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Ashford Wood, CEO of the Carnival Development Corporation.
Ashford Wood, CEO of the Carnival Development Corporation.

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent: – The global economic downturn has not had an impact on attendance at this country’s carnival, Vincy Mas, so far.

And patrons of the Caribbean’s “hottest carnival” are being promised “shorter” and “more enticing” shows as the festival moves into full swing this week.

That was the word from Chief Executive Officer of the Carnival Development Corporation (CDC) Ashford Wood during an interview with I-Witness News on Monday.

“What we have promised patrons this year — and I can safely say we can have begun to deliver — is shorter shows, commencing on-time, and a package that is more enticing than they have received over the past years.”

Wood said the attendance at the Miss SVG and calypso semi-finals competitions this year was an increase over the past two years.

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Attendance at Junior Carnival was similar to last year while there was an insignificant decrease in the number of patrons at the ragga soca show.

“So, I would not say that what is happening globally has affected the shows so far, but it is something we will have to wait and see during the upcoming week.

He said the Miss SVG pageant, which was held in May, started promptly at 8 p.m. The actual package of that show was completed by 11:40 p.m. However, a “hiccup with the judging” delayed the results for an hour.

He said while there was a 15-minute delay in the commencement of the calypso semi-finals show, it ended at 12:12 a.m., about three hours earlier than previous shows.

“… I was the one who gave the opening remarks and I went out there and I changed my whole speech.

“And I pulled all of the people who were involved over the coals. I let them know that we have promised patrons that we will start on-time, and, whether it was a technical problem, whether it was a sound problem, whether it was a lighting problem, we can’t have people sitting down in the park. When we promise somebody a prompt start we want a prompt start.”

'Carnival City' (Victoria Park) in Kingstown, the home of Vincy Mas
'Carnival City' (Victoria Park) in Kingstown, the home of Vincy Mas

He said that the ragga soca show, the first event on the official Vincy Mas calendar, started on time and finished within the time the CDC had anticipated.

‘Beautiful’ media coverage

Wood said Vincy Mas has been receiving “beautiful” media coverage locally, regionally and internationally.

He said that three or four local radio stations have been covering shows and streaming coverage live on the Internet.

“…In terms of the actual promotion of the shows locally, whether you like CDC or not — you know one or two radio stations would always be plugging at us– they have been doing an excellent job covering not only CDC shows, but they did an excellent job covering private shows as well as rural events.”

He said that the CDC had negotiated packages with stations in England, Canada and the USA, radio and has been promoting the festival on television in Caribbean , namely Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia.

“Those are the islands we have been concentrating on,” Wood said.

He said the CDC this year received late proposals from media houses in Martinique and will examine these possibilities for next year.

Wood told I Witness-News that the media booth at “Carnival City” — Victoria Park — has been expanded to ensure that there is no repeat of a situation a few years ago in which announcers from a local radio station were forced to set up their equipment in a pavilion.

“We did a lot of work in expanding the media booth last year and we have also taken the decision that local media will be treated in the same way as the regional and international media.

“We looked at the number of media houses that we can accommodate and we have allocated space so that we will not have a situation, like you have seen in the past, where we had to ask a media to go somewhere that is second class.

“Last year, all the media houses that were covering were in the area assigned and this year it will be the same.”

He said that media houses and practitioners, including bloggers, who might need internet connection and other facilities, should inform the CDC in advance so that the CDC can decide what arrangements can be made.

“Because we don’t want anybody to turn up and feel embarrassed,” he said.

Wood encouraged Vincentians and visitors to come and experience Vincy Mas even as he said some shows have been spruced up to make them more appealing.

“We have been pushing it [Vincy Mas] as the hottest carnival in the Caribbean. We have excellent music this year. We have a number of shows that we think are very appealing and not just CDC shows, private shows as well. We are trying to really put the entertainment aspect to shows.”

He mentioned the appearance of soca divas during the King and Queen of the Bands show Monday night, and the addition of a fire fete to the panorama competition.

Members of SVG Players Int'l Mas Band work on costumes at their mas camp in Kingstown in preparation for Mardi Gras on July 7.
Members of SVG Players Int'l mas band work on costumes at their mas camp in Kingstown in preparation for Mardi Gras on July 7.

“Whether you like it or not, certain components of carnivals do not draw crowds and it is time that we do things that will help to bring in the number of people. Like the politicians say, bring the people and then give them the message. So we get the people here; whether we have to do other stuff to get them here. They look at pan and they look at section of the band and they realize how beautiful these things are and they want to come back next year.”

Vincy Mas 2009 began officially on Friday with the ragga soca competition. Other events will include the Junior Calypso and Soca competitions on Tuesday and panorama on Thursday.

Friday will see regional pageantry as 10 ladies view for the title of Miss Caribbean Carnival (Carival) 2009 during a show that celebrates the beauty and intelligence of Caribbean and Latin American women. (See contestants here)

The Soca Morach competition comes off on Saturday followed by Dimanche Gras, J’Ouvert and street party on Monday and then the curtain closer, Mardi Gras.