By Omari Joesph
A sense of excitement filled the air when His Excellency Dr Irfaan Ali officially launched Cricket Carnival and Caribbean Premier League (CPL) 2022 at the Guyana National Stadium in Providence.
It was hard to tell whether the crowd was excited for the first Carnival in Guyana since the COVID-19 pandemic or for the chance to see the Guyana Amazon Warriors lift their first title on home soil. Regardless, the words ‘Cricket Carnival’ sparked a flame of expectation that quickly spread through the crowd. President Ali’s speech only added fuel to the flame, particularly when he emphasised that Cricket Carnival would be a unique product aiming to unite the region.
At the moment, the declaration sounded prophetic, inevitable even. However, positive bias tainted the spectators’ cheers of approval. When the initial enthusiasm subsided post-launch, one big question remained: What does Cricket Carnival mean for Guyana?
The political figures at the launch were not short of words to describe what Cricket Carnival would mean for Guyana. The President focused on culture, making it clear that the carnival would be a spirited multicultural display. ÒIt is a fusion of the rich, vibrant Caribbean culture with the smoothness and suave of the South American culture both enjoyed here in destination Guyana, Cricket Carnival 2022 under the banner, One Guyana.’
The Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Charles Ramson Jr., said that the two weeks of events would represent ‘…a turning point for Guyana, the creation of Guyana as a destination for fantastic, world-class events in the region.’ Meanwhile, Oneidge Walrond, Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, aptly highlighted the socio-economic benefits Cricket Carnival could bring to Guyana. If these words were all we had to judge the prospect of Cricket Carnival 2022, we could rest assured that only good things are in store for Guyana.
However, history shows that Guyanese have heard words like these before. Before Mashramani became the tradition we know today, an Independence Carnival began in Linden during the 1960s. In 1970, Independence Carnival was rebranded to Mashramani, moved to Georgetown, and thenceforth celebrated on Republic Day. Later, the government eagerly resurrected the carnival in 2016 to commemorate the 50th Independence Anniversary. Guyana Carnival continued in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with government support but led by the private sector.
Today, history appears to be repeating itself as the government has rebranded Guyana Carnival to Cricket Carnival, aiming to make it a tradition, like Mashramani. Nevertheless, good intentions, creative branding, and cheerful optimism can never drown the fact that all these festivals are imitations of the wildly popular Trinidad Carnival.
Guyana has long tried to make carnival its own, and if not, at least create a festival with a distinct Guyanese flavour. Some critics may worry that the sudden emphasis on carnival would mean routine neglect for Mashramani.
The spotlight is shining on an entire nation. Simultaneously, the two-way mirror presents two significant possibilities: first, a chance for Guyana to reflect on its cultural identity and second, to display its culture to the observing world.
From a business standpoint, there is nothing inherently wrong with copying the carnival format. Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica and The Bahamas have all done it with success. Also, in some way, every modern festival is a derivative. Nonetheless, the organisers must treat Cricket Carnival like a stage, and the event’s success depends on how well the organisers place Guyana’s culture on that stage.
A multicultural society like Guyana has much to display on such a stage, and the proposed line-up of events appears to be a perfect stage to showcase Guyana’s diversity.
Diverse events fill the Cricket Carnival calendar from September 16 to October 2. Sporting events like the President’s Cup Horse Race (September 18) are part of the build-up to Guyana’s first round of CPL games.
The Pan, Jazz, Art, and Fashion Show (September 18) is a good option for those more interested in local and regional culture. The cultural theme appears well supported by the calendar of events, which boasts different nights dedicated to Indigenous culture, steel pan, and chutney music. The Carnival Committee also focused on regional integration by including a three-day regional food festival (September 23-25) and a Regional Monarch show (September 29). The International Concert (October 1) and the Road Parade (October 2) will be the crescendo of the celebrations following the main event, the CPL Final.
Previous editions of the Guyana Carnival lacked an excellent draw to funnel regional and international tourists to the country. Pairing Cricket Carnival 2022 with the CPL bodes well for the event’s success in attracting tourists. What better draw for a sport-themed party than ‘the biggest party in sport’?
I think that the public should approach Cricket Carnival with cautious optimism. Expectations should be moderate, given this year’s festival is an ambitious deviation from previous editions. Fortunately, hosting the CPL Finals gives an excellent opportunity to judge the festival’s success. The organisers have three chances, three strikes, each year an opportunity to improve on the last.
Objective measures will help the organisers gauge the economic impact of the Cricket Carnival. Data collection should start with the number of international tourist arrivals, complemented by studying the event’s economic impact. Rome was neither built in a day nor made without a plan. Hence, good data will help the planning of future editions.
Cricket carnival will face some complaints about nudity, noise, and culturally shallow costumes. However, we should remember that Cricket Carnival 2022 is patently a commercial event despite the cultural branding. Still, the event could become a cultural staple if the displays are vibrant, meaningful and authentic as it should be.