The National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) has claimed its first victims with one of Crop Over’s largest Grand Kadooment bands pulling out of the jump up and a Foreday Morning band cancelling its major event, although it did not directly link the decision to the burdensome tax.
And bandleaders are warning this may just be the beginning of things to come, warning that more bands may drop out.
Today, Fantasy Experience cited the harsh economic conditions as one of the main reasons for pulling out of the country’s biggest festival, specifically blaming “slow costume sales” and a lack of sponsorship.
“The Barbados economic climate continues, however, to be a very challenging environment for businesses and citizens. This was definitely illustrated through slow costume sales. Furthermore, the business sector has been mitigating extenuation circumstances over the last couple of years which have dramatically affected different collateral pools which assists entities like Fantasy through areas such as, but not limited, to sponsorship,” the band said in a release posted on its Facebook page.
“Our ability to deliver an optimum product to you became severely compromised and we met to explore all avenues to ensure you, the masquerader is at the forefront of benefit in this process. It is not, and will never be, our practice to subject you [to] a substandard product. Therefore as a result of the developments we have been forced to make the very difficult decision of cancelling our masquerade band for Crop Over 2017.”
The release also indicated that an official email was sent to all masqueraders who had already paid for costumes with information about their refund.
Efforts to reach band manager Jason Zeddo for further comment were unsuccessful.
However, in an earlier interview with Barbados TODAY, Zeddo had expressed concern about the future of the festival.
“If something isn’t going to happen soon, Crop Over as we know it is going to die because bandleaders are going to run out of money and they are going to say they can’t afford to bring a band anymore,” he had cautioned.
He said at the time that as a band manager, he was playing his part this year to ensure that prices were not out of reach of Barbadian revellers.
Meanwhile, Island Fusion, the Foreday Morning band which had announced earlier this year that it would pull out of the early morning revelry and would host its own private j’ouvert-like event on board the MV Harbour Master, has also cancelled that event.
It too posted a message on social media informing revellers of the decision.
“We really hate to do this but, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are forced to cancel the ultimate all-inclusive Foreday Morning cruise,” it said in an apology, while advising those who had already paid for the event that they would get a refund tomorrow.
At the same time, one veteran bandleader who requested anonymity cautioned that Crop Over was in serious trouble.
“I expect more bands to drop out. This is why we were saying all along that it’s important that this tax not be applied to the bands because we cannot absorb these costs. Look at the fetes, they’re empty, people are really feeling it,” the bandleader lamented.
Meanwhile, president of the Barbados Association of Masqueraders Chetwyn Stewart told Barbados TODAY he was not surprised that Fantasy had pulled out, warning other bands could follow.
“We had a meeting with them yesterday because we were looking to see if it would be possible for them to stay on the road, but after crunching the number they decided it would be too risky. It might happen to other bands because of how the market is right now. Customs is killing us,” he said.
Stewart said this was why his organization had been calling for an ease.
“There is a need for additional exemptions . . . we can’t wait until people register to start making costumes. We have to decide how many you’re going to make and so on. So now that the time has come to pay for the material, and now that everything has gone up, it’s a risk. So a lot of these bands are now a business, so if it’s not making any sense, they aren’t going to go forward.
“It’s only one band so far but if it starts to happen to other bands, the danger in it is that you don’t want people overseas now to perceive that Crop Over is in trouble so they aren’t coming. Right now we have to wake up and open our eyes to see what we can do to stop it from happening to other bands. That’s the major thing right now. Protection is the important thing,” Stewart added.
Also in a release today from the Barbados Labour Party, Senator Wilfred Abrahams said the Cultural Industries Act had failed and called on Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley to “cease the propaganda, deal with the reality that the Act has not worked and fix it.
“Almost three years after it was introduced, it has benefitted only one or two people, at most, with no benefits at all to especially masquerade bands in Crop Over which need the promised concessions to survive. As a result mas producers are now being faced with the ten per cent [National] Social Responsibility Levy, plus 17.5 per cent VAT and other taxes, which are threatening to cripple them,” the release said.
Abrahams said the situation needed urgent attention as some bandleaders were now facing serious problems because of the new taxes, which have come in the middle of their cycle.