The greatest carnival on earth is in full swing and will get hotter in the coming weeks leading up the grand finale on February 21.
There was a time when Bajan songs provided major fuel for the Trinidad Carnival fire, and especially so in the mid to late 1990s, when the Bajan invasion was in full effect.
Artistes such as krosfyah, the now defunct Square One, Edwin, Alison Hinds, Blood, Red Plastic Bag, Rupee and Gabby were large in the parties and fetes and enjoyed good rotation on the airwaves.
Those days seem to have long gone. Krosfyah and the like have long stopped taking up residence for upwards of four weeks to maximize on the Carnival spoils.
Several theories have been advanced about the obvious decline of Bajan artistes on the Trinidad Carnival scene, but it appears to be unanimous that it was not a concerted attempt on the part of the Trinidadians to force the Barbadians out.
Local promoter, longest serving chairman of the National Cultural Foundation and a regular face at Trinidad Carnival, Al Gilkes, said one reason for the fall-off could be the time that Bajan music was launched in Trinidad.
He said Bajan music was once launched down south close to the end of the year to coincide with the launch of Carnival. This meant that Bajan calypsos were like the “forerunner” for Carnival until the music from the Trinidad artistes kicked in.
“In more recent years, the Trinidad stations, and whoever else is responsible, have been picking up the calypsos almost simultaneously with Barbados. So that unless you had a calypso that had a long life, when the Carnival season started and then the Trinidad calypsos come out, the Barbadian calypsos gone cold,” Gilkes explained.
Noting the impact Li’l Rick made last year with the remake of Guh Down, and the impact individual artistes had made since the “invasion”, Gilkes said no promoter would put something that is “hot, hot” on the back-burner.
He said, too, that artistes had to realize that the music was a business and if things were to take a turn for the better and there is a return to the glory days, local artistes might want to look at releasing new music late in the year specifically for Carnival.
Veteran DJ Admiral Nelson also weighed in on the issue. He said things got to a stage where promoters could not afford to pay for entire bands, and offered to bring the lead singers. Admiral said the situation was compounded by the fact that Trini and other non-Barbadian bands played Bajan hits and that the local bands were going to Carnival with very little Bajan music in their repertoires.
“And they weren’t bringing extra people to the venue. It was only once or twice that Alison Hinds with Square One could safely say that they would have been responsible for filling venues . . . . Really and truly the only Barbadian artiste to have done that would have been Rupee. Nobody else would have held that magic in Trinidad,” he stated.
Admiral pointed to the individual acts like Li’l Rick, Stabby The Guard, and Biggie Irie, who remains the only non-Trinidadian to win a soca title in that country, who have enjoyed relatively good success at Carnival in recent years.
He said that while the “Bajan Invasion” created a “nice level of interest”, there was no need for any “massive amount of alarm”. Bajans have not been forgotten, he said.
Admiral said the Bajan element was still very much there, even though it may appear to be hidden. He pointed out that there were a number of Bajan musicians playing in Trinidadian bands and actively involved in the music production process. He credited Machel Montano for being at the forefront of that drive.
Krosfyah is not large at Carnival like in previous years, but lead singer Edwin Yearwood is still very much a factor. He has a song with Shawn Mr Roots Mitchel titled Throw Me Out.
Edwin said a possible reason for the perceived absence of Bajan artistes at Carnival was that “maybe our music has lost some of its magic”.
“Maybe we’re not as fresh as before. Trinidad is one of the few countries that open their doors to everyone, and I’ve seen artistes from all over the Caribbean there. So I’m not sure,” Edwin said.
“I am very grateful on behalf of Rupee and Alison Hinds and krosfyah that we got out there when we did . . . . We have been lucky as we did penetrate back then. Life is what you make it,” the triple crown monarch added.
Blood, who was a finalist in last year’s Power Soca competition, noted that things had become harder in Trinidad over time for all “outsiders” for whatever reasons.
“Maybe Trinidad just decided to look out for its own first, and then anyone else,” Blood suggested.
As far as getting into Trinidad is concerned, he said artistes just had to keep making music because “there is no telling what will break for an artiste. Last year it was Rick, and this year Hypasounds is doing well with his Roll It”.
TC, who also represented Barbados in the International Soca Monarch competition and was a force during the glory days, said Bajan artistes were still making good music, but they were just not making inroads in Trinidad.
“I think that a lot of it has to do with economics. The cost of facilitating a Barbadian artiste in Trinidad tends to lie with the artiste. So if an artiste has the time and the investment to make, to go down there, do all of the promotion, and really push the music prior to Carnival, you might stand a better chance of seeing more and more people down there, but there is a significant cost attached,” she said, adding that room and board and transportation came at considerable cost.
TC pointed out that the decline was not peculiar to Bajans in the international marketplace.
In terms of regaining some of the market share in Trinidad, TC said we had to get a “marketing drive on”.
“We’ve gotta do a heavy amount of marketing . . . . I believe that with the right amount of marketing, the right music and the right push consistently that we can get it done again,” she said, stressing that the efforts had to be consistent.
“Songs don’t take off nowhere in the world in any entertainment industry without some form of financial backing to it,” TC stressed.
Party Monarch Mikey is a young blood in the grand scheme of things and does not have the Bajan Invasion experience, but he said Bajan artistes and DJs would have to band together to create that penetrating force.
“There needs to be a collective movement to push and market Barbados . . . . If it seems like we don’t have confidence in ourselves, the rest is not going to have confidence in us,” the local representative at this year’s International Soca Monarch said.
While there is no denying that Barbados has lost its prominent place at Trinidad Carnival, it also true that it is still the place to be for music to be penetrated.
All those interviewed agreed that a breakthrough at Trinidad Carnival, where the scouts frequented, was still an essential gateway for gigs at all the other carnivals and shows that would follow.