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A Fete Away From Home

The following piece was published in the West Indian American Day Carnival Association magazine:

Even with its well-known economic prowess, the potential of the Trinidadian Carnival industry as an export has not been adequately developed. Although there are no recent figures on how much is gained through the export of Carnival products, the music, the steelband, and the mas have experienced much success as exports, specifically in the Caribbean region and in the North American and European diaspora Carnivals. Even with the gains as an oil-based economy, the potential of building a creative economy cannot be ignored and the export of the Trini-style fete is a step in the right direction.

There is no one definition of a Trini-style fete as the variety cannot be captured in a single formula. But the most popular are the ones that are the must-go on a feter’s to-do list and as a result are extremely difficult to get tickets to attend.  These fetes usually offer premium drinks and an array of Caribbean and international dishes. The music is provided by a few well-known DJs and there may be live performances.  The dress code is sleek with patrons outfitted in their best and latest styles to capture the attention of photographers.  As such, when visitors return to their homes in the diaspora, they tend to crave these types of fetes at their Carnivals: a fete away from home.

The concept of the “fete away from home” is not new and has been present as long as West Indians have been in North America and Europe. Today these fetes, however, are seen as offering a more “legitimate” experience because they are sourced from the “motherland”.

This year, for the West Indian Day Carnival, Trinidad is exporting Scorch (Ice and _uck Work), Tribe Ignite, Soca Brainwash, Sunny Side Up, and Vale Vibe. In addition, for the first time there will be AM Jamboree from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which interestingly is led by a Jamaican promoter. Barbados is also getting some of the action with the Roast franchise. For these promoters, revenue will be returned to the home country. It is also a way to market their Carnival events and attract more visitors who would want to experience the original fete.

Of course, where there is Carnival, there must be bacchanal. Some patrons are complaining about the over pricing of the fetes by franchise promoters and even the difficulties in purchasing tickets.  The diaspora-based promoters are also disadvantaged as the pie is sliced even smaller as the competition becomes even greater. In response, there have been calls by these promoters to support “local” and for patrons to boycott the “foreign” events.

Yet, the economic benefit to the diaspora is inevitable. Carnival researcher and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Jo-anne Tull contends that, “Carnivals around the globe offer much to the further economic development of their host locations”.  Hosting fetes, whether by the Trinidadian promoters or those in the local community, require event services, and businesses in the communities do take advantage of these opportunities.

But how does one define “local” or “foreign” in this context? It appears that when it comes down to the bottom line, the Trini sentiment, “all ah we is one” does not apply and it is now every promoter for himself/herself. As Trinidad and Tobago aims to transform Carnival into a viable commercial product and build a creative economy, “the fete away from home” cannot be a source of divide, but should serve as a means to promote that irreplaceable Trini vibe beyond its shores.

The magazine can be found here: 2016journal

Featured image: Trini Jungle Juice

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