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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Myth of the Mas Millionaire

'I don’t know of any

bandleader who has

become a millionaire

out of it. We are all struggling like

anybody else.’

—Big Mike Antoine, Legacy bandleader/designer

I was all prepared to talk about J'ouvert this morning, but when I checked the Guardian's Wednesday feature on a local Mas Band, which is Legacy this week; I had to laugh when I read that quote from Big Mike! For the article in its entirety visit this link.

How many of us really believe that there is not ONE band leader out there who is a millionaire? Has Big Mike spoken to EVERY band leader and asked to look at their accounts? Does he even have an inclining of the cost of costumes among the popular “it” bands and the number of masqueraders who shell out thousands of dollars for a costume that is marked up by over 300% of the cost of construction? And, finally has he forgotten about the sponsors who support certain bands with assistance by the way of cash and product? I for one believe that certain bandleaders make in excess of a millions dollars after Carnival, even if they do not want to admit it for fear of scrutiny by the tax board, not to mention the backlash that comes when some masqueraders resent others success at the expense of exorbitant costume costs and Carnival capitalization.

With the proliferation of new bands making a debut for 2008, Carnival must be a lucrative business if so many players want a piece of the pie! Now, I am not saying ALL bands makes a 7 figure profit, BUT with Carnival being a seasonal occupation and most of the established bandleaders making it a full time job how does one live for the rest of the year, especially the ones who have quit their “day job?” I would expect that any yield after the Carnival season contributes to up keeping the lifestyle not to mention paying rudimentary staff for the entire year in some instances. No one goes into any type of business without an expectation of exponential profit as the business must grow and evolve in order to survive, as well as keep one step ahead of the competition.

Also, I am quite surprised that Big Mike has alluded to “struggling” when he manufacturers costumes for several international Carnivals including Crop Over and Labour Day thus Carnival is a year long industry for his company. Ok, so maybe HE is not a millionaire (one cannot argue with the man on that point) but he has to be doing this for more than the love of the mas after alllllll these years! To me, what would make sense is if a band leader openly admits that they do make a profit and that is all part of the businees. I can understand that you want to make the most money when the band is at it’s peak, you know, strike when the iron is hot, because with the exception of Harts having 40 years in this business many bands do not enjoy long term success. Therefore all the money the band leaders make NOW has to provide some sort of income/annuity in the future when the band becomes defunct. Where is Raoul Garib today? In 1983 he was a band leader who was at the top of the game with costumes ranging between $225.00 to $300.00 TT which was “expensive” in that time and for which he was severely criticized. The bands of yesteryear such as Mavericks, Stephen Lee Heung, Barbarossa and even Poison have all been replaced by a fresh crop of bands who will eventually also be usurped in the future by other bands; Carnival is dynamic, always changing with new players coming into the mix and that in itself is what keeps the mas alive.

If Carnival did not make millionaires out of men, why do some bands stick with it year after year when all indications show that it IS indeed a struggle? Would it not be easier to pack up shop and invest your time and money in some other venture? The love of the mas can only take bandleaders so far, when they have to put food on the table and pay bills. Eventually, as a bandleader not making money, it should be so easy to throw in the towel, unless you KNOW that there is a potential to make a considerable sum after all the sacrifice. Maybe I am being too myopic on the reasons why some bandleaders do continue the struggle in the face of many financial obstacles, but I am thinking that the ones who do it as a labour of love or for the accolades are in a minority!

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