Does Jamaica Carnival need saving?

If you took part in this year’s Carnival, went to a few of the ‘fetes’ and spoke to any of the other masqueraders you may have noticed something… Carnival in Jamaica this year felt..smaller.Now this isn’t to say it wasn’t FUN! The photos by great photographers like Dwayne Watkins will serve as proof to the almost illegal amount of fun we had on the road. But, despite the music, despite the liquor, despite the beautiful people (costumes…eh, not so much), one couldn’t help but notice that 2012 was just, smaller!

It started with the fetes

Without going into actual fetes names (maybe I’ll do that later), let’s just say that some of the staple events of the Carnival season here in Jamaica felt like they were lacking that special spark they usually have. The DJs were good, liquor was flowing, the venues were nice, but for some reason they just didn’t feel the same.

There were a few REALLY standout fetes, but, the difference is they were new, first time events. Events put on by people who while they may have had experience with Soca parties in the past, didn’t hold fixed spots on the Carnival Calendar. For example, Sunrise, Jamaica’s first breakfast fete. This was one of those new fetes, put on by what could be considered new blood, but, definitely stood out among the crowd of other staple fetes.

Overall it just felt like the something was missing from most of the staple fetes, like there wasn’t that special magic.

The Road March

Then we get to the actual road march itself. While it’s true that Jamaica Carnival is but a speck when compared to the juggernaut that is Trinidad carnival, the truth is, it was still a decent size and immense fun! [check the photos for proof!] One could quite easily get a bit of relief from that Carnival Tabanca by enjoying Jamaica Carnival. This year however, the crowd seemed noticeably smaller.

Here in Jamaica, we have two distinct groups of revelers. We have people in costume, and we have people who want to be part of the parade but aren’t into the costumes. This group we call the ‘t-shirt section’. Normally, while you may find only a few hundred in full costume, you will fund multiple times that in t-shirts from the various sections. So, the crowd was always a decent size. This year however it seemed both groups shrank in size.

The source of the problem


I have no clue what the reason for the shrinking road march is, or the change in vibe at the fetes. My first instinct is maybe there needs to be a serious injection of new blood and new ideas. The old guards who have taken us to this point have done a great job, and they’re still making improvements. But, we may need some fresh hands on deck to help to continue the growth.

I’m no expert on the history and growth of Trinidad Carnival, but I get the impression that a large part of why it is what it is now is constant innovation, growth, new blood and new ideas. New groups flourished from the older established groups and tried new things. Maybe this is what we need in Jamaica. As it stands now we only have 1 ‘band’ maybe it’s time to try something new? Maybe it’s time that we had 2?

Think of the potential

Jamaica, despite having one of the largest populations in the Caribbean is dwarfed by Trinidad and Barbados (both of which when combined still don’t equal Jamaica’s population) when it comes to the size and scope of Carnival. Population size coupled with the fact that we are already a prime tourist destination for people all over the world should serve as a clear sign that there is HUGE potential.

I’m sure if the will, ideas and support is there we could transform our Carnival season into one of the highlights of the Caribbean in a few years. So the question is, why aren’t we doing it?

Do YOU think Jamaica Carnival needs saving?

14 thoughts on “Does Jamaica Carnival need saving?

  • April 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I cant say with any certainty what all the problems are, so i speak from my perspective and from central Jamaica. I think its a problem of our leadership not seeing the potential in developing this as a tourism product we have gotten so used to the beaches, the all inclusive concept, great houses, and historic ruins being our bread and butter offers we really seem not to be able to see pass them.

    Road March

    It has been known since Byron Lee brought Carnival that the masses cannot afford the costumes that’s why they “Jamaica Carnival” instituted the ACA affordable Carnival Attire which was a colored T-Shirt a small and head piece, not the fancy plumes just a regular head piece. I think that worked well.

    The Sponsors

    This is one of my pet peeves because i know first hand the inequities of their dollar spend, i have a fav quote “A country Promoter could have Jesus singing down here if we are not from Kingston we don’t get the sponsorship” They seem to me to be willing to sponsor events originating outta Kingston. You know what i’m gonna end that there.

    There is a lot more to say on this issue i think im gonna start my own Blog…:-) I have fun reading this. Bless LehWeGo too they pointed to this post. Big up Thinkakil

  • April 27, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    I for one, think the future of carnival lies with the affordable carnival attire. The masses must get more involved if carnival is to grow and flourish. I don’t think a t shirt is the way to go though. A cheaper, yet GOOD LOOKING, costume option should be available. Especially for the women! More to come on this later!!!

  • April 27, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Money is the issue. And “bang for your buck”. I always tell my friends not to “count every penny” when you are trying to rationalise buying a costume… but for the fetes, it’s much easier to rationalise:: why am I going to pay entry to a fete, and, if I don’t feel like getting VIP access, have to fork out soooo much money for drinks, and then have to have a hassle at the bar. I am a light drinker, so VIP doesn’t always work out for me… but I’d like to see more affordable fetes- and also, fetes where the DJs know how to read a crowd, and know how to mix. The DJs at Soca vs Dancehall, Soca Bliss and Carnival Rewine were awesome and know how to bring and how to keep a vibe. Note none of these are Bacchanal JA fetes… :-s Without a band night, the Bacchanal Jamaica fetes were lack lustre to me (admittedly, I only went to one, and was not gonna entertain a repeat experience).
    Don’t get me wrong, I think DJ Smoke is great. It’s just that Bacchanal Jamaica needs to give their DJs more leeway with what they “allow” them to play.

  • April 30, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Think the biggest problem in Jamaica is the lack of planning, Many of my friends refuse to come back to Jamaica for carnival because year after year the same issues crop up.There continues to be major issues obtaining costumes and you do not get what you pay for. Mas camp should be renamed Mas confusion. Folks could not order their costumes on line for weeks because of “server” issues and many gave up…Had issues last year as well…Had friends who ordered costumes and what they ordered was not available when they arrived to pick it up and they were given something else or in the case of another friend, she didnt get one at all after she had paid for it!!!!! The costumes this year were cheap and fell apart in no time yet the prices go up each year. Some parts of costumes were still not ready the night before the road march. For Trinidad, you book your costume 6-8 months in advance and you place a deposit. You pick up your costume on a designated day. Smooth. Jamaica still has a lot to learn but with the lack of bands and alternatives, many are simply opting not to go.

  • April 30, 2012 at 1:39 am

    I don’t think that Jamaican carnival can get better as long as the focus is being a copy of Trini carnival. There is a constant comparison to ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’…a tall order to aspire to. The other Caribbean islands that host carnivals each have something that makes it uniquely theirs…the main thing being the production of their own calypso/soca music. Aside from the parties and fetes there is also that huge cultural element that adds to the spirit. Maybe more focus should be place on perfecting something that makes JA carnival unique rather than trying to mimic another’s.

  • April 30, 2012 at 1:44 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Like I said in the post, the actual road march is IMMENSE fun. But as you you pointed out in your comments, as of right now, there really is no competition. Without competition there’s no innovation and no real burning to change or improve by leaps and bounds. While my costume collection experience went fairly smooth (granted I had help), I did hear lots of horror stories, and I do know a few people who up to the day before road march still hadn’t gotten their costumes. One would think that after years of being the exclusive band of Jamaica Carnival, that the process would now be silky smooth.

    But, to be fair, even in Trinidad with the BIG bands, (TRIBE, IP, YUMA) I’ve heard and witnessed complete horror stories from people who have paid multiple times what people pay for costumes in Jamaica and paid month in advance. From people not receiving backpacks, headpieces, wearable bras, all the way to no costume at all being there. So, it seems that costume collection issues are limited to just Jamaica.

  • April 30, 2012 at 1:48 am

    The challenge is that in the islands I suspect you’re referring to, Carnival, in its current form is part of their culture. So, everyone from the Govt to musicians take it very seriously an do their fair share to ensure that it grows. Here in Jamaica, while it has been around for many years, in its current form, it’s not part of our culture. It is something that was imported.

    This isn’t to say that we still can’t grow Carnival in Jamaica and at the same time add our own flavour to it, but until the overall WILL is there, until in my opinion some ‘new blood’ is introduced I really doubt this is going to happen. The good new is I see a handful of young people trying new things and trying to help Carnival grow here in Jamaica…

  • April 30, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Here’s the issue with Jamaica Carnival… And i’m not the only one who has been observing this and commenting on it… When Byron Lee brought carnival to Jamaica, it was an event that EVERYONE enjoyed and COULD enjoy… Even my parents who used to jump years ago said this to me.. But after new people took it over and Byron died, it changed dramatically… Take a look at this as a prime example… You ever noticed that its only a “certain” group of people who jump in carnival now? And every year, the prices for the costumes go up and its only that specific group of people can afford to waste that kind of money on something they’re only gonna wear once? And apart from them, its the DIE HARD soca and carnival fan who’s gonna spare no expense when it comes to carnival season, ESPECIALLY road march? I know for a FACT that many people are around who want to contribute to JA Carnival and make it into what it really SHOULD be. But for some reason, the organizers want to keep it within their “circle”… Jamaica Carnival doesn’t need saving… A new band needs to come in to give BJ some REAL competition… But if they’re gonna come in, top rule of thumb is to get most things right the FIRST time, re costume quality, costume collection, PRICES (because that actually determines whether or not it will be a HIT or MISS) and the actual carnival EXPERIENCE from the launch down to road march day… Needless to say, if they’re gonna be charging me this TONLOAD of money to participate and i’m gonna go through every crevice to find it (because i’m a REAL carnival junkie), the end result should be that i wake up the morning after road march, look at all my other bills, and say that me spending that tonload of money was WORTH IT…. and for it to be worth it, EVERYTHING has to be on-point… And THAT makes for the BEST carnival experience in Jamaica..

  • April 30, 2012 at 2:43 am

    Very good points.. and I’ve heard a number of people, Including ManLi say the same thing regarding the general audience that Jamaica Carnival seems to be targeting now. With exception of a few fetes, it seems like Carnival fetes and roach march are bordering on exclusive as opposed to inclusive. Unlike in Trinidad where there is a wide spectrum of offerings from so many different bands, ranging in price from VERY cheap to ridiculously expensive, in Jamaica, choices are extremely limited.

    So, what do you think would be a reasonable pricing structure to make carnival more accessible to everyone while still maintaining the ‘spirit’ of Carnival?

  • April 30, 2012 at 3:46 am

    Ok… A good example would be when there was something wrong with the server for the BJ site when it first went up and people were ‘stalking’ it for daayys until it went back up again… You noticed that the second time it went live, the prices went up? They seriously need to start looking at discounts for costumes ordered online and at Mas Camp and actually giving patrons extra incentives to spend their money, for example: if you order ‘X’ costume online or at mas camp by a certain date, you get 25% or 30% off, if you’re ordering costumes for a group of more than 5 people, you get a little discount there as well.. Placing a deposit for a costume online (which they REALLY should have in this age of technology and ‘keeping track’) is another one: put in your deposit by a certain date online and you get a percentage off the original price.. PLENTY of ways to structure the prices. One just has to be smart about it. OR if they’re gonna put that idea in the rubbish and keep raising the prices, revelers should be able to get extra road march bands for free (in case they have family members or friends who want to stay with them throughout the march and didn’t want to get a shirt or costume), not only just a keepsake shirt, but things they could actually WEAR or USE again even after carnival season (The Bacchanal Babes group was very good on the extra gifts this year), the costume quality HAS TO BE on-point: no things falling off headpieces or belts or whatever else; and if something does, there HAS TO be an area to carry it to so it can be fixed, the material used HAS TO BE worth the amount of money people are spending on it (we are no idiots to the cheap material being used to make these costumes… trust me… many people are out there LOOKING UP the prices of the material and adding stuff up on their own and they’ve found some serious discrepancies), If there are any serious problems then people should be able to get a full refund, the food at lunchtime HAS TO be on-point (no cheap rice and chicken box lunch and fruit box…make sure that’s properly catered), and for CRYING OUT LOUD!!! I think people will agree with me on this one in particular…. Make the costumes available for purchase AFTER the general carnival launch… This whole nonsense of “all the good costumes are sold out on the first day” is utter rubbish… Which essentially means, a lot more thought and preparation needs to go into the JA carnival experience from start to finish…

  • May 2, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Guys, i can see from the comments that you are all based in Kingston and are Soca Junkies as such your experiences in Carnival are not the norm in Jamaica, you are indeed the stand out, the fortunate (in terms of your carnival sav-vy) and that’s good to a point. Why i say that is when u are used to a particular kind of Carnival i know its difficult to accept something less(in your eyes) but when i look around the majority of Jamaicans cant fete like you so sometimes we have to step back and relax and build our own way. Most of our peeps in the country are glad just to be a part of real Soca fete. Road march and Jouvert are something they see as “things weh happen a town” so they are quite willing to enjoy carnival anyway they can. I hope you guys get ma point….. 🙂

    I totally agree with the point about finding a unique element that is Jamaican and infusing that with what we have learned about Carnival from the other islands. We at SCC have been knocking on all those doors for years trying to add that element while trying to hold true to some of the fundamentals of Carnival.

    We at SCC started on the road with Byron Lee in 2003 at Jamalco(Clarendon), We were doing Great numbers thru the gate. Our fetes are all produced by us but were under the Jamaica Carnival Band. We paid all our production expenses so we were independent and everyone on the inside knew this as fact so basically we were doing the Fetes in Central Jamaica and helped coordinate the rest of the Island and the simple idea for us was to help to expand Carnival across the country and did so with a lot of Gusto. Unfortunately Byron Lee passed and we thought that all these sponsors we had worked with from 2003 would have stayed with us LOL needless to say they didn’t. Now imagine we were doing the 2 Largest Fetes on the Jamaica Carnival Calender(Junction and May Pen) (Outside of Chukka) and could not attract a sponsor that’s a Joke.

    Peeps we have a bit of a chip on our shoulders but it seems year after year we keep getting second nod to events originating in Kingston which every year advertises that they are coming with something new and going all island yeh right!!! the sponsors all buy in to these claims and say to us year after year that the idea of going all island is more appealing and we say to that Bu**Sh**t what about a long standing event that is properly run that has made HUGE financial investments in engaging our community in the Dream, “The Dream of developing a product Central Jamaica can be proud of , A product that brings together Soca Junkies from all over the Island to fete with us” That’s the dream we have to create a product that is exportable that has spectacle, color, vibe and of course our uniquely Jamaican elements Jonkanoo, Dancehall, Moco Jumbies. The whole world knows a road march is not a profitable venture so we dont even attempt it.

    We cant carry the named Soca Acts to the country parts of Jamaica mainly because of Cost. There is a lot more we can tell about what goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes we cant blame the promoters there are bad ones we know but we the good ones that are based in the country parts and proudly so don’t get our fair share from the Sponsors.

    Why is Sponsorship so important this is why.

    We are moving backwards with our event setups just to stay afloat eg we can no longer afford a erected stage we are back at Flatbeds, We cant do Adverts on Radio/TV/Gleaner we use Flyers and Town Cry, we cant do a launch. We know individually these elements may seem affordable but put them all together and you see based on what numbers u getting fr Gate and Bar those things just don’t make financial sense. *Deep Breathe* 🙂 there is a lot more we can say. Bless this forum

  • May 4, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Well, no disrespect…but it seems that you guys lack the marketing power, the salesmanship or skills set to close a deal ! Clearly, you guys fail to convince a sponsor on why or how this would benefit them….not you, you get it, them…..i suggest get a “ closer” first and convince them how it can increase their bottom line !

    That market ( age group) that are partaking in these soca events are the same market major sponsors are looking for……plain and simple…you guys have no plan, no business model… !

    Why you think Byron Lee sold more CDs that artist in T&T….marketing, did you ever notice his CD covers….

    Maybe this will help you understand what I am talking about !


  • May 5, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    None taken Big Mike,….from our perspective on your post.
    Point us in the direction of “another” closer and we’ll jump on it…..our email http://[email protected]

    If you are gonna make these claims and i quote “you guys have no plan, no business model” you should at least have the correct info on hand… No Disrespect

    For our event in 2004 Mystique i clearly remember Byron lee and myself discussing which one of our submissions could be used on his album cover, so if you can be specific we could tell you if the lady appearing on the cover came from one of our submissions.

    The clip has affirmed to us what we have always known and used through our years of sales in industrial chemicals.

    Please keep the advise coming, i think we do understand but explain this Big Mike

    Based upon your analogy the huge disparity in Sponsor support for Kingston based events versus that of country based events i gather you are suggesting that the majority of us based in the country parishes lack all those facets that you allude to.

    We like the spirited arguments and really hope we gather very good info to improve our product.

    Bleesings peeps. Thanks LehWeGo.

  • May 10, 2012 at 2:02 am

    Spirted indeed !

    Correct….Like I said…you guys have no plan, have no closers!

    You stated: Unfortunately Byron Lee passed and we thought that all these sponsors we had worked with from 2003 would have stayed with us LOL needless to say they didn’t. Now imagine we were doing the 2 Largest Fetes on the Jamaica Carnival Calender(Junction and May Pen) (Outside of Chukka) and could not attract a sponsor that’s a Joke.

    Now, you don’t need a MBA from any top University to understand this concept…I will break it down in layman’s term…you guys for years were riding his name, given, you guys were pulling your own weight, but at the end of the day, you and your cohorts fail to convey to a deep pocket sponsor how they will benefit in all of this….hence what Mr Lee did so well, hence like I said to you…. focus on their bottom line not yours…..

    I mean think about it…like you said, with a track record of what was in place, what was accomplished ….ok then…so all of a sudden Mr. Lee is gone and the sponsors all at the same time say..” oh this is the end of all Soca events in JA….”…sound silly don’t it ?

    ….especially when Jamaica Bachannal trying to make it seems that they were the first and only player in is market….., this is ripe Juicy market waiting to bust…the question is do you have what it takes to convince Big Money Players that your events can help their bottom line !


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