We are often resistant to change, even when that change is for the better. Thankfully, though, Barbadians are intelligent enough to accept and endorse change when it is proven to have been the right thing to do. These are early days yet but the appointment of Carol Roberts as Chief Executive Officer at the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) could prove to be a most inspired choice by Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
We often do the same thing, the same way, in the same environment, every day, every month, every year, even when the results of our efforts are far from commensurate with our inputs and energies. Miss Roberts has made a decision – in collaboration with relevant stakeholders – to institute significant changes to the Crop Over Festival with the stated intention of making it a more attractive and profitable undertaking for all Barbadians.
The NCF’s head honcho has been explaining over the past few weeks, both publicly and at a recent sit-down with members of the media and artistic fraternity, that the Crop Over changes were not only being implemented as a cost-cutting measure but also to benefit the artistes and to rekindle dwindling interest in a number of areas in the annual festival. Only the blind would not have noticed that the numbers at the Crop Over semifinal, among other events, have dropped significantly in recent years. With respect to the semifinal, attendance has dropped to a point where generally fewer than 1000 persons attend the show. It has become virtually a necessary, elongated humbug that costs much to produce but brings precious little into the national coffers. Scrapping the semifinal should meet with few logical objections.
Barbados is not the first jurisdiction where one song is used as the gauge to determine the calypso monarch of a country. And in those countries, there has been no adverse reports about this particular strategy. For several years we have had patrons attending the calypso tents and lamenting that X calypsonian only has one song and that if Y calypsonian had a second song he or she would go far in the competition. For those who support the Crop Over Festival with their presence at the tents, this scenario occurs basically every year as a matter of routine. Now, artistes have the option still to have more than one selection available but with the advantage of being allowed to choose just one to perform before the judges. Artistes also have the option to change the song with which they entered the final to something else. “If you want to change your song when you get to the finals and sing the second song that you had in the tent, you can do that… If you wanted to bring a brand new song . . . you can do that. You decide the songs you are going to be judged with,” Miss Roberts noted during a recent public discourse.
Needless to say, there will be complaints. One of which has been the suggestion that if two songs are performed in the tent and only one is judged then the other song becomes “lost”. However, it has been explained that if a song has not been judged then there is nothing to prevent it being used subsequently by the performing artiste.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the decision to revert to a solitary “party” competition rather than the previous Sweet Soca and Party Monarch showdowns, Miss Roberts has brought cogent reasons for the move once again towards one competition. She had this to say recently: “For years we have been hearing issues with the BPM, issues with the quality of one set of songs and why don’t we go back to one competition. Again we looked at the numbers and we thought, you know what, let us take this leap of faith and go back to one competition.”
Within that context, perhaps her most important message to our artistes and all of Barbados is her desire for the performers simply to produce sweet, high-quality party music without bothering themselves about BPM (beats per minute) tempo. It was almost a veiled exhortation from Miss Roberts to Barbados’ calypsonians not to stress themselves about a competition but simply to produce their best music and let the rest take care of itself.
The NCF’s CEO has also spoken of changes to the Junior Monarch competition with a greater part to be played by the primary and secondary schools. She has also indicated a mentorship initiative where seasoned calypsonians will work with the youngsters from their various alma maters. This revamp is simply an exciting concept and one for which its architects deserve praise.
There are several other initiatives pertaining to prize money and events that indicate Miss Roberts is prepared to try things for the betterment of the festival. What she has articulated thus far makes good sense. Additionally, she has shown a propensity to listen to the ideas of the artistes, tent managers, sponsors and other stakeholders. And for this, she must be complimented. To borrow from a ‘friend’ in the north, Miss Roberts seems hell-bent on making Crop Over great again, while attracting wider participation. She seems on the right trajectory to do so.