets.
This all leaves a bad taste for individuals who have their heart set out
on coming to TnT. When people come to TnT for Carnival, they want to
experience all, and have a ball, but how can one do that if the prices
increase drastically. Yes, cost of living is going up and the value of a
dollar is not what it used to be in previous years, but increasing the
prices for mas and fetes by 40% from one year to the next is ridiculous.
We already have people from Barbados coming to Trinidad passing out
flyers, letting the public know to come to Barbados in the summer for Crop
Over, and they are also all over NY, Toronto, Miami, London doing their
CROP OVER DRIVE with proper staff and adequate flyers and teaser items to
give away and simultaneous proper ads also being aired on various
stations internationally, not the very stale, tasteless ads that T&T shows
sporadically. I am ashamed to see a T&T ad on tv here in the US as
compared to a Barbados or Jamaica ad.
If this problem of overpricing in Trinidad doesn’t cease and desist,
many of our regular visitors will opt not to come to Trinidad and go to
other places like Barbados because it’s less expensive, and you get almost
the same experience, if not better.
Also, the band Islandpeople needs some media attention. They have
lauched their band, opened registration, and left overseas masqueraders in
the cold. Many people want to play with Islandpeople and were basically
left hopeless. They have made no communication to patrons who were
inquiring about overseas registration, they don’t respond to emails, and
they have announced and opened up registration the same day, not
communicating with their overseas prospects at all.
They are not very accomodating to overseas mas players because, they
want overseas players to pay in full at registration, knowing that a lot of
people are on a fixed income, and cannot afford to pay for their costume
all at once. Many people are very upset at the way 2007 is panning out and
it is time for the NCBA, and TIDCO to intervene with some of these mas
bands.
Here are a few thoughts about how people feel regarding carnival 2007,
and the bands for 2007.

CARNIVAL, COSTUMES AND CALYPSO

September 26, 2006

Back in the day, calypso and Carnival went hand in hand. There was mas and there was calypso. People crowded into popular calypso tents like the Kaiso House and Calypso review to see talented calypsonians like Roaring Lion and Lord Kitchener perform their songs.

But like ole time mas, ole time calypso is slowly becoming a thing of the past, a lost icon. That’s not to say that calypso tents and ole time calypsonians no longer exist…they’ve just become rarer and harder to find, like vinyl records and floppy disks. Luckily, hope thrives in odd places.

On Carnival Friday, many schools – primary and secondary – host Carnival parades that typically include some competitive calypso element. I remember being a back up singer for one of my friends in primary school who was preparing to compete in one our school’s infamous calypso sing-offs. It was a huge deal, with costumes, lots of make-up and microphones!

The story would usually go like this. After Christmas vacation, one of our English assignments would be to write a calypso. It had to have a chorus and four verses (how I remember all this, I have no idea.) Oh yeah, and it had to rhyme. It was a fun homework project for me because 1) writing a funny song didn’t really seem like homework and 2) I was really into rhyming at the time. If I was at home right now, I’d look through my old stack of copybooks to find one of my classic calypso compositions to share with you, but since I’m not in Trini, I’m going to take a guess that most of our songs probably went something like this:

VERSE 1
Everybody loves Carnival in dis country
Because we in T&T really like to party
Jumping in de road on Carnival Tuesday
Is de best time of year to break away

CHORUS
Jump, jump, jump
And play yourself today
Carnival is the time
to break away
(repeat)

And after everybody submitted their songs, the teacher would return them to us graded and pick the best ones and maybe stick ‘the chosen ones’ up on the wall somewhere in the room. — Displaying the best work and making the ‘bright’ children in the class feel more special and the not so smart ones feel more inadequate was big back then — Then she’d ask you to raise your hand if you wanted to sing any of the chosen songs at the Carnival Calypso Competition. Unfortunately, that move presented yet another opportunity for discrimination – if you didn’t get chosen to be a back up singer, then you knew something was wrong.

But I’m straying from my point, as usual. You must be wondering if there even is a point this story. Don’t worry- there is. And, here it comes…

The point I’m trying to make is that primary schools seem to be one of the few places where the art of ole time calypso is being kept alive – in an innocent and naive sort of way. I love soca with a passion (yes I like to wine and jook like the best of them) but I also appreciate history. I’m already at an age where I feel ancient sometimes. It may have more to do with the fact that I have a 19 year old sister, but the feeling is still relevant. I sit and talk with my friends about ‘the way things used to be’ like I’ve been around for ages. I still think of myself as a young person, but I’m old enough to have witnessed a sharp transition in mas making – in the last half decade, producing a band/carnival presentation has moved away from artform and evolved into a hardcore business. I don’t have a problem with that, it’s just part of the observations that I’ve made as I’ve grown older.

What can we do to keep that from happening to ole time calypso?

I thought I was alone in this fight but I was wrong. I was excited because I was certain that I would be bringing something new and needed to T&T with Trinidad Junction. But today, the bubble burst. Read on, I’ll tell you why in a few sentences.

The idea for Trinidad Junction grew out of something deeply personal and has now evolved into a movement that many can relate to and want to be a part of.  Although I designed and developed the website on my own, I’ve felt a growing need to involve more and more people. Part of this need has come out of necessity – I have a job that takes up most of my day, so time is a scarce resource – but the other part of it comes from my desire to work with others, bounce ideas between a group of like-minded individuals and work with supremely talented people towards something positive, a common goal. But I digress…

I called my mother this evening to ask for advice (she’s good with that…most mothers are I guess) and was stunned when she mentioned a recent article in the Express that featured a website with a similar mission. It’s called Caribbean Arts Village and is run by a girl I used to dance with. For a second I was bummed out. I thought, “All that work for nothing…I just wasted a whole lot of time and energy developing an idea that I thought was unique and now I find out I have a twin who I never knew about. Plus on top of all that, my twin lives in Trinidad and I’m here in NY. It’s all over!”

But all of a sudden, I snapped out of it almost as quickly as I fell into my temporary depression. Why? Well, business school has left an analytical imprint on my psyche so I immediately began to rationalize, trying to put a positive spin on the situation. Having competition is a good thing. Right?! Of course it is! It’ll only make the girls and I (oh yeah, I have girls now!) work harder and in the end, the finished product will be totally awesome! — well, at least I hope that’s the case.

If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for sticking with it. If I was with TRIBE, I’d give you a TLC (that’s a TRIBE Loyalty Card for those of you who aren’t tuned into the Trinidad Carnival Madness) but since I don’t why don’t you send me an email at nikkia@trinidadjunction or comment here and introduce yourselves. I’d like to thank you personally for your ongoing support.

cafepresslogo1.gifIt’s that time again folks. Carnival Junction.com is back in action and ready for all you CARNIVAL HUNGRY, I-HAVE-TO-HAVE-MY-COSTUME-NOW masqueraders – both at home and abroad.

Now I know that this year in particular, early registration coupled with the enormous costume price hikes being doled out by today’s two hottest bands, TRIBE and Island People have been getting some people down. But people seem to be forgetting that TRIBE and IP are not the only two bands out there. Yes, I know that the costumes are hot and that they’re the only two bands out there right now that are all-inclusive through and through, but that shouldn’t mean that people should be freaking out over the ridiculously high prices like they have other options.

Now imagine you are in the market to buy a new car. You really really want a BMW or a Lexus. It’s been your dream since you learned to drive and your parents let you take the family Lexus for a quick trip around the block. But you’re fresh out of college and haven’t been working long enough to have amassed significant savings. You’re ketching your tail just finding enough money to pay for your cellphone bill at the end of the month, so buying that BMW or Lexus is out of the question. What do you do? Do you rob a bank because you won’t settle for anything else? Or, do you reassess your priorities and start looking for something that’s in your price range, decent looking and can get you from point A to point B?

How many of us would choose the fancy car? I’d guess a lot. For some reason, most of us will do anything it takes to get only certain things in life. When I drive through poorer neighborhoods in NYC, I’m always amazed to see the kinds of cars that are parked on the street. In a rap battle, you’re more of a target if your car is busted. No one cares if you’re poor. My point? Well, I guess that’s what Carnival is morphing into to these days – some kind of popularity contest. You may be broke all the time, but nothing will stop you from finding the money to pay for a TT$3000 costume. Because, come hell or high water, you will not be caught dead in Trini Revellers!

I feel your pain, trust me. I’m one of those people (although, I’d like to think that I’m more of a die hard Carnival lover than anything else).

One month before Carnival 2006, I still had no idea if I was going to make it. I didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket home AND a costume but I knew that I had to make it home. I started Carnival Junction to help out a little bit. People living outside Trinidad, who were forced to buy costumes in August because of early registrations, etc. flocked to the site to try and sell them at the last minute. And people like me, who found out that they could make it to Trinidad at the last minute went to the site and got connected with those sellers. (Oh yeah, and thanks for buying my ticket and costume for my birthday, mummy!)

So now that TRIBE and IP already have sold out sections, Carnival Junction is saying hello again.

jewelbig.jpgIsland People in de AIR! Island People in de AIR! Islandpeoplemas.com is finally up and running. I get to see my costume from every angle – finally – and let me say … I AM PLEASED! In fact, I’m impressed with ALL of the costumes and I cannot wait for Trinidad Carnival 2007. So what section am I playing in? Well, check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

 

Can you tell that I’m excited?

According to an article on IslandEvents.com, Trinidad and Tobago will soon be hosting its first Film Festival sometime in the coming months. The article doesn’t mention exactly when the festival is to take place, but it suggests that one of its aims is to “deepen the appreciation for Caribbean cinema.” My reaction??? It’s about damn time!!!

I have grown to love documentaries and independent films because in my opinion, they tend to do more justice to the art of film-making than your average franchise movie. Maybe not in Trinidad yet, where most, if not all movies made are considered “independent”. But that at least seems to be the case in Hollywood. Still, I’d take in an indie flick over a blockbuster any day of the week.

Going to movies in New York can be prohibitively expensive if you’re not making big $$ so over the last couple years my bf and I have become Netflix junkies. My recently watched flicks include Boys of Barraca and Cache, two fantastic must-sees that will be sure to make you think.

My hope for this Film Festival is that the quality of the films showcased reflects a true dedication to the artform not some contrived attempt at mimicking an obscure Hollywood formula. Nevertheless, I encourage people to support. Go out and see what local film-makers have to offer and report back since I won’t have the opportunity to take part.