Montserrat's Annual Festival: A Review With Parade Photos

The Montserrat Festival came to a close on New Year’s Day with a colourful and energetic parade.
The parade culminated two weeks of shows put on by the Montserrat Arts Council and several private promoters. While the number of shows was down this year, the quality was of a very high standard. Many of the promoters including the festival committees, and Sunrise Productions should be commended for starting their events on time.

Head of Productions for the arts council Kenneth Silcott said at the closing that work has already begun on planning December’s event. A schedule is to be released within ten days he added.
Hon. Minister of Trade Claude Hogan congratulated the council on hosting another stellar event and encouraged more members of the public to get involved in revitalising festival traditions. He acknowledged the private show promoters who make valuable additions to the events calendar each year.
The reduction in the number of shows had the added benefit of better attendance from festival lovers, many of who were challenged financially in 2015. The Nite of Pan, which has suffered in the past with low attendance had an above average turnout. The Lookout Primary School children gave an energetic and entertaining performance. Brades School has dwindled in size due to students graduating. The St. Augustine School group was not as exciting as in previous years. The Genysis Steel Orchestra members need to smile more and remember they are entertaining and not doing slave labour. They played popular local and regional music, but aside from the director they had zero vitality and were not enjoyable to watch.

We commend Herman ‘Cupid’ Francis for continuing to offer steel pan to the local schools and community. While it was good to hear the Volpanics perform more popular tunes they are clearly lacking, as are the school groups in musical depth. The vast difference in the musical dimension and performance ability of the local bands and the guest performers, who were Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra from Antigua, is always very obvious. What is most concerning is there is not much growth in the students from year to year. The council and the Ministry of Education would need to do more to ensure the children learn how to read music but also are given opportunities to learn from qualified steel pan instructors who can give them new arrangements and expand their range.

Tropical Productions produced two excellent events, a breakfast fete featuring soca artist Claudette Peters and Night of Mas & Revelry which showcased seven new large costume pieces many of which were also seen on the road during the New Year’s Day parade.

Island Diva Mas added Powdah, a jouvert fete to their repertoire this year, which was well attended and they have committed to doing it for the next festival as well. They also won best adult troupe on the road with Galaxy Quest.

Although, the arts council under the direction of Chadd Cumberbatch said its priority was to improve the quality and delivery of the shows on its calendar, they must not overlook the importance of promotion even to the local audience. ZJB Radio Montserrat is a critical partner in getting the community and nationals abroad excited about the festival. However, in a world of social and online media they would need to be more proactive in sharing the details of events and promoting more aggressively.

A potential great money earner which is not being exploited is the online streaming of the major events. This can either be from pay per view or from advertising. However, with a very interested Diaspora it would be to the advantage of ZJB and MAC that they look at the possibilities for expanding the reach of the festival.

This is also a good time for the council and promoters to look seriously at their events. Which ones are financially profitable and can be improved? Which ones are continued because of tradition but don’t add value to the product which is festival and can either be reworked or eliminated?

Such consideration must be made of Festival Day which is poorly produced, promoted and attended. While no one wants to lose the holiday, it can be revamped to introduce other sorts of activities, such as Art in the Park, Cook Offs, a fashion show rather than making the on stage appearance of troupes as the focal point. It is much more exciting to see the troupes on the road first then on stage after the parade.

Thumbs up to the arts council in association with the Montserrat National Trust for hosting the MAC4 Art Exhibition in Salem during the festival. The work of four diverse artists on display and the promise of more to come in future years adds new activities to the calendar.

There is always the cry of nothing to do in the day time. However, this should not be the job of the council to fill. Local entrepreneurs and established businesses can use the increased population to offer some unique experiences for visitors during the daylight hours. These events can be added to the festival calendar so that people are aware of what is possible. Promotion again is key following early planning.

Congratulations to this year’s calypso monarch Steve ‘Iceman’ Weekes who gave some of his best performances this year. There are differing opinions on splitting the calypso eliminations in two. However, both events were well attended and the shows were entertaining and provided a much more communal atmosphere in Salem and at the Hot Spot.

Well done to Tabeanna Tuitt, the new Miss Montserrat. She now needs the financial and strategic support to enable her to have a rewarding experience now that she must follow the extraodinary job done by Sharissa Ryan, last year’s queen and the current Miss Jaycees.