Carnival in May
Guyana’s carnival joins the growing list of Caribbean-style carnivals hosted in neighboring countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent and of course Brazil as well as diaspora carnivals in metropolitan cities in North America and Europe. Yet Guyana’s carnival avoids competing with the more established popular regional carnivals such as T&T’s “greatest show on earth” or Barbados’ Crop Over that is marketed as being “more than a carnival” as it incorporates a celebration of other art forms. Instead by choosing a May date for its celebrations, Carnival Guyana, fills that gap in the carnival calendar midway between T&T’s Carnival that maintains its place on the annual carnival calendar just before the Lenten season and Barbados’ Grand Kadooment celebrations on the first Monday in August.
As a fun fact: T&T has only ever postponed its Carnival to May once in its long history. Memorably, that occurred in 1973 when a polio outbreak forced the Carnival from its pre-Lenten date to what turned out to be a rather rain drenched May celebration. So significant was the calendar change that Lord Kitchener, the legendary calypsonian memorialized the event in his pan winning piece Rain-o-rama. Fingers crossed, Carnival Guyana will avoid such rainfall during their celebrations this year.
Mash vs Carnival Guyana
Genesis is the theme selected for Guyana’s initiation into hosting carnival celebrations and has attracted some mas bands and performers from around the region. While the theme commemorates the country’s beginning as host of an internationally focused carnival, it is hardly their first time organizing or hosting a celebrations of its indigenous art forms. Many would be familiar with Guyana’s annual February Mashramani festival and have questioned the difference between those festivities and Carnival Guyana.
Mash as the festival is popularly known has been part of Guyana’s annual celebrations of its republican nation status since 1970. As such the celebration has been funded and sanctioned as a national celebration of the arts, of “cooperative work” and the country’s diverse cultural and ethic communities. In those terms, Mash might be seen as a predominantly inwardly focused, national festival.
The newly launched Guyana carnival has a decidedly international focus, not unlike its predecessor carnivals in the region. More significantly, the carnival has been described as a “privately owned festival”, organized by “an amalgamation of influential entertainment bodies, the Government of Guyana and other key stakeholders.” This “big private party” according to organizers is not intended to supersede Mashramani since they serve two different purposes within the national calendar of festivals. As Bobby Viera, a key member of the organizing committee points out: “Carnival is about music, fete, parties, having a good time. This will be supportive of Mash. Mashramani is the national festival, organised and promoted by the Government. The Guyana Carnival is a festival organised and promoted by the private sector.”
Given the distinction being made between “government organized” festivals and “private sector” organized Carnivals and the increasing tendency to “exclusive” events that now dominate other regional carnivals, one can only hope that Guyana carnival truly succeeds in becoming a cultural festival that unites and not further divides the diverse communities who might be interested in participating the the festival.
So what has promoted Guyana’s introduction into the Caribbean carnival arena? In a word – tourism. Tourism has been a mainstay of many Caribbean economies in decades since political independence more than fifty years ago. Much of Guyana’s tourism thrust has understandably been in nature and eco-tourism given its vast, verdant and virgin landscapes with amazonian rain forests, waterfalls and vibrant indigenous Amerindian communities. By launching its own carnival, Guyana is pointedly expanding into cultural tourism which has provided an economic boost for many neighboring islands.
Guyana’s successful celebrations of its 50th anniversary of political independence in 2016 proved to be the main catalyst for expanding into cultural tourism. Noting the dramatic uptick in tourist arrivals and the boost it gave to many business big and small illustrated the viability of the country as a cultural tourist attraction for its thousands of Guyanese in the diaspora and other tourists.
Following the template of other regional carnivals, Guyana Carnival will be filled with activities to suit a variety of tastes. From boat rides, to breakfast and pool parties and of course, the parade of mas bands. In a brilliant move to further boost interest in the country’s first carnival, organizers have invited some of the most popular performers and mas bands from T&T including Machel Montano, Destra Garcia, Kes and the band, Bunji Garlin and Fayann as well as Tribe mas band. With such stellar performers on their roster for the 10 day festival, Guyana Carnival is well placed to be stake its claim as a top festival.