Like the economy, local bandleaders say this Crop Over season for them has been very depressed, with a smaller than usual number of revellers expected to participate in Monday’s Grand Kadooment jump from the National Stadium to Spring Garden Highway.
In fact, according to the National Cultural Foundation, the number of bands for judging during Grand Kadooment on Monday, August 6 fell from the 30 that had registered to 23, while an additional five will not be judged.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY from her Maxwell, Christ Church headquarters, veteran bandleader Betty West said that in her 27-year career as the festival designer she had never experienced such a drought.
The 75-year-old also revealed that in an effort to make her quota of at least 300 revellers she has had to drop the prices of her masquerade costumes.
“In 27 years I have never experienced what I experienced this year. It is just will power and for the love of Crop Over that I have been able to continue,” she said.
This year West pays tribute to legendary calypsonian Red Plastic Bag under the theme, Celebrating Soca Royalty. So far, only three of her seven sections have sold out, and she blames the lacklustre response on the effects of the island’s struggling economy.
Just yesterday, Governor of the Central Bank Cleviston Haynes reported that the economy was on track to record a 0.5 per cent decline this year.
This is worse than the already modest 0.5 per cent to one per cent growth which Haynes had projected at the end of last year, or the jaundiced 0.5 per cent growth which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had forecasted in early February, when it had warned that the economy would worsen.
With this in mind, Minister of Culture and the Creative Economy John King has identified a need for a more business-like approach by the bandleaders themselves.
“This is a conversation that we are going to need to have as soon as this season is over. At some point in time if we are going into business we must make allowances for change,” King told Barbados TODAY earlier this week, explaining that “if I am an artiste and I realize that I am not getting the crowds I used to get, then I must re-examine my approach, which would include a second look at my target market and how I price the band.
“I have to prepare for the taxes associated with purchasing equipment, otherwise I would always be saying that I can’t make it,” he said amid ongoing cries from West and other bandleaders that “it has been a challenge financially where sponsorship is concerned because a lot of companies aren’t coming on board and I know a lot of the big party bands are having them because companies are interested in sales, they are not in it for the good of it . . . so we are suffering”.
“We need help, and help financially,” West stressed, though determined to present her best face on the road.
When Barbados TODAY visited her band house on Thursday, workers were busy putting on the finishing touches to arm bands and packaging them for distribution.
Trevor Chase of Ooutraje was also hard at work even though this year’s festival has not been “booming and fast paced” for him.
He contended that Barbadians were watching their dollars and choosing to attend events rather than to participate in the grand climax of Crop Over.
“A lot of people are just picking out the events they are going to and so the sales reflect the people feeling different vibes,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Despite winning the coveted title of Designer of the Year last Kadooment and having already scored a win in this year’s Junior Kadooment, Fifth Element Mas bandleader Kevin Small said he too had been experiencing a fall off in business this year.
“We would have had persons coming in saying they really can’t afford to pay for the elaborate costumes but some of them are still trying to make it happen,” he told Barbados TODAY, while adding that he would be going all out again this year with his theme, Street Talk.
“ I am an artist before anything else and the prizes are really the icing on the cake for me. The real meat of the matter is making sure that the masqueraders are satisfied just as well as the spectators,” Small added.
Meanwhile, director of Khepri Kulture Jason Simmons revealed that it had been generally smooth sailing for the new band despite a few hiccups along the way.
“We would have some challenges with people being skeptical about us, being that it is our first year, but people have received us well and everything is going good,” he said.
The band surpassed its original target of 300 masqueraders, with between 350 and 375 expected to jump with Khepri Kulture following a last minute rush. Five of its seven sections have been sold out and revellers have been promised a memorable and exciting jump with the likes of Dynamite and Naliah Blackman joining the band for the jump.
“It has been a smooth road so far,” said Simmons, while adding, “our major hurdle would have been getting the materials into Barbados”.
“Unfortunately there is no one that provides that service of selling gems . . . so the hardest challenge for a band was to get those into Barbados and same thing as the feathers . . . and get them here on time,” he said.