Carnival and soca may be in Ronnie McIntosh’s blood, but while others are doubled over in despair from the loss of this season, the cultural icon has gotten over his Carnival tabanca for 2021. The soca veteran and masmaker feels that as far as the festival is concerned, all of its stakeholders should use the downtime for a total reset.
“For us, for ‘Ronnie and Caro’, there is no Carnival. It’s difficult for mas bands to put on anything because our whole thing is interactive and about numbers. We came to terms with the fact, maybe since July/August, that there will be no Carnival,” he told the Sunday Guardian.
“A lot of people may be now talking about it because the reality now stepping in. It’s unfortunate that Carnival is seasonal for so many people, but for us, Carnival is not seasonal. We have been prepared for this moment and we are just focussing on moving forward.”
In response to the suggestion last week by Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) President Gregory Aboud about having a small supervised parade with six-feet wide costumes to separate masqueraders, judging of moving steelbands and open-air calypso tents to commemorate the season and keep it alive on the world stage, McIntosh said, “In terms of what Aboud mentioned, there would be some interest for him. At the end of the day, whatever you’re having, if it’s making little costumes and whatever, there is no foreign ordering in terms of material. I’m not saying his idea is bad, but at the end of the day, the only person who will generate any income from that would be him.”
In any case, McIntosh said, if there was anything to be done, people did not have to wait on government bodies to do it.
“Everybody has suggestions and expecting the NCC would get involved by having a virtual showcase. At the end of the day, NCC is more the infrastructure.
“For Carnival we don’t ever go through the one governing body. There are a lot of things done privately. Why we zooming in on NCC to find out what we doing?”
Should the governing bodies embark on a virtual show and extend an invitation to his mas band, “Ronnie and Caro”, though, he said he would “definitely” participate.
The Covid-19 pandemic which reached the shores of T&T in March last year did little to deter Carnival 2020. With lingering cases locally and mounting outbreaks worldwide, however, the Government ruled out the possibility of this year’s celebrations towards the end of September 2020.
The son of gifted music arranger, Art De Coteau, McIntosh has long been involved in local culture. He started at the age of seven, playing the percussion at calypso tents. His singing career began in 1984 with popular music band, “Shandileer” which changed its name to “Massive Chandelier”. Rising to frontline vocalist of the band, he did stints with Blue Ventures and Atlantik. He won Soca Monarch in 1995 with “On the Road” (Ah Come Back Home) and tied with Superblue in 1997 with “Ent”.
His introduction to mas production came in 2004, when he and his wife, Caro, created sections in “Masquerade” and “Legacy”. They continued up to 2007, ultimately developing the mas band, “Ronnie and Caro” in 2008. They dominated the medium category and later moved to the large band category where they continue to make their mark.
“So basically all I know all my life is culture in terms of income,” he said.
Apart from local revenue, his band would have lost income from festivals in St Marteen, Bahamas and Tortola, McIntosh said.
“This situation would affect anybody financially, but we dealing with it. You have to deal with it,” he said, teasing with “Wild”, a spin-off event of their customary Friday pavement lime which he has in the works.
McIntosh stressed the essential role of Carnival in this country.
“Carnival is our high season and people need to respect that. We have one high season that contributes to the economy, your sanity, freedom everything. Our highest display of unity is also Carnival time that’s another plus. A lot of people see it as fun and seasonal, but to us it’s not that.
“And for some reason, these are the areas that are last on any administration’s list. Culture has always been on the back burner,” he said.
Though McIntosh dismissed the need for maintaining the two days as holidays this year, questioning the purpose it would serve, he called for a systematic study of the economic impact of Carnival on this country’s GDP to help bring respect for this aspect of culture.
Bandleaders may want to review the way they operate, as well, he felt, starting with a revamp of costume package prices.
“The all-inclusive experience has gotten so competitive you always have to add something to compete. Eliminate certain things in the costume package that would allow us to reduce the cost.”
In his signature trench coat and fedora hat, McIntosh could always be counted on to deliver magnetic onstage performances. In his heyday, the lead vocalists and soca bands set the pace, charging the fetes with high energy. After a ten-year-plus hiatus, he returned to the music scene, appearing largely as a celebrated guest and later competitor on the International Soca Monarch stage.
Today the “Donkey Dance” singer is one of the few artistes from his era who still entertains. He lamented the lacklustre atmosphere in fetes nowadays despite the best efforts of performers.
“Now you go to a fete everybody stand up with they heels and they clutch purse and phones. As soon as the artiste comes on stage they taping so people could know they there. If the artiste says put your hands in the air, no hands free because they have the phone and they have the clutch purse.”
At least the pandemic may have left one small advantage, McIntosh felt. Stuck at home, people may be forced to fully experience and revive the culture by looking back at footage of Carnival seasons gone by.
Q&A with soca veteran and mas bandleader Ronnie
Tell me how you see the importance of Carnival as a “leggo” period in terms of preventing divisiveness and tension among us as seen in other societies.
Besides the masqueraders, I will deal with the other people who are involved. This cancellation of Carnival affects so many areas; for one, the hotels. The only time the hotels are fully booked is Carnival. The lady with the little annex who does rent out to people from New York, you have the car rental companies, it’s a whole chain reaction, but a lot of people just figure you upset just the bandleaders. There’s the maxi (taxi) man who has the contract to take 12 people to Maracas for the bake and shark, in town for the ‘tambrand’ ball and red mango to carry back (abroad)…
In terms of the actual experience of the mas, it’s about sanity because a lot of things happen in the country and we just play (them) off and look forward to Carnival. It’s the time unity is the highest. Those two days are amazing. You can’t even explain how people operate for them two days. A lot of people don’t really go anywhere during the course of the year. They go a couple fetes and they look forward to their mas and after Carnival they back inside.
What did being an artiste mean for you, especially at the highpoints of your career?
The movement from different bands was just business decisions. It basically was a job. I approached it as a public service and still continue to do so. My job was to entertain the people after a stressful week when they come out on a weekend to party. And I still perform with a high level of energy. That is in me. That soca, that performance thing is in my system, in my blood.
How is being a bandleader different from being an entertainment artiste?
It’s basically the same because you’re providing a service. At the performance, people pay their money to be entertained, so you give them their money’s worth and with the mas it’s about customer service. They pay for a service, not just the costume, you pay for a package. Hence the reason I was able to make that transition.
Which one are you more fond of?
I think both of them are just as important. I developed a love for the mas and I always had love for the music. I think it’s umm…60/40; the music is the 60 (laughter).
Tell me about your most memorable moment as an artiste and as a masmaker.
Winning my first Soca Monarch with “On the Road” (Ah Come Back Home) in 1995 and defeating Superblue. It was momentous! The group I hung out with was overly-hyped anyway in terms of lime, so we just took our liming behaviour to a higher level which was kind of almost impossible because in those days, win, lose or draw I was always flying. It was a collective victory too because those days the Ronnie McIntosh team was close to 40. Everybody in the squad would have contributed in some way…
In terms of mas, the most memorable situation would be bringing out the band for the first year and winning the medium band category and getting the results while doing the finances and the finances looking like we couldn’t do it again the following year. The prize money didn’t offset everything, but it gave you encouragement. Celebration took over.